CMU preview: Cecil Williams ready to step in the spotlight

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Cecil Williams

Mount Pleasant – The short but sweet Marcus Keene Era is over at Central Michigan, one in which he averaged a nation-leading 30 points a game in his lone season with the Chippewas.

Even with Keene and guard Braylon Rayson (21.2 points) combining to average more than 51 points, CMU finished .500 (16-16), with a 6-12 mark in the Mid-American Conference (6-12).

Now, the Chippewas will look for 6-foot-6 senior forward Cecil Williams to give them a double-double player and leadership to climb up the MAC standings.

Williams averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds in 24.4 minutes last season, shooting 47.8 percent from the field.

“I really want to expand my role this year and build on top of what I brought to the team last year, which was rebounding and just being the energy guy,” Williams said. “Now, I feel like since they’re gone (Keene and Rayson), a lot of points have left. Points will naturally come for me, but I still want to keep the team chemistry together.

“I’ve worked on my 3-point shooting because I feel like my strength is my mid-range game and finishing at the basket. I’ve always brought defense to the teams I’ve played on, that and tremendous energy, and I just want to do the same thing.”

CMU sixth-year coach Keno Davis believes Williams will be in the spotlight with Keene and Rayson gone.

“I think Cecil understands that not only as a senior, but with the loss of Keene, with the loss of Rayson, he gets an opportunity to be in the spotlight, to be able to step up,” Davis said. “We expect him to be a scorer for us, but also a defender, a rebounder. He’s a player that put his name in the NBA draft so he’s a player that wants after this year to play professionally, and to be able to do that he understands that he has to be that complete player.”

Williams says CMU’s defense will be strong inside with 6-10, 220-pound senior Luke Meyer and 6-11, 225-pound redshirt freshman Innocent Nwoko joining him to make life tough on opponents.

“I think we could be really good, just have to stay out of foul trouble and we can get a lot of stops inside,” said Williams.

Davis thinks this could be his deepest and best-shooting team.

“We expect to have an 11-player rotation and that depth is not only going to be our strength, but should be something that allows us to win games on a nightly basis,” Davis said.

CMU led the nation last season in 3-pointers made (399) and was third in team scoring (88.3).

“I’m not so sure that we’re not a better shooting team this year, not because of one or two players, but because we have seven or eight guys who can shoot,” Davis said. “So if you have a weakness in your defense we can find it from the perimeter.

“We want to be more balanced than we were last year. We need to make sure that we have more of an inside presence and that can come from the guards, it can come from Williams and (Kevin) McKay driving to the basket or occasionally posting up, but it also has to come from Meyer, (David) DiLeo, from Nwoko. Those guys have to be able to finish around the rim, get to the free-throw line.”

Williams said McKay (Warren De La Salle), a 6-4 guard, will be a player to watch in his sophomore year.

“Kevin’s probably our most improved player, just finishing everything around the basket, so I’m expecting him to have a great year.”

Central Michigan Chippewas

Coach: Keno Davis (sixth season, 77-82, 35-53 MAC)

Last season: 16-16 (6-12 MAC)

Top returning players: Cecil Williams, 6-6, Sr., forward (8 points, 6 rebounds), Luke Meyer, 6-10, Sr., forward (5.8 points, 4.8 rebounds), Josh Kozinski, 6-4, Sr., guard (7.2 points, 69 3-pointers).

Who can’t have a bad season? Josh Kozinski, who is the leader and a perimeter threat. He needs to average 12-15 points a game while consistently knocking down the 3-pointer.

Who must have a good season? Cecil Williams, who needs to average a double-double and be a post presence at times to make sure opponents respect the Chippewas’ inside game.

This player will surprise everyone with a big season: Expect Kevin McKay to elevate his game with getting considerably more minutes, showing his ability to score inside and by making perimeter shots.

CMU can win the MAC championship if ... Davis gets major contributions from transfers Shawn Roundtree and Gavin Peppers. The will both get  opportunities to run the offense.

CMU won’t win the MAC if ... the Chippewas don’t improve their defense (87.7 points, .460 percent FG) and can’t get quality production out of the point guard spot.

Toughest opponent: At Michigan Nov. 13, facing a team that won the Big Ten tournament last year and advanced to the Sweet 16.

Team to not overlook on the schedule: Jackson State Dec. 1 at CMU. The  Southwestern Athletic Conference team showcases senior guard Paris Collins.