Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a weekly series looking at the college-basketball scene in Michigan.
Central Michigan men’s coach Keno Davis figures he has seven, eight or even nine guys who could score in double digits on any given night.
How many did he have last season?
“Two,” he said, quickly, with a laugh.
Those two, of course, were Marcus Keene, who led the nation in scoring at 30 points a game, and Braylon Rayson, who averaged 21.2. Both departed after last season, Keene to the NBA Draft — he went undrafted, and now is playing in Europe and averaging 18.6 points — and Rayson to graduation.
The exits figured to make this a tough season for Central Michigan, and it still might.
But the Chippewas opened a few eyes with a narrow loss to Michigan, 72-65 on Monday in Ann Arbor.
Davis wasn’t sure what to expect from the visit to Michigan, especially after a humbling, exhibition-season rout at Oakland. But he was pleasantly surprised by a lot of things, including the effort (no surprise) and the poise (a bit of a surprise).
“I don’t think there was any doubt,” Davis said, when asked Wednesday if he saw a lot of positives from the loss. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about this year’s team, just because we have so many new pieces and parts. And to go into Michigan and play as hard and play as well as we did this early in the season, that definitely creates some optimism.”
Sure, it’s tough to replace the scoring of Keene and Rayson.
But those departures actually shifted the dynamic of the team — clearly, there’s more balance on this year’s team, which also makes the Chippewas a tougher team to defend, as the Wolverines found out.
There’s also more depth, which is evident. The lack of depth really hurt down the stretch last season, as Keene and Rayson were racking up the minutes, and wearing down. Central Michigan lost its last eight games last season.
“It’s not gonna surprise me if each night it’s a different guy,” said Davis, still looking for his first NCAA Tournament bid in his sixth season as head coach at Central. “Just the overall depth, I knew we had some guys that were gonna be talented.
“But to really be able to play nine, 10 players deep is something we haven’t had in my five-plus years here. It’s a deeper team than we’ve ever been.
“What will that mean for our overall success, I don’t know.”
Central didn’t get much love in preseason polls. It was ranked last in the Mid-American Conference West Division. Western Michigan, with Thomas Wilder back after opting against the NBA, is first and a popular NCAA Tournament pick. Eastern Michigan, with some big-time returning talent, is fourth.
But the Chippewas might be poised for a bit of a surprise.
Transfer Shawn Roundtree, a guard, is averaging 16.5 points through two games; senior forward Cecil Williams looks poised to break out in his second season as a Chippewa; as do sophomore guard Kevin McKay (Warren De La Salle) and senior forward Luke Meyer.
Other first-year players — including junior guard Gavin Peppers (Cleveland State transfer) and redshirt freshman center Innocent Nwoko (New Haven High School) — are worth watching, as well, as is Central Michigan’s defense, rarely a strength in Davis’ tenure.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe did a lot of TV watching Tuesday night.
Most notably, he watched the two Champions Classic showdowns — Michigan State-Duke, Kansas-Kentucky — as well as Syracuse’s game against Iona. That’s because the Golden Grizzlies are about to run through the gauntlet, playing at Syracuse on Monday, followed by a trip to Kansas on Nov. 24.
Oakland will play Michigan State at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 16.
“We’re gonna see them all,” Kampe said.
Michigan State is ranked No. 2, and Kansas is No. 4. This isn’t the best Syracuse team — Oakland received more votes (two) in the latest Associated Press rankings — but it’s still a trip to the Carrier Dome.
Don’t be surprised if the Golden Grizzlies, a heavy favorite in the Horizon League, pick off at least one of those three marquee showdowns.
The best bet is Syracuse, though that’ll be the fourth and final game that star red-shirt senior forward Jalen Hayeswill have to miss over a grade technicality that the NCAA refused to overlook. (He got a C-plus in a class tied to his major, which isn’t good enough for his major).
Kendrick Nunn, the highly touted transfer from Illinois, should be there for Syracuse, though his status for Toledo on Saturday is up in the air after he rolled an ankle in Monday’s win over New Orleans. He’s averaged 30 points in his first two regular-season games.
“100 percent by Kansas,” Kampe said of Nunn.
Sophomore forward Isaiah Brock, who also suffered a sprained ankle recently, should be fine, as well.
Kam’s the man
Transfers continue to make more and more of an impact for teams throughout the country.
That’s no different around these parts, with just about every men’s program getting immediate contributions from experienced newcomers — including Detroit Mercy, which got 23 points (including 4-for-4 on 3-pointers) from Kam Chatman in his debut against Virginia Tech. He followed that up leading the Titans with 17 points in a win over Michigan-Dearborn.
The 23 points are the most by a Titan in his debut since Brandon Cotton had 27 against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 20, 2004. Chatman, a redshirt junior swingman, came over from Michigan, where his career high in scoring was 13.
It’s the Chatman addition, as well as the return of Jaleel Hogan, that gives the Titans hope they can greatly improve on last season’s 8-23 record.
In more Detroit news, center/forward Isaiah Jones — a senior — made his Detroit debut against Virginia Tech, after dealing with injuries the last two seasons. He hurt his knee as a sophomore at Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) College, missed the next year rehabbing, and aggravated the injury prior to last season working on a team community-service project. In his debut, he played three minutes and had two rebounds and a block. Talk about perseverance.
This and that
■ The first college-basketball games at Little Caesars Arena seem to be doing well at the box office. The entire lower bowl appears pretty much sold out for the Dec. 16 twinbill of Michigan-Detroit and Michigan State-Oakland. One ticket — they range from $25 to $75 — gets you both games, starting at noon for the first game, and 2:30 for the second game.
■ Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo came out with his way-too-early mock draft for 2018, and he’s got Michigan State stars Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. going back-to-back in the lottery, Nos. 7 and 8 to the 76ers and Hornets, respectively.
■ Central Michigan women beat the SEC’s Vanderbilt, 92-75, on Tuesday, marking coach Sue Guevera’s 300th career victory. That includes a 177-143 record in Mount Pleasant. She previously was the head coach at Michigan.
■ Thoughts and prayers to former Michigan men’s assistant coach Billy Donlon, who’s now on Northwestern’s staff, close to where he grew up. Donlon recently lost his sister, Therese, in a tragic, freak accident.
■ South Carolina, a Final Four participant last season, isn’t in the top 25, and was picked 11th in the SEC. Western Michigan, a darn good team, can’t fathom that, after Monday’s 78-60 loss in Columbia.
■ Tuesday’s Champions Classic game between Michigan State and Duke drew huge TV numbers for ESPN, including a 2.0 overnight — up 54 percent from Michigan State-Kentucky in 2016.
■ Eastern Michigan men played the first regular-season college-basketball game of the season, a 92-60 win over Spring Arbor on Friday.
STATE POWER RANKINGS
1. Michigan State (1-1)
2. Oakland (2-0)
3. Michigan (2-0)
4. Western Michigan (1-1)
7. Eastern Michigan (2-0)
6. Central Michigan (1-1)
7. Detroit (1-1)
1. Michigan (2-0)
2. Michigan State (2-0)
3. Central Michigan (1-1)
4. Eastern Michigan (2-0)
5. Western Michigan (1-1)
6. Oakland (1-1)
7. Detroit (0-2)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
■ Nunn, Oakland, G, RS Sr.: The transfer from Illinois has made an immediate impact, leading Oakland in scoring every game, including exhibitions, until Monday night’s game, when he had to leave early with an ankle injury. He was the first Horizon League player of the week for 2017-18. Before that, he dropped 40 points on Central Michigan in an exhibition game. “He’s pretty good,” CMU’s Davis said, laughing. “Is that the understatement of the year? I don’t want to see him again.”
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
■ Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State, F: He may be a freshman, but he sure doesn’t look the part, at 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds. He didn’t look the part against No. 1 Duke, either, scoring 19 (tied for the team lead) on 7-for-10 shooting. He also led the team with seven rebounds and added three blocked shots.
STAT OF THE WEEK
■ Michigan State was outrebounded by Duke, 46-34, including an unfathomable 25-11 on the offensive end. I’d want no part of those next few practices.
UPCOMING GAMES OF THE WEEK
■ Monday: Michigan vs. LSU, in Maui, 11:30, ESPNU/950
■ Monday: Oakland at Syracuse, 7, ESPN3/1130
■ Tuesday: Women, Michigan State at Detroit, 7