Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of a weekly series looking at the college-basketball scene in Michigan.
For the second time ever, Detroit Mercy will play UCLA in men’s basketball, when the teams meet Sunday night at Pauley Pavilion.
That first meeting? That was a memorable one for the Titans, who stunned the Bruins in the opening round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament, 56-53, in Indianapolis. That was Detroit Mercy’s last NCAA Tournament victory. Detroit Mercy was a No. 12 seed under Perry Watson, UCLA a No. 5 seed under Steve Lavin.
And it brings back some pretty fond memories for the Titans’ interim head coach, Jermaine Jackson, who scored a game-high 17 in that victory. He also had seven rebounds.
“It was a great win,” Jackson said the other day. “It wasn’t just a great win for our program. I think it was a great win for the city of Detroit.
“I’ll be honest, I have been thinking about it.”
Detroit Mercy’s head coach, Bacari Alexander, remains indefinitely suspended — six games and counting, and signs suggest he won’t coach at UCLA, either, as the university continues to privately address what it’s calling a “personnel” matter.
Alexander, too, was on that Titans’ team, and had six points and six rebounds in the upset victory.
Jackson is trying downplay the so-called rematch, saying the team’s most-important game is “the next day of practice.” But during a summer pickup game out west with Baron Davis — who played for that UCLA team — they talked about the upcoming game.
“I’ve played in big-time NBA games. It’s a basketball game,” said Jackson, 41. “No matter what your jersey says, it’s two legs, two arms, we’re playing basketball. We’re not too much worried about UCLA.”
That’s the coach’s perspective, of course.
Now if Jackson still was in his playing days? Well, then, of course he’d be a bit more pumped about it.
“The most difficult part of it is, we can’t get out there and play. I have to be on the sidelines,” he said, laughing. “Now if I was out there playing, it would be a whole different ballgame.”
The Titans (4-3) have won four of the six games under Jackson, with their three-game winning streak going down in a loss to Fort Wayne on Tuesday.
They’re getting impressive play from Jackson’s son, Jermaine Jr., a freshman point guard, as well as Michigan transfer Kam Chatman (19.7 points) and sophomore sharp-shooter Corey Allen (17.6 points).
The game, when first put on the calendar, seemed like a gigantic mismatch, given Detroit Mercy was coming off an 8-23 season, and UCLA is, well, UCLA. But there’s a chance for an upset, along the lines of 1999, since the Bruins (5-1) still are without three players caught shoplifting in China.
Hunting in Alaska
Kentucky. North Carolina. Arizona. Michigan State. UCLA. Duke. Kansas. Syracuse. Cal. Butler.
Those are just some of the college-basketball heavyweights that have gone to The Last Frontier over Thanksgiving and come home with the Great Alaska Shootout championship trophy.
You can add Central Michigan to that list of winners — the last winner in the tournament’s 40-year run.
The fields haven’t been all that great in Alaska for several years, as the rapid rise of warm-weather destination tournaments has lured more of the big-name programs. That’s left the mid-majors for Alaska, and mid-majors struggle to pay for such an expensive trip, hence the swan song.
That said, a trophy is a trophy, and that’s no small thing for a Central Michigan team (5-1) that wasn’t sure what it had this year after losing so much talent from last year’s team. Turns out, there’s still enough scoring and, most surprising, some much-improved defense.
The Chippewas beat Sam Houston State, Cal Poly and Cal State-Bakersfield to win the Great Alaska Shootout. Those three foes averaged 61.7 points. Last season, Central Michigan gave up an average of 89.9 points a game, “good” for 349th in the nation.
“In a small sample size we’re showing the difference that a year can make, that our guys have shown that they can win on the defensive end,” head coach Keno Davis told CMUChippewas.com. “We’re not a finished product, but we have given great effort up to this point and if we continue to do so we should do nothing but improve throughout the season.”
It’s tough to determine Central Michigan’s ceiling, though, given it’s rather soft schedule. It looked pretty good in a narrow loss at Michigan, but other than that, the Mid-American Conference schedule will be its roughest slate of games.
The Central Michigan women, by the way, also won their holiday tournament, the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. Junior Presley Hudson was tournament MVP.
This and that
■ There’s so much focus on Michigan State’s dynamic offense, led by the likes of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. It’s time to consider this one of Tom Izzo’s great defenses, too — especially after that effort in the dominating, 63-45 win over No. 9 North Carolina. Izzo’s record against Roy Williams isn’t great, just like it’s not great against Mike Krzyzewski, but the Spartans (5-1) limited the Tar Heels to — get this — 24.6 percent shooting, which was the worst field-goal percentage in the history of North Carolina basketball. Not sure if you’re aware, but that’s quite a history. The Tar Heels were 1-for-18 on 3’s. Michigan State is tied for 39th nationally in scoring defense, but expect that status to rise, and significantly.
■ The Oakland men’s team (3-3) needed that 93-86 victory over Oral Roberts on Monday, even if it took overtime to beat a team that, frankly, isn’t all that good. The Golden Grizzlies, despite being a very veteran team, were running the risk of taking a major hit to their collective psyche, after being run out of the gym at Syracuse and Kansas. Greg Kampe finally sat down Kendrick Nunn, who’s been playing essentially on one leg. Martez Walker stepped up, with a career-best 32 points, and Jalen Hayes had a double-double. Oakland is learning early it has point-guard issues, and trouble defending the pick-and-roll.
■ Hearing more than 14,000 tickets have been sold for the Dec. 16 doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena, with Michigan-Detroit Mercy playing the early game, and Michigan State-Oakland in the nightcap. Olympia officials are expecting to push past 20,000 by tip-off, particularly for the second game, between a national power and a mid-major darling. Let’s see if it can rival the electric atmosphere the two saw at The Palace for that OT gem two years ago.
■ Former Eastern Michigan standout Ray Lee, a Detroiter, signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors’ G-League team and debuted Monday, with six points and three rebounds. He is fourth all-time in points for the Eagles, and owns the single-game record (50, vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 28).
■ The Michigan State women (4-1) were averaging nearly 100 points a game, and then came Saturday’s humbling by No. 1 Connecticut, which limited the Spartans to nine points in the first quarter and 21 in the first half in the 96-62 loss.
STATE POWER RANKINGS
1. Michigan State, 5-1 (last week: 1)
2. Michigan, 6-1 (2)
3. Eastern Michigan, 5-1 (4)
4. Oakland, 3-3 (3)
5. Central Michigan, 5-1 (6)
6. Western Michigan, 4-3 (5)
7. Detroit, 4-3 (7)
1. Michigan, 4-1 (2)
2. Michigan State, 4-1 (1)
3. Central Michigan, 4-1 (3)
4. Western Michigan, 3-4 (5)
5. Eastern Michigan, 2-4 (4)
6. Oakland, 2-3 (6)
7. Detroit, 0-5 (7)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
■ Shawn Roundtree, Central Michigan, Jr., G: The transfer from Mineral Area College in Missouri is having an immediate impact on the Chippewas, who are finding they can replace all that big-time scoring they lost, after all. He leads a deeper, more-balanced Central Michigan offense, averaging 14.2 points, including 15 in three wins this past week as Central Michigan (5-1) won the final Great Alaska Shootout. He scored 20 in the opener, made a 3 with 3.8 seconds remaining to seal a semifinal victory, then led the team with 15 points in the championship victory. He was MAC West player of the week, and tournament MVP in Alaska.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
■ Jermaine Jackson Jr., Detroit Mercy, G: Second week in a row we’re honoring the son of the Titans’ interim head coach. We prefer to spread the wealth, but the guard from Macomb Dakota had a line to remember in Saturday’s blowout win over Siena Heights. Granted, it was against a Division II opponent, but in 30 minutes, he came one steal shy of a triple-double — and one steal shy of tying the program record. He finished with 16 points, 13 assists and nine steals for Detroit Mercy (4-3). He fouled out trying to make that last steal, drawing jeers from his bench, which thought he had it.
STAT OF THE WEEK
■ For the first time in program history, the Michigan women’s basketball team was to face a second top-five-ranked team in a single season — when No. 3 Notre Dame (6-0) visited Crisler Center on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Wolverines (4-1) previously lost to then-No. 5 Louisville, 74-49. This is another mammoth test for the Wolverines, the defending WNIT champions who are clinging in the rankings, at No. 22. Michigan, no surprise, is led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who earlier this year became the program’s leading scorer, and who is averaging 25.8 points, second in the nation.
TOP GAMES OF THE WEEK
■ Wednesday: Men, Michigan at North Carolina, 7:30
■ Wednesday: Women, Notre Dame at Michigan, 6
■ Saturday: Men, Oakland at Western Michigan, 2
■ Sunday: Men, Detroit Mercy at UCLA, 9
■ Monday: Men, Michigan at Ohio State, 6:30