Detroit — If you’re looking for signs of progress with the Detroit Mercy men’s basketball program, good luck.
The Titans enter the postseason with eight wins, the same number they had a year ago in Bacari Alexander’s first season as head coach.
All this after being picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League, and after athletic director Robert Vowels said, prior to the season, that a .500 record was the benchmark — and anything less would be unacceptable.
The .500 record has long been out the window. Put it this way: Detroit Mercy could win the Horizon League and run the table to an NCAA Tournament championship, and still finish five wins shy of that.
It’s time for the Titans (8-23) to reevaluate their goals, starting with their opener in the Horizon League tournament, against Green Bay (12-19) at 5:30 Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.
“I thought it was a regular season that was littered with different types of adversity,” Alexander told reporters following the regular-season finale, a 107-97 loss to the same Green Bay team it meets Friday.
“Here in my 23rd month ... there hasn’t been a normal week of Detroit Mercy basketball.”
Last season, in his first after taking over for fired Ray McCallum, Alexander retooled the roster on the fly — with dismissals, combined with late-recruiting season additions. Some growing pains, of course, were to be expected, and accepted.
But this season, with a solid recruiting class — led by former Macomb Dakota star Jermaine Jackson Jr., who went on to make the Horizon League’s all-freshman team — and plenty of seasoned talent returning, the bar was raised.
The bar, though, quickly came crashing down. Early in the season, Alexander was suspended for seven games over a reported verbal altercation with a player in practice. Then there were injuries, to just about everyone on the roster, including an 11-day absence for Michigan transfer Kam Chatman (concussion), while star sophomore Corey Allen has been playing with a cyst behind his knee. And then there were academic-eligibility issues, specifically with senior forward Jaleel Hogan, who’s missed 13 of the last 14 games and played just two minutes in the one other game, and junior forward Tariiq Jones, who hasn’t played a single minute in the last 14 games. The season featured an 11-game losing streak, two games longer than the longest skid a season ago.
“There hasn’t been a time, if anyone’s trying to evaluate the Detroit Mercy Titans this season or even beyond, where I had my full roster to be judged on,” Alexander said.
“I know I’ve thrown this grade out the before, but if I was an academic professor, it’s still an incomplete.”
Making some noise in the Horizon League tournament, in front of a hometown crowd, could ease the sting of another lost season.
Detroit Mercy beat Green Bay, 93-92, when the teams met at Calihan Hall on Jan. 29. But in two games against Green Bay, Detroit Mercy allowed 199 total points.
That’s been the problem with the Titans. When they’re on, they can score with the best of them. They just can’t stop anybody. The Titans give up 85.5 points a game, with ranks 347th out of 351 Division I teams.
The Hogan travails — he struggled to get back into game shape early in the season, after being academically eligible over the summer, then was benched by academic issues again for second semester — hurt big-time on that front, as did the issues with Jones, a Schoolcraft College transfer who had an ankle injury early in the season, and the academic issues more recently.
Alexander says defense is part of his “DNA, that’s what I believe in.”
Alexander said he’s not sure if the lack of defense is a “generational” issue, or a “recruiting” issue. That’s an issue to be addressed after the season. There’s still at least one game to be played, and still a change to make some progress.
Even though progress at this point — from eight wins to nine — is a relative term.
MOTOR CITY MADNESS
What: Horizon League basketball tournaments
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Local openers: WOMEN — No. 7 Oakland (14-15, 7-11) vs. No. 10 UIC (8-21, 1-17), noon Friday; No. 8 Northern Kentucky (8-21, 6-12) vs. No. 9 Detroit Mercy (2-27, 2-16), 2:30 Friday. MEN — No. 7 Green Bay (12-19, 7-11) vs. No. 10 Detroit Mercy (8-23, 4-14), 5:30 Friday; No. 4 Oakland (18-13, 10-8) vs. No. 5 IUPUI (11-18, 8-10), 7:30 Sunday.
Tickets: Single session (one day), $15-$40. All sessions, $45-$120. They can be purchased at the LCA box office.