Ferris State men’s hoops closes in on DII national title

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Back in late October, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo warned you about Ferris State.

And in an Oct. 26 exhibition at Breslin Center in East Lansing, the Bulldogs made a game out of things, before falling to the Spartans, 80-72.

That was an eye-opener, to be sure — but for Ferris State coach Andy Bronkema, not for the reasons that you might think.

“It was eye-opening,” said Bronkema, “in that we lost.”

Now that’s confidence.

And this Ferris State men’s basketball team, from top to bottom, is a confident bunch, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s 35-1 and has reeled off 23 consecutive victories heading into Tuesday afternoon’s Division II Elite Eight game against Barry University, out of Florida.

The teams will tip-off at 3:30 p.m. at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Ferris State is the top seed remaining in the Division II NCAA Tournament, and the No. 2-ranked team in the nation in the latest poll. The Bulldogs, littered with former Metro Detroit-area prep standouts, have never made a Final Four.

And back to that confidence thing. While most coaches would say that it’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality, Bronkema isn’t most coaches.

“We’re a little against the book on this one,” said Bronkema, himself a former state prep standout (McBain, just east of Cadillac), who’s in his fifth year as head coach.

“I think you can focus on the game ahead of you, but we don’t mind dreaming about the big one. I know it’s a few games away, but I think you can do both.

“Why wouldn’t you want people to dream about that?”

U-D Jesuit product Noah King averages 12.2 points per game for Ferris State.

Ferris State is led by a trio of players who average in double-digit scoring, including junior center Zach Hankins (15.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) of Charlevoix who is a finalist for the Bevo Francis Award that’s handed out to the top small-college player in the country.

Senior point guard Drew Cushingberry (13.8 ppg) of Romeo and senior forward Noah King (12.2 ppg) of U-D Jesuit also are impact players. The Bulldogs feature a pair of Division I transfers — junior guard DeShaun Thrower (Stony Brook), who was Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2014 out of Muskegon, and senior wing TyQuone Greer (Hofstra). Thrower came back to the area with the appeal of playing two sports. He’s a defensive back for the Bulldogs’ football team. Both arrived in Big Rapids prior to this season.

Not that those are the only two players on the roster with a Division I pedigree.

“In the GLIAC, I mean, all the best players can play Division I,” Bronkema said. “Pretty much all the recruits we recruit have either had an offer they didn’t like or were being recruited and didn’t quite get the offer they wanted from Division I. That’s the world we live in. We’re not on TV like Division I, so the average fan just doesn’t know the level of talent that’s there. But the insiders all know. These high-level Division IIs, they’re crazy-good teams loaded with talent anybody would want.”

That goes, as well, for Barry (23-8), out of Miami Shores, Fla. It has five Division I transfers on its roster, and like Ferris State can score in bunches — even if Barry is an 8 seed and a bit of a surprise to have made it this far.

Ferris State, meanwhile, is in the Elite Eight for the second time. The last was in 1988. It’s never made it to the Final Four, but took advantage of hosting a Regional for the first time in program history and steamrolled its three opponents — including GLIAC rival Lake Superior State, the only team to beat the Bulldogs this season (Dec. 16) — by an average of 19 points to make it South Dakota. The team leads the nation in blocks, and Hankins leads individually with 121, while shooting 63.8 percent.

Other Detroit-area players include: sophomore wings Armani Tinsley (Western; Schoolcraft Community College), Greg Williams (Canton), redshirt freshman wing Jaylin McFadden (East English Village) and junior wing Andrew Meacham (Northville).

“That’s been a historical pipeline for us,” Bronkema said Monday. “It’s something we never want to dry up.

“The guys from Detroit, they know how to play basketball, and they love it at Ferris.”

What’s not to love?

Besides that loss to Michigan State, of course.

Division II Elite Eight

Ferris State vs. Barry (Fla.)

Tip-off: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Records: No. 1 Ferris State 35-1; No. 8 Barry 23-8

Up next: Winner advances to the Final Four, to meet either West Texas A&M or Le Moyne on Thursday

Outlook: Le Moyne, a possible Final Four participant, is coached by Patrick Beilein, the son of Michigan coach John Beilein. ... Barry has four players who average double figures in scoring, led by senior guard Elvar Fridriksson at 19.9 points per game. ... Eight of Barry’s 14 players are natives of foreign countries.