Ferris State out for (blue) blood in exhibition with No. 4 Duke
Duke is playing the defending national champion Saturday.
Take a bow, Ferris State. That's right, Ferris State is traveling to Durham, N.C., to play the bluest of blue bloods. It's an exhibition basketball game, but don't confuse that with meaningless.
Asked after last year's narrow, 80-72 loss to Michigan State if he was pleased with the performance, Ferris State coach Andy Bronkema said no, because his team didn't win. That's Bronkema. There's winning, and then there's everything else. And the expectation is the same against Duke, all those McDonald's All-Americans, be damned.
"It's kind of a retool, but not necessarily a reload," Bronkema said of this year's team, which won the Division II national championship, the program's first, in March. "We've got pieces that I'm really excited about, the high potential of our team.
"Last year's team, we were good from Day 1. Right now, we're above average, and we're gonna be hard to beat on any given day. If we get some consistency and chemistry, we'll be pretty good again."
Duke has a tradition of playing the defending Division II champion in an exhibition. And shortly after Ferris State beat Northern State (S.D.), 71-69, in the title game in March, the athletic department received a phone call from Duke's athletic department. They wanted a game, and it received the quickest "yes, please," you could imagine.
Duke has never lost the annual exhibition. Bronkema can tell you every score, the average margin of victory, and just about any other stat.
And, yes, of course, he's pumped for the experience, even if winning is foremost in his mind.
"It's definitely a thrill. They're a blue blood, and we're lucky that our in-state schools have been willing to play us," Bronkema said. "We've played 18 Division I games since I've been here (assistant since 2007, head coach since 2013), we've had some opportunities.
"There have been a lot of great thrills, and this is one of those top thrills."
Tip-off is set for 4 Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke was 29-8 last season, with an appearance in the Elite Eight, and is ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press preseason top 25.
Ferris State was 38-1 last season, including 22-0 at home, 19-1 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It closed the season with 26 consecutive victories. It's last loss was Dec. 16, 2017.
There are 22 Division I teams that are playing teams inside the AP top 25, including Northern Michigan and No. 10 Michigan State and Northwood and No. 19 Michigan. But few matchups will receive even a blip of attention. Still, Ferris State-Duke is the most-intriguing matchup.
The Bulldogs again are the top pick in the GLIAC — though keep an eye on Grand Valley State, which added Division I big man Isaiah Brock from Oakland — even though, sure, they've lost a lot, including its three leading scorers. Drew Cushingberry (13.8) and Noah King (11.8) graduated, and Zach Hankins (15.1), the Division II player of the year, transferred to Division I Xavier over an offer from Michigan State. Replacing Hankins will be impossible, but Taylor Adway, a 6-foot-8 transfer from DI Toledo, will get his chance to shine.
Cole Walker, a 6-8 junior, also will get more reps in the post. Junior point guard Walt Kelser, a JUCO All-American from Schoolcraft Community College and the nephew of Greg Kelser, is another key addition.
The Bulldogs also return six players who played in every game last season, and add some key cogs who redshirted last season. In short, there's plenty of talent.
"That's the easiest way to look at it, just do it again, piece of cake, just hit repeat and sit back and listen to the music," Bronkema said, laughing. "Honestly, what we're trying to repeat — like last year, we reached our full potential. It was pretty clear by the end result.
"But sometimes you reach your full potential and it's not as noisy. Our goal every year, whatever the potential is, to reach it and realize it. Sometimes, 'potential' is a tricky word. We're trying to get as good as we can. Wherever we bow out, or if we don't bow out, we'll be satisfied, because we've worked really hard."
Preseason GLIAC polls
1. Ferris State
2. Northern Michigan
3. Michigan Tech
4. Lake Superior State
6. Purdue Northwest
2. Grand Valley State
T4. Saginaw Valley State
T4. Wayne State
1. Northern Michigan
2. Michigan Tech
3. Ferris State
T5. Lake Superior State
T5. Purdue Northwest
1. Grand Valley State
3. Wayne State
6. Saginaw Valley State