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State hoops: Detroit is more than The Antoine Davis Show; it has size and is about to get bigger

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

OK, it's far too early to make any dramatic proclamations about many college basketball teams. But here's one exception: Detroit Mercy is better than we thought.

And by "we," we mean everybody but head coach Mike Davis.

University of Detroit's Willy Isiani and Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr. battle for a rebound in the first half of their game earlier this month.

He's been touting his Titans for several weeks to anybody who would listen, which, if we're being honest, wasn't many folks.

The Titans had to wait a while to play a game, because of a COVID issue that prevented them from playing their season-opening tournament at Kentucky.

But they made up for lost time with an extremely impressive performance at Michigan State, and followed that up with any solid effort at Notre Dame. Both were losses, but both were extremely close throughout — and they showcased the biggest difference between this Detroit Mercy team and the last two.

It's no longer just the Antoine Davis Show.

Sure, he scored 24 against the Spartans, but was 0-for-9 from 3-point range. The Titans lost, 83-76. Then, against Notre Dame — a team that beat Detroit Mercy, 110-71, last season — Davis scored only 14, and the Titans lost, 78-70.

With a bevy of transfers added to the roster, Davis finally has pieces around him, one being St. Bonaventure transfer Matt Johnson (20 points vs. MSU, 15 vs. Notre Dame) and another being Idaho transfer Marquell Fraser, which should get the star shooter more open looks as the season moves along.

Detroit Mercy's defense also is significantly improved (17 turnovers for MSU), thanks, in part, to a stable of big men like 6-foot-8 Willy Isiani and 6-7 Bul Kuol. If those two don't foul out with several minutes left against Michigan State, Detroit Mercy probably wins.

And things are about to get better on that front for Detroit Mercy, which soon should get 6-8 Chris Brandon back from a wrist injury — he was the team's top rebounder a year ago — and get 6-11 transfer Noah Waterman (Niagara) eligible. Taurean Thompson, a 6-11 transfer from Seton Hall, also is expected to progressively make more of an impact.

Additionally, Detroit Mercy is expected to sign Tulane transfer Buay Koka this week or next. He's 7-1, and entered the transfer portal earlier this season. It's not clear when he'll be available to play.

The Titans' size and scoring clearly matches up OK with the big boys, and frankly it should be able to overmatch many of the Horizon League foes.

Ninth place in the league seems pretty ridiculous, now.

Money talks

Oakland took Michigan to overtime and hung around with Purdue and Oklahoma State, but the Golden Grizzlies still are 0-6. 

Who cares? All the checks have cleared — and so will Michigan State's after those teams play Sunday.

For its seven nonconference games, Oakland banked $350,000, which is more than head coach Greg Kampe's $300,000 base salary. That's an impressive payday in this college-basketball climate, when scheduling games has been tough, and getting max value for buy games has been even tougher, given most teams aren't allowing any fans.

Oakland, in Saturday's 84-71 loss at Oklahoma State, did actually play in front of fans. About 3,000 fans were allowed to attend.

"It felt normal," Kampe said of a game in a season when few things have felt normal.

In other financial news, Kampe this year has voluntarily forfeited a unique clause in his contract that guarantees him the net profits from one buy game per season. That's a pocketbook hit of more than $50,000.

Oakland guard Jalen Moore (34) and Oakland guard Rashad Williams guard Michigan guard Eli Brooks in the first half of their game this month.

Slam dunks

►Former Western Michigan men's coach Steve Hawkins is really getting into the media side of the business, with a podcast — and now as a TV game analyst with networks such as ESPN and CBS Sports. His first game was Bradley-South Dakota State last Friday. He's got a bunch more coming up, including four in a row at Oakland in late December and early January. Hawkins said there were challenges in his TV debut, most notably the producer chirping in his ear when he's talking. But he's having fun, never mind this gig is much less stressful.

"Fran Fraschilla said his biggest worry after games is whether Outback Steakhouse is still open," Hawkins wrote on Facebook.

►Before his TV debut, Hawkins traveled to Metro Detroit to attend the funeral of the father of Michael Flowers, his former star at Western Michigan who's now at South Alabama. Visitation was Wednesday, the funeral was Wednesday, and on Friday, Flowers, a former Southfield A&T star, scored 29 in a 90-81 loss. Flowers, amid adversity, is averaging 22 points through five games at his new school.

►Oakland junior guard Rashad Williams was named Horizon League player of the week after scoring 32 (on 10 3's) in the loss to Oklahoma State. He was limited to just one minute in the loss at Purdue because of an injury to his shooting shoulder.

►In more transfer news, former Oakland guard Tray Maddox Jr. (NovI) was declared immediately eligible to play at Cal State Fullerton. Also, Oakland forward Babatunde Sowunmi (6-foot-10, 254 pounds) has entered the transfer portal.

►Keep an eye on the Western Michigan men, a gritty team that played both Butler and Michigan State tough before losing. Scoring will be an issue, though, in Clayton Bates' first year, having lost transfers Flowers and Brandon Johnson (Minnesota).

►The Western Michigan women's team was the last Division I team in the state to play a game, beating UIC, 80-76, on Saturday.

►The Central Michigan-Dayton women's game, canceled for COVID-19 reasons at Dayton, has been rescheduled for Dec. 22.

►Quote of the week: "I’m not sure it’s a good idea having a halftime interview.” — Kampe, after being a bit too blunt during his intermission spot against Oklahoma State.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan State (5-0)

2. Michigan (4-0)

3. Detroit Mercy (0-2)

4. Western Michigan (1-2)

5. Oakland (0-6)

6. Eastern Michigan (0-2)

7. Central Michigan (1-3)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (4-0)

2. Michigan State (2-0)

3. Central Michigan (0-1)

4. Eastern Michigan (3-1)

5. Western Michigan (1-0)

6. Oakland (0-2)

7. Detroit Mercy (0-4)

Games of the week

MEN

►Michigan State at Virginia, 9:15 Wednesday, ESPN

►Detroit Mercy at Western Michigan, 2 Saturday, ESPN3

►Valparaiso at Central Michigan, 4:30 Saturday

►Oakland at Michigan State, noon Sunday, FS1

►Penn State at Michigan, 2 Sunday, BTN

WOMEN

►Butler at Michigan, 1 Wednesday, BTN+

►Western Michigan at Central Michigan, 2 Wednesday, ESPN3

►Michigan State at Minnesota, 9 Wednesday, BTN

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984