State hoops: Oakland, Detroit Mercy not happy with moved-up rivalry

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Oakland's Blake Lampman defends against Titans' Chris Brandon pulling down a rebound in the first half.

On Tuesday morning, Mike Davis was looking forward to a weekend off for his Detroit Mercy team.

IUPUI had a COVID issue and so the weekend series had to be canceled, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Titans, who are trying to get their new lineup acquainted, with Chris Brandon, last year's leading rebounder, back from a wrist injury, Niagara transfer Noah Waterman finally declared eligible, and big 7-footer Buay Koka new on the scene after transferring from Tulane earlier this month.

"To be totally honest," said Davis, whose Titans are 1-5, "we practiced Monday and Tuesday like we were gonna play next Saturday and Sunday."

Meanwhile, 25 miles away in Rochester, also on Tuesday morning, Greg Kampe and his Oakland team were busy preparing for its first home games of the year — a welcome scenario, given the 0-9 record against a nasty-tough slate of opponents — against Northern Kentucky.

Then came word that Northern Kentucky had to pause the program amid a COVID-19 outbreak of its own, suddenly leaving Detroit Mercy and Oakland with an open weekend.

So the Horizon League scheduled the rivals to play each other, at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at Calihan Hall. It wasn't welcome news on either side.

"We really don't need to go playing our archrival right now on the road, that's the biggest thing," Kampe said. "We were supposed to open at home this weekend. I don't know how many teams are not playing their first home game until January now.

Greg Kampe and Mike Davis

"It's not good, at all. It takes so much luster off the game. We have those games circled on the calendar, we talk about Detroit Mercy every day. You know, there's a countdown to that game.

"And all of a sudden, it's being thrown at us."

Welcome to college basketball, circa 2020, where up is down and down is up and nothing is set in stone.

While Detroit Mercy was looking forward to an extra week of preparation before resuming conference play, Oakland had backup plans — and could've added a Division III opponent from Michigan for a home game, and then a big-named Power Five opponent on the road. But the Horizon League said otherwise.

Then, on Thursday night, there was talk of possibly shuffling opponents again, after UIC had to cancel its series against Milwaukee. The Horizon League could've sent Detroit Mercy to Milwaukee instead, but decided to keep Detroit Mercy-Oakland.

But then Oakland, on Christmas Eve, had to start contact tracing, because its coming off a weekend series at UIC. Half of Oakland's roster, or seven players, already has had COVID-19 during a preseason outbreak, and you need at least seven available players to play — but Blake Lampman is out with a thigh injury suffered at UIC. As of Christmas afternoon, it appeared Oakland was good to go. But, again, 2020. So stay tuned.

Making these two games even more intriguing is the fact the Horizon League, for now, is keeping their regularly scheduled Jan. 22-23 series at the O'Rena on the schedule. (Oakland hopes to be able to allow some fans by then; Detroit Mercy already has said it won't have fans this year). Few teams ever have played four times in a season, with the exception of teams that also meet in conference and NCAA tournaments — like Michigan State-Wisconsin in 2000; they also met in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

"Three, OK, but four, come on," Davis said. "That makes no sense. And then playing the games back-to-back? No conference is doing what we're doing.

"You're better off just taking four teams to one site than playing back-to-back against each other. But, hey, who am I?"

Ready or not, this is a big series for both teams, who, if you ask coaches around the Midwest, are much better than their records; both played Michigan State tough, and Oakland took Michigan to overtime.

Here's each coach's analysis on the opponent:

Davis on Oakland: "I've watched all their games. They've gotten better each game. You can see why they started off slow, with no practice time (because of the two-week shutdown for COVID). Then they played a very difficult schedule. I've played that schedule before. The record is definitely not who they are as a team."

Kampe on Detroit Mercy: "They're a really good offensive rebounding team. They're long and athletic. I think they're getting healthy and getting players, getting their size, which will give them depth, which in this format (back-to-back games) is a huge advantage. And then you've got the wild card, Antoine Davis."

Slam dunks

►The Michigan State women are 7-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season, after a resounding, 94-56 win over Oakland, which was gassed and looked the part in the second half of their third game in four days. The Spartans saw the debuts of Penn State transfers Alisia Smith (nine points) and Jayla James (two points), but now have a big layoff after Ohio State had to cancel the New Year's Eve game because of COVID-19.

►Central Michigan women, looking for a fifth straight Mid-American Conference title, are seventh in the latest CollegeInsider mid-major top 25. They are 3-2, with their losses coming to Michigan and Michigan State, who are a combined 12-0. Michigan has called off its last two Big Ten games because of COVID-19 and is set to return to action Thursday at home against Wisconsin.

►Keep an eye on Eastern Michigan JUCO transfer Bryce McBride, who debuted with five points, then scored 15 in his second game, then scored 25 in his third. The Eagles are set to resume play after a lengthy COVID-19 shutdown, with home games against Olivet on Sunday and Central Michigan on Tuesday. 

►Central Michigan is the only Division I men's program in the state not to play another state DI in nonconference play (it passed on a last-minute addition of Michigan State, because rival Western Michigan was coming up). The Chippewas did play DIII Olivet, and dropped 127 points, tied for second-most in program history.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (6-0)

2. Michigan State (6-2)

3. Detroit Mercy (1-5)

4. Western Michigan (2-5)

5. Central Michigan (4-4)

6. Oakland (0-9)

7. Eastern Michigan (1-2)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (5-0)

2. Michigan State (7-0)

3. Central Michigan (4-2)

4. Oakland (3-4)

5. Eastern Michigan (4-3)

6. Western Michigan (1-3)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-7)

Games of the week

MEN

►Oakland at Detroit Mercy, 4 Saturday and Sunday (ESPN3)

►Michigan State at Minnesota, 8 Monday (BTN)

►Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan, 7 Tuesday (ESPN3)

►Michigan at Maryland, 7 Thursday (ESPN2)

WOMEN

►Wisconsin at Michigan, 12:30 Thursday

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984