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State hoops: Detroit Mercy men set to play for the first time in 2021

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Early Wednesday afternoon, Mike Davis was chomping on a light salad lunch, eager to get back to practice a few hours later for the first time in 10 days.

And there lies the dilemma: How do you practice? Do you work the players hard, trying to get them their stamina back, or do you ease off, knowing you have a game 48 hours later?

Head coach Mike Davis and Detroit Mercy return to action this weekend at home against Green Bay.

Davis didn't have the right answer. Nobody does these days, it seems.

"You've gotta be really careful because you don't want to wear them out," said Davis, in his third year as head coach at Detroit Mercy. "But you want them to get their wind back.

"We've never been on a 10-days-off deal. Nobody has."

"We don't know how to schedule practices."

Detroit Mercy hasn't played this year, last taking the floor for a pair of late, crushing losses to rival Oakland at Calihan Hall on Dec. 26-27. After the second game, Davis made headlines when he blasted the Horizon League for making the Titans play, even though Oakland was coming off a two-game series with UIC — after which a UIC staffer tested positive for COVID-19, as did a referee who worked both games. The Horizon League said Oakland passed contact-tracing protocols. That wasn't good enough for Davis.

Then, Detroit Mercy was granted a "mental-health" break for its players the following week, when the Titans were scheduled to play UIC. It actually was a cancellation that benefited both programs. UIC was just coming out of quarantine and only could schedule one practice before the Detroit Mercy games, and even if the two teams did play, they were only going to play one game.

And last week, Detroit Mercy canceled its weekend series with Milwaukee, because a Detroit Mercy support-staff member tested positive.

To date, no Titans players have tested positive, Davis has insisted multiple times. That would be an amazing feat in a college-basketball world where dozens of teams across the nation have had outbreaks, including, this week, both the Michigan State men's and women's teams.

"Our people do a great job here," said Davis, whose Detroit Mercy team also pulled the plug on its season-opening appearance at a Kentucky tournament because a staff member tested positive. "Even with the shutdown, contact tracing, we just don't take a chance here. 

"You can catch a disease that can kill you at any time."

Michigan's Division I men's teams have played as few as seven games (Eastern Michigan) and as many as 15 (Oakland). Everyone's trying to navigate this strange-as-ever season, as best as possible.

Detroit Mercy has played eight games, and has lost seven of them — though most observers agree the team is better than that record, potentially significantly so. The Titans are far deeper than the previous two years, when it was Antoine Davis or bust. They have size, thanks to several key transfers. They all were just getting on the floor together for the first time, and thus finding some cohesiveness, in the Oakland games, only to see the next two weeks wiped out.

The burning question is, what's the goal for the rest of the season? What's an acceptable result when it's all said and done?

"We're just trying to keep these guys' minds right. It's a tough time for everybody," said Davis, whose team hosts Green Bay on Friday and Saturday. "It's just a different world, just a different time.

"We're just trying to get better. You always want to be the best team we can be. We have a good team, we have good pieces. We just gotta get these pieces to play together and understand their roles.

"For us to be in the top four or top five (in the league) would be good for us.

"We've got 12 games left."

Maybe.

If there has been a positive for Detroit Mercy this season, it's that it's essentially a "free year" for players in terms of eligibility, and Davis said he has all his pieces in place for next season. He doesn't have plans to bring in any recruits, unless any of his players decide to leave.

Rivalry game in jeopardy

We won't know for a day or two, but a marquee Big Ten women's game is in jeopardy.

Michigan State (8-2) is set to visit No. 13 Michigan (9-0) on Monday afternoon, but the Spartans just had to cancel their scheduled Thursday game because of COVID-19 issues within the program.

It's rare for a team with COVID-19 issues to only postpone or cancel one game. The Michigan State men announced the cancellation of one game Wednesday, and announced another cancellation Thursday.

The Michigan State men have at least three players with COVID-19; it hasn't been announced how many Michigan State women's players have tested positive.

The Michigan State-Michigan game always is big, but might be bigger this year, with Michigan still unbeaten, and Michigan State just outside the Associated Press top 25 after back-to-back losses. The matchup between Michigan State's Nia Clouden and Michigan's Naz Hillmon is intriguing.

Michigan already has been through this, having to cancel back-to-back Big Ten games last month because of its own COVID-19 issues.

"Every game, we're going to come out and play like it's our last game," Michigan junior guard Amy Dilk said recently. "We don't know if tomorrow's guaranteed."

Slam dunks

►Oakland senior guard Rashad Williams is tied for second in the nation with 47 3-pointers made, but also has the most misses with 94.

►Former Oakland player Tray Maddox Jr. (Novi) is finding his footing at new home Cal State Fullerton, averaging 19.75 points his last four games.

►Former Western Michigan star Michael Flowers (Southfield A&T) is 19th in the nation in scoring, averaging 21.2 points for South Alabama.

►Oakland broadcasters Neal Ruhl and Dan Waterstradt landed a big gig, and will call Tuesday's Michigan-Maryland game for the new National Sports Network.

►Western Michigan's women's game Saturday was postponed, because of COVID-19 issues at Kent State.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (11-0)

2. Michigan State (8-4)

3. Oakland (3-12)

4. Central Michigan (5-7)

5. Eastern Michigan (3-4)

6. Western Michigan (2-8)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-7)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (9-0)

2. Michigan State (8-2)

3. Central Michigan (7-3)

4. Eastern Michigan (6-5)

5. Oakland (4-7)

6. Western Michigan (1-7)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-11)

Games of the week

MEN

►Green Bay at Detroit Mercy, 7 Friday and 6 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Youngstown State at Oakland, 7 Friday and 3 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Michigan at Minnesota, 2 Saturday (ESPN)

►Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan, 4:30 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Maryland at Michigan, 7 Tuesday (FS1)

WOMEN

►Oakland at Detroit Mercy, 2 Friday and 1 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Ohio at Central Michigan, 1 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Michigan State at Michigan, 12:30 Monday (BTN)

►Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan, 7 Wednesday (ESPN+)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984