State hoops: No. 1 Hope women haven't lost in 700 days, and again won't have shot at national title

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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The Hope College women's basketball team hasn't lost a game since the 2018-19 season, and yet the program will have no sanctioned national championship banner to raise.

For the second time in 11 months, the NCAA has canceled the Division III national tournament. The NCAA made the announcement earlier this weekend, canceling all winter sports championships, including swimming and diving, indoor track and field, hockey and wrestling, along with basketball.

Hope women's coach Brian Morehouse found out moments after Wednesday's win over No. 5 Trine. Hope (5-0), which began the season Jan. 20, is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Hope College's Ashleigh Thomas (Macomb Lutheran North) goes up for a basket Wednesday against Trine.

Last March, Hope was 29-0 and was set to play a third-round NCAA game when the plug was pulled.

"To get smacked in the face once is tough. You try to learn some life lessons," Morehouse said Friday. "The second time, you're just like, come on. There are no life lessons to be learn from this. It's difficult."

Morehouse got the news after the 61-52 victory over Trine, from a tap on the shoulder from associate head coach Courtney Kust. Kust has been to a Final Four, as a player.

Then Morehouse was charged with breaking the news to the team in the locker room.

A win over a top-five team, followed by devastating news. Again. 

Everybody was back from last year's season, except for two players who graduated.

"These women are amazing," said Morehouse, whose daughter, Meg, a sophomore guard, is among them — he drove her back to her dorm late Wednesday, stopping for food on the way, and talking things over. "This group of people, their maturity, their ability to deal with the things they've had to deal with in the last 12 months, has been really impressive."

Morehouse knew the players were in no position to decide how to move forward immediately after Wednesday's game, so he kept his office door open all day Thursday.

Players came by, sparking some good conversations about whether to move forward with the season. Other teams have shut it down, most notably Duke.

Morehouse said he was fine with whatever decision his players made.

They decided to keep playing. They practiced Friday and will play at Kalamazoo on Saturday. There are still plans for an MIAA tournament, for now.

"This is a player-led program, and we need to listen to our athletes," Morehouse said. "In the end, they determined that the best part of their day is showing up to practice and being with teammates, their really good friends, for two hours. Those relationships and that stability, day to day, in the midst of COVID is something they really lean on for mental-health purposes.

"We want to complete the ride, whatever that might be."

Morehouse, for his part, called being around his players and coaches the best part of his day, as well.

Hope hasn't lost a game in more than 700 days, and counting.

Speaking out

It wasn't just Michigan-based college coaches speaking out about the state's high school sports shutdown. Former Romulus High School coach Nate Oats, now head coach at Alabama, wrote a strong letter in support of starting the high school basketball season in Michigan — which will now happen Feb. 8, after the state lifted the restrictions earlier this week amid a flurry of protests, outcry and even one lawsuit.

"High school sports for me was always an extension of the classroom," wrote Oats, who was head coach at Romulus from 2002-13. "The benefits for high school athletics are not just for the elite players that coaches like me want in our programs, but for all students they have long-term benefits."

Oats also said the shutdown was forcing big-time programs to stop Michigan recruiting efforts, because there were no games or even practices to watch. Michigan had been one of just two states not playing basketball; some states already have started their playoffs.

Other coaches who joined the "Let Them Play" cause included Michigan's Juwan Howard, Oakland's Greg Kampe and Central Michigan women's coach Heather Oesterle.

Slam dunks

►This is a huge weekend for Oakland men's basketball, with the series against Horizon League leader Cleveland State. A win or two and the Golden Grizzlies would put themselves in prime position for a first-round bye in the league tournament — those go to the top four teams, not in the standings, but as calculated by a formula of factors given the unbalanced scheduled created by COVID-19 cancellations. After starting 0-9 with a loaded nonconference schedule, Oakland is 8-4, and is currently projected inside the top-four line.

Detroit Mercy also is heating up, with five wins in its last six games, but is slotted for low seeding right now because of a soft strength of schedule — which to be fair, has been very much out of its control, given cancellations amid COVID-19. The Titans host Purdue Fort Wayne this weekend.

►The fallout from the Detroit Mercy women's basketball saga has now reached the roster level, with sophomore guard Annika Corcoran announcing a transfer to Akron, and senior guard Aly Reiff entering the transfer portal this week. Detroit Mercy has provided no updates since shutting down the season last month amid allegations from all players and parents that first-year head coach AnnMarie Gilbert was running a program built on mental, verbal and physical abuse, and fear.

►Eastern Michigan men's basketball has postponed four consecutive games, including the next two, and women's basketball has postponed six consecutive games, including the next four.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (13-1)

2. Michigan State (8-7)

3. Oakland (8-13)

4. Detroit Mercy (6-8)

5. Central Michigan (6-11)

6. Eastern Michigan (4-8)

7. Western Michigan (3-11)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (10-1)

2. Michigan State (10-4)

3. Central Michigan (10-6)

4. Oakland (8-9)

5. Eastern Michigan (9-6)

6. Western Michigan (2-11)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-13)

Games of the week

MEN

►Western Michigan at Central Michigan, 2 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Cleveland State at Oakland, 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Purdue Fort Wayne at Detroit Mercy, 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Nebraska at Michigan State, 6:30 Saturday (BTN)

►Penn State at Michigan State, 7 Tuesday (ESPN)

WOMEN

►Central Michigan at Western Michigan, 2 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Northwestern at Michigan State, 3 Sunday (BTN+)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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