State hoops: EMU men, women finally set to return from contact-tracing shutdown

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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University of Michigan athletics has had some company for the latest Washtenaw County COVID-19 shutdown.

Eastern Michigan's men's and women's basketball programs have been on pause since late January. The men have had five games postponed and haven't played since an 86-65 loss at Akron on Jan. 26, while the women's team also has had five games postponed and haven't played since a 69-66 win over Ohio on Jan. 27.

Eastern Michigan's Ty Groce, front left, goes to the basket against Michigan State's Xavier Tillman during the first half.

While the shutdown at Michigan was because of the COVID-19 variant strain, the issue at Eastern Michigan was contact tracing, athletic director Scott Wetherbee said.

"Contact tracing on a small team is a killer," Wetherbee said, adding there have been "not many" positive cases on either roster.

Both teams have been holding individual workouts and practices, with the plan to return to full-team activities this weekend.

The men (4-8) are scheduled to return to action Tuesday at home against Buffalo, while the women (9-6) are scheduled to play again Sunday, Feb. 21, at home against Toledo.

"We should be good for the rest of the season," Wetherbee said.

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The Eastern Michigan men's team expected some big things this season with a veteran roster filled with transfers, plus senior star forward Ty Groce. But it hasn't been able to find any sense of consistency, given the COVID-19 issues throughout the country. Eastern Michigan opened the season with barely enough players available to play Michigan State, then saw games against Valparaiso, Buffalo, Kent State and Western Michigan postponed because of COVID-19 issues at those programs. All told, the Eagles have seen nine games postponed or canceled. There will be few if any opportunities to make those league games up before the MAC tournament.

The women's team, led by redshirt senior guard Areanna Combs and redshirt sophomore forward Ce'Nara Skanes — they've combined to average 37 points a game — was finding its stride before the shutdown, having won five of six before the string of postponements. These are the team's first postponements of the season.

Michigan, of course, is getting back to action this week, with the men's team playing Wisconsin on Sunday. The women's team returned Thursday, beating Purdue.

Subscribers: Meet 6-11 guard Noah Waterman, who's helped turn around Detroit Mercy's season

On the Mark

Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe it's not.

But Detroit Mercy has been rolling lately, and just so happened to get a big midseason addition — and not on the playing roster.

Mark Montgomery in late January joined Mike Davis' staff as an assistant coach in late January, after he was fired as head coach at Northern Illinois. He was the head coach at Northern Illinois for 10 seasons, after a decade-long run as an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Before that, he was at Central Michigan.

"To bring in a coach like coach Montgomery, you have a coach who has 10 years of head-coaching experience and 10 years as an assistant so a very experienced coach,"  Davis said last month. "We have been putting a lot of time in and he has really helped us in just the short time he has been here."

Montgomery, an Inkster native and former Michigan State basketball player, took over for assistant Keith LeGree, who returned home to Georgia to become head coach at Statesboro High School.

Detroit Mercy (8-8) had won five in a row and seven of eight entering the Friday-Saturday weekend series against Cleveland State.

Former Muskegon Heights boys basketball coach Lamar Chapman, who also had coached at Central Michigan, is the interim head coach at Northern Illinois.

More: Detroit Mercy parent: Letter that shut down women's season sent without my knowledge, consent

Slam dunks

►It's been rough sledding for Western Michigan women this season, but there was a big highlight in Wednesday's 74-66 win over Akron. Redshirt freshman Taylor Williams, from New Baltimore, tied a program record with 21 rebounds (10 were on the offensive glass) — good for fourth-best ever in a Mid-American Conference game.

She also had 30 points, her career high, and tied for 10th in program history.

►Western Michigan men's coach Clayton Bates only has four wins in his first season, and only three of those are against Division I foes. But two of those also are against rival Central Michigan, making him just the fifth Broncos coach ever to sweep the season series in his first year as head coach.

►Big news out of the Horizon League on Friday, with word that Robert Morris guard AJ Bramah is transferring. He leads the team with 21 points and 10.3 rebounds a game, both second in the league, and figures to be moving on to a high-major program. Oakland was set to play Robert Morris in a Friday-Saturday series.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (13-1)

2. Michigan State (10-7)

3. Detroit Mercy (8-8)

4. Oakland (8-15)

5. Western Michigan (4-11)

6. Central Michigan (6-12)

7. Eastern Michigan (4-8)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (11-1)

2. Michigan State (10-5)

3. Central Michigan (12-6)

4. Oakland (10-9)

5. Eastern Michigan (9-6)

6. Western Michigan (3-12)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-13)

Games of the week

MEN

►Iowa at Michigan State, 2:30 Saturday (Fox)

►Oakland at Robert Morris, 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Detroit Mercy at Cleveland State, 7 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Michigan at Wisconsin, 1 Sunday (CBS)

►Michigan State at Purdue, 7 Tuesday (ESPN)

►Rutgers at Michigan, 9 Thursday (FS1)

WOMEN

►Michigan State at Penn State, noon Saturday (BTN)

►Kent State at Central Michigan, 1 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Oakland at Milwaukee, 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Michigan at Indiana, TBA Thursday (TBA)

tpaul@detrotnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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