State hoops: Oakland finally catches a break; plus, who's on the hot seat?

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

You'll excuse Greg Kampe if he thought he was snake-bitten.

In seven previous Horizon League men's basketball tournaments, his Oakland Golden Grizzlies have never made the finals, have been one-and-out four times, and have lost four one-possession games, including two times at the buzzer — in 2017 to No. 9 seed Youngstown State, when Oakland was the No. 1, and again in 2019 to No. 2 Northern Kentucky.

So when things started to go sour Tuesday late against Youngstown State in the Horizon League quarterfinals, you can bet bad thoughts were creeping into his mind.

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe.

Oakland pulled it out, 87-83, in overtime, thanks to some big-time plays from JUCO transfer Jalen Moore, freshman forward Trey Townsend and big-time shooting from senior Rashad Williams.

After the game, during his postgame Zoom, Kampe held up his car keys and dangled them.

"If we'd lost another one-possession game in this tournament, I would've walked right out that door to the parking lot, gotten in my car ... and you guys probably would've never seen me again," Kampe said, jokingly, at least, we think.

"If we'd lost another one-possession game like that. it's time for a change. Don't think that thought wasn't in my head.

"We've done really, really well, but the postseason has been bad. It's been a stretch of unluckiness, a long stretch of, 'What the hell happened?' Don't think that doesn't weigh on me."

Despite some favorable seedings, and several tournaments held at Joe Louis Arena or Little Caesars Arena, Kampe hasn't made the NCAAs since 2010 and 2011, back when Oakland was in the Summit League.

Oakland (11-17) is the second-highest seed remaining, at No. 3, and plays No. 4 Northern Kentucky (14-10) in the semifinals Monday in Indianapolis. No. 1 Cleveland State (17-7) plays No. 8 Milwaukee (10-11) in the earlier semifinal. The championship game, which has eluded Kampe and Co., is Tuesday.

But who knows, maybe this is finally the year.

It's been the strangest of years, anyway, with Oakland having a major COVID-19 outbreak before the season, shutting things down for two weeks, and then going on to be a rare college team to play all 27 scheduled games. Oakland started 0-9 against a nasty tough nonconference schedule (losing in OT to Michigan), then has gone 11-8 since. It let several of those games get away, too.

Oakland hasn't played Northern Kentucky — that week, Northern Kentucky had a COVID-19 issue, so the Oakland played Detroit Mercy instead — was swept by Cleveland State and split with Milwaukee.

"When you're at where I'm at in my life, where I'm at in my career, this isn't about how many rings," said Kampe, 65. "I've got more rings than fingers. This is about them (players). 

"It makes me sick to my stomach when I can't get there."

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Rob Murphy

The hot seats

Last offseason, there weren't many college-basketball firings, because of the uncertainty about athletic-department finances amid COVID-19.

We're expecting to see a lot more shakeups in the coming weeks, and that could affect the state.

Rob Murphy, Eastern Michigan's men's coach since 2011, is on the hot seat, with the season finale set for Friday night at Western Michigan. He's in the final year of his contract, and most around the game expect some movement here, perhaps as early as Saturday.

Murphy, a Detroit native, began his Eastern tenure with four winning seasons in his first five, but just one in his last five. This season has pretty much been a nightmare, with the Eagles 5-12 and 2-11 in the Mid-American Conference, sandwiched around a three-plus-week COVID-19 pause.

It's also worth keeping an eye on Central Michigan's Keno Davis, who's in his ninth season and, like Murphy, hasn't made the NCAA Tournament at his current stop. The Chippewas are 7-15 and 3-12 in the MAC with two losses to rival Western Michigan, but are coming off a shocking upset of Toledo.

Davis' contract runs through 2023-24. He still has a $500,000 buyout if he's fired this year, and that wouldn't be a good look to pay that when the program had to cut men's track to save $600,000 a year. Unless a big-buck donor steps up to pay that, Davis is likely sticking around with a buyout that drops $100,000 a year through the final year.

Then there's Detroit Mercy's Mike Davis, who just wrapped a third season on the job and could be seen as a hot commodity for some of the current and upcoming openings. It's unclear if Davis wants out just yet; his team was among the hottest in the Horizon League before falling at the buzzer in the quarterfinals, and everybody is expected back, including son and star point guard Antoine Davis. This is a team on the rise; an NCAA Tournament bid next season could land Davis another Power Five opportunity, his first since Indiana.

On the women's side, there's no word on the status of first-year Detroit Mercy coach AnnMarie Gilbert, who was accused by players of mental and verbal abuse, leading the university to shut down the season. The team's top three scorers are in the transfer portal, and have led the school know they won't play for Gilbert.

Central Michigan head coach Keno Davis

Holy Toledo

Speaking of Central Michigan, it's been a tough year, with a COVID-19 pause there, too.

But Davis' team is managing to finish on a high night, having beaten the league's first-place team, Toledo, 81-79, on Tuesday. The Chippewas did it without two starters, senior guards Travon Broadway Jr. (17.9 points) and Devontae Lane (8.5 points), out with injuries.

The team has been short-handed since returning from four cancellations last month. It had nine players available for its first game back, and basically is playing a six-game rotation now.

No matter, the Chippewas took down Toledo, which is led by some Michigan natives and aiming for first first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1980.

"This is, in a lot of ways, the most-rewarding win," Davis told CMUChippewas.com. "The biggest wins for coaches aren't the ones that send you to the NCAA (Tournament) or the ones that win your conference.

"It's the ones where you face adversity, and you find a way and you work extremely hard to be able to do it. It's not just because you have the best team out there and with what we were able to put out there with numbers, that's why in some ways there's no other game that's been more rewarding than this in my career."

Western Michigan head coach Clayton Bates.

In or out?

The MAC men's and women's tournaments are going to look a bit different this year. The league announced last year the tournaments would only include the top eight finishers in the league standings, and that every game would be played in Cleveland. Previously, every team made it, with first-round games for low seeds held at campus sites.

On the men's side, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan are all out. But there's a possibility Western could go. Ohio has had to cancel its last two games because of COVID-19 reasons, and both schools are awaiting word if the Bobcats are going to be available for the MAC tournament. If not, then the No. 9 seed gets moved up to No. 8 and into the field; the No. 9 seed is Western Michigan.

On the women's side, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan are in; Western Michigan is out.

The MAC tournament starts Thursday.

Slam dunks

►The Michigan women's team wasn't happy to be excluded from the top-16-seed projections from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, particularly the first one, when Michigan was 11-1 and ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll. There's little to complain about now, with three losses in the Wolverines' last four games. Granted, two (Indiana, Maryland) were against ranked teams, but Michigan also was routed by Iowa.

Still, it's one of the best seasons in the history of the program, which has made the last two NCAA Tournaments, and probably would've made last year's had it not been canceled.

►Cool gesture by No. 1-ranked Hope College women's coach Brian Morehouse, who has nine starters and decided to start every one of them last week on Senior Day (he took a technical). "They deserve this," he said. Hope hasn't lost in the last two seasons, but was denied a shot at last year's and this year's NCAA championship because of COVID-19. Hope (15-0) does play for the MIAA title Saturday, against Trine.

►More to keep an eye on with the coaching front: Former Michigan coach John Beilein was a big target for the Boston College opening, but he is said not to be interested in that job — but could be intrigued by other possible vacancies (Indiana?). BC might turn its attention to current Michigan assistant Howard Eisley, a Detroit native and Boston College alum.

►The Wayne State men (12-6), Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions, were upset by Saginaw Valley, 76-74, in the tournament quarterfinals. The Wayne State women (12-8), after winning an opening game, also lost in the quarterfinals, 69-58 to Saginaw Valley.

►This marks the first time Michigan State coach Tom Izzo will finish under .500 in Big Ten play, Thursday's loss at No. 2 Michigan sealing the Spartans' fate. MSU is 8-11 with one more game against UM on Sunday.

 State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (19-2)

2. Michigan State (14-11)

3. Oakland (11-17)

4. Detroit Mercy (12-10)

5. Western Michigan (5-15)

6. Central Michigan (7-15)

7. Eastern Michigan (5-12)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (13-4)

2. Michigan State (12-7)

3. Central Michigan (14-8)

4. Eastern Michigan (10-8)

5. Oakland (12-12)

6. Western Michigan (6-14)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-13)

Top games of the week

MEN

►Michigan at Michigan State, 4:30 Sunday (CBS)

►Northern Kentucky vs. Oakland, Horizon League, 9:30 Monday (ESPN2)

WOMEN

►Northern Illinois at Central Michigan, 1 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Eastern Michigan at Toledo, 2 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Wisconsin at Michigan State, 2 Saturday (BTN+)

►Northwestern at Michigan, 3 Saturday (BTN+)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984