State hoops: Here's why rivals Oakland, Detroit Mercy aren't making up their canceled game

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

In regard to making up the Jan. 5 canceled men's basketball game between rivals Detroit Mercy and Oakland, the Horizon League encouraged the schools to reschedule.

But they don't have to — and they're not going to. While the athletic directors at both schools discussed makeup dates for the scrapped game at Calihan Hall, the dueling coaches were indifferent, at best. 

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe watches over his team during the first half.

"It just put both parties in a bad situation," Detroit Mercy head coach Mike Davis said. "It's too many games down the stretch. The way the schedule is set up, it's hard to play another game."

Said Oakland head coach Greg Kampe: "Both of us, we agreed we would be putting our players in a really bad situation. ... Having both coached for a combination of 70-some years, all right, I think we know what's best for our athletes."

Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels offered up two possible makeup dates for the game — this past Tuesday, and Tuesday, Feb. 15.

This past Tuesday would've given Oakland a fifth consecutive league road game, which is the max allowed by the league. Kampe didn't want a part of that.

Tuesday, Feb. 15, would've made for two consecutive games between the rivals — they play at the O'Rena in Rochester on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 13. That's not ideal for either party. The Horizon League's new 20-game conference schedule also doesn't leave much wiggle room. For instance, playing that day would give Oakland six games in a 12-day span, and the same for Detroit Mercy.

Neither school wanted that situation, for obvious health reasons with the Horizon League tournament and the NCAA Tournament looming at that point in the season. Both Oakland (15-5) and Detroit Mercy (7-10) are considered good picks to win the Horizon League tournament, and already are facing a grueling schedule down the stretch — with each team's final five games including each other, as well as Wright State, Northern Kentucky, Cleveland State and Purdue-Fort Wayne. Those are the top six teams in the Horizon League.

"Why would we do that to our players?" Kampe said.

There's always a chance that the league could hastily schedule another Detroit Mercy-Oakland matchup, should both end up with a common date off because of COVID-19. That's how the teams ended up playing each other four times during the regular season last year. The coaches decided it was best to leave it to that scenario, should that scenario play out. Both teams also believe they could end up meeting in the Horizon League tournament, perhaps in the championship game.

More: Niyo: Now at full strength, Michigan-Michigan State could deliver on hype

So, there was no urgency — or obligation — to make up the game at the coaches' level. The game, if not made up, is considered a no-contest, so it doesn't affect the league standings.

Right now, Oakland is tied for first in the league with Cleveland State at 9-1, and Detroit Mercy is fourth, at 5-3, just ahead of PFW, at 6-4. The league, after installing a COVID-19-inspired formula for tournament seeding last season, has gone back to winning percentage for this season.

The top four teams in the Horizon League will earn a bye, and play a home quarterfinal, which sets up a nice path to making it to Indianapolis for the league semifinals and, perhaps, the final. Nobody wants to say it out loud, but one team would have to lose that makeup game, and it could prove devastating for league seeding.

UDM head coach Mike Davis talks with his son, Detroit guard Antoine Davis.

"We didn't want to put either team in jeopardy, you know?" Davis said.

There is a strong belief in Titans' fan circles that the Golden Grizzlies are ducking the game, but Davis wanted nothing to do with that narrative. And Oakland has dominated the series for several years.

The Jan. 5 game, by the way, was scrapped by Detroit Mercy not because it didn't have enough players but rather because hadn't practiced in several days because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

It canceled its previous two games because of multiple COVID-19 cases among players. Some of those players were coming out of quarantine the Tuesday before the game and the Wednesday of the game.

"We had enough for the game, but enough meant they had no days of practice," Davis said. "You can't ask kids to play a game after being out 10 days with no kind of conditioning.

"I really appreciate Kampe and them understanding that, and the league, as well."

The Oakland game is one of five cancellations on Detroit Mercy's schedule — all home games, including Saturday's game against IUPUI. It is one of three cancellations on Oakland's schedule, including the Thursday home game against IUPUI.

Both teams have opted to add last-minute games against lower-division foes, with Oakland playing Ohio Christian and Michigan-Dearborn (after Kampe was rebuffed by efforts to book a road game against Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Kansas and Dayton), and Detroit Mercy adding Michigan-Dearborn for Monday. Playing such games were beneficial in that they allow the stars to get a rest, while getting the reserves more game action. Adding those games also is a safety net to help assure the teams each play at least 25 games this season, which is the minimum required to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

UM-Dearborn, an NAIA school, has benefited from all these cancellations, getting three Division I games on its schedule this month, including one against Purdue-Fort Wayne. 

Slam dunks

►The Michigan women's basketball team keeps on impressing, at 18-2 — including two dominant victories over rival and also-ranked Ohio State, a 77-58 shellacking in Columbus on Thursday the latest example. The Wolverines led by as many as 34 in the game, which featured senior forward Naz Hillmon becoming the program's all-time leader in rebounds (935), with 12 to go with 20 points.

The Wolverines are ranked seventh in the nation, their highest ranking ever, and in the first NCAA Tournament selection projections, they're ranked ninth. That would be good for a 3 seed and host assignments for the first two rounds.

►The Michigan State women (11-8) have won three straight games and are keeping their outside shot of an NCAA Tournament appearance alive, despite being decimated by season-ending injuries to three key players. A big reason the Spartans are keeping their heads above water: Matilda Ekh, a guard/forward from Sweden who picked up her second Big Ten freshman of the week award after posting 23 points, six assists and five rebounds in a win over Minnesota. It's her second weekly award. Averaging 12.3 points a game, she's second on the team, behind senior guard Nia Clouden (21.2).

►Speaking of makeup games, we're still waiting to hear if Michigan and Michigan State will reschedule the Jan. 8 game that was set to be played at Crisler Center. The rivals will meet in East Lansing on Saturday, with a good chance that's the only time they'll play in the regular season.

The other canceled rivalry game, between Western Michigan and Central Michigan men, will be made up Thursday, with a 7 p.m. tip-off in Mount Pleasant, the Mid-American Conference announced Friday.

►Michigan had one player invited to participate in the March 29 McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago — Detroit Edison's Ruby Whitehorn, a guard who has committed to Clemson. The boys and girls games include the top 24 boys and top 24 girls in the country, out of more than 760 players who were nominated for the coveted invitations. 

►The Horizon League could be down to 11 full-time members for the 2022-23 school year, with the news that Illinois-Chicago is leaving for the Missouri Valley Conference in June. The league is considering replacements, but might not be able to get a new member by next school year.

State power rankings


1. Michigan State (15-4)

2. Michigan (10-7)

3. Oakland (15-5)

4. Detroit Mercy (7-10)

5. Eastern Michigan (7-11)

6. Central Michigan (2-13)

7. Western Michigan (4-15)


1. Michigan (18-2)

2. Michigan State (11-8)

3. Oakland (9-8)

4. Western Michigan (10-5)

5. Eastern Michigan (4-11)

6. Central Michigan (4-14)

7. Detroit Mercy (0-18)

Games of the week


►Michigan at Michigan State, 12:30 Saturday (CBS)

►Michigan State at Maryland, 7 Tuesday (ESPN2)

►Nebraska at Michigan, 9 Tuesday (BTN)

►Western Michigan at Central Michigan, 7 Thursday (ESPN+)

►Oakland at Northern Kentucky, 7 Thursday (ESPN+)

►Detroit Mercy at Wright State, 7 Thursday (ESPN+)


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

►Oakland at Youngstown State, 1 Sunday (ESPN+)

►Indiana at Michigan, 7 Monday (ESPN2)

►Maryland at Michigan State, 6 Thursday (BTN)

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984