After gutting the whole program in the off-season, a new era of Central Michigan basketball under the guidance of Keno Davis is ready to begin.
The last two seasons of Chippewa basketball were a disaster, to put it mildly. Two seasons ago, expectations for the program were sky high, and the future looked bright with talented guard/forward Trey Zeigler committing to the team to play for his dad. To make a long story short, those expectations were never even close to being met, with the team going 10-21 in the first year, and 11-21 year two. To make matters worse, the team wasn't even entertaining, ranking near the bottom of the nation in points per game, and free throw percentage.
The program got stagnant, and Ernie Zeigler was fired after six seasons, a 75-111 overall record, and never once posting a winning season. Even worse, Zeigler wasn't any better in the classroom, with no player under his watch playing all four years and graduating.
The Chippewas enter the year with way more questions than answers, with only five players from last years team returning. The top three scorers on last years team, Trey Zeigler, Derek Jackson, and Austin McBroom all transferring after Coach Zeigler was fired. On a team that scored only 62 points per game last year, those three players, plus the graduated Andre Coimbra made up the top four scorers on the team, and made up for for nearly 75% of the teams scoring last year. The next four players in terms of scoring all return, but combined they averaged only 14.4 points per game.
The biggest change to the team comes at the top, where Keno Davis has been brought in to try and bring excitement back to Mt. Pleasant. Davis was an assistant at Iowa in the 90s before moving on to Drake, where he eventually became head coach, and won the 2008 AP National Coach of the Year, guiding the Bulldogs to a 28-5 record, and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. From there he moved on to the Big East where he coached at Providence for three seasons. In his four seasons as a head coach, Davis has put together a 74-55 overall record.
One major issue that has myself, and the rest of Mt. Pleasant excited is the style of play that Davis has said he is bringing to the Chippewas. I always felt that Zeigler never utilized his roster in the best way. Rather than try to run and play fast with a roster full of guards, Zeigler preferred a slow, pro-style offense that CMU didn't have the talent, or size to run. Coach Davis has promised a more up-tempo offense, with lots of fast breaks, and three point shooting, as well as a more attacking defense that will feature plenty of full, and 3/4 court pressures. CMU may not see many wins this year, but at least they will be entertaining to watch, and will get in their share of shootouts this season.
One thing that Davis has mentioned all throughout the off-season is the fact that almost everyone on the current roster has the ability to be a dangerous shooter from behind the three-point line.
But there are a ton of questions surrounding this years team. Who are the starters going to be? How deep will the bench be? How will CMU deal with its lack of size, and experience? How much success will they find during the year?
CMU was picked to finish last in the MAC pre-season poll, so there is nowhere to go but up for this team. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to who might be a starter for this team, but my early picks would be Austin Keel, UNC-Greensboro transfer Kyle Randall, Olivier Mbaigoto, Zach Saylor, and maybe Finis Craddock. With the style of play that Davis plans to run, expect him to go deep into his bench that should run at least eight men deep, and probably even down to the tenth or eleventh man to try and keep players fresh in his up-tempo system.
The two biggest challenges that this team faces coming into the season will be their lack of experience, and lack of size. The team only has five guys on it with significant playing experience at the D-1 level. Davis added 14 players this off-season in recruiting and walk-ons, and of those 11 are freshmen or sophomores. The other big issue is their lack of size, with only three players on the roster (at least those with numbers on the CMU site) listed at 6'7" or taller, and the tallest player listed at 6'8".
For CMU, a dream season/best case scenario in terms of wins and losses, would be coming close to the type of season that Zeigler put up last year. Something around 10 wins, and anything but last place in the weak MAC West would be a tremendous job by Davis in his first year. It would also be a dream season if Davis is able to implement his system, make this team an exciting one to watch, and bring in a solid recruiting class.
With so much change happening to this program during the off-season, I don't even know where to begin when trying to predict an overall record. I think early on this team will struggle as they try to figure out a rotation of players, adjust to the new system, and deal with their lack of size and experience. But I think that as the season wears on, and the young roster gets more settled in, they could make life difficult in the latter half of the MAC schedule. On nights when they are hitting their three's they could be a dangerous team to play against, and maybe play spoiler to someone in the MAC West.
This season is not about wins and losses, but about building towards the future of the program, and I believe Coach Davis has the team headed in the right direction. CMU's season kicks off November 12th.