When CMU brought in Keno Davis to try and turn things around for the Chippewas basketball program, things were going to get worse before they got better. Nearly everyone on the previous years team either quit, transferred, or graduated, and made the first year under Davis one full of question marks. In year two, many of those same questions remain, who's going to score? Who's going to rebound? Will this young team get better as the year goes on?
One might look at the Chippewas record last year, and see it as a miracle that they ended up winning 11 games after winning 12 the year before, and with all the turnover in the off-season. But actually, it might be considered a disappointment, seeing that they went 7-8 in the non-conference schedule, and just 4-12 in MAC play to finish up 11-20. But there were a large number of positives to come out of the year, the team increased its scoring, free throw shooting, increased attendance, and found a number of promising players for the future.
The biggest loss for CMU i the past season's leading scorer Kyle Randall. Randall led CMU with 18.7 points per game, and was the only player to average double figures last season. Another big loss is Olivier Mbaigoto, who was fourth on the team in scoring, and second on the team in rebounding, he didn't have the most impressive stats, but was a decent sized guy on a team with very little size. Also gone is Finis Craddock, a depth guard who didn't start one game a year ago. That's it.
Pretty much everyone. The big returns though are forwards Blake Hibbitts and John Simons, and guard Chris Fowler. Hibbitts was the second leading scorer last year, averaging just under nine points per game, while Simons led the team in rebounding and chipped in over seven points per game. But the big return is Fowler. Last year, Fowler started every game, was the runner-up for MAC Freshman of the Year, and set a CMU freshman record for assists in a season with 176, good for a 5.7 per game average and was third on the team in scoring with just over eight per game. Derrick Richardson Jr. and Austin Keel are also back, and should provide depth at the guard positions, and some outside shooting.
Freshman to Watch
The big one, literally and figuratively, for Central this year is 7-footer Milos Cabarkapa, a 20-year-old freshman from Serbia who spent last season playing at a basketball academy in Florida. On a team with only five players listed at 6-7 or taller, and one that struggled to rebound last year, Cabarkapa should get a chance right away to show what he has. The fact that he's 20, and has had an additional two years to grow into his body, and bulk up to 230 pounds, can only help. From the limited highlights I've seen from his time in Serbia, he's smooth to the basket, and a good passer, which should help free up the guards for the three's that Keno Davis teams love to shoot.
Again, the same questions that last season's team had, are back this year. Who is going to step up and be the go-to scorer? Can CMU improve it's rebounding? Is there enough front court depth? And can this young team get better as the year goes on? All in all, I think there are lots of good things in place for this program, but I think they are a year, maybe two from being a contender for the MAC West title. What I think happens, is the team does grow, and gets better through the MAC season, finishing both the year, and their conference schedule right around .500. Again, they're probably a year or two from being a MAC contender, but should be a tough matchup for teams vying for the title.