After one of the best seasons in Eastern Michigan basketball history, what is it that we can we expect from the Eagles next year? There are a lot of questions going into the 2014-2015 season for the Eastern Michigan Eagles, but do we have any answers?
The Eagles have 6 seniors that are gone after this year due to graduation. How will they replace the defensive presence of the 7’0 center and MAC defensive player of the year Da’Shonte Riley, and the help from Mo Hughley? Or replace the energy and athleticism of Glenn Bryant III, the mid-range shooters and key rebounders of Daylen Harrison and Anthony Strickland, then a solid guard in JR Sims.
These 6 seniors accomplished so much this last season, even though they didn’t win the MAC West division title you can still consider this one of the best teams in program history. The Eagles were the #1 team in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to an average of 36.9% shooting. EMU finished this season with a 22-15 record, the best record since the 1995-96 season. And for the first time since the 1997-98 season Eastern Michigan was going to a postseason tournament. The Eagles season would conclude with a loss in the CIT to Columbia 56-69.
But looking ahead to next season, who will fill these huge shoes? Even though Eastern Michigan lost a lot of talent there is still a ton of talent left on this team. EMU will return all 4 out of 5 of it’s leading scorers from this last season. That includes Karrington Ward, Raven Lee, Darrell Combs and Mike Talley. These guys are mostly guards and forwards that are perimeter shooters. So the offensive side of things seem to be in good shape.
But what about the defense that has received a ton of attention? The Rob murphy 2-3 zone is one of the toughest defenses in college basketball and the Eagles lose a big part of that. Losing the MAC player of the year in Da’Shonte Riley who averaged close to 3 blocks per game, and had 95 blocks this season. Another huge part to that defense was Glenn Bryant, as he had 54 blocks this season. Both Riley and Bryant had a combined 57 steals this year which was a huge part in a very successful defense.
With the losses of the big men down low it’s going to be a tough task to replace them down low. Eastern Michigan does return 6’10 Center Lekan Ajayi who will have a tough task at taking over one of the biggest parts of this team. Ajayi did have quite a bit of playing time this season but with what looks to be little to no help next season Ajayi will have to step up into a huge leadership role.
A big part missing this season for EMU was the DePaul transfer Jodan Price, a 6’7 sophomore from Indianapolis, Indiana. Price had to take a year off because he transferred to Eastern Michigan. Price gives the Eagles more inside presence but he is another player known for his perimeter shooting ability.
As far as recurring goes Rob murphy has snagged Jordan Nobles a 6’8 forward out of Canton, Michigan and also got Tristan Wilson also 6’8 out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. With these two commits Coach Murphy hopes they can fill in for the height that is graduating this year. Murphy also his eyes on a 7’0 center, Khadim Dieng a 3 star prospect that is undecided.
Karrington Ward a junior who transferred to EMU from Moraine Valley Community College averaged 12.4 points per game, and at one point in the season was averaging close to 18 points per game. Ward was one of the most consistent 3 point shooters on this team, shooting 38% from behind the arc. Ward is probably the best all around player returning for EMU. he played more minutes then anybody else last season, led the team in field goals made, 3 pointers made, and steals.
Then we get to the guards, a position where Eastern Michigan will be very deep at in the 2014-2015 season. Raven Lee has proven he is one of the top guards in the MAC, averaging close to 11 points per game and has had some standout games where he has had scored 20+ points. Then we have Darell Combs, a sharp shooter who got hot toward the end of the regular season and during the MAC Tournament. Combs came off then bench for most of the year and was able to help the Eagles in pressure situations a couple of times. And we can’t forget the help of Mike Talley, a starter for the Eagles who also averaged 10-11 points per game. Talley’s speed is what helped EMU in a lot of transition moments he was able to get to the basket quickly and make a difficult shot. Now this position is really deep because there is also Ali Farhat and Trent Perry. Sophomore Jalen Ross also a guard has decided he’s going to transfer out of Eastern Michigan.
Glenn Bryant III was the energy guy for this Eastern Michigan team that gave this team a huge spark whenever they needed it. Bryant’s energy made this team play better and got the crowd into games. So who will fill these shoes, as far as energy goes? Redshirt Freshman captain Trent Perry brought lot of the energy on the bench. Perry also G/F is a redshirted player he would be sure to be the biggest supporter for his team. With his redshirt year behind him next season he will be much needed just to get energy flowing around this team.
Looking ahead Rob Murphy still has this Eastern Michigan team on the right track for success, and I truly believe bigger and better success is right around the corner. But there must be improvement to many aspects of Eastern Michigan’s game. There is still room for improvement in the categories of ball movement and rebounding being the main two. Tthe 3 point shooting and mid-range shots might be something to look forward to with players like Ward, Lee, Taley and Price.
It’s going to be fun to see how this team turns out to be trying to rebuild down low and how the experience of the guards and forwards will help the Eagles in the 2014-2015 season.