Eastern Michigan 66, Rochester College 52
As I looked on at the court at the Convocation Center yesterday, waiting for the season opening tip-off for the Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team, I was struck at how similar expectations were heading into the football season. Both programs were on an upswing after a series of dismal seasons. Both programs feature coaches who won MAC Coach of the Year for their respective sports last year. Both finished at, or near, .500 for the season. Both wear green and white.
The similarities were uncanny. Of course, we all know how the football season turned out. At that moment, I could not help but wonder if we as Eastern basketball fans are headed down the same track of disappointment and despair. After sitting through an at times inspired, at times completely uninspired win over Rochester College, I came away with a clearer picture as to what lies ahead for Eastern this season.
For starters, this team just has a different look. With James Still added to the frontline, we can now field a corps down low that will cause opponents fits. This group has length and athleticism. I’m still worried about the progress of Da’Shonte Riley, who appears out of place and indecisive. But we have the depth to allow him time to grow. The consensus is that Akron’s Zeke Marshall is the best big man in the MAC, but having Still, Riley, Jamell Harris, and Matt Balkema to run out there will wear down the opposition, especially once we get into MAC play. I like our chances with our frontcourt.
The problem for Eastern, at least at the time I’m writing this, is guard play, specifically point guard play. Freshmen Jalen Ross and Ray Lee certainly have talent, Ross appears to be the better floor general, and Lee is the better scorer. Lee, however, had serious problems protecting the rock against Rochester. In fact, at one point bad turnovers by Ross and Lee frustrated Murphy to the point that he called for last year’s backup, Austin Harper, to step in. The problem isn’t talent, as I stated, I think Lee and Ross will both be fine players. The problem is what wins in college basketball, more than frontline depth or having a prolific scorer, is quality point guard play. These guys need to grow up fast in order for Eastern to truly compete with the best of the MAC.
The two guard spot is a different story. Any opposing player who leaver Derek Thompson open for three will regret it. Thompson should reap the benefit of an improved frontcourt. Daylen Harrison also had some strong moments, although his inconsistency mirrored the teams. And we can’t forget about J.R. Sims, who came off the bench to be a defensive pest, a role he should play well this year.
Finally, highly touted SEC transfer Glenn Bryant had a relatively lackluster game, albeit one with a couple of serious statement dunks. Bryant does have significant talent, but I really like how he has a fiery personality on the court. Whether or not he can channel that in positive ways, or let it get the best of him at times like former EMU star Brandon Bowdry, remains to be seen. I will say that Bryant has the drive to win. He does not carry himself or play like someone who came here to go 13-17. You have to like that kind of fire from your best player.
Perhaps I’ve extrapolated too much from one game, but with games against Kentucky, Michigan, Purdue, and Syracuse ahead, this team will be tested, and we will find out what they are made of. Let’s just hope things work out better for the hoops team than they did for the football team.