When I first started dating the woman who would eventually become my wife, I had to lay down some truth to her – I cease to be a normal person in March. While I am a semi-functional human being the other eleven months of the year, once March hits I become a college basketball addict no less caught in the grip of my addiction than a heroin junkie looking for his next fix. I sat up last night completely riveted by Murray State and Belmont playing for the Ohio Valley Championship. After Eastern’s first round game tomorrow night, the St. Mary’s/Gonzaga West Coast Conference Championship is appointment television. If jonesin’ for college hoops is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
EMU has had limited (and by limited I mean none) success in the MAC Tournament in recent years. And by recent years, I mean since 1998. Carlos Medlock tried his best to end that hapless record by dropping 45 on the Akron Zips a few years ago, but unfortunately EMU has advanced no further than the quarterfinals since Earl Boykins and Derrick Dial donned the green and white.
Last year, in Rob Murphy’s inaugural season, EMU put a memorable regular season together by winning a MAC West title. Sadly, this was followed by a first round flop against Northern Illinois. Still, as I noted in my award-winning post from last year, “Losing Ugly”, the team had much to be proud of and the loss didn’t reduce the pride felt by those of us who have been following this program for a long time. Eastern was playing with the house’s money by the time the tourney rolled around.
This year, I’m not sure what to think. A full post-mortem on the season will take place after it is over, but for now I can’t help but wonder if Eastern is destined for another early exit. Hopefully not tomorrow night, another home loss to NIU would be hard to swallow, especially after the clamp down they put on the Huskies the last time NIU visited the Convo. It would also be nice to see Jamell Harris, Matt Balkema, and Derek Thompson rewarded with a trip to Cleveland. (This is why they call it March Madness, when a trip to Cleveland is considered a reward.)
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time bemoaning EMU’s point guard travails. It is a simple fact that quality point guard play wins in March. This is why Akron Zip nation is dyspeptic over the loss of senior point guard Alex Abreu. (Moment of irony: Dyspepsia is a condition that can be treated by medical marijuana). The MAC title was supposed to have Akron as a slight favorite over Ohio. Now, Ohio’s stud point guard D.J. Cooper will be facing a freshman, Carmelo Betancourt, if the two happen to face off in the championship game.
What is needed more than anything else from the Eagles’ point guard trio of J.R. Sims, Austin Harper, and Jalen Ross is to PROTECT THE BASKETBALL!!! Keep the turnovers to a minimum. Don’t try to do too much, let the defense and the shooting of Derek Thompson carry the day. If they can accomplish this, and Glenn Bryant can play at a high level for an entire game, Eastern can cause problems. But for now, I’ll channel my inner Crash Davis and say EMU needs to just take things one game at a time.
What to Watch on Monday
- NIU can’t hang with Eastern in the middle. Look for a big performance out of Harris, Da’Shonte Riley, or hopefully both if Eastern is to win.
- Daylen Harrison is capable of putting a nice tournament run together. If the one of the Thompson/Bryant duo can’t get it done, look for Harrison to pick up the offensive slack.
- A stingy EMU defensive effort is often inspired by the pesky J.R. Sims. Sims is one player that I have confidence will play well.
- NIU Head Coach Mark Montgomery is always fun to watch. Montgomery tries to make up for his team’s lack of talent by exerting maximum effort on the sideline. It worked last year…
- Also, watch the St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga game. To call this a “Mid-major” game is a joke. These are two big time programs, and I’ll be rooting for one of them to make the Final Four.