EMU Hoops — Mid-Term Analysis
With Saturday’s win over Rochester, the Eastern Michigan basketball team has competed non-conference play. Their record: 8-5. Cupcake wins over Albion, Concordia, and Rochester, along with losses at Kentucky, Duke, and Syracuse balanced each other out. EMU lost the two games that had upset potential, Purdue and UMass, but also swept the floor with the remaining mid-major opposition. Wins over Green Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland State mean that at the very least EMU is prepared to dominate the Horizon League.
Except, they aren’t in the Horizon, they are in the MAC, and the fearsome gauntlet that is MAC conference play begins Wednesday night at Bowling Green. BG is always a tough road game for Eastern, regardless of the caliber of the two teams. Expect a war.
Breaking down the Eagles heading into conference play, we find issues of consistency and focus. But not talent, as EMU has the pieces necessary to finish near the top of the conference.
At point guard, Mike Talley has seized control of the job, most notably after his performance at Oakland. Talley will start and play the bulk of the minutes at the point, with Jalen Ross, and occasionally Darell Combs backing him up. If Talley plays at a high level night in and night out, he will go a long way toward leading a successful run by EMU.
The shooting guard position is open to whomever has the hot hand. Raven Lee is the first option and he certainly has a nice offensive arsenal, but on some nights he just doesn’t have it, for whatever reason. In those cases, Darell Combs tends to pick up the slack, and sometimes Combs looks like the best player on the court. EMU has quality depth at the two, with J.R. Sims as an option as well. Between Lee and Combs, Rob Murphy should be able to find a scorer at the two guard.
Karrington Ward has been a terrific find for Eastern so far this season. Karrington can knock down a three, throw down a dunk, or rip down a key board. He is a prototype swingman, and helps makes this position a strength heading into conference play. Ward has been dominant against mid-major competition, with his weak games coming on the road against top notch opposition. Daylen Harrison logs minutes here as well, and is a strong asset with his mid-range game. Few programs in the MAC can bring someone with Daylen’s talent and experience off the bench.
Ward and Lee have been brilliant at times, but Eastern’s best player during the first half of the season was Glenn Bryant. Bryant has been explosive close to the rim, with his thunderous dunks. He has been the strongest rebounder for EMU, working hard on the glass every night. He has been an emotional presence, and a positive one. Bryant is fun to watch, and we should enjoy watching him play while he is here. Players with his size and athletic ability don’t pass through Ypsi very often.
Harrison backs up Bryant as well, and has been a presence at the four when needed, which shows the adaptable nature of Daylen’s game as he started the bulk of the games at two guard last year.
At center, we have Eastern’s enigma, DaShonte Riley. Riley is a rarity in the MAC, a skilled seven footer. He should be able to control the paint on most nights in the conference. But two things work against him: foul trouble and inconsistent play. I worry about Riley against Majok Majok, Shayne Whittington, and Nathan Boothe. What I do know is this: how Riley goes, so will the MAC season. If Riley plays at the top of his game on a consistent basis, Eastern could win the conference.
Lekan Ajayi and Mo Hughley have each filled in behind Riley. Ajayi is raw and at times looks overmatched, but has good size. Hughley is an effort guy, a little undersized for a center by gets by on guile and guts. In MAC play, Rob Murphy could elect to go with a small lineup when Riley is on the bench, my favorite being Talley, Lee, Ward, Bryant, and Harrison.
As for MAC expectations, Rob Murphy was pretty candid. He said that the team is fighting for the conference title, but would still consider a top two or three finish a successful season. I’m willing to give him another spot. If EMU finishes with a top four seed in the MAC Tournament, I will consider the regular season a success.
This is a talented team, that has played well against quality mid-major competition. But the Mid-American Conference has lots of good teams, and winning on the road in the MAC is a difficult proposition. With the Eagles first two conference games at BG and Buffalo, this team’s conference mettle will be tested early.