EMU Basketball knocked down, can they get up again?
After a somewhat promising non-conference schedule, EMU Basketball has entered into some very treacherous waters concerning their post-season dreams. Talk of EMU finishing in the Top Four of the MAC has been subdued after last week’s twin overtime losses. EMU is 0-2, with three of the next four on the road. By the evening of January 24th, if EMU doesn’t right the ship, we could find the season’s hopes dashed, smothered in its infancy.
What is particularly disturbing about how EMU started MAC play is the losses were due to lack of mental focus and discipline. You just don’t lose by one point in overtime to two teams that have inferior depth and talent by mistake. Granted, Miami and Ball State are still MAC teams, and should not be considered pushovers. I’m not sure about the Miami loss, it is tough to say the EMU team that stormed out to big lead at Oxford overlooked the Red Hawks. The collapse at Miami was a lack of mental focus. The loss at home to Ball State was a group of young men who seemed to believe their own press clippings.
For example, before the game we were subjected to e-mails and tweets about how EMU had the 10th longest home winning streak in the country. This is all well and good, but as someone who is at the Convo for nearly every home game, I can assure you that the atmosphere in Ypsi is not intimidating to the opposition. The streak at home was built on a foundation of wins over low-level D-I programs, a few quality mid-majors, and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Ball State was not intimidated, nor should anyone have expected them to be. I don’t think Rob Murphy expected Ball State to roll over, and I am still somewhat loathe to criticize Murphy for the team’s poor MAC start. Murphy deserves credit for pulling EMU hoops out of a swamp, returning the program to competitiveness and respect. But at this point, one can’t help but wonder if Murphy is going to be able to make the next leap.
It is too early to say that he can’t do it. He has brought in talent, to be sure. He even has the signature win, the Michigan victory, that had been so elusive. Fans of EMU Basketball feel like this team and this program are close. If this season turns out to be a missed opportunity, the disappointment will be palpable.
Murphy’s success has shielded him from criticism, and even deep scrutiny. Take the decision to start freshman Ethan Alvano at the point over fifth-year senior Mike Talley. Many of us have been puzzled by this choice, but deferred to Murphy. Yes, total minutes and who is on the floor in crunch time is most important, and Alvano hasn’t played poorly. But everyone knows that senior leadership at the PG position is a key to success in college basketball. Is it not fair to wonder if Talley would be playing better in a traditional starter’s role, where he has a chance to develop in-game chemistry right from the opening tip?
At this point, I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, but I do not see fire on the court. These two MAC losses are clear signs that this team misses Glenn Bryant’s emotion. One thing you could count on out of GBIII was a fiery presence, one where he could will the team out of a tough stretch. I thought the professional attitudes of Ward and Murphy would be enough to counter the emotional loss, but at this point it appears I was wrong about that.
Next up for EMU is a game at Kent State, where Eastern hasn’t won since Chumbawamba topped the charts. Whether or not EMU gets up again after being knocked down (twice) remains to be seen. But the road is always tough in the MAC, and for EMU this is damn close to a must win game. After KSU, Eastern is back at home for the annual race to thirty points against Northern Illinois, followed by road games at upstarts CMU and Bowling Green. On January 24th, EMU could easily be 1-4, close to, in honor of Chumbawamba, pissing the season away.
I wish could say I was optimistic. Murphy and the team could still turn this around, and I wouldn’t bet against them. But the seat of power in the MAC is shifting, it seems, from Eastern, WMU, Ohio, Toledo and Akron to CMU, BG, and Buffalo. If EMU doesn’t start playing better, they will be firmly in the 5-12 seed range for the tournament, leaving their tourney hopes knocked out, and unable to get up.