EMU Basketball Report — 1/23/15
It’s time to throw the hyperbole out the window and get ready, EMU fans, because the EMU men’s basketball team faces a challenge no less daunting than the original circumnavigation of the globe. Suffering from self-inflicted wounds, the Eagles (12-6, 1-4) head up to Mt. Pleasant to battle the surprise Central Michigan Chippewas (13-3, 3-2) in what can only be labeled a must-win game for Eastern.
What is this basketball team? Are they a good team in a horrid slump? An average team finding its center? Or a mediocre team being exposed as fraudulent?
I can’t say they are a good team. Good teams don’t blow huge leads, good teams don’t lose mental focus and drop two overtime games. They win those games. That’s why they are good teams.
I think of the remaining two options, EMU is an average team that is finding its center. Maybe the Eagles are on a downswing, and will realign themselves somewhere around a 5-7 seed in the MAC. That would still miss the top four, and mean no meaningful post-MAC Tournament games. A 20-15 finish and a trip to the CIT. Woo-hoo.
This is as good a time as any to perform an assessment of where this team stands.
At the point, Mike Talley (finally) moved into the starting lineup against Bowling Green. The Ethan Alvano experiment never really made much sense to me, but Alvano played pretty well and Talley logged the bulk of the minutes anyway. As long as EMU was winning, it didn’t seem to matter. Coach’s decision.
I am not a basketball coach. I have witnessed my fair share of college basketball seasons over the years, and I would have made a different decision regarding the point guard position. As a fifth year senior, Mike Talley needed to be given a degree of ownership of this team. That is best achieved when setting the tone from the opening tip. As an experienced, starting point guard, he is a second coach on the floor. I would have had Talley start, and play 30-35 minutes every night. Alvano is groomed off the bench, 5-10 minutes a night, gaining experience for when the time comes for him to be the leader at the point.
This is the way continuity at the point is achieved, and how offensive consistency can be maintained. Barring a player of superior talent supplanting an experienced starter, this is the way successful programs have operated. Perhaps it is only my inferior scouting ability, but while Alvano might have a higher ceiling in the long run than Talley, for this season, Alvano has not proven himself superior in talent to Talley.
Raven Lee is a source of inspiration and frustration, thankfully more of the former than the latter. It is important to remember that Lee is still young, a redshirt sophomore. It cannot be denied that Raven has made significant improvement from last season. He is far more consistent, and has clearly sharpened his offensive game. He still turns the ball over too much. He still falls into lapses on defense. He still has a tendency to try to shoot when he drives to the hoop and draws a double team, instead of passing to an open teammate. But overall, Lee has made real strides, and seems to be more focused and mature this season. A similar leap over the next two years and Raven will be a candidate for MAC Player of the Year.
Tim Bond is still all promise at this time. The early previews look promising, but the jury is still out. Trent Perry looks like a guard who can develop into a contributor in the future, but for now, the backcourt seems set with Talley, Lee, Alvano, and Bond.
EMU would be completely lost without the night in and night out hard work on the boards by Karrington Ward. K-Ward also performs well on defense, and even on off nights is still a threat to be guarded on the offensive end. But I know that we all expected more. It is no coincidence that EMU’s slump has occurred while K-Ward is in an offensive funk. All my preseason expectations were predicated on seeing K-Ward at the top of his game.
It is a lot of pressure for Karrington, but as he goes, so goes the team. If K-Ward is playing at his highest level, EMU is tough to beat. If he is at his average level, EMU is an average team. Having said that, you still gotta love K-Ward, because the effort is there, and even without the offense, his defense and rebounding warrant 35 minutes a night.
Anali Okoloji has been a pretty solid performer at times, and is the best option at the four. He bring no outstanding strengths, but also no serious weaknesses. To help K-Ward, Anali needs to up his rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. The drop off from Glenn Bryant, at least production wise, has not been the mortal flaw of this team. The loss of Bryant’s fire and intensity has. I’m not sure if it is in Okolji’s personality to be an emotional leader, but this team needs one. Fast.
Off the bench, for offense we have Jodan Price, although too often the shoots haven’t been falling. Price is also capable on the defensive end, but like Alvano, I see Price as a guy who should get 5-15 minutes off the bench every night, depending on how well his shot is falling.
Brandon Nazione is the defensive option off the bench, and has performed well in this role. I see him as a 10-20 minute a night player, an effort guy who can put back a few on offense, but mostly be a pest on defense and on the glass.
One head is better than three. We knew going in that Da’Shonte Riley’s shot blocking would be missed. The hope was that the combined efforts of Mike Samuels, Lekan Ajayi, and Jerome Hunter would be able to man the zone effectively, while maybe providing a little more offense than Riley.
Samuels still looks like a project to me, at times strong, but too often in foul trouble to develop any rhythm.
Ajayi is the definition of a project. Great size, and probably more potential than Samuels, but less consistency. He has improved, and is another of EMU’s players who is a really likeable guy.
Hunter is sort of a rich man’s Mo Hughley from last year. More athletic, more size, similar effort. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hunter pick up a few more minutes, especially since Samuels always seems to be in foul trouble.
Nazione started a game at the five, and can slide over when necessary. He is undersized for a center, but that is not a handicap in MAC play.
At first glance, the sum of these parts should come close to Riley. But they haven’t. The problem is that Riley did one thing exceptionally well. Other teams had to game plan around his fearsome presence in the middle. No one game plans around these centers.
I mentioned my disagreement with the initial Alvano/Talley decision. Other than that, I really don’t have any qualms with Murphy’s personnel decisions. Rob Murphy will live or die by the success of his 2-3 zone. It has served him well to this point, but it remains to be seen if the extreme, defense-first mentality can get this program to the promised land.
The thought of a Talley-Lee-Ward, fastbreak oriented offense like the old Run TMC Golden State teams is intriguing. If the team finds itself mired in the middle or bottom of the MAC, the thought that this group might be better suited to a style that mixes man-to-man with zone every now and then, and tries to exploit the EMU depth and athleticism will be valid.
Murphy has done a nice job building the talent on this team. It is up to him to wield it in the most effective possible way.
This week’s rant ties into coaching as well, but not on the court. Last season, EMU fans bemoaned the difficulty of the non-conference schedule. This year, the opposite has been true, with wins over four NAIA teams, and, other than Oakland, an uninspired slate of home non-conference games.
The constant, from this year, last, and all of Murphy’s other years, has been the absence of the holiday tournament.
You know the ones I’m talking about, some tropical or exotic locale with a high school gym, a nice mix of Power 5 teams, mid-majors, and a lowly host offered up for sacrifice. It’s a nice bonding experience, a chance to simulate tournament play, to find something out about a team’s character. Back-to-back-to-back games against quality competition helps prepare for conference play.
I have heard rumors that Rob Murphy does not believe in these tournaments, and therefore EMU has avoided them. I think the team, and the fans, are missing out on something.
For the players, who doesn’t want to go to Hawai’i or Alaska? Doesn’t a holiday trip to Maui help with recruiting? Almost all of these games are televised. For the fans, I want to see these games, to have EMU play Georgia Tech, George Washington, and Long Beach State on consecutive nights. It certainly beats watching them beat Marygrove in front of 400 of my closest friends.
And please, doesn’t Chad Bush deserve a trip to Puerto Rico? The best the poor guy got this season was Springfield, Missouri.
I’d love to see EMU return to some holiday tournaments, even if it is just the Bobcat Classic in Bozeman. Not just for me, or Chad, but I believe it would be beneficial to the program