Basketball

COLUMN: Men’s basketball’s expectations lowered after NIU loss

The sign of a good team is one that does not shrink against tough competition or overlook a lowly team.

While the men’s basketball team gave its best effort against Michigan and Toledo on the road, it failed miserably at the latter against Northern Illinois Wednesday at McGuirk Arena.

Central Michigan lost 74-61 to the Huskies and moved back under .500 in the Mid-American Conference in the process.

Northern Illinois has nine wins, equal to what the Chippewas have this season, over the last two years. But all CMU should care about is that it’s now 1-2 against the Huskies in those years.

One thing can be almost certain for the Chippewas. They are further from the best in the MAC than most thought.

CMU started the game like they were way ahead of schedule.

The Chippewas made six of their first seven three-pointers, and they came from everyone. Kyle Randall, Blake Hibbitts, Finis Craddock and Austin Keel made a three-pointer apiece, contributing to a 16-5 run that gave them a 24-14 lead with about nine minutes left in the first half.

But, when the three-pointers did not fall, they sank.

What that showed is how badly they need a scoring threat in the post when they are cold. What they need to improve on this season are specific to Keno Davis’ system. CMU rarely causes turnovers in the full court press, nor does it score as many points in the fast break as it should.

The Chippewas only scored six points in the transition on Wednesday, and the first turnover in the pressuring defense was in the second half.

One thing out of CMU’s control is senior center Zach Saylor not playing after logging four minutes on Saturday.

He is only averaging 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, but the statistics do not give him his proper dues.

He can hold his defender back; while his teammates scoop up rebounds; allow everyone to play its more natural position, and lend some leadership on the floor.

On the bright side, Craddock might be emerging as a much-needed scorer for the Chippewas behind Randall. He had 11 points against NIU.

With two minutes to go, he scored feet from the basket, as he was failing to the ground, to decrease the deficit to seven.

He accounted for six of the last nine points CMU scored at the end of the game.

However, while continuing to make the hardest plays easily, he has difficulty with simple plays.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” Davis said. “During the beginning of the year too, he would make the great play and some of the simple plays, he had to learn.”

What epitomized Craddock’s play was when he caused a turnover in the full court press, but missed the first free-throw of a one-and-one on the next offense possession during the game.

And, he was two for three from beyond the arc and three for eight from the free-throw line.

While the game was disappointing, the dread of losing could all disappear this weekend when the Chippewas take part in the other portion of the test of a good team: Not shrinking against tough competition.

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