Depth, transfer players to make up scoring for men's basketball
Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson won’t be suiting up in maroon and gold this season.
The top-scoring duo in the nation last season (51.2 points per game) has moved on from Mount Pleasant and won’t be on display at McGuirk Arena during the 2017-18 season.
Those days are over.
Central Michigan men’s basketball must now find new scorers if it wants to contend in the Mid-American Conference this season.
Head coach Keno Davis said he expects the Chippewas will do just that.
“I don’t know if there’s a team I’ve had here that I’ve been more excited to coach than this year’s team,” Davis said. “They’re very talented. We have the deepest team by far that CMU is going to have seen in a long time.”
Along with having one of its deepest teams in recent memory, CMU will also have a more experienced team this season. The Chippewas have four juniors and five seniors on this year’s roster. The 2016-17 team only had three seniors.
Davis said one of his challenges this season will be using a deeper line up each game.
“A good problem to have as a coach is being able to figure out how to rotate 11 players in and maximize their strengths,” he said. “But the depth of this year’s team is going to be the strength. It should help us win games on a nightly basis.”
Like Keene and senior forward Cecil Williams last year, Davis has brought in two more transfers this season who should make an immediate impact.
Juniors Shawn Roundtree and Gavin Peppers are expected to fill some of the void left by Keene and Rayson. Though, the production will be hard to match.
Roundtree, a 6-foot, 185-pound point guard from Edwardsville, Illinois earned all-conference honors at Mineral Area College in Missouri last year (10.9 points per game). He transferred there from Missouri State.
Roundtree said the transition to NCAA Division I has been “humbling,” but he’s excited for his opportunity in CMU’s fast-paced offense.
“(The coaches) do a good job of allowing their guards to play free. As a point guard, that’s what you want to be able to do,” Roundtree said. “When you have the ability to make plays, and have a coach that’s supports you, that makes all the difference.”
Davis compared Roundtree to former Chippewa point guard Chris Fowler. Roundtree said he played against Fowler at an open gym a few years ago and can see the comparison.
“A lot of people compare us because of our personalities,” Roundtree said. “We’re both vocal. We’re both leaders. We both know how to make plays not only for ourselves but for others. We play with passion, so I think a lot of people see that right off the bat.”
Peppers, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound junior from Brookeville, Maryland plays both guard positions. Peppers averaged 18.7 points per game at Laramie County Community College in 2015, but sat out last season after transferring to Cleveland State.
Peppers said he left Cleveland State after the coaches were let go and found a “great” fit at CMU. He said replacing Keene and Rayson is a tall task, but the Chippewas have enough weapons to spread the ball around this year.
“I know people are going to have to step up,” Peppers said. “This year, it’s going to be more of a collective scoring effort. (Keene and Rayson) had a lot of pressure on them, but we have four, five guys now that can make up that scoring.”
Senior forward Luke Meyer, who has started every game of his career, returns to lead the frontcourt. Meyer, a 6-foot,10.5, 224-pounder averaged 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season. He was fourth in the MAC with 1.1 blocks per game.
With senior forward DaRohn Scott working to improve his academics, Davis said redshirt freshman Innocent Nwoko — from Nigeria — will be Meyer’s backup at center.
Meyer said he and the 6-foot-11 Nwko worked in the offseason to get bigger and stronger.
“We’re not the biggest, burliest guys in the world, but we are working hard in the weight room and on the court,” he said. We’re just trying to attack penetration on offense and trying to wall up on defense. We don’t want to allow anything at the basket.”
Along with Roundtree, Williams and Meyer, senior guard Josh Kozinski and sophomore forward David DiLeo are expected to round out the starting lineup, Davis said.
Kozinski, 6-foot-4, 188 pounds, led the nation the past two seasons in turnover percentage (3.4). He ranks third in program history with 236 3-pointers made in his career.
As a freshman, DiLeo was a spark plug off the bench for the Chippewas. The Iowa City, Iowa native was third on the team in scoring (8.5 points per game) and second in rebounding with five a game.
Meyer said while the 2017-18 squad will have a new look, the energy at McGuirk Arena will still be alive and well.
“It’s going to be high powered like it was last year,” he said. “Everyone is going to get a lot of shots. But I don’t expect it to be any less exciting than it was last year.”
CMU opens the regular season against Sienna Heights at 4 p.m. Nov. 10 at McGuirk Arena.