Men’s basketball grades heading into Mid-American Conference play
In its history, the Central Michigan men’s basketball team has never won 11 non-conference games in a season — until this year.
At the start of the season, the Chippewas were picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference West Division.
However, CMU is turning heads in its fight to the finish against Michigan, Great Alaska Shootout tournament victory and 11-2 start to the season. All fueled by tenacious defense, coached by Keno Davis.
Heading into MAC action on Jan. 2 against Ohio, beat writer’s Andrew McDonald and Evan Petzold deliver grades for the basketball team following non-conference play.
Andrew: When you lose the nations top-scorer Marcus Keene and a senior guard Braylon Rayson, it's hard to imagine CMU offense would be just as lethal. While CMU is averaging nearly 10 points less (88.3-79.2 points per game) from a season ago, they are still shooting at a higher percentage from the floor (44.8-42.4 percent) and are nearly equal from beyond the arc (33.8-35.8 percent). Transfer guard Shawn Roundtree averages 14.7 points per game while also leading the team in assists with 54. Senior forward Cecil Williams leads the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game while coming in at second on the team in rebounds (89) and assists (41). Sophomore forward David DiLeo completes the trio of double-figure scorers with an even 14 points per game.
Evan: Earlier this season, I questioned the shot selection of the Chippewas. After watching them fight through a tough loss on the road to Southern Utah, bounce back and finish the non-conference games strong, I believe this team is one of the better shooting teams in the MAC. The shooting starts with DiLeo. He has a killer 3-point jumper, along with the ability to lock down on defense and score at the tin on the other end. Williams has also started to play less hero ball and more team orientated basketball, which has helped the Chippewas win throughout their non-conference schedule. As a matter of fact, CMU is ranked No. 1 in the nation in free throw percentage, converting at an 80.7 percent rate. The Chippewas have made 209-of-259 from the line.
Andrew: This is an area many people wanted to see improvements on from a season ago, but the numbers are about equal with last and this years teams averaging just under 39 boards per game. On a note that is both good and bad, CMU is getting a solid effort out of DiLeo (100 rebounds) and Williams (89 rebounds) to lead the team on the glass, but their 6-foot-10, 224-pound center Luke Meyer is third on the team with just 75. If the Chippewas want to see a major improvement on the boards, it starts with Meyer being more active in that category and helping the team find more second chance points. Overall, the effort from CMU's DiLeo on the glass really makes this team better at rebounding.
Evan: Of the 347 Division I college basketball teams, CMU is tied for No. 82 in the nation with 38.6 rebounds per game. Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) are the only MAC teams which rank higher than the Chippewas. DiLeo leads the way with 7.7 rebounds per game, along with scoring 14.0 points per contest. Senior forward Cecil Williams, senior forward Luke Meyer and sophomore guard Kevin McKay all average over 5.0 rebounds per game. Last season, only Williams averaged more than 5.0 rebounds per game. I believe there are still some question marks surrounding the rebounding abilities of the Chippewas, especially with Meyer. If he can find a way to consistently earn seven to 10 rebounds per game, I think CMU will be golden going forward.
Andrew: CMU has held their opponents to under 50 points twice this season, something they didn't do once a year ago. CMU is 46th in the country allowing just 65.4 points per outing. Last year, CMU was in the bottom half of the country allowing 87.7 points per game. The Chippewas are currently fifth in the MAC in turnover margin, forcing opponents into 180 turnovers on the year. Head coach Keno Davis has stressed the importance of defense.
Evan: Back in early December, sophomore guard Matty Smith said it best: “It’s like night and day.” He’s right. CMU went from being one of the worst defensive teams in the 2016-17 season to one of the best teams this year. As a matter of fact, the Chippewas are currently 46th in the country with an average of 65.4 points allowed per game. CMU has also managed to force 180 turnovers, stealing the ball 85 times and logging 58 blocks. The entire team has bought into Davis’ plan of defense and it’s working. The defensive play of the Chippewas will be the difference maker heading into conference play.
Andrew: The Chippewas are fundamentally sound, and it's paying dividends. While their non-conference schedule wasn't the most daunting, they did compete with Big Ten and former Sweet 16 participant Michigan in the Crisler Center to the final minute and have showed a suffocating defense that will bring them more wins this season if it keeps up.
Evan: The Chippewas are the only team with two losses in the MAC. Bowling Green, Ball State and Eastern Michigan, the next best teams, have four losses. Even though CMU has not had the toughest non-conference schedule, it still proves the team has a lot more to them than most people thought coming into the season. The bottom line is the defense will keep CMU in almost every game it plays this season.