Keno Davis aims for NCAA Tournament following nine-year drought
With 5.7 seconds to play, No. 5 Drake held a 99-98 lead over No. 12 Western Kentucky in the First Round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
On the final possession of the game, Western Kentucky’s Tyrone Brazelton raced down the court and flipped the ball back to Ty Rogers, who buried a contested 3-pointer. That play handed former Drake head coach Keno Davis a loss in his only career “Big Dance” appearance.
Fast forward to 2017, and Davis is in his sixth year with the Central Michigan men’s basketball team.
He owns an 82-82 overall record with the Chippewas. Following one season at Drake, he spent four seasons at Providence before coming to CMU.
Davis has not returned to the NCAA Tournament since 2008. He also has not forgotten about Rogers’ shot, which gave Western Kentucky an upset victory over his Drake team.
“The game came down to the wire,” Davis said. “In that season, our team had a lot of games that went down to the last shot, but on the big stage it was disappointing. I wouldn’t change the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
In Drake’s memorable 2007-08 season, the Bulldogs were led by sophomore guard Josh Young. He averaged a team-high 15.9 points, while adding 1.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Like Davis, Young remembers the play as if it was yesterday.
“It all happened in slow motion. The ball went through the net and ended that amazing season for us,” Young said.
Coming into that season, Drake was projected to finish ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference. By the end of the year, the team was ranked No. 14 in the country. The Chippewas were picked to finish at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference this season.
Davis sees similarities between the Bulldogs and Chippewas. As both teams push the ball in transition, shoot a lot of 3-pointers, play aggressive defense and earned the label of an underdog.
“I think there are some similarities with expectations being low despite talent being strong,” Davis said. “We aren’t a team that has been put together in one day. It was over the years. Hopefully at the end of the year we see some similarities too.”
Another similarity is senior leadership. Drake was led by seniors Leonard Houston, Adam Emmenecker and Klayton Korver.
“Even more important than having players that can get up and down the floor to shoot is having players that are smart,” Young said. “We also had a senior led team that year, so those things combined really helped us be the team we were. We weren’t a highly recruited team out of high school. Instead, we all came together.”
The Chippewas are led by seniors Josh Kozinski, Cecil Williams and Luke Meyer.
“We are doing everything we can,” Kozinski said. “We all have that thought in our head to make it to the NCAA Tournament and we are working every day. The Great Alaska Shootout tournament helped us get in the mindset for the MAC Tournament because we played three games in four days.”
In the 2007-08 season, Drake was coming off its first 20-win season in 20 years. In order to keep his team going, especially through an impressive 21-game winning streak, Davis did not look at the big games on the schedule. Instead, he told his team to take it one game at a time.
“He taught us to take it one game at a time,” Young said. “His big thing was giving effort for 40 minutes. If you can do that and play to your best potential, then in 40 minutes you’ll have a good chance to win the game.”
Davis’ mentality, even after 10 years as a head coach, has not changed.
“We try to make our practices as much game-like as we can,” Davis said. “We aren’t out there practicing for three to four hours because we want high intensity that mimics the game as much as possible.”
Young believes this year’s CMU team could be Davis’ chance to surprise the nation once again.
“I see Central Michigan on the verge of busting the bubble and really making the next step in heading to the NCAA Tournament,” Young said.
The next NCAA Tournament in March will mark the 10th opportunity for Davis to make the “Big Dance” in his head coaching career.
“The goal for every team is to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Davis said. “We want to be competitive enough to have that opportunity.”