COLUMN: Vocal leadership, defense needed for men's basketball success
The identity of the 2017-18 Central Michigan men’s basketball team has been clear since its preseason Maroon and Gold scrimmage.
“We know if we want to win, it starts on the defensive end,” head coach Keno Davis said. “We needed improvements from last season, and while this team does have scorers, in order to win we have to play better defense.”
From that point on, it would prove to be correct, until Mid-American Conference play. CMU needs to stay adamant on defense to earn conference wins.
The Chippewas had the best nonconference record (11-2) in program history and were holding teams to about 60 points per game. The defense made a monumental step from a season ago when they allowed 87.7 points per game, a mark that was last in the MAC and ranked 345th in the nation amongst Division I schools.
They were applying more ball pressure, rebounding harder and playing with a sense of urgency to prove they had improved on the defensive end through the first 13 games.
Now CMU finds itself earning its first conference win after a four-game skid, and people are left wondering what happened.
The Chippewas started MAC play with an excellent win over Ohio, 75-50 — exploding in the second half and not allowing the Bobcats to breathe on offense. CMU forced Ohio to shoot 35.7 percent from the field and 15 percent (3-of-20) from 3-point range.
It looked like the same team was going to continue through MAC play. But, CMU's defense faltered in the next four games.
The Chippewas have allowed more than 80 points in three of their last four losses and are now allowing 68.8 points per game, which still leads the MAC but may be misleading of their recent performances.
They are falling off of ball screens, allowing more open 3-pointers and teams are finding ways to probe the zones and defenses Davis is running.
A lot of that seems to be coming from the Chippewas' effort on defense.
Davis said he is “proud” of his team for only losing by two possessions when nearly the entire team had “terrible” stat lines besides senior forward Luke Meyer and sophomore guard Kevin McKay after the loss to Ball State on Jan. 16.
It’s not like CMU is getting blown out. The Chippewas have been in most of the games they've lost in conference play for a portion of the game.
Those kind of excuses can only get you so far. At some point, the end result needs to be wins.
This team lacks one major asset that most college basketball teams need to turn around a season when it goes bad — a vocal leader.
Senior forward Cecil Williams does it all for this team on the stat sheet, but has never been all that loud on the floor. Transfer guard Shawn Roundtree said he was working on becoming more of a vocal leader earlier this year, but still hasn't quite shown it.
The one player that I have noticed getting animated when they go into a timeout huddle after big possessions is sophomore forward David DiLeo. That same energy is needed when CMU falls behind, though.
This team needs someone.
The defense is there. We’ve seen it before, but someone needs to hold the rest of the team accountable.
Otherwise, CMU is going to run out of time to achieve a MAC title.
It’s no secret, Davis and the players know it, this team has to be good defensively to win games. The proof is in its record.
It is time from someone to make a statement, just maybe this time off the court rather than on it.