Central Michigan coach Keno Davis outlines expectations for eighth season at helm
Trailing 79-78 to top-seed Buffalo in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Central Michigan men's basketball team had all the momentum.
Buffalo coach Nate Oats, now the head man at Alabama, was forced to call a 30-second timeout with 46 seconds remaining.
Senior guard CJ Massinburg answered his calling 15 seconds out of the timeout by making a layup and putting the Chippewas down by three points.
Central Michigan, ranked No. 5 in the conference tournament, wasn't able to take the lead in the final seconds, and the Bulls – ranked No. 16 in the nation – escaped with an 85-81 victory at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
That was then.
This is now.
Led by eighth-year coach Keno Davis, a majority of the 2019-20 Chippewas have tasted a chance at the MAC title.
And once Central Michigan was able to taste it, the team was left wanting more.
"We've come a long way," Davis said.
In that 2018-19 season, Davis' group was 23-12 overall and 10-8 in MAC play.
This year, Davis expects more.
"We are at a point, when you look at the last five years, to have 100 wins and winning 20 games year in and year out – that's something to be proud of," Davis said. "But that's not the end game for us.
"It's about reaching that step and saying, 'Now, what can we become?'
The Chippewas are without Larry Austin Jr. and Shawn Roundtree Jr., two former starting guards that are now playing professionally.
Austin and Roundtree led the team in scoring at 17.5 and 16.6 points per game, respectively.
Speaking of scoring, however, Central Michigan returns its next six top scorers in senior forward David DiLeo, senior guard Kevin McKay, senior forward Rob Montgomery, senior guard Dallas Morgan, junior guard Matt Beachler, junior forward Romelo Burrell.
This season serves as an opportunity for DiLeo and McKay to take on a leadership role, much like Austin and Roundtree from last year.
"This year, with them gone, it falls on the people that have been here the longest," McKay said. "Dave and I have been here. This is our fourth year, and we're both starting this year.
"Because of that, it's a priority and responsibility we have to be the ones everyone looks to."
DiLeo added that there's also the element of helping others transition into new roles. Once DiLeo and McKay graduate and move on from the program, there's going to be an opening for new leaders.
Each year, there's the opportunity for the current leaders to prepare the next set of leaders.
"We know the ropes and what coaches expect out of defensive and offensive sets," DiLeo said. "We're helping the returners step up into bigger roles."
There are also new faces that are expected to make an impact once the season tips off Nov. 5 against NAIA Michigan-Dearborn.
Davis plans to roll out a starting lineup that features DiLeo, McKay and Montgomery along with two junior transfer guards – Travon Broadway Jr. (Iowa Western Community College) and Devontae Lane (Indian Hills Community College).
Lane is a player that everyone wants to be on the court with, Davis said. He finds open teammates but also can get to the basket and score with authority.
"He fills a lot of different roles for us as a point guard," Davis said. "He could be really good for our team this year."
Davis said Broadway is a player that will likely be nationally ranked in steals this season.
"He's a dynamic scorer," Davis added. "He can run the court, slash, get to the basket and the free throw line. He's got a great ability to be able to read passing lanes."
In the last two seasons, Davis has put together overall records of 21-15 and 23-12, respectively, along with a 7-11 conference mark in 2017-18 that improved to 10-8 the following campaign.
His 2018-19 team finished the regular season second in the MAC West Division.
Davis said it's more than just the state of Michigan that's taken notice in the Chippewas due to the recent success. He said the entire country understands what the program is about.
"We've got a style of basketball that's attractive for recruits to come and play," Davis said. "I think you're going to see us continue to become better year in and year out."
Davis was quick to explain himself, stating that "becoming better" doesn't always translate to more wins.
However, it means having a program that's able to compete for a conference championship.
"It shouldn't be about having a rebuilding year," Davis said.
Once the season begins Nov. 5, there are four months of basketball before the Chippewas have the chance to play in the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
And Davis hopes for a different result this time around.
"We aren't talking about getting to Cleveland," Davis said. "We are talking about cutting the nets down."