CMU basketball roundtable: Where men's, women's teams stack up heading into MAC play
With the conclusion of non-conference play, Central Michigan is gearing up for another round of Mid-American Conference action.
On the men's side, the Chippewas are getting ready to run the gauntlet for the first time under new head coach Tony Barbee. Currently the team is 1-10, earning it's only win on a thrilling buzzer beater over Eastern Illinois. CMU spent non-conference figuring itself out, as several players missed time while the group played the likes of Gonzaga, Kentucky, Xavier and DePaul.
The women are 2-7, with wins over Valparaiso and Marist. Third-year coach Heather Oesterle has a team still finding its footing, as freshmen are beginning to show signs of comfort heading into conference play. The Chippewas have a trio of upperclassmen leading the charge in senior Jahari Smith and juniors Anika Weekes and Molly Davis.
To discuss the futures of both teams, Central Michigan Life asked beat reporters Sean Chase and Ashley Birkeness a series of questions assessing the performance and future of both teams.
Who has been the best player on each team?
SC: Junior guard Molly Davis has led the women’s team offensively. Although she struggled to find her range early in the season, Davis has turned a corner as of recent. After starting 0-11 from three, she leads the Chippewas in 3-point makes while averaging 16.4 points per game. During non-conference play, Davis has dropped 20-plus points four times including a 32 point performance on Nov. 26.
AB: Junior guard Oscar Lopez Jr. a transfer from DePaul has been a solid player for the Chippewas this season. With other key players not playing due to illness and injury, it has created a big role for Lopez. He has continued to show promising action in the paint from rebounds to baskets. He currently leads the team with 10.1 points per game.
What are some areas each team has been strong through non-conference play?
SC: Although the non-conference schedule has been a grind for the women’s team, defensive intensity and crashing the glass have kept the Chippewas afloat. Against a stacked slate, CMU averages 36.4 rebounds per game while holding teams to 66.1 points per game, good enough for sixth place in the MAC.
AB: The men's non-conference schedule has been nothing but a challenge as they went head-to-head with three top 25 ranked teams. Although they have been faced with many challenges this season, they have continued to improve. The Chippewas have worked well to put pressure on their opponents to force turnovers in the second half to give them a chance to make up for early missed opportunities.
What are each team's weaknesses?
SC: Scoring. Going into conference play, the Chippewas are averaging 54.4 points per game placing them at the bottom of the MAC in offensive production. This team is chocked-full of freshmen, and while they will be important pieces going forward, there have been growing pains as they find their rhythm.
AB: Taking care of the ball has been a struggle for the men's team. The Chippewas have committed more than 10 turnovers every game. Turnovers have led to easy points for the other team. With the number of turnovers, the Chippewas have continued to find themselves in a game of catch up.
The men's team was picked to finish 10th in the conference in the preseason poll, while the women were picked sixth. Where do you see them finishing now?
SC: Although the women’s team is entering MAC play at 2-7, they faced two nationally-ranked squads, Michigan, currently ranked ninth, and Georgia Tech, currently 16th. They are sixth in points allowed in the MAC, but are dead-last in points scored. Because of this I see them finishing seventh.
AB: Yes, the men's team is going into MAC play 1-1, but there is a lot of promise within this team. They are a young team who is hungry to finally come out on top. The Chippewas are currently ranked 11th in points scored in the MAC and last in points allowed. I see them finishing 11th this season.
What is each team's best-case scenario? What about the worst-case?
SC: Best-case, the Chippewas found their groove against Green Bay offensively and that continues throughout the season as CMU grabs a second-consecutive MAC Championship. Worst-case, the Chippewas struggle throughout the year, finish in the bottom three and get bounced in the first round of the MAC Championship tournament.
AB: Best-case, they have found a group of guys that works well and produces on both ends of the court to start coming out of these games with wins. Worst-case scenario, they continue to lose multiple key players for continuous games at a time due to health issues.
Who is the key player for each team down the stretch?
SC: Redshirt junior forward Anika Weekes will be a key piece for the women’s team through the stretch run of the season. Currently, she averages 8.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while leading the Chippewas in steals. Weekes’ production on the glass has been vital through the tough stretches for the offense. In addition, Weekes is tied with senior center Jahari Smith for most blocks.
AB: Freshman Kevin Miller will be a key player this season for the men’s team alongside redshirt senior Ralph Bissainthe. Miller has made 26 of his 31 free throws and averages 9.7 points per game. He also leads the team in assists at 33. Bissainthe will be another key player for the Chippewas down the stretch. He currently leads the team with 56 rebounds this season and averages seven rebounds per game. Both of these players have 13 seals for the Chippewas this season.