Saturday, November 15, 2008

Starting off right

Both the men's and women's basketball teams started off their respective seasons with a win.

The men beat Princeton 55-53 Friday night in New Jersey, while the women edged out an 84-83 win against Indiana State Saturday at Rose Arena.

Some highlights from the men's game:

Chris Kellermann: career-high 28 points and 13 rebounds. His first double-double of his career.

Jacolby Hardiman; game-winning steal with less than 10 seconds left.

Robbie Harman: 3-for-4 from the free throw line with less than one minute remaining.

Princeton's freshman point guard Doug Davis: 25 points in debut.

I talked to coach Ernie Zeigler and Kellermann after the game.

Kellermann on the environment: “It was pretty neat playing there. They’ve got a good fanbase. There wasn’t as many many students as I thought there was going to be, but it’s a great tradition and a pretty good basketball environment overall.”

Zeigler on his team's performance: “It was a total team effort. Robbie Harman was a rock down the stretch, going to the foul line. Good teams win one-possession games. We battled through adversity during the game. We struggled with handling the ball and making free throws, but we did not wilt.

“It’s very gratifying. I’m just really more pleased for my players, because they’ve been dealing with adversity off the court in terms of some of the issues with their teammates. Rough start for these guys. But these kids came prepared to execute. They came prepared to battle and I’m just really happy for all 10 guys that came on this trip and battled for us.”

Stay tuned for a preview of Monday's home opener against Missouri State, which begins at 7 p.m. at Rose Arena. Kellermann on the game: “We definitely owe them one from last year. Especially since we’ve got the “Rock the Rose” on Monday too. Hopefully that’s going to get everybody fired up to come to the game. I think everybody’s feeling really good coming into this one and a lot of guys from last year are looking for revenge on them. So it should be an exciting game and a good environment.”


Thursday, November 13, 2008

A conversation with Coach Zeigler...

Tim and I had a chance to sit down with Coach Ernie Zeigler on Tuesday afternoon. The team is on its way to Princeton, N.J., for its season opener, which takes place Friday night at 7 p.m Some highlights from the conversation:

On what has changed since last season:

“The biggest thing I learned from last year is that we spent so much time trying to be a dynamic offensive team. Some guys had mixed signals about what was most important. We didn’t start to actually defend until the fifth loss. But we started off with 85 points, then 81 to Hillsdale. Offensively, we were really good to start, but defensively we never got off to a good start. What pleases me is the defensive effort we had in this exhibition game.”

On the four players who are out because of injury and suspension (Adrian Hunter: suspended two more games. Marcus Van: Suspended five more games. Jordan Bitzer: Academically ineligible until Dec. 14. Marko Spica: Out indefinitely with a knee injury.):

“You have to play the hand you’re dealt. That’s what I’m telling our guys. It’s unfortunate we have some of the situations we’re dealing with in terms of some of our veteran players, but there’s still a game to be played. We can’t be thinking woe is us, we’re going to be competing to win. The guys that are going to get opportunities, be it freshmen or be it newcomers, are guys that we recruited. That’s why you have 13 scholarships to recruit to have guys that can step in during any circumstance that comes about.”

On the turnover from last season (seven players gone, six new players this season):

“I kind of look at that group last year. What happened last year for us is nothing that doesn’t happen throughout college basketball. There’s always attrition for one reason or another. I kind of like to compare this building process to building a home. You start with the foundation, and if you’re doing it yourself you go to Home Depot, and you try to get the best pieces of wood. That’s kind of how we looked at that first recruiting class. Unfortunately, there was a couple of guys in there that we went to Home Depot and we bought the ply wood and we got them and we got them in there and there were some holes in it. We tried to sand them down, we tried to get it to fit, to change and unfortunately we weren’t able to. But we have to keep building and replace those pieces. I’m very confident that they guys we have are a much better fit for the program, for the house that we’re building. It has definitely been great fit in terms of chemistry and personality here during our fall workouts and now entering our fourth week of workouts. This group isn’t one that me or my coaching staff is trying to beg effort from or trying to convince them of our style of play and what our program is going to stand for.”

On junior forward transfer Jacolby Hardiman, who is likely to start:

“Jacolby is very versatile. He has the ability to put pressure on the defense to attack the basket off the dribble and he has a very innate ability to offensive rebound. Those two things are going to put him in a position to be a big scorer for us. And I think he has the opportunity to be one of our best defenders in terms of matchups.”

On freshman point guard Adrian Hunter (from Grand Blanc), who is suspended two games for a violation of team rules:

“I think he’s definitely understands the point that I was going to get across to him. Adrian’s a very tough kid. And just like most freshmen, you come in, and sometimes you’re not aware and sometimes you may try to do certain things to see if there’s bark behind the voice. But Adrian is definitely going to have the opportunity to contribute early.”

On the criticism for giving Marcus Van another chance after dismissing him:

“It comes with the territory. If I spend every waking hour responding to negativity or negative comments — or in those people’s minds they’re positive comments — Ultimately every decision I make is for the best interest of this program and for each kid in the program. And I have a responsibility that I have put upon myself to help every kid to become a successful adult in our society… The easiest thing to do that takes no effort at all is to quit. Quit on the game, quit on someone, it takes no effort. The pressure, where it really comes, is if you can stick with someone through the tough times and help them see the light and what direction they should be going. That’s how I’m going to try to go about this. At the same time, once you’ve shown that you can’t be helped, then those guys will not continue to be there. Thus far I’ve had three of those situations, and so far I’m sitting 1-for-2. So hopefully now Marcus Van is going to keep me batting .500 with this chance he’s getting.”

On Chase Simon and Nate Minnoy, who both left the program after last season:

“Those kids are good kids. Unfortunately, upon getting here and seeing how they’re going to be pushed and seeing what I expect, they weren’t able to sustain those things. I’m a firm believer in those situations to help kids change. But when kids don’t want to change, there becomes two options. You’re either going to change, or you’re going to leave.”

On so many players being out to start the season and if there is going to be a slow start because of it:

“The great thing about college basketball is that there’s three seasons. Every team goes through some adversity during one of those parts of the season. Last year, we went through it during the conference season when we had issues. And it ended up keeping us from being a winning program last year when we were right on the threshold and had some really good moments but kept teetering and tottering. The teams that end up dealing with their adversity and then overcome it end up being the most successful during the end of the season, which is where you want to be. For us, I look at it as we’re dealing with it right off the jump. Going through these situations here early and going through these games is hopefully going to put us into a position where we’re going to be much stronger mentally and really help us start to gel come conference season.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Van back...

Just after dismissing Marcus Van from the team, head coach Ernie Zeigler has changed his mind. This makes little sense except for the fact that now with Marko Spica out indefinitely, there is little or no presence in the post. It's kind of disappointing to see from Zeigler, but there may be more to it than we know. If he would just say what that was...

But onward we go. Tomorrow is the team's first exhibition game, and it starts at 4:30 p.m. at Rose Arena.

However the suspensions of Van (6 games), junior Jordan Bitzer (academics until Dec. 14) and Spica's injury has left the team with 10 active players. My projected lineup/bench is as follows:

PG Robbie Harman
SG Jeremy Allen
SF Jacolby Hardiman
PF Lawrence Bridges
C Chris Kellermann

And the bench:
PG William Eddie
C Brandon Ford
G Adrian Hunter
F Zach Saylor
G Antonio Weary

Kind of a small lineup, but it looks like that'll be the case for the first six games at least, until Van is back.

Marygrove, CMU's opponent tomorrow, went 3-23 last season. But coach Glen Donahue is one of Michigan's coaching legends. His more than 40 years of experience can't be overlooked. He mentored Ernie Zeigler, as you can read in today's CM Life.

We'll see you Saturday as the season starts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Injuries...and more

Junior forward Marko Spica...out indefinitely because of injury? That's what I've been hearing. If true, it could definitely hinder CMU's chances this season. After the departure of Marcus Van, the team was counting on Spica to fill in the post spot. The bad news just keeps coming for coach Ernie Zeigler, who already dealt with the losses of Nate Minnoy and Chase Simon before the Van situation.

This puts all the more pressure on news guys to step up — 6-foot, 8-inch freshman Zach Saylor (Lansing Waverly) may have to step in and eat up some minutes. Other than Saylor, Central has 6'8" senior forward Chris Kellermann and little-tested 6'11" junior center Brandon Ford as its tallest players.

Zeigler may need to switch up his consistent strategy of slowing the pace and setting up an offense. Sure, it'll still be important to show some offensive prowess, but a faster, more up-tempo squad may need to take the floor at Rose Arena.

Exhibition action begins Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against Marygrove, and don't forget to check out the women at 2 p.m., also against Marygrove.

Both were picked third in the MAC West, which seems appropriate. But rankings really don't mean too much, as Central finished one above its projected place in Zeigler's first two seasons.