Sunday, December 18, 2011

Impressive showing despite a loss in Ames, Iowa

CMU's John Morris is defended by Iowa State's Chris Allen on Sunday. (AP PHOTO)
Had an opportunity to take in my first CMU game this season on Sunday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, a 59-52 Iowa State victory. A few quick observations:

-- No. 1, and most impressive, was the intensity CMU showed on defense, especially in the second half. Hitting the floor for loose balls when ISU seemed hesitant paid off multiple times, and badgering the Cyclones into tough shots they weren't expecting limited them to five second-half field goals. I thought Derek Jackson's defense was phenomenal on the perimeter. He didn't have his best offensive game (2-for-9, six points), but his hustle is contagious and really sets the tone on every possession. I wouldn't want him guarding me -- let's just say that. He frustrates guys. An Ernie Zeigler guy, for sure.

-- The difference in this game (other than shoddy officiating) was CMU's six-minute field goal drought midway through the first half. The Cyclones jumped to a 27-13 lead during that span, and although the Chips closed the gap to four before ISU closed the half on a 5-0 run to take a nine-point lead, they never recovered. CMU grossly outplayed ISU the majority of the second half, but still didn't take the lead until a jumper by Trey with 7:21 left. But three turnovers along with officiating that put CMU on the free-throw line twice compared to ISU's 13 the rest of the way really hurt. I guess that's what happens when a MAC team pays $90,000 to go play at a Big 12 school. You better be 10-12 points better.

-- Trey Zeigler looked really good. He came off the bench for the second straight game and third time this season, though this one you can chalk up to dad and coach Ernie Zeigler's superstitions. Friday in a 70-67 win at home vs. Illinois-Chicago, Trey sat the first half because of team rule violations and the Chippewas were able to push through it. Sunday, coach Zeigler waited just over two and a half minutes to get Trey in the game after the Cyclones scored the first six points.

Trey shot just 6-of-14 but hit all of his free throws for the second time this season (6-for-6). He was the only CMU player to get to the line. He was able to get into the lane and draw contact, most of which went uncalled. He also knocked down a few mid-range jumpers and a 3.

ISU's Royce White led his team with
14 points, but made just three field goals.
--Zach Saylor had a solid game. The 6-8 junior has been inconsistent a large part of his career and foul trouble has been an issue. But he gave the Chippewas a low-post presence and despite just playing 12 minutes, grabbed four rebounds and had eight points, including a jumper that I didn't know he possessed.

--Austin McBroom didn't have a great game, but he's been pretty stellar this season so this was bound to happen. The freshman point guard made just 4-of-12 shots (0-for-5 from behind the arc) for eight points. It was the first game this season McBroom hasn't made at least one 3-pointer, which is pretty impressive production from the 6-foot North Hollywood, Calif., native who came in averaging 11.2 points per game. McBroom is a solid defender, too, and he and Derek Jackson (six points) made up for their offensive struggles by largely minimizing the Cyclones' guards on the other end.

--Freshman guard Austin Keel took advantage of 25 minutes of playing time and looks to be a guy who can come in and be a spark-plug for the offense. He had just five points, but looks to have a nice stroke from 3 and is more than adequate defensively.

--John Morris played just 8 minutes at the point, but I thought he ran the offense well and was totally cool and under control. He did miss an open look that could've put the Chips up by three midway through the second, but that's water under the bridge.

--Iowa State's Chris Babb didn't adjust well to CMU's defensive pressure, taking hurried shots a lot of the time and finishing 3-for-12. His teammate and ISU's leading scorer, Royce White, attempted just six field goals but went to the line 13 times. White, who likes to use his 6-8, 270, yet agile frame to get into the lane, is a 60 percent free-throw shooter, so coach Zeigler did well by not allowing his players to hand White easy baskets.

-- The foul/free throw disparity was frankly, a pretty embarrassing display by the officiating crew. This was a physical game on both ends. The numbers tell the story:

Total fouls
ISU 10, CMU 25
Second half: ISU 8, CMU 13

Free throws
ISU 18-of-27, CMU 6-6
Second half: ISU 13-of-21, CMU 4-4

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Analyzing Trey Zeigler's freshman season

In a season in which Central Michigan's basketball team has hardly lived up to expectations and hype, freshman Trey Zeigler has quietly put up one of the best season ever by a CMU or MAC freshman.

For those who expected Zeigler to come in and score 20 points per game right away, his 16.6 per game average isn't anything to sneeze at. Sure, the team hasn't enjoyed the success fans hoped for, but if Zeigler continues to improve his game during the next three years, the wins will come.

Will Trey Zeigler take the reins next season?
There's no doubting Zeigler is a special player. Despite being double teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, he set CMU's all-time freshman scoring record Tuesday night at Toledo, surpassing Dirk Dunbar's 1972-73 record of 471 points. He now has 488. He also sits fourth in MAC history for total points by a freshman. He has at least two more games remaining, so he could theoretically move into second place by scoring his season average. A look:

Kenny BattleNIU1984-85544
Gary TrentOhio1992-93514
D.J. CooperOhio2009-10498
Trey ZeiglerCMU2010-11488
Bonzi WellsBall St.1994-95474
Dirk DunbarCMU1972-73471

Zeigler's scoring average ranks fourth among Division I freshmen this season, right behind Kentucky's duo of Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones and Ohio State sensation Jared Sullinger.

PlayerSchoolPos.Ht.GFG3FGFTPtsAvg.Nnl. Rnk.
Brandon KnightKentuckyG6-3291726810051217.773
Terrence JonesKentuckyF6-8291742013049817.291
Jared SullingerOhio St.C6-930183314551417.196
Trey ZeiglerCent. Mich.G6-529183259748816.8114
DeAndre KaneMarshallG6-4291454010743715.1204

Zeigler has avoided injury, which was crucial for his development this season. He has started 28 of 29 games for the Chippewas, with his only game off the bench coming early in the season after he had eight turnovers in a loss at South Alabama.

There's no doubt his game needs to improve, though, mainly at the free-throw line. His 58.1 percent average from the line doesn't rank in the NCAA's top 250, and his 40.1 percent field-goal percentage ranks 10th among freshmen who have played significant minutes. He hasn't yet made 100 free throws despite getting to the line 167 times, more than anyone on CMU's roster.

But perhaps a more troublesome pattern are his turnovers. Zeigler has 97 on the season (3.3 per game) — 50 more than the next closest Chippewa. He also handles the ball more than anybody else, but giving up the ball that much will hinder CMU's chances to become a solid team. This might be a case of a freshman playing like a freshman, but in any case, this must improve next season and beyond.

In the MAC, he ranks third in scoring, behind two seniors:

Xavier SilasNIUSr.261785217157922.3
Brandon BowdryEMUSr.271862614254020.0
Trey ZeiglerCMUFr.29183259748816.8
D.J. CooperOhioSo.301615611849616.5
Zach FilzenBuffaloJr.27152974044116.3
Jalin ThomasCMUSr.271285611742915.9

So, what else has Trey done this year? His 2.2 assists per game leads the team (How, you ask? Well, CMU ranks dead lasts in the country in assists per game at 8.7). He's also second on the team in rebounds per game at 5.3 (but has 20 more defensive rebounds than Will McClure, the overall leader), second on the team in steals with 41, and third on the team in blocks with 27. He plays a team-high 34.4 minutes a game, hits 33.3 percent of his 3-point attempts (25-of-75).

Would Zeigler get drafted if he entered the NBA after one season? That's debatable. I think he still needs to find a spot on the national map by leading his team to the NCAA tournament before he's done at CMU to really make his stock skyrocket. That won't happen this year, or maybe even next, but his junior year might be when he really makes his mark nationally. He's still got the size and the ability to create offense, though, something NBA scouts noticed even in high school. 

Once Zeigler really get comfortable and puts on a few more pounds (he's still a little bit slim for as physical as D-I basketball, especially the MAC, is) he'll be a force. Right now, he's a good player on a mediocre-at-best team in the MAC who's still feeling his way into college basketball. I think he takes the leadership reins next season with the departure of senior Jalin Thomas, Will McClure and Antonio Weary, each of whom I think Zeigler deferred to as a show of respect. The team will have three seniors again next season, but two of them (Andre Coimbra and Paris Paramore) joined CMU's program this season along with Zeigler, so they're basically on the same level. The other, Nick Jordan, hardly plays and is a behind-the-scenes guy. 2011-12 is really Trey's time to break out of his shell as an individual. It'll be fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Free" throws & CMU rankings down the stretch

With an RPI of 311 (out of 345 teams) CMU isn't exactly striking fear in the hearts of its opponents. Here's how the Chippewas rank in major statistical categories, updated after their embarrassing loss at Niagara:

CategoryStatMAC rankNtnl rank
Opp pts/gm64.73T-77
Scoring mgn-5.711290
Opp reb/gm34.25T-168
Reb mgn.-0.77210
TO margin+1.125108
Hm att./gm2,5327N/A

Free-throw woes (again)

TeamFT%MAC rec.
1. Miami73.69-3
2. Akron71.77-5
3. WMU71.27-5
4. Ohio70.46-6
5. NIU70.33-9
6. BSU69.97-5
7. Buffalo67.87-5
8. Kent St.67.19-3
9. EMU63.54-8
10. BGSU63.57-5
11. Toledo631-11
12. CMU61.85-7

CMU throws (Ernie Zeigler tenure)

YearPct.MAC rankNtl rank

As he's got more of his guys in, the free-throw percentage has hovered around 65 percent (down to a paltry 61.8 this season.

Trey Zeigler, CMU's leading scorer, is shooting 54.2 percent from the line. That's just unacceptable. That's nearing Ben Wallace-esque numbers, and when CMU gets good (it's coming) teams may resort to "hack-a-Trey." It boggles my mind how Trey still shoots such a flat shot from the line (take a look sometime — it's like watching a car navigate across Nebraska). His jumper still is sort of a line drive, too, which is partly shown in his 40.2 percent field goal mark. Of course, he's also getting hounded by the defense most of the time, too, but still, this isn't a very good sign.

Then, there's Derek Jackson (51.2 percent), Andre Coimbra (42.9 percent), William McClure (61.5 percent), Antonio Weary (44.4 percent), and it's no wonder CMU is a bad team right now. Jalin Thomas (80.8 percent) is CMU's best shooter, but the next closest is Finis Craddock (68.2 percent). There's no player who even shoots in the 70-percent range. Baffling, indeed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This just isn't a good mesh

I was wrong.

I thought the addition of Trey Zeigler and seven others who were sold as playmakers would mean good things for this team. I thought things would get better as the season went on, as what usually happens with young teams.

It hasn't.

That's not to say that this team doesn't have the talent to be a very solid team in the Mid-American Conference. But for whatever reason, the team is playing scared. This often happens with coach Ernie Zeigler's younger players, who sometimes can't handle his tough-love style of coaching (see Jeremy Allen, Chase Simon, Lawrence Bridges, William Eddie, Adrian Hunter, all of whom left early on in their careers).

Speaking of which, let's do a "where are they now?" for Ernie's recruits who left early:
  • Adrian Hunter: A junior at Southern Nazarene (Bethany, Okla.) (NAIA). He averages 14 minutes and scores 2.4 points per game for his 21-5 team.
  • Jeremy Allen: A junior who's started 20 of 21 games and averages 22 minutes, 6.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per at Florida International (D-I). His Cougars are 9-16.
  • Lawrence Bridges: Averaging 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds as a junior at Robert Morris (D-I, Pa.). He averages 13.7 minutes per game for his 12-13 Colonials.
  • William Eddie: Played for Gillette College (Wyo. JUCO) in 2009-10, now unknown (dad is assistant at Florida International after coaching under Zeigler).
  • Chase Simon: Averaging 13.3 points, has started 27 games as a junior for Detroit (D-I), which is 14-14 overall, 8-8 in the Horizon League.
That was fun. Moving on ...

Even older players have trouble with Zeigler's coaching style (see Marko Spica, Nate Minnoy, Amir Rashid, all of whom left with eligibility remaining).

Will Zeigler ever find the right combination of players for his demanding style? He better hope so. After taking strides behind Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman, this program has taken a giant step back this season. The team's ranks 335th in the nation (out of 344 teams), averaging 58.4 points per game. In terms of sharing the ball and finding each other (a measure of team chemistry) CMU now ranks DEAD LAST in the nation, averaging 8.4 assists per game.

The offense is dysfunctional. I wasn't able to make it through the whole Buffalo replay on No movement, no chemistry on offense. 3 assists. This is a "recurring theme," as Ernie admitted afterward. That's on the coaching staff, something Ernie also admitted.

CMU is much better at home (4-1 in MAC, 70 points per game vs. 0-5, 57.6 points per game on the road), something that's to be expected for a young team. But THIS much better? That's just strange, and frankly, embarrassing.

We all misjudged this team's chemistry after a pretty strong start in Hawaii. Jalin Thomas is a very solid player — and so is Trey — but they don't play off each other very well. Trey forces shots knowing he needs to be the man, and so does Jalin, and they haven't found out how to get their teammates involved. There's not real leader of the team...Jalin tries, but that's just not his thing. He's a quiet leader, something that works well on a team with an outspoken leader as well, but not on this team. Will McClure can't do it either because he's got a follower's personality, and well, the other senior — Amir Rashid — he couldn't take it anymore and left.

With no leadership and with Trey still a season away from taking the reins, this team is destined for a first-round MAC tournament exit.

Austin McBroom commits to the Chippewas

Well, here's one reason to hope for the future. Austin McBroom, a 5-foot-11 guard from Campbell Hall High School in southern California, verbally committed to CMU this week over offers from a handful of California schools.

He looks like a good combo guard who can get the ball to Trey for good looks. Something this team really needs right now. Derek Jackson has shown flashes, but still is too hesitant. For that matter, everyone has been hesitant. The comfort level should increase tremendously next year...until then, we wait.