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.
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.
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 ESPN3.com. 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.