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Detroit and Eastern Michigan: First Look

I was originally going to publish the Iowa preview tonight, but basketball is much more exciting at the moment. That will have to wait until before going to the Miami-Virginia Tech game tomorrow night. Live from the Detroit Airport, Off the Tracks would like to officially welcome new Boilermakers D.J. Byrd, Jeff Robinson, Kelsey Barlow, and Patrick Bade. My name is T-Mill and I will be writing about the National Championship you're going to help bring to West Lafayette.

Boilerdowd already beat me to the punch today, but Purdue's incoming class for the 2009-10 season officially signed their letters of intent yesterday. Robinson and Bade appear ready to help JuJuan Johnson be a beast in the paint, while Barlow is the type of versatile do-everything player that reminds me of Marcus Green. Those three should fill in quite nicely when Green, Chris Reid, and Nemanja Calasan depart after this season. Byrd is the only player I have seen in person, but even the two games I saw him as a freshman and sophomore impressed me with his poise and ability to get to the basket. He is a hard-nosed guy that will fit in very well with our current core group. This group as a whole looks as if it will mesh well, and with what we have coming after them we can begin to dream big.

They are still year away though, and there is plenty to get excited about right now. With the regular season tipping off Friday night in Mackey Arena and the football season winding down it is time to being the transition from football to basketball. Can you blame me? The basketball team is ranked in the top 10 and the football team is in the middle of its worst season since Jim Colletto was here. It's amazing I didn't do this weeks ago. Life has tempered my excitement a bit because I have been so busy, but my favorite time of year is still now with basketball season tipping off for Purdue and my beloved Kokomo Wildkats. Game 1 is Friday night with the Detroit Mercy Titans coming to town, so I'll be taking a brief look at them. I'll also be taking a look at our second game of the year, which is the NIT Preseason Tip-Off opener Monday night.

Detroit Mercy Titans

The Titans are everything you want in the opener. It is a game that might provide a brief test, but in the end it shouldn't even be close. On paper, Detroit looks like a big slowpitch softball served up perfectly we should just crush. They were 7-23 last year with a 3-21 finishing kick, good for a dead last finish in the Horizon League. It is hard to see how they will be able to immediately compete with one of the best teams in the country. Should they compete, this game will only serve to set off numerous alarms. Wofford was a similar type of team a year ago that shocked us on Keady Court, but the Terriers were a much better foe than the Titans appear to be.

Among Detroit's seven wins a season ago was a non-Division 1 win over Rochester College. Only three wins came in conference play against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola-Chicago. All of these were home games, but at least two were against Big Ten little brothers. Detroit won just one time all season away from home. On November 28th they traveled to Ypsilanti and topped Eastern Michigan 72-68 to cap a 4-2 start. They then lost 21 of their final 24 games. The best win of the year came in the season opener when they topped Kent State 61-60. The Golden Flashes went on to win the MAC and have a pretty good season finishing in the NCAA Tournament with a loss to UNLV and 28-7 record.

Ray McCallum may be familiar to some Boilermaker fans as the former head coach of Ball State. He is now in his first year of a massive rebuilding project at Detroit. Detroit is far from the salad days of a decade ago when they made the NCAA tournament as an at large team before losing to the Boilermakers in round 2 80-65. This year's edition of the Titans graduated last year's leading scorer, but the next top four in scoring return. Their lineup presents some very interesting challenges that could provide a good opening test of our improved rebounding skills.

Another familiar face that we won't see on the floor is former IU player Eli Holman. Holman transferred to Detroit in the aftermath of the Samson scandal. We won't see him because of transfer rules, but that is probably a good thing. Holman represents all that is wrong with the game of basketball. He is an insult to the game by quitting on his team last year. You could see at the end of the season he had one of the worst attitudes on the court for the Hoosiers. I don't like Indiana, but their tradition and history deserved better than this guy. He was getting a free education to play the game, and he pissed and moaned because things didn't go his way instead of toughing it out and playing the game. This makes him a disgrace to the game. If I had my way, he would never be allowed on the court again due to his poor attitude.

McCallum appears to still be working on a definite rotation as everyone on the roster played at least 8 minutes in the exhibition opener against Tiffin. 6'9" forward Chris Hayes' led them in that game with 20 points and 11 rebounds. He is the leading returning scorer at almost 11 points per game. 10 of those points came from the free throw line, so Hayes clearly knows how to handle some contact down low. Junior guard Eulis Stephens had 18 points in the exhibition, while junior forward Thomas Kennedy had 18 points off the bench.

Detroit got to the free throw line quite a bit against Tiffin, hitting 32 of 41 free throw attempts as a team. Often that is how lesser teams find a way to compete against better ones. This allows them to slow down the tempo and not allow the more talented team to assert its will or get in any kind of a flow. With 39 rebounds we should also have a good test to see if this area of our game has improved any. Detroit has a surprising amount of size for a lower division Horizon League team. The Titans feature seven players at 6'7" or taller all the way up to reserve center Jason Bennett at 7'3". Bennett, a junior from Jacksonville, FL only had a point and three rebounds against Alma, so something tells me he won't be particularly effective in this large step up in competition.

Stephens and Hayes were listed as starters against Alma, while 6'7" junior forward Xavier Keeling, 6'8" senior center Michael Harrington, and 5'10" junior guard Woody Payne were the other starters. Keeling added 12 points in that game, but Payne and Harrington only had three points each.

Just about my only concern coming into this game is Detroit's size advantage in the post. We will be starting our usual three guard lineup with Robbie Hummel operating more as a point forward than a power forward. JuJuan may struggle some in the post having to deal with three true post players at times, but the overall talent differential of our guards should make a big difference. Keeling and Kennedy are both junior college transfers, so their first game at the Division 1 level will come against one of the best Division 1 teams in the land. Welcome to the game, kids.

Detroit shot just 50% in the exhibition against Tiffin. They must shoot much better to have any chance against Purdue. They are capable of making a scare of this game with their size. They threw a scare into Butler last season when the Bulldogs were ranked 10th, but that game was in Detroit. In the return game Butler won by 34 points and wasn't even trying after locking up the Horizon League championship. In Mackey Arena I expect more of the same. Purdue 71, Detroit 48

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Our second opponent of the season actually met Detroit last season on November 28th and gave the Titans their only road victory of the year. Eastern Michigan had a much better record than 7-23, but still finished just 14-17 with a second round loss in the MAC tournament. The Eagles are actually picked to improve to a second place finish in the MAC West this year. Since the MAC is normally a pretty competitive conference that never seems to get at large bids to the tournament they could be dangerous. Eastern Michigan will be looking toward this game and a potential second round game with Georgia as a chance to grab a couple of good wins in order to improve a potential at large NCAA profile.

Still, with 17 losses a season ago there were bound to be a few stinkers. Eastern lost by 19 points to Brown at home as one of them. Detroit, Oakland, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and a miserable Ball State team were losses to teams that would likely be 15 seeds at best if they made the NCAA's. For Eastern Michigan to have dramatic improvement they must turn games like that into wins. They have not had a winning season since 2000, but they did finish at .500 in MAC play.

One player that is expected to make a difference is 6'6" forward Brandon Bowdry. Bowdry sat out last season with a broken foot, but was named to the MAC's All-freshman team in 2007. Unfortunately, Ypsilanti, Michigan is to broken feet in basketball players as Eugene, Oregon is to ACL's in football players. Senior point guard Carlos Medlock, who was the leading scorer last season at 14.8 points per game, will miss this season with a broken foot as well. He already missed the 2006-07 season with the same injury.

Bowdry was impressive in Eastern's first preseason game with a 10 point, nine rebound effort off the bench. Center Kyle Dodd and guard Solomon Farris added 12 points apiece while Justin Dobbins tossed in 14 off the bench. Eastern Michigan does not shoot the 3-pointer very effectively, hitting 3 of 16 attempts in that game. They also did not get to the free throw line nearly as much as Detroit did.

It remains to be seen, but most likely the loss of Medlock will severely hamper this team. They were counting on him to be a big part of their offense both in scoring and with his distribution skills. Now that he is gone, Eastern Michigan just does not have the depth that other teams might have to replace him. The Eagles hit 33 of 67 shots from the field in its exhibition opener, so they don't exactly fill it up. Still, they can create second chance points as they had 20 offensive rebounds in that contest.

Only so much can be taken from an exhibition contest against a lower division opponent. As was the case with Detroit, Eastern Michigan was expected to win and did by a large margin. The bottom line is that this was a sub .500 team from a year ago that had numerous bad losses. They got back a promising player, but lost another one before the season even started. As the No. 1 overall seed in this tournament we're expected to roll over our first round opponent. That is exactly what I expect when we face the Eagles Monday night. Purdue 67, Eastern Michigan 50