For reasons both positive and negative, the Michigan State basketball program has been in the headlines a lot this summer. For a few days early in the summer, it seemed likely that Tom Izzo would leave East Lansing for a gig coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers thanks to some very serious overtures from Cavs owner/MSU alumni Dan Glibert. In a decision that perhaps looks best now that the dust from the NBA's free agency period has settled, Izzo ultimately decided to remain in East Lansing for what will likely be the rest of his coaching days. His players didn't help out his stress levels, though, as one was busted for driving under the influence of alcohol and two others were at the center of a sexual assault on-campus. Still, the Spartans are a near unanimous preseason top-three team, and many writers believe they'll be cutting down the nets in next April's national championship game. The high expectations, to go along with the fact that Izzo received commitments from five highly-touted recruits in a two week span earlier this summer, firmly cement Michigan State as the state's number one hoops program.
Last season, there was only one Michigan team aside from MSU to make the NCAA Tournament: Oakland University. While some might argue that the state's two Big Ten teams should automatically rank higher than the state's mid-majors due to differing strengths of schedule, we would argue differently. While Michigan certainly played tougher teams more often last season, Oakland's only shot at making the tournament was through winning its conference. In the Big Ten and other like-conferences, teams can go .500 and still receive an at-large bid. The stakes, therefore, are higher in a conference like The Summit League, and we treat Oakland's success as proof of its positioning here. While OU loses two of last season's heroes, it returns NBA hopeful Keith Benson who has more experience, size, and athletic ability than any other big man in the state. While such a ranking might not hold true all of the time, there is no doubt that the Golden Grizzlies have earned this placement heading into 2010-11.
Coach John Beilein will have his work cut out for him in 2010-11. His most productive players from last season, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, have moved on, leaving him with a bevy of inexperienced underclassmen who should receive a lot of playing time. While some predict that Beilein works magic with a roster full of guys no one expects much of, we think that this year will be a bit of a rebuilding year for Michigan. The team will surely struggle through what will be an incredibly competitive Big Ten, and there will be at least one or two games dropped to mid-majors. One game where the Wolverines might just be the underdogs is against Oakland. Though it will be in Ann Arbor, the Golden Grizzlies will be looking to beat the maize and blue for the first time since 2000.
The University of Detroit's rise from obscurity to respectability will gain some serious ground in 2010-11. Coach Ray McCallum appears to have been quite a solid hire for the Titans, as his team jumped up from just two conference wins in 2008-09 to nine last season. He also secured a commitment from Ray McCallum, Jr, his own son who also doubled as a McDonald's All-American during his senior season at Detroit Country Day. The point guard will almost surely start immediately for the Titans, giving the team a bona fide playmaker who should do wonders in the Horizon League. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages the team has heading into this season is Eli Holman, a banger who provides them with a solid presence in the post. The Horizon League is Butler's to lose this year, but don't be surprised if Detroit is hanging out in the top three by season's end.
The Chippewas quietly won the MAC West last season, though the reason no one took notice was because of how subpar that side of the conference has been in recent years. To prove a point, the team's 9-7 conference record would have put them in a three-way tie for third place in the MAC East. With that said, Central Michigan should contend again this year despite the fact it loses its top two scorers from last season. The team will be chock-full of seniors in 2010-11, but the player looking to make the biggest impact will be Trey Zeigler, son of CMU's head coach Ernie Zeigler. Like McCallum, Zeigler was a highly-touted high schooler who ultimately chose to play for his dad. While Detroit may have more upside, CMU plays in a more wide-open conference and could find itself competing for an automatic bid come March.
Choosing between Eastern and Western Michigan for this spot was rather difficult. Each school lost a few very productive players to graduation, but ultimately Eastern Michigan has the better stud returning. For the Eagles, that man is Brandon Bowdry. The senior forward nearly averaged a double-double last season and absolutely torched Oakland when he visited the O'Rena last November. The Eagles ended the season with a .500 record and having Bowdry back should mean that the team will at least get to that level again in 2010-11.
As I said, choosing between EMU and WMU for this last spot was a sort of toss-up. In the end, it simply appears that the Broncos lose more production than the Eagles, and there are no guys who appear to be locks to replace said production. David Kool was one of the more prolific scorers in the nation last season, but he has since graduated, as did the team's leading rebounder Donald Lawson and second leading scorer Martelle McLemore. A number of guys will get a chance to step-up this season and could no doubt surprise folks, especially in the generally weak MAC West. But for now, at least heading into the season, the Broncos receive the distinction of coming in last on our list.
For those interested in tracking in-state battles this season, here is a list of all the games where two Michigan teams will face-off:
Eastern Michigan @ Michigan State
Detroit @ Western Michigan
Oakland vs. Michigan State (at The Palace)
Detroit @ Eastern Michigan
Oakland @ Michigan
Detroit @ Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan @ Oakland*
Central Michigan @ Western Michigan
Eastern Michigan @ Western Michigan
Central Michigan @ Eastern Michigan
Michigan @ Michigan State
Eastern Michigan @ Central Michigan
Western Michigan @ Eastern Michigan
Western Michigan @ Central Michigan
Michigan State @ Michigan
* This game would result only if Eastern Michigan and Oakland win first-round games of the Lou Henson Tournament, held at the O'Rena.