2010 was the year of the high school point guard. That year’s graduating class had more top flight point guards, and more teams in dire need of a floor general than any in recent memory. The Gophers were involved in that sweep stakes if your remember, putting too much faith in the brother of a certain player who has moved on to greener pastures. Minnesota lost out, big time.
Those point guards, several getting ready to make their NBA debut and others entering their sophomore year in college, are now household names. Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Josh Selby, and that unnameable player were all lottery picks. Ray McCallum, Joe Jackson, Kendall Marshall, Keith Appling, and Trey Ziegler, who the Gophers will face tomorrow night, may find themselves in the NBA someday soon. That year, the point guards had the bargaining power and knew it. They were highly sought after, and weren’t about to take the first offer available. In fact, there was a bit of a stand-off while they waited for one to commit so the others could assess their options. This left many teams, including the Gophers, hoping, praying, and ultimately falsely believing that they were still in the running for one of the elite players, and therefore scrambling in the spring to find anyone that could bring the ball up the court. This is how Maverick Ahanmisi became a Gopher, and how what could have been a special season spiralled out of control into one we would all like to forget.
Give Trey Zeigler credit. Central Michigan’s point guard not only got things moving by actually making a decision, but he decided to stay home and play for his dad. It probably was not an easy decision. Obviously, deciding whether he wanted to play for his father in the first place wasn’t the most difficult part. He either did or he didn’t. But Central Michigan? Time will tell if Zeigler made the best decision for himself or his NBA prospects, but CMU got a good one. He is averaging better than 17 points and eight rebounds per game. He has shifted to more of a shooting guard role, but is still dangerous off the dribble. Unfortunately, he still plays for a bad team.
Central Michigan comes into Williams Arena on Tuesday night with a 3-4 records against Division I teams. Their best win was against Pepperdine, and their worst loss was to Tennessee State on Saturday. Failing at all things offensively except three-point shooting, they could keep it interesting against the Gophers only because their greatest strength is Minnesota’s biggest weakness. They have made 36% of their three-pointers, and will likely shoot plenty of them given their horrid two point shooting which ranks 305th in the country. Defensively, they can be solid. They are an elite two-point defending team, ranking 14th in the country compared to Minnesota who is the 25th best two-point shooting team in the country. Something will have to give. Block shots go a long way in keeping teams from scoring on the inside. They rank 29th nationally in this category, but often sacrifice good defensive rebounding for blocked shots, and Rodney Williams should have a big day on the weak-side with plenty of put-back dunks.
Zeigler is the big weapon, but he isn’t all CMU has. Austin McBroom is a 6’0” freshman point guard shooting 50% from behind the three-point line and has become the distributor-in-chief while Zeigler has focused on scoring. Andre Coimbra blocks a lot of shots, and is a potentially dangerous three-point shooter at 6’9”. The Gophers have had a lot of trouble this season against mobile big men who can shoot, and they can’t ignore him. Oliver Mbaigato is another excellent shot blocker and solid rebound who luckily isn’t much of a shooter outside of close range. Derek Jackson averages two steals per game while also averaging less than two fouls per game. He’ll take advantage of turnover-prone Minnesota’s mistakes.
Central Michigan is not a good team and if the Gophers don’t start looking ahead to the Big Ten Season, bother to play with energy, and acknowledge that the three-point line has been a big part of college basketball for the last 25 years, they should be fine. Central Michigan is extremely young, with nine freshmen or sophomores on the roster, and could be very good in a year or two. Right now though, their success will depend on someone else’s failure.