Dan Jenkins headshotBy DAN JENKINS, Guest Columnist

With its third straight loss on Saturday, this time to a lowly Lawrence Tech squad, the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s basketball team was eliminated from qualifying for the conference tournament for the tenth straight season.

Since joining the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) in 2004, the Wolverines have yet to finish amongst the top eight teams in the standings and earn a postseason bid.

If you look at some of the teams at the top of the conference such as Cornerstone, Davenport and Madonna, you will see three of the top four scoring teams in the conference. In correlation, the top three scoring players in the league play for the three aforementioned teams.

All three of these players, Dominez Burnett of Davenport, Wes Hudson of Cornerstone, and Bobby Naubert of Madonna, average just over 19 points per game. The closest any Wolverine player has come to that mark over the last 10 years was last season when Julius Porter put up 16.1 points per game.

This season, the Wolverines have spun the tires a little bit; with one victory in their final four games, the team could finish with the same 7-23 record posted last season.

But this year’s team, despite its record, has a vastly different identity.

11 new players took the court for the Wolverines during this season, including true and redshirt freshman along with transfer players. With the departure of the 1000-point scoring Porter, the team needed a change.

Coach John Mackson stressed before the season that in order for his program to compete long-term within the conference, he would need to add two key traits to his squad: length and size. With the addition of four true freshman, he did so.

All four freshman are listed at 6-foot-5 or taller, and their impact has been felt immediately. A freshman, true or redshirt, leads the Wolverines in each of the following statistics this season:

Total points scored, field goals made and attempted, 3-point field goals made and attempted, and blocks. Two of those players stand out: Brandon Cole and Gage Throgmorton.

One, or both, of these two players has the potential to be the cornerstone of Mackson’s program for years to come.

Cole has size to see over smaller guards and facilitate for his teammates, but also speed enough to get into the lane or out in transition to go along with an above-average jump shot. Cole scored a career-high 27 points against Great Lakes Christian College last week to help the Wolverines seal a victory.

Throgmorton, who has dealt with injury issues during part of the second half of the season, has cooled after a strong start to the season. Second on the team in scoring, Throgmorton is a deadeye shooter from long-range and has the green light to hoist whenever he gets a look.

Along with Cole and Throgmorton, the Wolverines also have size on the wings in freshmen Nick Wallace, Marcus Tillmon-Cornet, and Nathanael Packwood, a solid foundation for the third-year coach to build around.

Over his first two seasons, Mackson’s team beat just three teams that would go on to make the conference tournament in 32 possible games. This season, the team has just one: against Lourdes on January 25.

In order for this team to be competitive going forward, Mackson and his crew must help either Cole or Throgmorton blossom into the next star of the WHAC, something which they both have the potential to be.

The Wolverines rank dead last in the conference in scoring offense at 58.0 points per game and a star, a go-to guy that can take over a game, would help them get the monkey off this program’s back and finally make the conference tournament.