By JERAMY STOVER, Staff Reporter
With the most wins since the 2007-08 season, first-year head coach Taylor Langley seems to have the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s basketball program heading into the right direction.
Although the team finished with an 11-19 record, this is the best basketball we have seen in quite some time. With that being said, there is still a lot of work left to be done. The Wolverines missed the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference playoffs for the fourth straight year.
With seven games left in the season, UM-Dearborn had a chance to control its own destiny. It failed to take advantage of it by going 3-4 in the last three weeks of the season.
When the season ended, the Wolverines found themselves tied with Siena Heights for the final spot in the conference tournament. Due to the tie-breaker rule, Siena Heights advanced and UM-Dearborn was sent home.
Although they did not know it at the time, the Jan. 31 home game against Siena Heights can be argued for as the most important game of the season.
The Saints defeated the Wolverines earlier in the season, and with the two teams battling each other to get into the conference tournament, the last thing UM-Dearborn wanted was to get swept in the season series, which would cause it to lose the tiebreaker.
The Wolverines lost to the Saints 66-65 on a last-second shot after being down by five points at halftime. UM-Dearborn committed seven more turnovers than Siena Heights and only managed to shoot 50 percent from the free throw line, a statistic they struggled with all year.
If UM-Dearborn is going to build off the small success it had, then they will need to work on scoring points. The Wolverines finished second-to-last in the conference in points per game. While they can shoot from behind the arc, they struggled immensely from the free throw line. They finished the year last in the conference in free throw percentage shooting just 58 percent.
I don’t normally support the term “morale victory,” but there is a particular game in the Wolverines season I think the phrase fits well.
On Dec. 3, UM-Dearborn traveled to Cornerstone University, a conference powerhouse that finished the season with a share of the conference title and won the WHAC tournament.
The Wolverines were leading at halftime 31-25. They were even winning with under a minute to play in the game. But the Golden Eagles made a late rally and ended up defeating UM-Dearborn 68-65.
While they did lose, this game shows that the Wolverines are able to compete with the best, not just in the conference, but in the country as well. Cornerstone is currently the No. 3 ranked team in the country.
Another positive note for the Wolverines is their youth. With just four seniors departing from the program, Langley has plenty of young talent to groom before next season. Key contributors this season, such as Paul Standtke, Brandon Cole, and Gage Throgmorton will all be back next season and hungrier than ever to make the playoffs.
Team MVP: Jamiel Strickland
Strickland was the senior leader of this team, and he played like it. He led the team in points, assists, and steals. He had career highs in nearly every major statistic. In that Dec. 3 lost to Cornerstone, Strickland had a season-high 23 points.
Whenever the Wolverines needed to make a play, the ball went to the hands of Strickland. And usually, the calm, collective senior made the play. His presence on the court will be sorely missed next season. One of Langley’s biggest tasks over the off-season will be to find a leader that can take over the role Strickland played this season.
Rookie of the Year: Jason Penn
The freshman sensation showed great promise this past season. Finishing third in the conference in blocks, Penn has made opponents aware that coming near the basket is a dangerous mission.
While it took him nearly a third of the season to find his stride, Penn still finished the year averaging 10.3 points per game. Penn had 20 or more points in five games this season showing that he can be a dominate player at both ends of the floor.
While Penn won’t have to improve his dunking skills, he will have to get better at ball handling and free throw shooting. But with that being said, there is no question that Langley has a starting center for the next three years.
Next Man Up?
With Strickland’s departure there is a glaring hole at the guard position. Deonte Bell played in just five games this season before getting injured and missing the rest of the season. The Wolverines were able to redshirt Bell and preserve his four years of eligibility.
Bell is a highly skilled guard that has received a lot of praise from his teammates over the season. While he didn’t see significant playing time this past season, a second off-season to work with Langley’s system should help Bell get a running start going into next season.
The Wolverines are going to need a player to step up next season and be a consistent scorer for them to have much success. If the hype turns out to be true, Bell could be that guy.