YPSLIANTI —- The hour grew late and inside the Convocation Center not too many souls were around just the hard working cleaning crew and deep within the seclusion of his office, Eastern Michigan University basketball coach Rob Murphy sits in front of a monitor studying the game film.
The silence interrupted by the clicking sound of the remote control, Murphy continued to look for the answer to the question after the 60-58, lost against Ball State University Wednesday night at the Convocation Center.
The story on the court unfolded from the video tape just like it did live out on the court earlier and what was witnessed by Uncle Mel and 826 nieces and nephews.
Ball State University shot 58.5 percent from the floor and for the most part they were contested shots by the Eagle defender but Uncle Mel thought that the Cardinals could have launched shots from the parking lot of the Convocation Center and hit nothing but net.
The Cardinals shot 40 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Murphy said, the Eagle game plan was to keep the ball from getting inside the zone but something happen because the Cardinals scored 34 points inside the paint.
Now your old Uncle Mel worries about a lot of different things, the ozone disappearing, the destruction of the rain forest and of course the execution of Eastern Michigan University zone defense.
In the rich tradition of Eastern Michigan University basketball your pal Uncle Mel likes to remember the past players that played in the middle for the Eagles – the center.
Eastern Michigan University has never been blessed with a tall man in the middle, they have always been in line with the Wes Unseld type of post player.
The Eagles centers have stood about 6-9 maybe 6-10 but they were in the words of the best NCAA basketball announcer and former basketball coach at Marquette University, Al McGuire that the centers that played at Eastern Michigan were “aircraft carriers!” and “space eaters.”
What Uncle Mel remembers and please remember your Uncle is old but the centers that wore the uniform of the green and white were also blue-collar workers and intimidating-they would get fouls just because they looked mean.
They would work hard and to get into the best rebounding position that they could and they would be able to score some points.
Now Uncle Mel is not trying to place any blame on Wednesday night defeat to the Cardinals on the shoulder of 7-foot center Da’Shonte Riley or the big and steady shoulder of Matt Balkema.
But fellows come on!
The line for Riley or Balkema in the box score for Wednesday night against the Cardinals is not very flattering or will opponents see them as much of a threat.
The only thing positive is that Balkema played for 11 minutes and Riley gave the Eagles 23 minutes but that is the end of the good news for Murphy or for Eagle basketball fans.
The total of shots taken by an Eagle post player is-one!
The number of rebounds by a post player for the Eagles-two!
The number of disappointed fans that watched the display of the pitiful production from the center position-826 paying fans.
The number of coaches not happy with the production-one!
Now nieces and nephews please look at this-Riley zero shots, zero rebounds, zero free throws with two attempts.
Balkema took the lone shot from the post but it was a prayer that he threw up and yes he was being mugged by the Cardinals but that is Mid-American Conference basketball.
“Da’Shonte and Matt are not scorers and have not in their career high school or college. We made a concision effort to throw the ball down there a few times but we got nothing out of it,” Murphy said about his post players. “Understand our scorers are going to be Derek Thompson, Daylen Harrison and hopefully Glenn Bryant chipping in but it was not scoring tonight for the first time I thought that we really got good looks and good shots we were aggressive on offense.”
Balkema after appearing in 14 games this season is averaging 1.7 points per game and Riley after starting 13 games for the Eagles is averaging 3.6 points per game.
Nobody including Uncle Mel is not expecting a double-digit scorer from the center position but a little is more than zero now that would be appreciated by Murphy and the fans of Eastern Michigan University basketball.
Another observation made by your old Uncle Mel which is another important feature of having a strong player present in the post position and that is the 2-3 zone defense.
The zone is only as strong as the man-in-the-middle and that is usually the play of the center. The center has to be in position to grab a rebound, alter shots and eat up the space under the basket and in the paint.
Former coaches at Eastern Michigan University use to tell your old Uncle all the time that the key for wanting to get a rebound- is a players has to have heart.
The center should be able to get the fast break started by being able to get a good outlet pass up the court. A good center should be able to maneuver around the basket and make more bunny jump shots than they miss, put back second-chance shots or just be tough with good bone crushing screens.
There have been too many missed short jump shots, too many missed rebounds and not enough toughness from the center position.
Opponent coaches do not have to worry about any offense from either Balkema or Riley.
Balkema is showing signs of understanding the defense of the Eagles but he still misses too many put backs and bunny jump shots.
Riley on the other hand looks unimpressed with the zone defense and with the offense, he sometimes look like he would prefer to be someplace else and doing something else with his time and effort.
Cardinal post player Zack Fields not known as great score, entered the game against the Eagles averaging four points a game.
Fields went around the post defense played by Riley and took five shots and scored four baskets. Uncle Mel is not a math genius but Fields double his point production and guess what- the Cardinals won!
When Murphy heard the news about Riley transferring to Eastern Michigan University from Syracuse University he was ecstatic with excitement. Just the thoughts that he must have had about going into the Mid-American Conference game with not one but two post players-well it is a dream.
Post players that would provide two different styles and a different sets problems for the opponents to solve.
For now though the play of the center position is not a dream but it is now becoming a major concern.
Meanwhile in the wee hours of the night with smell of a fresh brewing coffee being made Murphy sits in front of the monitor in the middle of the night and continues to watch the video tape searching for any answers before the next Mid-American Conference game.
Murphy said that his team will be getting better by the work that they will put into preparing for games with hard work during practice including Riley and Balkema
Saturday night in Bowling Green, Ohio at the new Stroh Center Murphy and his Eagles will make their first trip into the Mid-American Conference East Division and the first time in the new facility for Bowling Green State University. The game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.