While the 2007-2008 season ended in familiar fashion for the Chippewas, who made it to the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament for the second straight year before being eliminated, the team showed continued progress under second-year head coach Ernie Ziegler.
The Chippewas finished the regular season with an 8-8 conference mark and tied for second overall in the MAC West division after a sub .500 third-place finish in Ziegler's first season. Prior to Ziegler's arrival from UCLA, the Chippewas recorded three straight cellar-dweller finishes in the MAC West, including a 4-24 overall mark in the season prior to his arrival.
The first thing the new coaching staff set about changing was a losing mindset that had pervaded the program. "These players have never experienced success and sometimes a losing attitude can take hold. We have to change that," noted Ziegler earlier this season when the team was struggling to find its identity and opened the season by losing its first five games. The Chippewas rebounded from their rough start in time to make noise in the MAC this season, including wins over Akron and MAC West champion Western Michigan.
In trying to find the right combination, the Chippewas frequently juggled their starting lineup as even standout point guard Giordan Watson was not immune to being benched. Watson came in off the bench in two late-season contests but returned to the starting lineup in time to become a prime factor in the Chippewas' late-season MAC run that saw CMU win three of its last four MAC contests.
While Watson departs, the Chippewas will return a strong nucleus of players that have been recruited by Ziegler, who appears to have the Chippewas on track, and perhaps more importantly, engaged in some positive thinking.NOTES, QUOTES
FINAL RECORD: 14-17, 8-8 MAC (2nd MAC West)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Chippewas climbed their way into second place in the MAC West behind a strong perimeter defense that finished the season ranked second in the MAC in defending the 3-point shot, limiting opponents to only 30.8% from beyond the arc. Giordan Watson emerged from a mid-season funk to become a major contributor in running the point this season and finished his career as the school's all-time leader in assists, steals and 3-point shots.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Fouls. Fouls. Fouls. There is no truth to the rumor that MAC officials carried an extra whistle when officiating Central Michigan contests. It only seemed that way. The Chips paid a major price this season for employing Ernie Ziegler's tight defense and set a team record for personal fouls. The Chips averaged 24.9 fouls per game (327th out of 328 Division I teams) and were frequently outscored by a 2-1 margin at the foul line this season, which often proved to be an insurmountable advantage.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It has been a journey from the beginning in terms of us trying to get any continuity during the season. Unfortunately, we ended here on a similar note than we did last year, but I feel like we are a much better team than we were last year. Those are the positives that we have to build upon as we move forward." -- Central Michigan head coach Ernie Ziegler, after the Chippewas were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The Chippewas lose only one starter and return the nucleus of a team that appeared to be gaining traction as the season progressed. Freshman F Jeremy Allen was a fixture in Ziegler's frequently changing starting lineup, starting 23 of 30 games this past season. Allen was named to the MAC All-Freshman squad this season and recorded double-digit scoring in eleven contests. The frontcourt will have good size with the return of 6-8 Chris Kellerman and 6-7 Marcus Van for their senior seasons, while returning Gs Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman, both sophomores, showed a nice scoring touch and will battle for starting time.
THE BAD NEWS: Who will run the point? That will be the big question heading into next season following the departure of senior PG Giordan Watson. All Watson did this season was finish his career as CMU's all-time leader in assists, steals and 3-pointers. Watson also led the Chips this season in scoring and was named second-team All-MAC.
The Chips also lost a couple of key contributors late in the season. G Chase Simon left the team with three games remaining in the season while regular contributor Nate Minnoy was suspended from the team at the end of the regular season. His status is unclear heading into next season, leaving little depth in the Chippewas' backcourt heading into next season. With the likely departure of Minnoy and Watson leaving after his senior season, the Chips lose their top two scorers.
KEY RETURNEES: Freshman F Jeremy Allen will be the Chippewas' leading returning frountcourt scorer entering the 2008-2009 campaign. The MAC All-Freshman team performer finished fifth among MAC freshmen in scoring, averaging 7.2 points per game.
G Robbie Harman should contend for a starting role in the backcourt with his long-range shooting abilities. Harman shot nearly 45 percent from 3-point range this past season.
C Marcus Van led the team in rebounding and shooting percentage and ranked fifth in the MAC in blocked shots.
G Jordan Bitzer, a sophomore, was the team's second-leading scorer in conference games, averaging 7.9 points per game, and his 25.4 minutes per game were second on the team.
--G Giordan Watson was the team leader in scoring (16.4 points per game), assists (4.6 per game), steals (58) and minutes played (33.2 per game) this past season. His departure leaves a significant void that will likely be filled by a committee of players of next season.
--C Marko Spica had a disappointing sophomore season coming off an All-Freshman campaign last year. Spica, who had several defensive lapses during the season, saw his playing time significantly reduced, averaging only 13.6 minutes per game, but at 6-9, Spica has enough size to be a factor in the guard-dominated MAC and will get an opportunity to claim a starting role next season.
--F Nate Minnoy was second on the team in scoring, averaging 8.9 points per game, but was suspended prior to the MAC tournament and his future status is uncertain.
Previous Report: 03/24/2008