Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CMU Men's Basketball Wrap Up

I will have another spring practice update tomorrow, but as for now, I wanted to post a CMU men’s basketball season wrap up story that will be exclusive to the Sun Sports Blog. I recently talked with basketball coach Ernie Zeigler to get his thoughts on the 2008-09 season and the future of the program (Thanks to Ryan Evon for the photo of Marcus Van):

At first glance, on paper, the 2008-09 men’s basketball season may not look like a successful one for the Central Michigan men’s program.
A 12-19 record was the worst in the three season’s that coach Ernie Zeigler has been at CMU, while a 7-9 mark in the Mid-American Conference was one game behind the year before.
Yet, when everything came to a close, it was clear that the 2008-09 season was one of the most successful in recent years at CMU, and certainly the best in Zeigler’s coaching career.
While the win totals were not where Zeigler aspires to be, his Chippewas overcame numerous injuries and suspensions. CMU was left for dead by many in the MAC race, yet won a share of the MAC West Division title with a memorable 71-68 win over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo to close the regular season.
“We knew from the start as a coaching staff that this was going to be a year of transition for us as we looked to take the next step as a program,” Zeigler said. “Starting last spring we dealt with a lot of adversity and we knew this season would be challenging. But, even through all of the suspensions and adversity, we still took a step forward and we put ourselves in a position to be MAC West champions. It was a very satisfying season in terms of going through all we did and still accomplishing what we did. They key for us is to now continue to build on that right now. We can’t wait and enjoy our accomplishments too much, we need to start now in building for next season.”
The championship season was a validating feeling for CMU, and the Chippewas were led all season by senior Marcus Van, who was validating his spot on the team all season long after opening the year with a suspension.
“I think this season you really have to look at the progress and the growth of Marcus Van,” Zeigler said of his senior center, who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game. “Any coach that is worth his salt wants guys to get better as they move through the program, and when you look at Marcus, he started as an athletic rebounder and a shot blocker, and when he left, he was one of the top scoring post players in the entire conference. He really evolved as a player and that is a testament to his work ethic and how much he valued being a part of this basketball team.”
As CMU finished the season playing its best basketball, winning its last three games before getting edged by Ball State in overtime in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament, many fans had wondered how good CMU would have been this year with forwards Chris Kellermann and Marko Spica, who were lost for the season with injuries.
“It is an interesting question to ponder, but you would also have to wonder if Marcus would have emerged like he did if Marko was around,” Zeigler said. “The biggest asset we would have had was depth. Whenever you have depth, that immediately makes you a dangerous team. Instead of being a team that was seven-deep, we would have become a team that was nine or 10-deep, and that would have really been a strength to have. If you look at the Final Four teams, all of them have tremendous depth and are not identified by just one player.”
With or without Kellermann or Spica, CMU had very historic wins this season and very disappointing losses.
“The win that stands out most to me would have to be the win at Western Michigan because it was a signature win for our program,” Zeigler said. “We were down 14 points at a hostile environment and we battled back and that win made us MAC West champions.
In terms of the losses, I would say the two losses to Eastern Michigan stand out because I felt like in both games we played well enough to win, but we just weren’t able to close the game out. You could say the same about the loss at Buffalo too, where we were in great position to get a huge road win, only to come up short.”
With the 2008-09 season now in the books, Zeigler and his staff are clearly focused on next season and the new challenges that lie ahead.
The biggest step for next season is in establishing leaders, which Zeigler expects his senior tandem of Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer to take over.
“First and foremost, we need Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer to really emerge as the leaders of this team,” Zeigler said. “Bitzer will be our leading returning scorer and rebounder and I feel he really emerged at the end of this season as one of the top players in the MAC. Robbie Harman has always been a guy you can count on to do whatever he can for this team and we need him to really continue to push his teammates and continue to not be afraid of taking the big shots for us.”
Along with Harman and Bitzer, Zeigler is excited to see how his younger players will progress for next season.
“We need our guys to have a passion to get better and we need guys like Jacolby Hardiman, Antonio Weary, and Jeremy Allen to keep having a bounce in their step to build off of the momentum we had at the end of this season,” Zeigler said. “I am also anxious to see how Marko and Chris bounce back from their injuries and their rehab. It will have been a long time for both since they have played in a college game and sometimes it can take time for guys to get comfortable again.”
The Chippewas will go through their strength and conditioning program through the summer until individual workouts begin next fall in preparation for the 2009-10 season.

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