This weekend, the Blue Devils are in town and Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker will be celebrating a reunion.
Unfortunately for the fans, these Blue Devils hail from Central Connecticut State, not Duke, and Amaker will reunite with a former assistant, Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey, not his college teammates.
The Wolverines hope to start a streak similar to last season’s 7-0 start when they open their 2006-07 season against Central Connecticut State on the first day of this weekend’s John Thompson Challenge at Crisler Arena.
The matchup marks the first time the two schools have played each other.
The Blue Devils start a small lineup; their tallest player is 6-foot-7 forward Jemino Sobers. In the Wolverines’ first exhibition game, they faced a similar opponent in Wayne State, which also didn’t have a player taller than 6 foot 7.
But Central Connecticut State’s best player could still pose a threat in the paint despite his small stature (for a forward). Senior Obie Nwadike, a first-team preseason All-Northeastern Conference selection, was the only player in the conference last year to average a double-double for the season (12 points, 10 rebounds).
Wolverine seniors Courtney Sims and Brent Petway have to be aware of their smaller and shiftier counterparts when posting up and boxing out down low. Despite their smaller size, the Blue Devils out-rebounded their opponents last season, and under head coach Howie Dickenman, the team has out-rebounded its opponents for eight straight seasons.
The key to the rebounding battle could be the guards. Against the smaller Wayne State, guards Dion Harris and Reed Baker were second and third, respectively, in rebounding.
Amaker attributed this to the tendency of a smaller team to shoot around the perimeter instead of banging bodies in the paint. Long shots translate into long rebounds, and the guards’ rebounding abilities become just as important as those of the forwards.
Michigan will play two other games this weekend during the John Thompson Challenge. On Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines will square off against Davidson.
The Wildcats are coming off a 20-win season, which included their eighth trip to the NCAA Tournament and third under head coach Bob McKillop. Against Ohio State in the first round of last year’s tournament, Davidson took a four-point lead in the first half before dropping the game, 70-62.
The Wildcats are led by a trio of junior tri-captains: Boris Meno, Jason Richards and Thomas Sandler.
Meno and Sandler are the two biggest threats, figuratively and literally. Both are the tallest returning starters (6 foot 8) and the top two returning scorers (5.6 and 6.5, respectively). The two bigger forwards down low will allow Sims and Petway to stay around the basket, playing to their strengths rather than chasing long rebounds.
Michigan concludes its weekend against Eastern Michigan in the “Border Battle” with the university next door.
The game will feel like a reunion for the head coaches. Ramsey was an assistant under Amaker from 2001-05.
The Eagles return eight lettermen who survived a disastrous 7-21 season, including a gut-wrenching 3-15 conference record. Guard Carlos Medlock is their main scoring threat after averaging 20.1 points per game last season.
The reunion may not feature Amaker’s old teammates Johnny Dawkins or David Henderson and tonight’s game may not feature the Blue Devils, but the weekend will remain just as important for the Wolverines as they try once again to earn an NCAA berth.