The Cornell Basketball Blog: Question-Is there a player on Western Michigan that can take a game over by himself and who is the team's best player and why?
Brian Persky/BroncoBlitz.com: Answer-My instinctual reaction is to say no, the Broncos don't necessarily have one individual player that is capable of taking over a game. I'll expand more on that later, but that's just my feeling. Senior wing Nate Hutcheson (6-foot-7) and sophomore combo guard Austin Richie (6-foot-2) are probably the closest thing to that on this team. Hutcheson is one of the most versatile, athletic players in the Mid-American Conference and has the ability to create his own shot, almost to a fault sometimes. Austin Richie is a pure shooter that also happens to be a good ball-handler and facilitator of the offense. He can really play either guard position but he's a lot more natural at the shooting guard position where he can come off of screens and knock down shots.
If I'm a Bronco fan and we're down by one, and we have the ball with 15 seconds left on the clock, I either want the ball in the hands of Austin Richie or Nate Hutcheson. Perhaps Western Michigan's best option in that department is 6-foot-4 freshman wing Charles Harris, who's been limited because of an ACL tear that happened during his senior year of high school. Harris just began participating in half-court only contact drills last week, so I don't expect him to dress against Cornell on Saturday.
The Cornell Basketball Blog: Question-What is Western Michigan's style of play on offense and defense?
Brian Persky/BroncoBlitz.com: Answer-The reason I held off on the second part of your last question, was because it's easier explained here. Western Michigan runs a motion offense, or some form of it depending on personnel. And with eight incoming long and athletic freshmen, this year's personnel will likely be more of an "equal-opportunity" offense, as head coach Steve Hawkins explained it to me earlier this year. What he means by that is that this is a very balanced offense that should see 10-12 players deep contribute in the box score. Hawkins' runs a fundamentally sound basketball program. And with that, you'll see a lot of Western Michigan's success revolve around screens, positioning, and timing. This is a patient offense that only takes what the opposing defense gives to them, and so they'll wait to exploit it when a positioning battle or a mismatch is eventually found.
They haven't really shown much in terms of offensive sets and play-calls in the first two exhibition games (on purpose) so it's hard to say exactly what the offense is going to look like. This particular group of players is loaded with good shooters, and you'll likely see a lot of different sets on the floor throughout the game as this is a deep, versatile team.
"Zone" is a four-letter word to Coach Hawkins. This is a straight up man-to-man defense that prides itself in defensive positioning and all of the other elements that go along with sound fundamental defense. Western Michigan's best defenders are seniors Nate Hutcheson and Brandon Pokley. I fully expect "Hutch" and "Poke" to man up against Errick Peck and Johnathan Gray, respectively.
The Cornell Basketball Blog: Question--How does Western Michigan compare to other MAC schools in size and athleticism and does WMU play with a lot of size?
Brian Persky/BroncoBlitz.com: Answer-I would say that the Broncos are maybe slightly below average height-wise for MAC standards. But what they lack in size, they make up for it with physicality and toughness. Western Michigan only has one true center in Shayne Whittington (6-foot-10), however the Broncos do have several forwards capable of playing the center position on the floor. Freshmen Darius Paul (6-foot-8), Kellen McCormick (6-foot-8), A.J. Avery (6-foot-6), Connor Tava (6-foot-5), and even senior walk-on Dan Loney (6-foot-4) can bang down low.
But getting back to the original intent of your question, there aren't too many "game-changing" centers in the Mid-American Conference with the exception of Akron's Zeke Marshall. The MAC is a power forward league, and although Western Michigan is young, there is a lot of talent at the forward position overall. And all of the aforementioned players are really better suited at forward as opposed to playing center, with the exception of Shayne Whittington.
The Cornell Basketball Blog: Question-There is a likely return game next season for Cornell in Kalamazoo. Will Western Michigan likely be better this year or next year?
Brian Persky/BroncoBlitz.com: Answer-Tough question really. The Broncos will lose seniors Nate Hutcheson, Brandon Pokley, and Dan Loney -- all major contributors that add significant value with experience, leadership, and production. However, they'll bring back starters Austin Richie and Shayne Whittington, and sharp-shooting Hayden Hoerdemann. WMU also brings back redshirt junior David Brown (hopefully) -- a highly touted point guard recruit that's been plagued with injuries throughout his career -- and then they'll bring back eight freshmen that would have gone through a ton of growth and development in a year. They'll also be adding 2013 verbal commit Leo Svete (6-foot-6 shooting guard), who passed up several high mid-major offers to come to Kalamazoo.
The Cornell Basketball Blog: Question-What are the five (5) other things that Cornell fans need to know about Western Michigan when they watch the game live in Newman Arena or at home online via Redcast?
Brian Persky/BroncoBlitz.com: Answer-
1. Darius Paul has a very high basketball I.Q. Although he's still very raw, as many freshmen in division one basketball can be, he occasionally makes plays that just make you say "wow." He might be one of the best passers on the team too.
2. Do not leave Brandon Pokley or Hayden Hoerdemann open at the three-point line. I firmly believe that Brandon Pokley, in particular, is going to have a breakout season. And he'll accomplish that by playing great defense and knocking down open three's.
3. Keep your eyes on freshman forward Connor Tava. Tava (pronounced "Tay-vee") doesn't do anything particularly fancy and won't dazzle you with his athleticism, but he's exactly the kind of player that Steve Hawkins loves. He's a bruiser under the basket, both offensively and defensively, and is just tough as nails. The kid can shoot too. He's just a fun player to watch if you like basketball in it's purest form.
4. For me, it will be interesting to see how this team responds to the kind of "aggressive" pressure that it sounds like the Broncos will face against Cornell. With so many young guys on the WMU roster, this game in particular should be a very good gauge for the kind of season Western Michigan fans can expect with seven freshmen seeing significant playing time.
5. How will Shayne Whittington fair against one of the biggest (and deepest) front lines Western Michigan will face all season? Whittington did very well coming off of the bench last season behind former Bronco Matt Stainbrook (transferred to Xavier). Due to a few Stainbrook-related disciplinary issues, Shayne got thrown into the mix earlier than expected last season. Now he comes into the 2012-2013 season as essentially this teams one and only true center. He still needs to prove to a lot of WMU fans that he fits the part.
Here's my prediction:
I actually think Western Michigan matches up reasonably well against Cornell from a defensive standpoint. The key to this game for me is whether or not the Bronco bigs on the inside can get defensive positioning and keep the ball out of the paint. I think the Broncos keep it close, but having a young team go on the road to begin the season is always a tall order. They're certainly capable of wining this game, and I think Western Michigan keeps it close, but in the end I think the Big Red front court is just too much for the Broncos to overcome.