After three contests in six days, Detroit is 0-3, but not for lack of effort. Friday night, the Titans gave Michigan State all they could handle before the UDM bigs fouled out, and Detroit was forced to play small ball for an extended period of time and ultimately fell to MSU, 83-76.
Friday was the debut of a gang of new players for the Titans. Bul Kuol had 12 points and 4 rebounds in just 25 minutes of action due to foul trouble. Matt Johnson had 20 points 5 rebounds, and 3 assists and was none too pleased with the shade thrown his way post-game by Spartan coach Tom Izzo. Marquell Fraser had 11 points and 12 rebounds in his debut for Detroit and is the first Titan in 24 years to get a double-double in his debut. Antoine Davis did Antoine Davis things, putting up 24 points, but was an ice-cold 0-9 from behind the arc.
Detroit then went to Notre Dame Sunday evening and kept pace with the Irish until late in the second half when two missed Titan putbacks turned into a 12-0 Irish run that would secure the game for ND, 78-70.
Kuol had 18 points and 6 rebounds, including shooting 3-6 from downtown in his 40 minutes. Johnson had 15 points, and Fraser added 12. The Irish keyed in on Davis, holding him to 14 points and 2-10 from three-point land.
Then versus Kent State, tired legs and the Golden Flash bigs got to Detroit. Danny Pippen had 23 points 7 rebounds, with 4 made 3 pointers for the big man. UDM had no answer for him and his compatriots in the paint. Gabe O’neal had 12, all from within a foot of the basket, and Justyn Hamilton had 11 from close range.
In total, the Titans gave up 32 points in the paint Tuesday night. Kent State’s guard play was not bad at all. Michael Nuga, the transfer from Portland State, had 15 points 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
For Detroit, Davis led in scoring with 21 points, he added 4 assists and 5 rebounds. However, continued to be ice-cold from behind the arc, and is now 4-28 on the season. Willy Isiani had his best game as a Titan, with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists, including 3-4 from behind the arc and 6-6 from the free-throw line. Dwayne Rose Jr. had his best night as well, with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.
As a team, Detroit had a bad night shooting with a 32.8% on all field goals. They simply had no answer for the Golden Flashes big men. Absent from the score sheet were Fraser, Johnson, and Kuol totaled 14 points between the three of them. Kuol, to his credit, was in foul trouble midway through the first half.
Despite being 0-3 there are some positives for the Titans. When asked what the most significant difference between this year’s team and last year’s is talent, head coach Mike Davis said that the guys they had the previous two years were good kids but could not play at this level.
It is evident watching the team they are much better. The defensive effort is the most significant change. The team is gang rebounding and playing much more up-tempo. The team also looks more confident. Notre Dame and Michigan State did not scare them; despite being much smaller than ND and MSU, the smaller Titans were only out rebounded by the bigger Irish and Spartans by a total of 7 rebounds.
Currently missing from the rotation are Chris Brandon and Noah Waterman. Waterman is waiting on his NCAA waiver from transferring from Niagara, and Brandon broke his wrist in the fall and should be back soon.
The Titans are currently running a 7-man rotation with a starting 5 of Davis, Fraser, Kuol, Isiani, Johnson with Calipari and Rose Jr off the bench. Coach Davis has played Taurean Thompson a total of 3 minutes in the first three contests, Joey Liedel played sparingly vs. ND, and he hit his first 3 point shot.
There are a few things that concern me. Conference play this year is back to back games, and coach is dead set on playing 7 guys currently. I would assume Brandon and Waterman are players 8 and 9 in the rotation. Wright State is the first conference opponent; Loudon Love will eat the Titans for dinner if they don’t fix the problems they had vs. Kent State.
The second thing that worries me is missing Brandon and Waterman from the rotation. If they can’t play, come conference play, who’s going to step up when the back to back games start.
I may have an answer for that. Tony Paul from the Detroit News reported Detroit will be getting Buay Koka, a 7-1 transfer from Tulane. It is reported he will join the Titans at the semester break with a year and a half of eligibility left.
The last thing that is starting to be alarming is how cold Antoine has been from behind the arch. Hopefully, he will get going soon. The Titans need him to go off when his supporting cast is having a cold shooting night as they did against Kent State.
Despite an 0-3 start, this is the best team Detroit has had since the 2012-13 season. The starting line up can all score in double digits; Rose has been effective off the bench once. When Detroit has everyone back, I think they are a top 4 team in the Horizon League, and it would not surprise me if this group goes back to the NCAA tournament.