The start to the season for the Detroit Mercy Men’s Basketball season has been rocky to say the least. The Titans are 0-8 and dropped the first pair of Horizon League games to cross town rival Oakland at home and to Cleveland State on the road. This record has them sitting solely in last place of the league and 328th on KenPom, with not much to be taken positively from the analytics outside of their strength of schedule which has them in the top 40 in the country.
However, unlike your traditional winless squad at this point in the season, the Titan men have drastically improved defensively. After coming up just short in their two most winnable games versus Ole Miss and Eastern Michigan due to falling into holes early, Mike Davis’ team went away from their array of zones and into man to start conference play (something the Titans have struggled with in the past). With the current state of the Titans roster, they only feature one true big in 6-8 Edoardo Del Cadia (6.5 RPG) and one true wing in 6 foot 7 Tyree Davis (1.1 RPG). This lack of depth would discourage a lot of teams from going to man and try to force outside shots rather than let their frontcourt matchup, but teams have shot especially well from three against the Titans which left them with no choice to buck up and defend, which they did.
This was no easy task as Detroit Mercy was faced with handling two probable First Team All-Horizon League bigs in Oakland’s Trey Townsend and Cleveland State’s Tristan Enaruna. The Titans held the pair to a combined 7/25 from the field and 23 total points, significantly below their averages. Enaruna went to work a little bit more on the glass than Townsend on both sides of the ball, but at times, especially in the Oakland game as they out stole and blocked OU (11, 5). The Titans were able to deny the entry pass down low and force turnovers leading to more transition looks, and they played extremely proactive help side defense, while the strength of Del Cadia and the athleticism of Tyree Davis was on full display. Abdullah Olajuwon, while only a 6-foot 5 guard, has also shown the ability to defend down low just like his dad, leading the Titans in blocks per game (0.8) and helping on the glass (3.5 RPG).
Unfortunately, the Titans could not keep par with their defensive numbers from the Oakland game and had a tough time staying out of foul trouble against Cleveland State, playing the last 8 minutes or so without a big. Tyree Davis acknowledged this right away when asked how they wanted to combat this issue, telling me after his career night in his conference debut that the Titans “want to front their bigs to make them throw over the top and use our smaller size to our advantage to get steals”. While it didn’t go exactly to plan against CSU, the Vikings were held to just 35% from the field and 33% from 3, UDM’s lowest opponent output yet. If the Titans can build some consistency defensively this might help them get going offensively, which outside of Jayden Stone has been anything but that.
The Oakland game was winnable, they controlled the tempo and made Oakland feel uncomfortable for almost the whole half shooting 32% (UDM shot 44%). The second half was a different story though as the Titans came out flat, starting the half 3-22 from the field and finishing at only 32% on the half, most of which came after the game was already out of reach. Oakland adjusted and woke up slightly offensively, but the Titans shoot themselves in the foot missing open looks (a lot of them 3’s) and killing momentum with costly turnovers. In a rivalry that wasn’t what it once was, the Titans were the ones with the energy, but the offensive inconsistency and inability to get consistent 3-point shooting has plagued them all year and against OU that was the nail in the coffin.
Against Cleveland State, the Titans again struggled initially offensively outside of Stone, but thanks to great facilitating from Del Cadia (5 assists) and a much-needed surge from Donnovan Toatley which included three second-half threes, Detroit Mercy stormed back to make it a one possession game in the last 4 but ran out of gas en route to an 11-point loss. If Toatley can continue to play meaningful minutes, Tankersley gets back into his groove (7-25 last 2 games) and Mak Manciel can finally break through as a true 3 and D guy (7% on the season), Stone can elevate this team to victories, especially with a beefed-up front court over the coming weeks.
Now if you follow UDM basketball at all, you’ll know how hypotheticals have been the tell of the tale, but what’s not hypothetical is how good Stone has been. His shooting splits are elite on the amount of volume he has. The Aussie guard has shot it at a 46% clip on 134 total shots, 68 of those being triples. For context Trey Calvin of Wright State shoots just 1% better than him on 21 less attempts, while Jlynn Counter of IUPUI who has a similar shot amount to Calvin shoots 52%, but with 49 less 3-point attempts. Stone’s leads the league in scoring and is 9th in rebounds per game while having more defensive rebounds (46) than everyone in the league except Townsend and DJ Burns of Youngstown State. He also has distributed the rock well enough for second on the team with 2.3 assists and his assist to turnover ratio is almost exactly 1:1.
If the Titans don’t end up winning games this will just have been another great season of guard play that was wasted, but Stone is playing like the best player in the league, so if he keeps this up and the Titans can continue to improve as well as bring back Emmanuel Kuac, Ryan Hurst and friends to give them a boost, this team will be nowhere close to the Green Bay or IUPUI’s of the last few years.