Thursday, March 08, 2001

Miami season rides on MAC tourney

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jason Grunkemeyer was asked the other day if Miami University's season has been disappointing. Grunkemeyer didn't hesitate.

        “I can't say it's been disappointing, because it's not over,” he said.

        Monday's 69-56 victory over Akron gave the RedHawks a chance to move the season from disappointing to decent to delightful to dynamite the next three days in the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Cleveland's Gund Arena.

        A win over No.1-seeded Central Michigan at noon today in the MAC quarterfinals is the first step. It would assure Miami (15-15) of avoiding its first losing season since 1990.

        If the RedHawks could put together a run beyond today, that's gravy.

        Miami, the eighth seed, is the lowest seed remaining.

        But the RedHawks came into last year's tournament the No.9 seed and beat No.1 Bowling Green in the quarters. The RedHawks moved on to the final before losing 61-58 to Ball State.

        This year's MAC tournament seems more open because teams are evenly matched.

        “Any team in Cleveland can win,” Toledo coach Stan Joplin said. “Miami proved that last year. I'd be shocked if there are any blowouts. I expect every game to come down to the last two or three minutes.”

        Miami has beaten each of the top three seeds this season, including a 73-61 win over Central Michigan on Jan.10. And don't let the score fool you — that was a blowout. The RedHawks led by as many as 26 points in the second half, and most of the Chippewas' 17-4 game-ending run came against Miami's bench.

        So MU coach Charlie Coles doesn't expect to sneak up on CMU, and he doesn't think the RedHawks' record in the MAC Tournament (they've made the final in each of Coles' four seasons as coach) will intimidate the Chippewas.

        “If we're fortunate enough to beat Central, it won't be because they're superstitious,” Coles said. “We don't scare anyone. Psychology won't come into play.”

        CMU is one of the surprises in college basketball this season. The Chippewas went from worst to first in the MAC, from 6-23 last season to 20-7 this season.

        The Chippewas' star, David Webber (Chris' brother), was named the MAC player of the year Wednesday. He averages 18.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.

        “It's business as usual,” CMU coach Jay Smith said. “Miami has already beaten us handily at their place. We won our division and that's nice, but that's over and done with. Now it's a coin toss.”

        The key to the Jan.10 victory for Miami was its good start.

        “We had been shooting a miserable percentage,” Coles said. “We got some outside shots we don't normally get. They were never able to catch up.”

        But the win over CMU is just one of a list of nice ones on Miami's record this year. The RedHawks beat Kent, the MAC East winner, on the road. They beat the No.3 MAC seed, Marshall, by 17 points. They beat Notre Dame on the road.

        Miami seems capable of making a run. Its three new starters — Doug Davis, Alex Shorts and Juby Johnson — are playing their best ball right now.

        The senior starters, Grunkemeyer and Mike Ensminger, played well against Akron after battling injuries.

        But this MU team has had trouble stringing wins together. Its best winning streak this season is three games.

        “It is a new season now,” Ensminger said.


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