Wednesday, January 16, 2002

This season is deja vu for RedHawks

By Ian Duthie
Enquirer contributor

        As the college basketball season passes the midpoint, this Miami team is beginning to take on a feel similar to last season's club.

        Both teams played a challenging nonconference schedule that didn't yield many victories in preparation for Mid-American Conference play.

        “I don't know if (the difficult nonconference schedule) is the smartest thing,” Miami's sixth-year coach, Charlie Coles, said. “But from experience, I believe it pays off when you get into league play.”

        The 2000-01 group went 4-7 in nonconference play, highlighted by a surprising victory over then-No.10 Notre Dame, 73-64 in South Bend.

        It was deja vu this season when Miami won 73-67 against then-No.10 and previously undefeated Boston College at a holiday tournament in Hawaii. Miami finished 1-2 in the Rainbow Classic, much like last year's 1-2 showing in a Puerto Rico tournament.

        “We play a younger group this season with more athletic talent,” said Coles, who starts two first-year players and a sophomore after losing three seniors. “We came together as a group (last year), and I see the same happening to this group.”

        Despite the slow start, the 2000-01 RedHawks won nine of their next 14 conference games, propelling them into the MAC Tournament where they reached the final for the fifth straight year. They finished 17-16 overall.

        This team hopes to follow the same path to a winning record after laboring through a 3-8 record out of conference. No MU team has finished with a losing record since the 1989-90 season.

        “I learned from last year's seniors that the season can still be a success even if you don't win early,” senior Alex Shorts said. “We still have a lot to play for in reaching our goals.”

        After dropping a 69-63 contest at Western Michigan in its conference opener, Miami (6-9, 3-1 MAC) has won three consecutive games for the first time this season and looks to be playing its best basketball. Last season's team won three straight twice, never reaching a four-game winning streak.

        “We can only look at it one game at a time,” said senior Doug Davis, referring to his team's climb back toward a winning record. “But we have confidence we are playing better and can get it done.”

        The RedHawks will attempt to surpass last season's win streak against an improved but struggling Eastern Michigan (5-11, 1-4) team.

        The Eagles, who finished last season 3-25 and won only once in conference, have matched their conference win total and surpassed their overall win total from last season.

        Eastern Michigan still has its problems, primarily on the defensive end. The RedHawks should be happy to know this after their game against Akron when they struggled for easy shots against a trapping 2-3 zone that held them to 37 percent shooting.

        The Eagles rank next to last in the conference, giving up 76.1 points a game. Miami ranks last in scoring with a 61.5-point average.

        One person who has had no trouble scoring is EMU's Ricky Cottrill, whose 19.9-point average is third-best in the MAC. In two of his last three MAC contests, the sophomore has scored 31 points and a career-best 32. He has led his team in scoring in all but six games.

        The RedHawks won 62-48 in the teams' only meeting last season.


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