Name: Central Michigan University
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
I’m bad at geography, where’s Mount Pleasant? It’s in central Michigan.
Ha ha, very funny. I mean, it is pretty right there in the middle part of the Mitten section of Michigan. It’s in the northern half of the lower peninsula, if that helps. North of pretty much every city in Michigan that a non-native has ever heard of, I’d imagine, with the possible exception of Traverse City.
Founded: 1892, as Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute. Even though “Normal School” is old-timey code for “teachers college,” the college didn’t actually fall under the jurisdiction of Michigan’s Board of Education until 1895, which seems..... weird. The state changed the name to Central Michigan University in 1959.
Enrollment: 11,434 undergraduates as of the end of the Fall 2021 semester, along with 4,031 graduate students.
Why “Chippewas”? Well, the short answer is “a campus vote in 1942,” but it’s more complicated than that. They had a brief flirtation as Dragons in the 1920s thanks to a tradition connected to a homecoming bonfire, but it never really caught on. Bearcats caught on in 1927 and held on til 1941. The argument was made that bearcats didn’t have any real connection to the area of Mount Pleasant, but Chippewas did. Yeah, sure, the yearbook held the name and the Chippewa River is near campus, fine. But I don’t think that the following argument from football coach Lawrence Sweeney is a very good one, even in the light of 1941:
“...the name Chippewa opens up unlimited opportunities for pageantry and showmanship for the band as well as athletic teams. The Indian chief would be an outstanding marker for athletic uniforms, the Indian pow-wow could replace the pep-meeting and Indian ceremonies could be conducted on many occasions. School flags could be made much more attractive and finally all types of Indian lore have a strong appeal and could be used to great advantage.”
It was put to a campus vote on January 16, 1942, and Chippewas won, 351-90. Is it weird to have a campus vote five weeks after Pearl Harbor? YES, IT IS, seeing as CMU’s own history notes that less than half of campus voted. 441 votes was recorded as less than half of campus and I am guessing this is largely because wide swaths of college age Michiganders were busy enlisting in the armed forces at the time.
Okay, why still “Chippewas”? FANTASTIC QUESTION. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission recommended changing the name in the 1980s, but an advisory committee to the university president recommended they keep the name in 1989, but with conditions:
Those conditions included developing educational programs in conjunction with the local Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council, sessions to familiarize CMU students and staff with traditional Native American culture, dropping the two official CMU Native American logos (a Native American profile and a spearpoint with a feather inside a block “C”), eliminating Native American drumbeats by pep bands and other measures.
CMU’s own nickname history webpage has a link right at the top that explains what it means to be a Chippewa. The short answer of “why still Chippewas” is that they are attempting to honor the original settlers of the area of Mount Pleasant, and I respect that. The fact that they have to even to this day keep this list of “DO NOT DO THESE WILDLY RACIST THINGS” on their website kinda tells me that this isn’t a great idea anyway.
Is Campus Haunted? Well, I don’t know if CMU’s campus is actually haunted, but they have a nearly 30 year tradition of turning the older section of campus effectively into a haunted house for Halloween. The idea of doing tours and telling ghost stories about campus is pretty cool on its own, but the idea of working people in costumes into the whole enterprise is a very cool twist.
Take It Easy: A lot of college campuses have some sort of “okay, finals are coming up, here’s a study day before they start” kind of thing. Central Michigan has gone so far as to brand it as Gentle Friday. It started in 1960 and has evolved into an actual campus sponsored/operated block party.
Notable Alumni: Bad news, everyone. We have to make Tom Crean sad, as he graduated from CMU in 1989. Also on the list: Sports broadcasting legend and noted Al McGuire friend Dick Enberg; pro wrestler George “The Animal” Steele; Emmy winning actor Jeff Daniels, maybe best known for his role as Harry in Dumb and Dumber; NBA icon Dan Majerle; former Kentucky governor Matt Bevin; actor Terry O’Quinn, best known for his role as John Locke on Lost; former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Joseph Ralston; author John Grogan, best known for his memoir Marley & Me; MMA fighter Phil Baroni; and finally, William Nolde, U.S. Army colonel and the official final combat casualty of the Vietnam War.
Last Season: 7-23, 6-12 in the Mid-American Conference
Final 2021-22 KenPom.com Ranking: #318
Final 2021-22 T-Rank Ranking: #319
2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #305
2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #330
Returning Stats Leaders
Points: Kevin Miller, 13.1 ppg
Rebounds: Brian Taylor, 5.8 rpg
Assists: Kevin Miller, 4.6 apg
Bigs? The Chippewas have four guys 6’10” or taller on the roster this season, and three of them were on the squad a year ago. Miroslav Stafl (6’11”, 235 lbs.) appeared in 17 contests with six starts, averaging 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11.6 minutes. Nicolas Pavrette (6’11”, 210 lbs.) got into 25 games and started 10 time, but only chipped in 1.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in his 8.7 minutes per contest. Caleb Hodgson (6’10”, 235 lbs.) was the least productive of the three returning guys, averaging 3.6 minutes in 17 appearances.
Pavrette started in CMU’s exhibition victory alongside Markus Harding (6’10”, 260 lbs.), who is the new guy in the four-pack. Harding is making his Division 1 debut on Thursday night after spending two seasons at Eastern Florida State College. Harding went for 15 points and 11 rebounds in the 88-61 victory, including five grabs off the offensive glass. Pavrette had four points and three rebounds in 19 minutes, Stafl played nine minutes while scoring once and grabbing four rebounds, and Hodgson played three minutes and collected a rebound.
Shooters? Last year, Central Michigan had seven guys who hit at least 33% of their long range attempts and were averaging at least two attempts per game. They return just two of those guys in Kevin Miller (6’0”, 165 lbs.) and Brian Taylor (6’6”, 205 lbs.). Miller connected on 36% of his attempts last year, while Taylor was at that 33.3% efficiency cutoff with both men averaging 3.0 attempts per game.
In their exhibition contest on November 3rd, six CMU players attempted a triple with four of them connecting. The two guys who did not hit a three only attempted one each, so I’m not sure if either one counts as a notable shooter at this point. Reggie Bass (6’4”, 185 lbs.) and Jesse Zarzuela (6’3”, 180 lbs.) both went 2-for-4, while Max Majerle went 1-for-3. Kevin Miller was Central Michigan’s most prolific shooter in that game at seven attempts, but he only made one of them.
Head Coach: Tony Barbee, entering his second season at CMU after stops at UTEP and Auburn. He has a career record as a Division 1 head coach of 138-150.
What To Watch For: Central Michigan is going to remain something of a mystery for Marquette until tipoff on Thursday night. CMU played only one exhibition game, an 88-61 victory over Northwood University, a Division 2 outfit just 30 miles away from Mount Pleasant. That’s their only contest until Thursday night which is their season opener.
Adding to the mystery, Central Michigan appears to have a ton of roster turnover, with five of their top six scorers not returning. Kevin Miller was the top scorer, so at least they have that going for them. Most of the departures appear to have been mostly planned ones as well, with four of the five on their fourth or fifth year of eligibility.
Last year’s CMU squad doesn’t do a lot in terms of pointing us in a direction of how they play, as there’s an awful lot of red and pink tinting on KenPom.com team stats. KP’s green-to-red scaling is very helpful to get an at-a-glance estimation of things, but it ends up not being helpful when trying to discern strengths and weaknesses when everything’s a weakness.
Heck, even Tony Barbee’s history as a head coach isn’t 100% useful, and I don’t mean just because there’s not an obvious trend in his other eight campaigns. 2021-22 was Barbee’s first season as a head coach since he was running the show in Auburn in 2013-14. To give you an idea of how long it had been since Barbee was calling the shots on a sideline, Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Now, it’s not like he’s been out of the business since then. Barbee was immediately picked up as an assistant coach by John Calipari at Kentucky, and he was with the Wildcats all the way through to getting the Central Michigan job. This makes sense, since Barbee played for Cal at UMass and he was an assistant with Cal at Memphis from the start of his time there until Barbee was hired at UTEP in 2006. But it’s a long shot from how you do things in Lexington with maybe the best basketball talent at your beck and call and how you do things in Mount Pleasant to win games in the MAC.
Anyway, the point of the story is I don’t know how Barbee wants to play. He’s had some fast teams, he’s had some slow teams, he’s had some good defensive teams, he’s had some bad ones, especially last year’s Chippewas who ranked #304 in Adjusted Defense per KenPom. He’s never had great offensive teams, maxing out his KenPom ranking at #89 in his third year at UTEP back in 2009. He’s never had great long range shooting, but again: Stopped being a head coach in 2014, a year before Steph Curry won his first NBA MVP. The only real trend I see is that Barbee’s teams have been historically bad at keeping opponents away from the free throw line. That’s not really something that you can hang a hat on as a way to attack a team, but then again “they will probably foul you if you attack them” is a good note to have in your back pocket.