We will bring you at least one "Opposition Q&A" piece each week during non-conference play to help preview some of the teams that Summit League members will be playing. This week we talked to Brandon of HustleBelt.com, a website dedicated to the MAC, of which Western Michigan is a member. WMU will begin its season taking on South Dakota State.
Western Michigan returns all five starters from a season ago as well as several key role players. This is a strong mid-major team. Can you give SDSU fans a feel for what kind of things are expected of this experienced Bronco team this year?
B: The starting five is great in my mind. They can do everything well, and there is no glaring weakness besides a solid big man down low. They lost a good three-point shooter in Alex Wolf and a great sixth man in Juwan Howard Jr. That said, the Broncos will call on more production from Shayne Whittington and Dan Loney. Probably Brandon Pokley too.
I cannot stress enough how bad it was to lose Juwan Howard Jr. He was very athletic, and he has huge potential. Not only did we lose him, but we lost him to Detroit, who has another WMU transfer. There is a lot of bad blood between WMU and UDM, and this year will mark the last year the two teams will play until Steve Hawkins is no longer coach for the Broncos.
The frontcourt of Nate Hutcheson, Flenard Whitfield, and Matt Stainbrook is one that features a lot of size and rebounding ability that could cause trouble for the Jackrabbits. Which of these players is the best defensively? And which one is the most likely to have a big scoring night?
B: Defensively, I'd have to say that Nate Hutcheson is the best defender, in that he usually is the three-man, where he does it all. He can block shots and run around and defend the perimeter. Offensively, it has to go to Whitfield. He is very athletic and can fool people off the high post with an arsenal of moves. He is always the threat on offense. As a note, while they are big, none of them ever played like a true "big man" last year. I'm still waiting for Stainbrook to start playing his size. He's 6-foot-10 and 280 pounds. Fans are literally yelling at him to use his size and play big.
When these teams met last year, the Broncos won by three points in Kalamazoo. SDSU point guard Nate Wolters scored 28 points in that game, largely by attacking the basket and drawing fouls. Which of the backcourt players might bring the defensive ability needed to prevent Wolters from driving at will?
B: One thing I see from that game is Wolters was 12-of-17 from the line. I don't think he'll get to the line that much this year. This year's game is a whole year under the rebuilding stage we went through after losing MAC Player of the Decade in David Kool. We know who we are starting-wise, and the bench is pretty much a variety of role players. As long as we stay out of foul trouble, Mike Douglas, Demetrius Ward, and Nate Hutcheson will be able to keep the guards in check.
After traveling to Brookings, S.D., WMU goes to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with games against Temple and potentially Purdue, Iona, and a slew of other major conference teams. From there the team has road games at Purdue, Gonzaga, and Detroit -- a rough stretch of games. How important do you think it is for WMU to open its season with a win against the Jackrabbits?
B: It's huge. I'm really worried about them going .500 with this non-conference schedule. They don't have their first home game until November 30th, and then they still have Duke to play. This is brutal this year, but hopefully it'll condition WMU for MAC play. A win sets the tone early, but a solid win is what I'm hoping for.
Thanks to Brandon and HustleBelt.com for corresponding. You can check out my responses to his questions about SDSU by clicking here.