BroncoBlitz.com exchanged a series of questions and answers with Patrick Hayes of BallinMichigan.com leading up to Tuesday's home opener against Marygrove College. BallinMichigan.com is a great resource for everything basketball-related state-wide, all the way from the community college level up to the NBA. You can follow them on twitter also @BallinMichigan.
BroncoBlitz.com: Can you talk a little bit about the transition to the WHAC, and some of the expectations Marygrove fans have for this upcoming season? How much different is the level of competition?
Patrick Hayes: Joining the WHAC will be interesting for Marygrove. The competition won't be much different -- they played many WHAC teams each season as an independent with varying success. The obvious benefits are now they'll be able to compete for things like conference championships that independents don't get to play for and, with 12 teams in the conference, it will make filling out a schedule easier.
As for their first season in the WHAC, I think they're pretty safe from finishing in the basement since Lawrence Tech also joined the league this year. Lawrence Tech is starting a program from scratch this year after not having basketball for about 50 years, so it's likely they'll finish last like most expansion teams.
Marygrove didn't have a great season last year, but they do return a player in guard Darryll Dixon who has a shot at being an all-conference pick and they have a big recruiting class coming in with a possible hidden gem or two. I don't think they'll compete with the upper-echelon teams in that league, but a middle of the pack finish isn't out of the question.
BB: Marygrove has a junior varsity squad. How does this kind of work as a feeder system for the varsity team that the Broncos will be playing?
PH: Junior varsity teams at the college level are just a player development tool. NAIA teams frequently recruit standout players from smaller high schools. Some of those players aren't necessarily ready to handle college competition off the bat, so a junior varsity squad eases them in. They also allow the team to look at more walk-ons.
Recruiting at the NAIA level is more of a mixed bag than Division I or Division II college basketball. A lot of players lose interest in the sport or want to focus on academics. A lot of players don't pan out. A lot of players who looked good playing bad competition for small high schools never adjust to even small college basketball. So JV teams are kind of a safety net. They allow teams to look at more players and have more options.
For the really good teams that have them, they also allow young players to get minutes they wouldn't necessarily get on a loaded varsity team. I think there are varying levels of success with JV teams in the NAIA and Division III, but if they're used correctly, they do allow teams more of an opportunity to develop or find players.
BB: What kind of a playing style can Bronco fans expect to see from the Mustangs this Tuesday night?
PH: It's hard to say what, exactly, the team will look like because they have a lot of new faces this season. I assume they'll use the opportunity against Western to get as many of those players as possible some time on the floor.
Beyond that, they were a solid rebounding team last season, particularly on the offensive glass (although they did lose their top rebounder, Omar Thomas). They were a poor shooting team, hitting only 41 percent of their shots as a team for the season.
You'll also see a team that will likely be perimeter heavy. They don't have a chance to beat Western, but my guess is they'll do their best to push the pace with the numerous fast guards on their roster.
BB: If there's one guy on this team that the Broncos have to worry about, who is it and why?
PH: Darryll Dixon led the team in scoring and assists last season. I watched Dixon quite a bit when he was in high school at Flint Hamady and he was always an underrated component of some decent Hamady teams. There were three players on his high school team who got more attention from colleges, but to this point, Dixon has had the best college career so far.
He's not a player who will wow you in any one area, but he's a competent ball-handler, a good finisher for his size and he can knock down perimeter jump shots. Plus, despite his scoring ability, he's a willing passer.
Another player to keep an eye on is Macomb Community College transfer Keith Paris. Paris is another guard who probably won't put up elite numbers in any category, but coming from a solid Macomb program, he's played against some Division I and Division II level guards in Michigan the last two years. JUCO basketball is one of the hidden gems in the state, and several programs routinely produce talented guards who go on to bigger programs. Paris isn't necessarily at their level, but he also won't be intimidated by playing against Division I competition either. He's seen it before.
BB: Can you talk a little bit about the Marygrove fan base, being a small school in Detroit, will Marygrove fans make the trip and represent the school well at University Arena?
PH: I don't specifically know about their fan base, but small schools in general have a lot of pride. They won't be a force with their sheer numbers, but most small schools have a small but incredibly devoted group of fans who attend every home game and even travel to many road games.
Marygrove has been up and down record-wise over the years, but they have produced players who've gone on to play professionally in foreign leagues. They don't stand a chance at winning this game, but they'll play with pride and treat it as an opportunity to create some exposure for their team and school.
BB: It's not often teams like this get a shot at Division I schools. Do you think Marygrove has circled this date on their calendar?
PH: Most definitely. Every team likes to think they could be the team to pull off a miraculous upset. Something I've learned over the years covering college and high school players is that they all think they were under-recruited, no matter what level they are playing at.
I guarantee some of the guys on Marygrove's roster know some of the Western guys from high school or AAU days and I guarantee they think they are better players or at least comparable players to those guys, whether that's the reality or not. Any time a small school gets an opportunity against a Division I school, you can bet that every guy on that roster is trying to prove how overlooked he was.
BB: If Marygrove is going to pull off the huge upset, how are they going to do it?
PH: They won't. That's no shot at Marygrove, either. Division I teams are Division I teams for a reason. There is some talent in the NAIA and there are probably a handful of teams at that level around the country who would give some Division I teams a competitive game. But I'd be hard-pressed to even predict that one of those elite NAIA schools could pull off that kind of upset.
Marygrove is a competitive team at its level, but their lack of size and their youth will prove major hindrances in this game.
BB: Prediction time: How bad do you think this is going to be for the Mustangs? Or conversely, are the Broncos in for a shocking awakening?
PH: At worst, I think Marygrove could get off to a hot start from the adrenaline and Western could start slow either because they're experimenting with different lineup combinations or they simply overlook the little unknown school on their schedule.
But by the end of the game, the score will be lopsided. I'm a big proponent of small-school basketball, but I'd be surprised if Marygrove didn't lose by 30-40 points.
Follow Patrick Hayes and BallinMichigan.com on twitter @BallinMichigan. For more BallinMichigan.com coverage on Marygrove College, visit this link.