Detroit coach Ray McCallum understands the problem: Kansas’ do-everything power forward Thomas Robinson.
Robinson is Friday night’s headache for McCallum and his 15th-seed Titans when they meet No. 2 KU in an NCAA Tournament opener in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
Now, while there’s not much McCallum can do to make the headache go away, he would like to ease the pain. But how?
“That’s a good question,” McCallum said. “We’re still trying to figure that out.”
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Not many teams have this year. When Robinson has had rare off night, it’s usually because he did it to himself.
McCallum isn’t counting on that happening.
“I think he’s the most physical, hard-playing player in the country,” he said.
Detroit starts a three-guard lineup, including the coach’s son and top scorer Ray McCallum (no “Jr.”, please), with a 6-foot-6 swingman, Doug Anderson. They rotate LaMarcus Lowe and Eli Holman, a pair of 6-10s, to do the heavy lifting inside.
That worked for Detroit in the Horizon League where most of the power forwards are 6-6, and the style is more of a perimeter game. But besides the Robinson, the Titans also have to deal with 7-footer Jeff Withey.
Together, they can do some serious banging. So it would seem reasonable that the Titans might try to put Lowe and Holman on the floor at the same time Friday more often than during the season.
Then again, coaches really hate to go away from what’s been working for them all year. They also would rather give up Christmas than divulge a game plan, so McCallum isn’t telling beyond to say “defensive rebounding is really the key for us.”
Holman, at 260 pounds, is the beefier of the two Detroit big men. Lowe is a good shot blocker but is only 220. Robinson comes in at 6-10, 237.
“I usually take the bigger guy,” said Holman, a senior who averages 10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. “But I’ll take Robinson in this game. I’m looking forward it. He’s a great player who can do it all.”
This season’s plan originally called for Holman to start inside with 6-9 senior power forward Nick Mennerath. But Mennerath blew out his knee in the fifth game and was lost for the season.
That left the Titans scrambling even more. Before the season started, Holman was suspended for the first 10 games.
“Violate team rules,” Holman said.
He also allegedly got in a fight during the early morning hours of Sept. 17 with another UD senior at a fraternity party, according to Detroit police. The police report said Holman struck the other man “in the nose and mouth with a closed first two times then left.”
Athletic Director Keri Gaither told the school paper, The Varsity News, that suspending Holman for 10 games wasn’t directly related to the alleged assault. “It’s in conjunction with a series of personal issues,” she said.
Holman is one of six transfers on Detroit’s team. He left Indiana after his freshman season when Kelvin Sampson was fired in 2008 by the Hoosiers in the wake of recruiting violations.
McCallum was on Sampson’s staff, so Holman opted to follow McCallum to Detroit.
“Best thing to happen for me,” said Holman, who is from Richmond, Calif.
After sitting out a year, Holman made an immediate impact for the Titans. Even bigger things were expected from him this year. And he’s delivered — just not the way he expected.
Six of Detroit’s 13 losses came with Holman out those 10 games.
In his first game back after the suspension, he scored 21 points in 19 minutes against Western Michigan. McCallum liked the idea of starting Lowe and having Holman come off the bench, which led to Holman being named the Horizon League’s sixth man of the year.
The inside plan was set. The Titans won 10 of their last 11 games. But will the Jayhawks see an altered plan?
Holman will only tell you, “We’re a team of hard workers, hard nosed. We play until the final horn.”
Oh, and one other thing about Friday night. He suggested no one should overlook the Titans, who come from the same league that sent Butler to the national title game the last two years.
“We’re expecting to win the game,” he said.