State hoops: Earl Cureton, HOFer at UDM, Robert Morris, calls their games this weekend

Tony Paul takes you around the state with his weekly college hoops notebook….

State hoops: Earl Cureton, HOFer at UDM, Robert Morris, calls their games this weekend 1
State hoops: Earl Cureton, HOFer at UDM, Robert Morris, calls their games this weekend 2

Tony Paul
 
| The Detroit News

Earl “The Twirl” Cureton loves his Detroit Mercy Titans, and it certainly shows on his frequent ESPN and occasional radio broadcasts.

But he might just be playing it a bit more down the middle Friday and Saturday, when he’s on the call for Detroit Mercy’s two home games against Robert Morris.

Cureton just happens to be not just an alum of both schools, but a member of each school’s athletics Hall of Fame.

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“Yeah, that’s kind of weird,” he said with a laugh during a phone conversation this week. “Obviously, with Robert Morris, it was pretty exciting to see them come into the Horizon League this year. 

“I knew I’d be calling some of their games.”

Cureton, 63, a graduate of Detroit Finney, was 6-foot-5 when he decided to play for Robert Morris, then a powerhouse junior-college program, in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, in 1975, scoring 33 off the bench is his collegiate debut. He shot up to 6-8 before his sophomore season, and drew even more interest from then-University of Detroit head coach Dick Vitale.

Had Cureton left and returned home, he could’ve played right away at Detroit, because he was coming from a JUCO. But too many credits wouldn’t transfer, so no dice.

Instead, he suited up a second season for Robert Morris — and, amazingly, the school made the jump all the way from JUCO to Division I for his sophomore year. He didn’t know that was even possible when he first went there.

It was a big deal locally. There were big billboards promoting the move, and for the first game, the team was transported to the arena in a helicopter.

“I don’t know any other teams that have done something like that,” Cureton said of the jump from JUCO to Division I. “It was some fun times to go through that.”

On the court, it wasn’t as much fun. Robert Morris, playing mostly a road schedule and independent of a conference, was 7-19 that first Division I season.

But Cureton shined, averaging a team-best 17.2 points and 10.5 rebounds.

He finally decided to make the move back to Detroit after his sophomore season, but because Robert Morris now was Division I, he had to sit out a year before suiting up again. He missed a banner 1977-78 season, when Detroit, under new head coach David “Smokey” Gaines (Vitale had moved on to the Pistons), finished 25-4, and 18th in the final Associated Press rankings.

In 1978-79, Cureton averaged 11.7 points and 9.0 rebounds as Detroit Mercy made the NCAA Tournament. In 1979-80, under new coach Willie McCarter, Cureton averaged team-bests with 19.8 points and 9.1 rebounds.

The Philadelphia 76ers drafted him in the third round of the 1979 draft, but he finished his collegiate career before embarking on a 12-year NBA career.

In 1991, Cureton was an inaugural member of the Robert Morris athletics Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Detroit Mercy Hall of Fame.

“That’s pretty incredible. It gives you a little bit of bragging rights, where I went I was impactful,” said Cureton, who, along with other alums, was invited recently to attend a game at Robert Morris’ new UPMC Events Center (opened in 2019), but he couldn’t make it because of a big snowstorm.

He’ll make this weekend’s games, at Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall. They’re huge contests for the Titans (9-9), who have won eight of 10 as they try to secure a top-four position in the league standings before the Horizon League tournament. Robert Morris is 4-12, last in the league standings, after moving from the Northeast Conference after winning that conference tournament championship in 2020.

Friday’s game is at 6 and Saturday’s at 5, both on ESPN3.

Lacking love

The Michigan women’s team (12-1 after Tuesday’s makeup win over rival Michigan State) is ranked 11th in the latest Associated Press poll, best in program history.

But that wasn’t convincing enough for the NCAA Selection Committee, which on Monday night released its current top 16 seeds — and the Wolverines were missing.

The only Big Ten teams in the top 16 are Maryland at No. 7 and Indiana at No. 15.

In a typical year, making the top 16 is a big, big deal, as it guarantees home games through at least the first two rounds. But this year, the impact is lessened a bit, with the entire tournament set to take place in the so-called “bubble” in San Antonio for COVID-19 heath and safety reasons. Still, the seeding affects the quality of opponent.

Michigan’s strength of schedule could be the issue. The Wolverines have played just two ranked teams, beating then-No. 15 Northwestern, and losing to then-No. 17 Ohio State.

Its game against Maryland was postponed because of Michigan’s recent shutdown, while Michigan is set to play at Indiana on Thursday.

The Selection Committee will provide one more update, March 1 at halftime of the Baylor-Texas game on ESPN2. The 64-team bracket will be unveiled March 15.

The Michigan men (14-1) are currently a No. 1 seed, per the Selection Committee.

Slam dunks

Big game coming up this week for the Central Michigan women (13-6), who visit Bowling Green at 7 Wednesday. The Chippewas are third in the Mid-American Conference standings, at 11-4, while the Falcons are first at 11-3. It’s the first and only meeting between the teams during the regular season. CMU has righted the ship with six victories in its last seven games, following a rare three-game skid, thanks in large part to the efforts of senior guard and Detroiter Micaela Kelly. She averaged 36 points in a pair of wins last week and was the MAC player of the week.

… The season finally starts Friday for the Macomb Community College women, who visit Oakland Community College. MCC is ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll, after last season was cut short by the pandemic with the program  32-0 overall. It won the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association Great Lakes district championships before the national tourney was 

… Here’s the last Michigan State men’s basketball roster to not make the NCAA Tournament (1996-97): Ray Weathers, Jon Garavaglia, Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Thomas Kelley, Morris Peterson, Jason Klein, Steve Polonowski, Anthony Mull, Dujuan Wiley, A.J. Granger, David Thomas, Jason Webber and Monte Evans. If there’s a reason to hope for the Michigan State fanbase, several of those players were on the team that won the national championship three years later.

… Oakland coach Greg Kampe defended his team being seeded ahead of Detroit Mercy in the current Horizon League tournament projections, pointing out the Titans will have played 10 home games out of 16, and will have played only seven of 11 league foes. “No mathematical formula in the world is going to reward you for that,” Kampe said.

… The COVID-19 and contact-tracing issues continue at Eastern Michigan. The men’s team was supposed to return Tuesday from a nearly three-week layoff, but that game has been postponed. The men now will try to play Saturday at Kent State, while the women’s team hopes to return Sunday at home against Toledo.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan (14-1)

2. Michigan State (10-8)

3. Detroit Mercy (9-9)

4. Oakland (9-16)

5. Western Michigan (4-12)

6. Central Michigan (6-12)

7. Eastern Michigan (4-8)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (12-1)

2. Michigan State (11-6)

3. Central Michigan (13-6)

4. Oakland (11-10)

5. Eastern Michigan (9-6)

6. Western Michigan (3-13)

7. Detroit Mercy (1-13)

Games of the week

MEN

►Rutgers at Michigan, 9 Thursday (FS1)

►Oakland at Milwaukee, 6 Friday and 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Robert Morris at Detroit Mercy, 6 Friday and 5 Saturday (ESPN3)

►Michigan State at Indiana, noon Saturday (ESPN3)

►Michigan at Ohio State State, 1 Sunday (CBS)

WOMEN

►Central Michigan at Bowling Green, 7 Wednesday (ESPN+)

►Michigan at Indiana, 6 Thursday (BTN)

►Northern Kentucky at Oakland, 7 Friday and 3 Saturday (ESPN+)

►Purdue at Michigan State, TBA Sunday (TBA)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com

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