The Madness is coming to Detroit. It’s the Motor City Madness that is the Horizon League men’s and women’s basketball tournament that will be held at the Joe Louis Arena March 3-7. The tournaments will involve all ten schools in the conference, including the two local schools, Detroit Mercy and Oakland. This preview provides an in depth look at the men’s and women’s teams from Detroit Mercy as they both prepare for the commute to Downtown Detroit.
Detroit Mercy Women’s Basketball
The Detroit Mercy women’s team (16-13, 12-6 Horizon League) has made significant progress under second-second year head coach Bernard Scott. Since Scott came over from rival Cleveland State, the Titans have transformed into a winning program that finished fourth in the Horizon League last season and third this season. For Scott, transforming a program from a losing one to a winning one involved changing the attitudes of the players.
“When I came in, the first thing I tried to do and that I did is change the culture,” Scott said. “We changed to a family atmosphere. We actually live by four things, family, academics, championship effort and communication. So we just continue to touch on those points and build a culture and also I knew coming into the league after being in the league for seven years before getting this job that they had some talent here. We’re going in the right direction. I think we’re ahead of schedule and (I’m) looking forward to see where we go from here.”
Part of this culture change was creating a family atmosphere, which senior guard Haleigh Ristovski believes to be a driving force behind the Titans surge of success, as she began to grow closer to her teammates after Scott arrived for her junior season.
“Just both off the court and on the court (we got closer),” Ristovski said. “We would hang out more outside of breakfast, just doing stuff together like going to see movies or making food together; and just seeing them as more than just my teammates, I see them as my sisters.”
One of these sisters however is in fact Haleigh’s biological sister, sophomore guard Lola Ristovski. Haleigh also had the chance to play against her older sister Madison, when she played for the Michigan Wolverines. Basketball is truly a family affair for the Ristovski clan, which even extentds past the sisters.
“Basketball really bonded my family together,” Haleigh said. “My dad played, my uncle played, my mom watched, but she was our biggest fan. Playing along side Lola is amazing because I can look to her at practice and it’s like we’re little again in the gym together and a lot of girls don’t get that experience. I love playing with my sister and playing against Madison is not as fun. It was a huge competition. I know we were talking about it months in advance. Yeah they won, but my mother said we played better.”
Haleigh Ristovski, a Horizon League All-Academic selection, is the leading rebounder for the Titans with eight per game while fellow senior guard and All-Horizon League First Team selection Rosanna Reynolds leads the team with 16 points per game and 5.1 assists per game. All-Horizon League Second Team honoree and junior forward Brianne Cohen averages 15.4 points per game, second on the team.
The Titans begin tournament play on Sunday at noon with a third round game against Scott’s former team, sixth seed Cleveland State (14-15, 9-9 Horizon League).
“It’s going to be fun,” Scott said.
One of the new wrinkles of the Motor City Madness if that this year, it will include both the men’s and women’s tournaments instead of just the men’s tournament like last year.
“The best part I thin about playing at the Joe is (that) it’s not our home court, but it kind of feels like it,” Haleigh Ristovski said. It’s in Detroit. It’s in our area and we’ve been playing pretty well at home. We’re able to get fans out in crowds and I know my family is all going to come. I’m very excited that I get to play my last year at the Joe and I know my whole team is prepared and we’re all waiting for Sunday.”
Detroit Mercy Men’s Basketball
The Men’s team at Detroit Mercy will begin their journey in the Horizon League tournament a couple of days before the women’s team as the seventh seed Titans (8-22, 6-12 Horizon League) prepare to face 10th seed Milwaukee (8-23, 4-14) Horizon League.
Despite the obvious growing pains that the Titans are experience in the midst of a rebuild, first year head coach Bacari has found positives in the season as he has implemented a step-by-step approach to guiding the team along.
“What we wanted to make sure we did was have a progressionary approach where no matter what the first 10 games produced, we wanted to do better in the next 10 and then better in the last 10,” Alexander said. “So we find ourselves on the back 10 with a 4-5 record in the last nine, winning two of the last three. The chemistry has been not only something that has improved, (but) I think guys have settled into their roles. I think their maturity level in terms of our approach and preparation has improved. As a result, our team is probably playing some of its best basketball right now.”
One major highlight for the Titans this season was their win over at Oakland, which marked the Golden Grizzlies first loss in Horizon League play this season and sent them on somewhat of a tailspin before they managed to get things back under control and ultimately clinch the top seed in the Horizon League Tournament. Even though Detroit Mercy and Oakland split the season series the previous two seasons, in each season, both teams won at home. this season marked the Titans first win at Oakland since the Golden Grizzlies moved to the Horizon League in 2013, though Oakland would later win at Calihan Hall.
“You can’t have rivalries when you don’t win games, so for us to be able to grab a very difficult road win on a venue where they’ve enjoyed great success over recent years was not only momentum building, but I thought that it solidified a new era in the Metro Series,” Alexander said. “Both teams not only excite the region to this new 26 mile apart rivalry that sits down here in Southeast Michigan, but just as important is the confidence it built in our team to know that we can compete with anybody although we’re trying to re-calibrate and rebuild a new program I thought was pretty significant.”
In order for the Titans to have another shot at the Golden Grizzlies this season however, they will both have to advance to the Horizon League Championship game. In the meantime, both the Titan men’s and women’s basketball teams plan to be caught up in the Motor City Madness.