Team preview: Detroit

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Last fall, Ryvon Covile's knee injury was a devastating development for Detroit. The all-league candidate and superior post defender would miss the season, sabotaging the Titans' plans to get back in the thick of the Horizon League title hunt. These days, though, that injury looks a lot more like a silver lining.

Because he missed the 2005-06 season, Covile is back for a belated senior season and Detroit coach Perry Watson couldn't be more thankful. As it is, Detroit must replace three starters. Two of them are inside men Torvoris Baker and Chuck Bailey. Top post sub Ethan Shaw is also gone. If Covile had left with them as scheduled, the Titans would have nobody in the paint who had ever played in a Horizon League game except for Chris Hayes, a raw forward who saw a little time off the bench as a freshman.

"Getting Ryvon back will be important for us," said Watson, the dean of the Horizon League coaching fraternity.

Getting some of his teammates back healthy will also be important for Detroit's chances of revival. Covile's season-ending injury was the headliner, but it was far from the only bad break the Titans caught in 2005-06, a season that began with high hopes but ended in a second consecutive dose of mediocrity. That Detroit managed to finish 8-8 in the conference might have constituted one of Watson's better coaching efforts. Besides Covile, transfer point guard Brandon Bell missed the entire season after having Achilles' tendon surgery. Top scorer Brandon Cotton played hurt, battling the effects of a car accident and there were other nagging injuries.

Like Covile, Bell also hopes to return to health this winter and Cotton is looking forward to a season in which he has all his tools. The Titans will need all three in good form to get back above .500 for the first time in three years.

After an extended run of winning records, Detroit has put together back-to-back 14-16 and 16-16 efforts. This year will be challenging, but there is considerable potential if the Titans can upgrade the league's lowest-scoring offense. Watson's teams have always emphasized defense, but Detroit needs to boost its scoring from 63.6 points a game to be in contention. The killer stat last year was the road record. Detroit was 13-1 at home but only 2-13 on the road. That's got to change for the Titans to get back to the days of their nine consecutive winning seasons.

Cotton (17.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg) will certainly do his part. The 6-0 senior guard hoisted a league-high 440 shots last winter. He hit 41.6 percent of them and that figure would have no doubt been higher had he been playing with a full deck. A summer car accident left him with a damaged left hand. It was his non-shooting hand, but Cotton is a slasher who uses both hands to take opponents off the dribble. He started the year with pins in his fingers, had them removed and then had to have them reinserted after banging his hand in early January. At times he couldn't even close his hand on the ball. Through it all, he missed only three games.

"Brandon fought through a lot," Watson said. "Brandon is a gifted scorer because he has the ability to take, and make, tough shots. He has a great attitude toward the game and he loves to play.

"The team has tremendous confidence in Brandon because he can get you points in a hurry. He's the kind of player who can rattle off eight or nine straight points to get his team going."

Cotton is the guy every opponent circles in the scouting report. The former McDonald's All-American has certainly lived up to his billing since transferring from Michigan State. He averaged 18.8 points his first season at Detroit, dipped only slightly last year and should go out strong this winter as one of the league's best players, along with Blake Schilb of Loyola and Quin Humphrey of Youngstown State. The quicksilver Cotton is better inside the three-point arc than outside it, but hitting 37.5 percent of his treys is certainly a figure defenses have to respect.

With Bell returning to the mix, the Titans have an interesting crowd at point guard. Bell, who transferred from Marquette, was expected to run the team last year, but unfortunately his Achilles problems followed him from Marquette and surgery was unavoidable. He hasn't played a minute for two seasons, so the Titans aren't quite sure what they'll get even if he bounces back strong. The 5-11 Bell has a reputation for being a legitimate set-up man.