This is probably the part of the year in which I run around like Glinda the Good Witch of the North singing, “Wake up, wake up, wherever you are” to the obviously slumbering masses of Cleveland State basketball fans (and most of the media, for that matter).
But that’s pretty pointless. Most of you are probably going to sleep-walk through this upcoming season.
That said, for those of you who have been hibernating since the Vikings fell to NJIT, 80-77 in the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament last season, here’s what you missed.
First, everybody left the team. That’s a little bit of an embellishment, but all of Cleveland State’s top scorers are gone. You probably knew that, though, when you were watching SportsCenter and happened to spot a clip of Wichita State or Louisville and saw either Anton Grady or Trey Lewis. And you likely thought to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t that guy at CSU last year?”
They were. And they wanted a chance to be on the big stage. Cleveland State, we keep hearing, is not that.
In fact, one of these overriding themes you will probably hear this season, if you hadn’t heard it 100 times already, is that CSU is the poster child for everything that’s wrong with NCAA transfer rules.
The Vikings probably tried to sell both on staying. But it’s terribly hard to do that when the team finished last in the Horizon League in home attendance and can only get some crazy guy from More Than a Fan: Cleveland to cover them on a regular basis, even in the off-season.
Add in the fact that Valparaiso is the heavy favorite to repeat as conference champs and, well, that’s pretty much it. Head coach Gary Waters didn’t have a chance to keep them. So he wished them well and off they went to seek fame and fortune.
There were also the graduations of Charlie Lee and Marlin Mason, plus Kaza Keane returning home to Canada. So, you can pretty much see where this Viking team is headed this season, leaving only Andre Yates and Vinny Zollo as the players with any starting time.
Now, before you continue to burn your invoices for season tickets (which you probably started doing when you found out you’d pay full price to watch a pair of non-Division I teams again), next year should actually not be a complete disaster.
Sure, Waters will pretty much be starting from scratch in the frontcourt. Zollo made some starts when Cleveland State had to compensate for Mason’s illness. But that leaves the role of replacing Grady in the hands of either Demonte Flannigan or Aaron Scales. And nobody has a clue what to make of redshirt freshman Jono Janssen.
The lack of a Grady-like presences up front will likely provide a window of opportunity to incoming recruits Jibri Blount and Jeron “Buddha” Rogers. Both are sons of pro athletes (Jibri’s father is Steelers Hall of Famer Mel Blount; Jeron’s father is NBA lottery pick Carlos Rogers). And both had a reputation for being monsters on the glass, with Blount averaging 11 rebounds a game and Rogers pulling down eight boards a contest.
However, Waters has typically favored upperclassmen in starting roles, at least in the beginning of the season. So Rogers and Blount will probably be fighting for playing minutes off the bench when the season tips off.
Yates, of course, will be the undisputed leader of this team at guard. It’s also a safe bet that he will also lead the team in scoring as well. And he will probably be joined by Myles Hamilton, the transfer from Kennesaw State who Waters granted a scholarship in the off-season. With Waters likely going with a traditional three-guard set on the floor, that third player in the backcourt will probably be Terrelle Hales.
The sophomore from Detroit was the breakout freshman last season, making the most of his opportunities by tearing down offensive rebounds seemingly at will. He was hampered by an ankle injury near the end of the season, but that didn’t stop him from notching four steal in the February loss to Valpo.
Kenny Carpenter will also fight for playing time at guard this season. His shining moment came during the CIT, when he played a season-high 27 minutes in the loss to NJIT. With Hales likely moving into the starting spot, Carpenter will have to contribute off the bench.
And yes, Derek Sloan will be back this season. The 6-6 guard out of St. Ignatius was mostly used in a defensive role. With the arrival of Rogers, Blount and guard Rob Edwards, there’s a good chance that Sloan will find himself slotted in that “break glass in case of emergency” role again this season.
What really stands out the most about this Viking roster is its sheer volume. Along with the team’s scholarship players, Cleveland State has four walk-ons, including the most recent addition, Dan Levitt from Montreal, who joins German Tim Hasbargen, senior Khyler Fields and newcomer Nelson Maxwell, who was coached by former Viking Derrick Ziegler at Orange.
Looking at the entire schedule, while Cleveland State will probably not be looking at a horrendous showing like it did in 2012-13, it probably won’t be setting the world on fire, either. Waters hasn’t been able to figure Toledo out since Tod Kowalczyk took over as head coach. And Akron and Kent State look to have big seasons ahead of them.
But Bowling Green was blindsided by the dismissal of coach Chris Jans after an embarrassing incident at a bar. Plus Saul Phillips at Ohio hasn’t completely rebuilt that program in his image yet. The two non-Division I games should be instants wins, as should the Cancun Challenge tilts against Rider and either Houston Baptist or South Dakota State.
A return to Chicago to face old Horizon League foe Loyola could be a coin-flip, given the Ramblers’ lack of size. Belmont and Rhode Island look like tough games to win, and the road trip to Maryland, who is picked to finish at the top of the Big Ten standings, will be a virtually impossible game to win.
For as much as has been made about where the Vikings will finish in the conference, the arrival of Northern Kentucky and the changes around the Horizon League as far as players and coaches would leave you to believe that they will finish in the middle of the pack.
Given teams during the Waters era tending to overperform in most years they are supposed to be down, I would predict that Cleveland State will finish fifth in the league this year. The irony, should this come true, would be that this year’s team would finish only slightly worse than last season.Plus, if the Vikings finish a tick over .500, don’t be surprised if they end up in the CIT again.
And they will probably do it with very little fanfare, which apparently is the way they seem to like it these days.
If you’ve made it this far, I have a mission for you. Not that I’m running out of ideas or anything, but what would you like see me write about this season. Reply to me on Twitter – @bobmcdonald.