Tag Archives: Green Bay Phoenix

The Wild and Wacky World of Horizon League Hoops

When the Horizon League schedule began at the end of 2017, all signs pointed to essentially everything staying pretty much the same as they had last season. Oakland and Northern Kentucky would be duking it out for the top spot. Wright State would continue to lurk as a contender. And Milwaukee would expound on its surprise Motor City Madness run from last year and compete in the top half of the league.

Also, Green Bay would hover somewhere near the middle of the standings, while most of the bottom of the conference from last year, as well as new addition IUPUI, would remain looking up at the better schools.

This isn’t exactly how things have gone in the early going. In fact, it seems as if the Golden Grizzlies have switched places with one of the bottom-rung teams. And few would have guessed that team would be Youngstown State.

The Penguins, who languished throughout the entire non-conference slate without a win against a Division I school, were essentially written off before the Horizon League began play. That was probably a major oversight over everyone’s part, as YSU rattled off three straight wins to begin league play. The 3-0 start is the first time Youngstown State has ever been at that mark since joining the conference.

It’s been more than 16 years since YSU joined the Horizon League. That’s a pretty big deal.

While the Penguins have connected with some surprise punches, the Raiders were sort of the wild-card in the league mix. The goal in Year Two of the Scott Nagy Era at Wright State was to get the team closer to the top of the heap.

And so far, it looks as if the Raiders may be a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the conference, joining Youngstown State and NKU in the ranks of the undefeated among Horizon League foes.

For the Norse, the defending Motor City Madness champs, the road to stay on top has been a rather difficult one early. Northern Kentucky already had a tough go of it on the road trip to Michigan, barely squeezing by Oakland, 87-83, and winless Detroit Mercy, 56-54.

And the Grizzlies? They seem to be stuck in neutral, with only one win in the early conference going. The close loss to the Norse was sandwiched in between a surprise loss the Green Bay and the 86-81 overtime setback at the hands of Wright State.

The Wisconsin trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee does still look to be a grueling trek for any Horizon League school, but neither the Phoenix nor the Panthers are setting the world on fire. Green Bay, since besting Detroit and Oakland, have dropped three straight, including getting swept on its Ohio trip by both YSU and Cleveland State. Milwaukee, at the same time, sits at 2-2.

And finally, there’s UIC, which was favored as an early contender. A close 65-61 loss against Wright State was negated by an 86-51 drubbing by Northern Kentucky.

It’s pretty clear that through the early games, in spite of three undefeated teams at the top, no on school has truly dominated, and that could mean some wild shifts in the standings in the coming months. Given how poorly the Horizon League performed as a whole during the non-league slate, it’s likely going to be a long up-and-down slap fight leading up to Motor City Madness.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via NKUNorse.com

Jerrod Calhoun Boosts Resume for Cleveland State Coaching Job, One Win at a Time

When Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters announced that he was retiring, Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun’s name was bounced around as an early name to watch for the role. That argument was bolstered by the News-Herald’s David Glasier, who was emphatic in his support for the Villa Angela-St. Joseph grad and former Viking player.

Even without Glasier’s ringing endorsement, Calhoun’s resume, particularly in the last five seasons leading the Falcons, would leave very little doubt that he’d be a top candidate for the CSU job.

And it would make sense. If anybody needs a case study in making the transition from Division II (where Fairmont State resides) to Division I, look no further than one of the Horizon League’s own. Linc Darner, who now coaches at Green Bay, came to the Phoenix after winning a Division II title with Florida Southern. And in his first season, Darner led Green Bay to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years.

Like Darner in 2015, Calhoun has his Falcons squad very well-positioned for a Division II crown of their own. Since arriving in Fairmont after being on Bob Huggins’ staff at West Virginia, it’s clear to see that the previous four seasons have led to this latest tourney run.

For recruiting, Calhoun has maintained his ties to Northeast Ohio, the best example of which is senior Thomas Wimbush. The 6-7 forward, originally from Lorain, is among the teams’ leaders in both scoring and rebounding, trailing only fellow senior, first-team All-American and Delaware, Ohio native Matt Bingaya.

It also helps that the Falcons travel to Northeast Ohio at least once a year to play conference foes Notre Dame College.

And Calhoun hasn’t shied away from reclamation projects, either. When Nick Harney found himself kicked off the Akron basketball team, it was Calhoun and FSU that provided him with a second chance. Harney made it count, leading the team in scoring and being named to the Mountain East Conference’s first team for 2014-15.

Cleveland State fans can use the Falcons’ first round game in the NCAA Tournament against Bowie State as a good reference to the kind of play Calhoun promotes. One facet, the consistent pressure defense, should look familiar to the Viking faithful. But the big key that Calhoun brings is a much better flow on offense, which is something CSU has struggled with the past two seasons.

Fairmont State has so far been successful in its overall game plan, to the point where it has made its way for the Elite Eight, Division II’s annual basketball championship get-together, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In fact, the Falcons are the overall top seed in the final eight, and face off against Rollins, a team in the midst of an 11-game winning streak.

Regardless of the outcome, Calhoun should certainly garner interest from Cleveland State, if athletic director Mike Thomas hasn’t picked up the phone and called him already. Time may be of the essence, though, as rumors are swirling around that Youngstown State may also be a serious suitor for Calhoun’s services as well.

So, you know that private jet that CSU president Ronald Berkman uses to travel, which ruffled some feathers a couple of years back? Now would probably be a good time for Thomas to ask Berkman to borrow it to fly up to Sioux Falls.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via FightingFalcons.com

The Surprise Twist Ending to Cleveland State’s Twin Bill Versus Horizon League Leaders

Things haven’t gone Cleveland State’s way at all this year, which has prompted the fans that haven’t lost interest to wonder if this season is a repeat of the dreadful performance last season.

And on Saturday against Valparaiso, the Vikings once again let offensive woes erase a first-half lead. Like a broken record, CSU also found itself digging a double-digit hole that it had to dig out of, which, in the end proved to be insurmountable. As a result, the Crusaders, who were fighting for a top spot in the Horizon League standings, came away the victor.

The box score from the Viking loss reads like many of the others this season: A player on the opposing team (in this case, Valpo’s Alec Peters) goes off (30 points), CSU gets woefully rebounded (43-25); Three-point shooting is abysmal (33.3 percent; worse if you take away Bobby Word’s 4-for-9 performance), and so on.

Needless to say, the prospects for Monday’s match-up against Oakland at the O’Rena looked pretty grim. The Golden Grizzlies were looking to bounce back from an inexplicable loss to cross-town rival Detroit, and the Vikings, who haven’t won on the road all season, looked to be the perfect team to take their frustrations out on. Plus, given CSU’s lack of size in the frountcourt, Oakland, led by Jalen Hayes, were poised to have a field day and add to its already robust block total.

So, given all the advantages the Grizzlies had going for them and how the Vikings have found it hard getting out of jams they’ve gotten into this season, all signs pointed to an easy Oakland win. Add to that the fact that Cleveland State broke out the black jerseys again, which, over the last few years have been about as much luck as a black cat or the Buffalo Bills in the 90s.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout: The Vikings played their best game of the season. Not only that, CSU never trailed the entire game and came out of the O’Rena, which is notorious for being the toughest place in the conference to play, and won handily, 76-65.

Not surprisingly, the key to the Viking win was Rob Edwards, who was celebrating a homecoming of sorts, having graduated from Cass Tech in Detroit. The sophomore guard played the game of his career, scorching Oakland for 32 points that included nailing four three-pointers. He also led the team with seven rebounds and was, by all accounts, unstoppable.

And while Hayes did make his presence known, dropping in 25 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds, Cleveland State kept the rest of the team at bay. It also helped that the Golden Grizzlies were absolutely horrendous beyond the arc, making only two three-pointers in 18 attempts.

The Vikings also succeeded in keeping Oakland from swatting them out of the gym, holding the Grizzlies to only four blocks in the contest. Rebounding also was in Cleveland State’s favor, finishing the game with a 36-32 advantage on the glass.

It was freshman Kash Thomas, though, who provided the biggest jolt for the Vikings. The point guard ended with 16 points in 35 minutes, and Oakland didn’t seem to have any answer for either him or Edwards. In an up-and-down campaign for the first-year player out of Montreal, this win could be seen a checkmark on the plus side for Thomas.

While the win against the Grizzlies can be, by all accounts, considered a marquee victory for Cleveland State, the trip to Wisconsin looms. And for the Vikings, the road games against Green Bay and Milwaukee have always been daunting, even as the Panthers have found themselves near the bottom of the Horizon League standings. With that, CSU needs to notch at least a split of the two-game set, or the outlook for the second half of the conference slate looks much bleaker.

E-mail Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Slide Into Obscurity Continues for Cleveland State

One of the themes throughout the non-conference slate (along with most of last season) for Cleveland State has been its utter inability to consistently make things happen on offense. In fact, the patented Viking scoring drought has become something of a running joke among fans.

The end result has been a string of lop-sided defeats, which included a 27-point thrashing at the hands of Belmont, that would make any Cleveland State fan nervous about the Horizon League schedule. And at one point, fans started hopelessly wishing that Willie Jackson, who recently departed from Missouri, would make his way home. But, of course, that wasn’t meant to be, as Jackson announced that he would transfer to Toledo.

And it’s not just the fans. Clearly the focus by Cleveland State as an institution has shifted to the coming debut of the men’s lacrosse program. With the home debut against Michigan a mere four weeks away and, more significantly, athletic director John Parry announced his retirement later this year, CSU is putting the full-court press on to ensure the program comes in with a bang.

With so much attention dedicated to lacrosse, it appears that basketball has effectively fallen by the wayside, which is a curious thing to happen in January. Not helping matters is the ongoing offensive woes the Vikings have experience the entire season.

Take the conference opener against Green Bay, for instance. Sure, Cleveland State did end up shooting 53 percent for the game. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that once again, the Vikings endured a long scoring drought, this time for a five-and-a-half minute stretch in the first half. And even though CSU was able to claw back and force overtime, the offensive miscues reared their ugly head once more, and the Vikings fell short, 76-75.

Even when Cleveland State snagged a win in the form of a 62-53 decision over Milwaukee, the Vikings looked close to frittering that victory away. Of course, with only 1,013 in attendance and the game on Time Warner Sportsnet in a deal that shuts out anybody that doesn’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable in Northeast Ohio, perhaps nobody noticed.

And perhaps nobody noticed another road loss for Cleveland State at the hands of Wright State on Thursday night. While Demonte Flannigan notched another double-double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Bobby Word struggled to get the 14 points he did. And Rob Edwards has quite possibly the worst game of his collegiate career, recording as many turnovers as points (five).

Nobody expected much from the Vikings this season, save for being potential conference spoilers. And close losses may be some mark of progress with Cleveland State at this stage. But honestly, if you’re a fan, what is the compelling reason to expend any effort paying attention to this team.

And what’s the pitch to draw fans into the remaining home games? “At Least We’re Not Detroit?” “Come for the Scoring Droughts, Stay for the Non-Stop Fouls?”

This is far from the worst CSU team ever. There have been far more putrid seasons and this year wouldn’t even rank in the Top 10. But even diehard fans have to struggle with what to make of all of this. It’s almost as if it’s not even worth watching anymore.

Maybe these are questions that people should ask the next athletic director, who, according to Cleveland State, will be named by March. That would be a conversation worth seeing.

E-mail Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The 2016-17 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters, throughout the course of one of the worst campaigns of his career last season, hinted that he wanted to start fresh for 2016-17. Nobody could really blame him, with a dismal 9-23 showing, a first-round conference tournament exit and turmoil at basically every turn.

Looking at what Waters has put together for this year, there’s really no telling what’s going to happen.

Even the college basketball pundits, in their annual prognostications, are varying wildly as to how the Vikings will end up in the Horizon League standings, from as high as fifth to as low as ninth. Even the official conference preseason rankings had CSU predicted to finish eighth.

Realistically, any of those predictions could be right because, honestly, nobody has a clue what Cleveland State is capable of.

One thing that can be said about this Viking squad is that the leader of this team is, in fact, a sophomore. That’s Rob Edwards. The All-Freshman guard, and pre-season Second Team All-Horizon League pick, seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring, with 12.4 points per game. For a team that ranked at the bottom of all teams (not just the conference) in scoring at 60.8 points per contest, to get that type of production was sorely needed.

The problem was, though, that Edwards was far more efficient off the dribble than he was running the point. Actually, that was Cleveland State’s problem for the duration of the 2015-16 season.

While so much was made of the transfers by Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, the one thing that really killed CSU was the lack of a true point guard. That wasn’t supposed to be a problem for Waters, but his depth in the backcourt disintegrated even before the season began.

Kaza Keane, who was projected to be the starter, returned to his native Canada to thrive with national champion Carleton University. And Myles Hamilton, the other pure point guard on the roster, imploded, starting the season suspended and ending up kicked off the team after a verbal altercation during the Green Bay game. That left freshman walk-on Nelson Maxwell, and a patchwork of shooting guards left to shoulder the load.

Waters wasn’t about to tempt fate this year, snagging Laramie County (WY) Community College’s Gavin Peppers and freshman Kash Thomas from Quebec. In addition to their skills at point guard, both can provide another need from beyond the arc, as Peppers and Thomas shot 37 and 44 percent, respectively, from three-point range.

Beyond alleviating the point guard issue, Edwards should get much more help in the scoring department with the Cleveland State debut of Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word. Averaging 8.4 points a game for the Golden Eagles, he saved his best for the end, including a 22-point effort against Loyola-Chicago in the CBI. Walk-on sharpshooter Daniel Levitt will also make his return after sitting out a huge chunk of the season with a knee injury.

As guard depth has long been a signature of the Waters era, it also means there’s probably going to be a risk of some odd men out, with playing time coming at a premium. Walk-on Tim Hasbargen from Germany will likely return to the end of the bench, now that the guard coffers have once again been filled.

But what of Kenny Carpenter and Terrelle Hales? Despite Hales’ strength on defense and Carpenter’s flashes of skill last year, the two juniors may find themselves on the outside looking in, especially if the bulk of the scoring is being provided by the backcourt.

Size is still a major issue for the Vikings, with no one over 6’8″. While this may not matter in the Horizon League contests (the key exceptions being UIC and preseason favorite Valparaiso), non-conference foes, such as Kentucky and Purdue, could have a field day.

That notwithstanding, there will be depth in the frontcourt, with the lone CSU senior, Demonte Flannigan, leading the way. As the team’s leading returning rebounder and second-leading scorer, the Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s product will need to keep out of foul trouble, an issue that plagued him much of last season.

Jibri Blount will also be providing key minutes at forward, coming back after his own impressive freshman year. Though hampered by an ankle injury down the stretch, Blount did make five starts last year.

They will be joined by 6’8″ juco transfer Jamarcus Hairston, a third-team Division II All-NJCAA player from Louisburg Junior College. Hairston, who averaged nine boards per game and possesses range beyond the arc, could be an x-factor for the Vikings, in terms of stretching out the floor.

A pair of other unknown quantities on the frontcourt will be another juco transfer, Anthony Wright, and Evan Clayborne, a freshman from Dayton Thurgood Marshall. Derek Sloan will also be returning for his junior year and, like Wright, will be rotating between guard and forward slots.

With so much change, Waters appears to be in win-now mode, perhaps for the first time since he’s been at Cleveland State. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Vikings are really wildcards when it comes to where they’ll finish out the season.

That leads to the biggest question of all. If Cleveland State should somehow come out on the low end of preseason predictions, what becomes of Waters?

Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that no matter the outcome this season, Waters would not face a day of reckoning until after a new athletic director is selected after John Parry retires.

Like the preseason predictions, Waters’ own future may very well be anyone’s guess.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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The Horizon League’s Uncertain Future

The Horizon League, as a whole, had a down year. That’s a rather interesting thing to say about a conference that featured five teams that won at least 20 games. But its conference RPI ranked 20th among all leagues, marking the lowest it has been in recent memory.

Many fans within the league believe this is a direct result of the weakness at the bottom of the conference. This includes Detroit (198th in the RPI), Youngstown State (276th), Cleveland State (278th), newcomer Northern Kentucky (298th) and UIC, which finished 346th out of 351 Division I schools.

As a consequence of having the league’s entire bottom half hovering or below 200 in the RPI, Valparaiso, who lost only two games in the conference, were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament after losing in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament to eventual champ Green Bay.

Since that point, the Crusaders have made it their personal mission to take their frustrations out on their competitors in the NIT. Valpo has certainly done that, winning each of its three games by double digits en route to a trip to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

But the Crusaders’ run provides little comfort, as it is only one of three schools in the conference to find their way into the post-season. This is the lowest number of participating teams since the inception of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament (CIT). And this is now including the Vegas 16, which, in its inaugural tournament, has Oakland participating.

Even as conference teams regroup, as the Flames, Vikings and Norse appear poised to do next season, the off-season has already provided question marks as to whether or not the Horizon League as a whole will improve from its overall dismal showing.

It began when Wright State and Milwaukee, in spite of their records, decided not to pursue the post-season. It became evident why that happened in the subsequent days, with the Raiders dismissing coach Billy Donlon and the Panthers parting ways with Rob Jeter.

HoriZone Roundtable with Bob McDonald and Jimmy Lemke #13: The Mean Season

Making matters worse was what transpired after the firings. For Wright State, Donlon’s ouster, which was announced by the school days after media outlets had reported it, sparked the ire of fans and, bizarrely, prompted athletic director Bob Grant to start blocking people on Twitter. While this move remains to be rather odd, it was reported that those recruited to join the Raiders next season still plan on coming to WSU.

The same cannot said for Milwaukee, which appears to be in the midst of a full collapse as a result of Jeter’s dismissal. Leading the charge has been guard Akeem Springs, who took to Twitter not only to express his displeasure with the way the firing was handle, but also to recap the team’s meeting with athletic director Amanda Braun. Now Springs, along with Austin Arians and Jordan Johnson, who was second in the conference in assists, have been granted releases from the program.

Lost in all of this is the revolving door that has become YSU. After losing multiple players to transfer last season, the Penguins now have to contend with the loss of its All-Freshman guard Jared Andrews. A native of LaPlace, Louisiana, Andrews, who started 19 games, cited home sickness for the move.

In spite of the latest transfer, and Youngstown State’s overall underperformance since arriving in the Horizon League in 2001, head coach Jerry Slocum will likely have his option picked up to return for next season. Of course, many around the league believe that it’s YSU’s overall lack of focus on men’s basketball, rather than the coaching, which has bolsters its reputation for being the conference’s anchor.

Then there are the rumors of coaching changes around college basketball that mention Horizon League coaches. For example, among the names being thrown around for the Pittsburgh job are Valpo’s Bryce Drew, who is annually considered for such jobs, and Linc Darner, who just finished his first year at Green Bay with an NCAA tourney bid.

With so much uncertainty within the Horizon League, it makes fans wonder if the conference will be stuck in the same place as it was this season. After all, even if some of the bottom teams improve, there’s no guarantee that Milwaukee, Wright State or a school whose coach takes another job won’t fall into the bottom.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Photo: Horizon League/Flickr.

Cleveland State’s Season Ends Amid Little Protest (Or Effective Ball Handling)

There appears to be some turmoil on the Cleveland State campus as of late. Apparently the school’s president, Dr. Ronald Berkman, made some waves when he decided that living at The 9 apartment complex was insufficient to entertain enough guests. As a result, Dr. Berkman is seeking to move back into same size mansion that the university, through the Cleveland State Foundation, recently sold for $808,000.

Needless to say, some aren’t happy with his indecisiveness and more are less so with the potential price tag of his future accommodations. This has manifested itself in a petition created by the CSU Student Socialist Society, the same group that marched on the President’s Office last December in protest of student debt.

Incidentally, if you’re not a fan of socialism and you were one of the people who happened to sign this petition, your awkwardness is duly noted.

Meanwhile, one of the major expenditures that this student organization has never been known to mention ever closed out one of the worst seasons in recent memory at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Yes, the Viking men’s basketball team, whose $1.8 million annual budget could fetch you a nice lakefront spread, committed 27 turnovers in the 65-53 loss to Green Bay. Mind you, the Phoenix did shock top-seeded Valparaiso in overtime two nights later on its way to winning the Horizon League Tournament, so Cleveland State shouldn’t feel too bad.

At the same time, the season is now over. And with it, there’s a chance to reflect.

Reflect, of course, on how everything went horribly wrong for head coach Gary Waters to the point where it looked at times as if the scowl on his face skulking up and down the sidelines was permanent. For a guy who absolutely hates turnovers, the 27 miscues in the finale must have been equal parts poetic justice and torture for him.

But there’s always next year, right? After all, Cleveland State does have its All-Freshman guard Rob Edwards returning, along with fellow first-year player Jibri Blount. Plus, with Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word coming in after sitting out a year and three-point ace Daniel Levitt returning from his knee injury, those scoring woes might very well go away. With a year under his belt, Demonte Flannigan can go into his senior campaign next year as the clear leader of this team.

After that, it is a flat-out crapshoot as to what’s going to happen with the rest of this roster next season.

None of this really strikes confidence in the observers of the Athletics Department’s centerpiece program, who, once again, do not appear to be members of the Student Socialist Society. Of course, if they had been paying any level of attention, they probably would have taken their picket signs and protest marches to the entrance to the Wolstein Center during every home game demanding they be recouped the money they’ve sunk into this program.

While that probably would have done about as good as the petition will likely do, it would have at least been interesting to see. It certainly would have been a bit more entertaining that this past season, which saw CSU lose 23 games, the most since the Viking Death Spiral (read: Mike Garland’s debut) season of 2003-04.

Wrestling Sends Two to New York City

For the Cleveland State wrestlers it has been a whirlwind 12 months that featured, among other things, its very future threatened by defunding. Once the clouds departed, the Vikings got back to work, and will once again be represented at the upcoming NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

As part of a fourth-place finish as a team in the Eastern Wrestling League Championships at Lock Haven University, seniors Riley Shaw and Sam Wheeler found themselves qualified for next week’s national event and with a chance to make some noise.

Shaw, who has been nationally ranked in the heavyweight division all season, staked his claim as the league’s best wrestler in that weight class for the second year in a row. In the finals, Shaw exacted revenge for his sole EWL loss this year at the hands of Edinboro’s William Miller, besting him 5-4 in a tiebreaker.

Wheeler, who came to CSU after completing his degree at Kent State, has been knocking on the door of the national rankings at 197 pounds and will seek to expound upon that at nationals. He finished second in the EWL, falling to Rider’s Ryan Wolfe, 5-2, in the finals.

The Vikings were also boosted by four more top-four finishes in the championships. Gabe Stark surged in the tournament and came close to locking up an NCAA bid, but fell in the finals at 174 pounds to Michael Pavasko of Clarion, 7-3. And with only one NCAA bid allotted to the EWL in that division, Stark will be on the sidelines for nationals.

Xavier Dye (184 lbs.) and Evan Cheek (133 lbs.), completed runs in the consolation round to finish third in their respective divisions. Michael Carlone also made the finals of the consolation round at 141 pounds, but was bested by Paul Kirchner of Rider, 14-6.

The draws for the tournament were set on Wednesday. Shaw, who is seeking to become the first CSU All-American since Dan Carcelli in 1995, will face the fourth-seeded Austin Marsden, who went 27-1 at Oklahoma State this year. Wheeler begins his tournament against the No. 6 seed Jared Haught of Virginia Tech.

E-mail Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Photo courtesy of csuvikings.com.

Welcome to Detroit – Previewing the Horizon League Tournament

All eyes are on the Motor City as the Horizon League comes to town for the first edition of #MotorCityMadness.

The favorites are the Valparaiso Crusaders.

Valpo is coming off a 16-2 conference season that made it only the fifth team to finish with two losses or less in the Horizon League regular season. Four of those five teams have gone on to the NCAA tournament. Unlike in the past when Valpo would have earned the right to host the tournament, this year the tournament moves to a “neutral floor” at Joe Louis Arena. Not hosting won’t hinder Valpo, they are far and away the best team in this tournament.

Valpo is anchored by junior forward Alec Peters, who averaged 17.9 points per game during the conference season along with 8.3 rebounds a game. Peters is an inside and outside threat. Standing 6’9″, he has no issues scoring inside and moving the ball in transition. That being said, he has been the most effective from behind the three-point arc, shooting 45 percent.

Peters has had help in senior point guard Keith Carter, who dished out 132 assists on the year while scoring 10.1 points per game during the conference season. No other Crusaders averaged more than ten points per game this season. Valpo is built on defense and is sixth in the nation as a team, allowing their opponents only 61 points per game. Valpo has two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez holding down the paint. Fernandez had 94 blocks and 15 steals this season along with 139 defensive rebounds, in order to stop Valpo teams will need to get Fernandez into foul trouble.

The Contenders

The number two seed is the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are one of the two de facto home teams in this tournament, having their campus just 30 miles up the road from Joe Louis Arena.

OU is led by Horizon League Player of the Year Kay Felder. This season, Felder has averaged 24.4 points per game and has led the nation in assists with 9.4 per contest. Felder can do it all and has been impossible for anyone to slow down all season. Felder, despite being only 5’9″, has climbed NBA draft boards and could end up foregoing his senior year for the NBA.

Oakland is not just the Kay Felder show. OU has four other players who average more than 10 points per game. One of those players in redshirt sophomore Jalen Hayes, who is an electric finisher with tons of athletic ability. He does most of his scoring inside and is capable of throwing down monstrous dunks.

The Golden Grizzlies also have Martez Walker, a redshirt sophomore who transferred in from Texas after he was released due to some off-the-court issues. Walker has done alright for himself, averaging 11 points per game and freeing up space for Felder and Hayes by forcing defenders to cover him. Walker is not a player that you can let get free outside the arc as he shoots 45 percent from downtown. Most of his three-point attempts have come when he is left open in the corner of the court, and he’s able to drift to the outside.

OU also features senior center Percy Gibson and senior guard Max Hooper, who each score more than 10 points per game. Hooper is a three-point specialist who has yet to shoot a two-point field goal all year. Beyond those five players, the only guys that get substantial time are Sherron Dorcy-Walker and Nick Daniels.  Outside of Hooper, all of the Oakland players named above are Michigan natives. Felder, SDW, Gibson and Walker all attended Pershing High School together and were on varsity at the same time. With OU having so many Detroit kids, you have to think they have a bit of home court advantage. It is also worth noting that OU is the country’s  highest scoring team with 87 points per game.

Wright State

Although Wright State finished third in the conference, it doesn’t seem like much of a contender. It’s a well-coached squad that plays good fundamental basketball and likes to slow down the tempo. Their leading scorers are Mark Alstork and JT Yoho, each with 12 points per game. Head coach Billy Donlon is hands down the best X’s and O’s coach in the Horizon, that being said his squad lacks talent.

Don’t expect much from WSU, I don’t expect them to be playing Monday night.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee might be the biggest underachiever in the Horizon League this season. The Panthers have a starting five that can go head-to-head with anyone in the country. The Panthers finished fifth in the Horizon League but they earned wins over Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Minnesota during the regular season. The Panthers are led by senior forward Matt Tiby, a Horizon League first-team selection who averaged 15.6 points and eight rebounds per game during the regular season.

The Panthers are a big team. Four of the seven rotation players for Milwaukee are 6’5″ or taller, and all of them can step out and shoot the threes. JJ Panoske, a 6’10” senior forward, shoots 41 percent from downtown and 6’5″ junior guard Cody Wichmann shoots 51 percent from three-point land. This being said, the Panthers live and die with the three-point shot. If the Panthers get hot from downtown, they could find themselves cutting down the nets in Detroit. If they make a run, watch for point guard Jordan Johnson to have a good tournament. The junior was selected to the Horizon League Second Team with 12 points and 8.2 assists per game, good for second in the country.

Green Bay

The Phoenix, like WSU, finished high in the standings but don’t have a great shot to win in Detroit. Green Bay scores a lot, in fact, they are fourth in the country in scoring with 85 points per game. The flaw with Green Bay is defense. They don’t play it. The goal for green pay is to push the tempo and hope to outscore the opposition. Green Bay has two key players from the back-to-back NIT runs left on the roster. Senior Jordan Fouse was selected to the Horizon League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team. This season, Fouse has 12 points per game to go along with 44 blocks and 69 steals.

If Green Bay makes a run, Fouse needs to do more on the offensive side of the ball. The second piece remaining from the back-to-back NIT teams for Green Bay is Carrington Love. Love spent the last few years as the backup to star Kiefer Sykes. Love has proved thus far that he is just as talented. Love averaged 18 points per game and was named to the Horizon League First Team and the All-Defensive Team, haveing 78 steals and nine blocks on the year.

The Sleeper: Detroit

The home team located just nine miles from Joe Louis Arena might have the most talent of any team in the Horizon League. The Titans score a lot, 83.8 points per game, good for 8th in the nation. What they don’t do is play any defense. Detroit ranks 339th in the country in scoring defense. Down the stretch, Detroit has improved slightly on the defensive side of the ball. If they want to make a run they need to put together four straight strong defensive games in a row.

Detroit’s star player is Paris Bass. Bass, a 6’8″ forward with NBA aspirations, has 18.7 points per game to go with 7.7 rebounds. Bass is an adamant scorer that can slash his way to the rim or step outside and shoot the three. Bass, however, has the tendency to play one-on-five with the opposing team. When Bass gets this selfish streak, the Titans tend to lose.

The Titans also have 6’7″  forward Chris Jenkins, who like Bass can slash inside and shoot the three well. Jenkins had 12.6 points per game during the regular season including a big game vs. Oakland last Friday where he put up 12 points in under four minutes. In between Bass and Jenkins is 6’6″ forward Jaleel Hogan. The sophmore is stronger than an ox and has a big body that allows him to push anyone around in the paint. Look for Hogan, who had 10 points per game during the regular season, to score over players much bigger than him.

At shooting guard, Detroit will start 6’6″ senior Anton Wilson, who is currently averaging 14.3 points per game and is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. If Anton can score one three-pointer in the tournament he will become the third best three-point shooter in Detroit Titan history. Wilson is deadly from the corners and the bend in the arc. If he is left open and can get going he can fill up a stat sheet. The Titans will most likely start senior point guard Carlton Brundage. Brundage, a former national top 100 recruit, has gotten hot as of late. He has been a spark plug and a rebounding machine for the Titans in the second half of the season.

Outside of the starting five, Detroit will use a short bench consisting of Josh McFolly, a freshman point guard, who was selected to the All-Freshman Team. McFolly is undersized but can shoot long threes and score inside. McFolly will be brought into games to try and speed up the tempo. Detroit will also sub in 6’7 “redshirt freshman forward Aaron Foster-Smith, who can step outside and shoot the three but is prone to bad fouls. The final sub is 6’8” forward Gerald Blackshear, a strong rebounder who is young and still developing but has shown he can rebound and defend in the paint. Detroit may also use junior guard Jarod Williams, but as of late, he has not been a major factor.

Others to Watch

Rob Edwards, freshman, Cleveland State

Edwards, a Detroit native who played his high school basketball at Cass Tech, had 12 points a game during the regular season. Edwards is back home, look for him to go out fighting.

Cameron Morse, sophomore, Youngstown State

Morse, a sophomore from Flint, Michigan, put together a great season. Morse averaged 20 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range. Morse, who was selected to the Horizon League Second Team, will face off with high school teammate Anton Willson Saturday.

Dikembe Dixson, freshman, UIC

Dixson, the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, is his team’s only hope of upsetting WSU. Dixion currently averages 19.9 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.

My Picks

Round 1

Green Bay over CSU

MKE over NKU

UIC over WSU

DET over YSU

Round 2

MKE over GB

DET over UIC

Semis

OU over DET

Valpo over MKE

Final

OU over Valpo

Email Karic at karic.jones@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @Karic_Jones

Images courtesy of DetroitTitans.com

Close Your Eyes, Cleveland State Fans. It Will All Be Over Soon.

Conference tournament time has arrived for the schools in the Horizon League. This year is the start of a five-year journey to Detroit, where teams will spend Saturday through Tuesday duking it out for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. All eyes are pointing to top-seeded Valparaiso to win it all, though second seed Oakland and third seed Wright State may have something to say about it.

For Cleveland State, however, no such hope is really expected. In fact, as the ninth seed, the Vikings will take on Green Bay, who swept them in the regular season. The last matchup at the Resch Center was particularly excruciating, blowing a halftime lead and, as CSU has for most of the season, losing by double digits.

With everything that has gone on in this disaster of a year for the Vikings, you couldn’t blame any of them for phoning in this first round game on Saturday and calling it a season.

That’s not really a good idea either, given the mood head coach Gary Waters has been in for the duration of the Horizon League schedule. Waters also hasn’t been shy about his desire to beef up his roster with, well, basically everything. So if you’re a CSU player that isn’t producing, do you really want to get on his bad side?

What is clear, though, is that freshman Rob Edwards isn’t going anywhere. He was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team earlier in the week. Also, like several of his teammates from the Detroit area, he’s likely looking at the conference tournament as a homecoming of sorts.

Regardless of how Cleveland State performs against the Phoenix and beyond, should they pull an upset, it would appear that most fans (and media, for that matter) have already packed it in and called it a year.

It’s impressive, really, that in a town that will complain about virtually anything sports-related, the downward spiral of the Vikings this season has barely registered at all. In fact, apathy is so high that cleveland.com, ever mindful of its click rates, can barely justify posting wire reports on Cleveland State games, let alone send a live person.

So, when you see a story like the one Branson Wright wrote about Bryn Forbes, the Michigan State superstar who transferred out of CSU in 2014, you can’t really be all that surprised.

Even Waters hasn’t been all that excited about how things have gone, calling the games at Quicken Loans Arena little more than glorified road games. On his radio show Monday, he and host Al Pawlowski lamented about the sad state of Joe Louis Arena, where the Horizon League Tournament will take place for the first two years before moving into the as-yet-named new facility.

Apathy, like enthusiasm, is infectious and Cleveland State has always been highly susceptible to this since its inception. But this seems like a new low, which, given the roller coaster history of the men’s basketball program, is a sight to behold.

Women’s Basketball Gets a (Baby) Bump

The CSU women’s basketball team has been struggling to build any kind of momentum during first part of the Horizon League schedule. Even when it comes through with an overtime win, like it did against Oakland, an equally frustrating overtime loss to Milwaukee was around the corner. In spite of the outstanding play of Ashanti Abshaw, Khalya Livingston and Olivia Voskuhl, it hasn’t translated into wins for the Vikings.

Then head coach Kate Peterson Abiad brought her second daughter, Remi Hope, into the world on February 18th. That seems to have provided some sort of spark for Cleveland State.

With associate head coach Beth Couture taking the reins at Youngstown State, the Vikings completed the season sweep of their cross-state rivals in a 53-43 win. Voskuhl led all scorers with 16 points, junior Brooke Smith added 14 and Abshaw, though limited to seven points, pulled down a game-high 14 boards.

The season took an even stranger turn when Mother Nature intervened, as a winter storm forced the re-scheduling of both the UIC and Valparaiso games. In the re-slated match against the Flames, though, Cleveland State prevailed, 72-69, paced by Abshaw’s 26 points and 10 rebounds.

On Sunday, the Vikings marked the first time they have won three straight games this season, besting the Crusaders, 72-65. Abshaw again led the way with another double-double, finishing with 26 points and 13 boards.

“We are thrilled to have another win at the end of the season, and to put together a three-game win streak like this is a big thing for us,” Peterson Abiad said after the game. “It’s a confidence builder and it’s helping us to believe in the process. For a while it didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere, but now it looks like it has made a difference. I am excited to see how they are growing, and with two games left in the regular season we want to finish strong and feel good about where we are heading into the tournament.”

Cleveland State tried extending the baby mojo for a fourth game, but ran headlong into Wright State, one of the best teams in the conference. An 81-64 loss was the end result, with the Raiders holding Abshaw to 11 points.

The Vikings have one game left in the regular season at Northern Kentucky before heading to Green Bay for the Horizon League Tournament.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter at @bobmcdonald.

Image courtesy of csuvikings.com.