Tag Archives: Kenny Carpenter

For Cleveland State, Next Year Has Arrived (But Not For Everybody)

The Cleveland State men’s basketball season, the first for head coach Dennis Felton, has finally come to its end. At this stage, most CSU fans have just resided themselves watching the future, which clearly rests on the shoulders of sophomores Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne and freshmen Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic, rather than hope the present would get any better.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season: The Vikings got hot at Motor City Madness. All the way to the final game.

CSU, for its part, could have just rested on the first-round win over Youngstown State, which, of course, was a grind until the very end. The long odds and shot turnaround time from the victory against the Penguins would make any Vikings fan skeptical of beating Northern Kentucky, which had bested CSU by double digits twice in the regular season, let alone get to the final game.

But yet, there the Vikings were, fighting through nail-biter after nail-biter. And for the third year in a row, the top seed at the Horizon League Tournament failed to win the whole thing. And for the second year, the No. 1 seed inexplicably lost to the winner of the 8-9 first round game.

This year’s victim was Northern Kentucky, who, aside from getting swept by Wright State, had been pretty well-set at the top of the conference standings. And as for Cleveland State, the Norse had no issues dispatching of the Vikings twice in the regular season, with both contests won by at least 15 points.

CSU dismissed those early-season setbacks and ran headlong into the defending champions with no fear. The end result was a nine-point Cleveland State win, and Appleby was the star. The All-Freshmen team selection was unconscious in the second half, finishing with a game-high 24 points and putting all conference foes on notice that he’d be a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The ugly defensive slugfest against Oakland that was finally settled with 32.4 second left. That’s when Appleby stared down the Horizon League’s top shot-blocking squad and dropped a baseline layup.

And when that was through, senior Kenny Carpenter, whose 14 second-half points proved to be key, locked down Kendrick Nunn, the conference player of the year, and kept his final shot from getting in the basket, leaving Cleveland State with an astounding 44-43 win.

Even though Wright State proved to be too much for the Vikings in the finals, handing CSU a 74-57 defeat en route to a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the foundation, it appears, has been laid.

For the Cleveland State fans that took the wait-and-see approach with Felton in his inaugural campaign, the Motor City Madness run was an early payoff to their patience. And CSU, who did everything within its power to get fans to Little Caesars Arena, can now think about how to expound upon this late-season success.

There will be far greater expectations for both the on-court performance and fan enthusiasm. Even with six departing seniors, Felton will still return two full-time starters (Appleby and Kenic), one former starter turned sixth man (Thomas), Clayborne, Dontel Highsmith and Shawn Christian.

Add into the mix DePaul transfer Algevon Eichelberger, fall signees Rashad Williams and Deante “Spider” Johnson, plus Dibaji Walker, Seth Milner, Uros Plavsic and JUCO transfer Jalaam Hill, who are all expected to join CSU during the spring signing period. With the general consensus being that this is the most talented recruiting class in a long time, Felton will have to get them all adjusted to the Division I game quickly.

One sign he may get a chance to get the team on the same page quicker than, say, midway through the non-conference schedule, is the pending trip to Europe. Men’s basketball has already started the fundraising effort to get the $20,000 in funds to make that trip a reality. And with $4,635 already banked from CSU’s annual Giving Day event in February, it’s only a matter of time before the team gets the rest of the funds and can start packing their bags.

From a fan standpoint, Athletics must take a good, hard look at the effort put in during the conference tourney and parlay that into a plan to boost attendance at the Wolstein Center. The smart move would be to keep the summer social media push (which featured weekly videos and the blitz on Twitter involving the mascot, Magnus) going year-round.

The logical first stop? Spring signing day. After all, all the new recruits are on Twitter, along with Thomas, Appleby, Highsmith and Clayborne. The chatter between all of them in the off-season will be something to watch.

So, as the title implies, next year has arrived, but not for everybody. For the seniors, next year is here in the form of new adventures, both on the court and off, after graduation. For the underclassmen and recruits, next year comes in the form of getting to know each other and the prospect of making 20-loss seasons a thing of the past.

For the coaches, next year comes in the form of the spring signing period, along with taking a good, hard look at the recruiting class of 2019 and beyond. For the fans, next year comes in the form of, well, beating each other up on social media and the CSU Viking Hoops message board run by writer Tom Mieskoski.

For me and this column, however, there is no next year.

In January, I made the decision to stop the CSU column I have written since May 2014, starting at the now-defunct More Than a Fan: Cleveland and continuing here at Campus Pressbox in March 2016. It’s been a good run, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Sure, you’ll still see me break out the occasional Twitter rant, but as far as this column is concerned, that’s a wrap. There’s still plenty of news and views about Cleveland State out there, starting with Mieskoski’s Cleveland State Hoops site and including upstarts like 216 Sports and The Reserve News. You’d do well to follow all of them, as I have.

For someone who never thought he’d be writing anywhere ever again, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover my alma mater. And I thank all of you, both at Cleveland State and beyond, who made this possible. Because at the end of the day, win or lose, I will always be a fan.

An occasionally grouchy, angry fan, but a fan, nonetheless.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Kenny Carpenter Becomes the Offensive Force Cleveland State Needs

It’s been a rather interesting roller coaster ride for Cleveland State senior guard Kenny Carpenter. Having arrived in 2014, along with Terrelle Hales, he found himself in the shadows of what was then a strong rotation of upperclassmen.

As a consequence, he found himself in the shadows, playing limited minutes during his first year, with the noted exception of the last game of the season, a CIT match-up against NJIT. During that loss, fans saw a glimpse of what could be, with Carpenter racking up six points, three assists and grabbing a team-high seven boards.

But it seemed as if in the subsequent years, Carpenter continued to remain as a bit player for the Vikings. This was in spite of a sophomore year in which he got the starting nod eight times, averaged around 20 minutes per game and capped it off with a 24-point performance against UIC.

Head coach Gary Waters, by Carpenter’s junior year, began looking to other players in his backcourt, particularly Rob Edwards, Kash Thomas and Bobby Word. And Carpenter saw less playing time diminish and, in turn, his production.

You would have understood that the situation could have prompted Carpenter, like others during the Waters era, to seek life elsewhere. And you certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if he had decided to transfer upon the arrival of new head coach Dennis Felton.

But instead of working on finding a new opportunity, Carpenter decided to make a case to expound on his existing one. And as a result, he has become the primary scoring option for Cleveland State.

Even as the season started, most fans considered Carpenter as a bit of a wild card in terms of what he’d eventually contribute during the season. As it turns out, he’s leading the team in scoring with 14.4 points a game and in assists with three per game.

While his scoring and assists have gone up, so, too, has his shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Carpenter currently ranks in the Top 10 in the Horizon League in both categories, with a field-goal percentage of 50.5 percent and notching a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Most importantly, during the shaky start for the Vikings, in which inconsistently has been a running theme, Carpenter has been one of the few certainties that Felton can rely on. In fact, Felton has gone out of his way to gush about the work that Carpenter has put into his game, speaking frequently about how he’s in the gym at least three times a day.

The strong work ethic off the court and sure footing on it has clearly provided a spark to the entire team. And Felton has looked to Carpenter as someone who can provide the leadership that will help Cleveland State in both the immediate and distant future, specifically as it relates to the freshman class that includes backcourt sensation Tyree Appleby.

As the team continues to work out the kinks in its game, one of which still appears to be closing out games (with Kent State and Western Michigan being recent examples), Carpenter will remain the primary source of CSU’s offense. And don’t be surprised if he ends up making a case for an all-conference nod, too.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Hard Lessons in Learning How to Win for Cleveland State

Cleveland State might be forgiven for feeling its way through the non-conference schedule, given the new coaching staff and the need to have the new players and upperclassmen start gelling as a team. However, with the slate head coach Dennis Felton and company put together in the ramp-up to the Horizon League games, the Vikings have been dropped into the deep end of the pool and are asked to swim back to shore.

In the first six games, it’s clear that learning to win has been a lesson that has seen Cleveland State take steps forward and backward. Taking away the blowout at Rutgers, and you can see two, perhaps three games early on that could have been winnable for the Vikings.

But when you have a team with a new coach and whose veterans have suffered from back-to-back 20-loss seasons, the road to completing the final lessons in winning will be winding and, at times, full of potholes.

The primary lesson, at least in the early going, has been the ability to close out games. Against East Carolina and Central Connecticut State, Cleveland State was leading in the final minutes. And, in both cases, offensive outages, coupled with defensive lapses, proved to be too much to overcome at the end of both contests.

As frustrating as the losses have been (and you were all warned about this, by the way), you have gotten the sense that it was only a matter of time before the Vikings were finally able to get over the hump. And Wednesday’s match-up against Arkansas State was a sign that things were taking a turn in the right direction.

Sure, Cleveland State had kept letting the Red Wolves back into the game, as it had against ECU and CCSU. But this time, the Vikings hunkered down, and bolstered by a key block by Bobby Word and a defensive set that led to an unforced error by Arkansas State, CSU came through with the 75-72 victory.

“We talked about the first year and how important it is to build your culture and set a high standard of excellence,” Felton told The News-Herald after the win.

If any of this sounds familiar to longtime Cleveland State fans, that’s likely because the Vikings have been in this situation before. It was 11 years ago, to be exact when Gary Waters took over as the head coach after years of poor-to-middling teams capped by four straight 20-loss seasons.

That, as it seems, is where the similarities end. Waters, in his first year, was given the latitude to ease Cleveland State back on the winning track, bringing transfers like Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore and George Tandy into the mix, starting in Year Two.

Felton, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. First, he’s called on the senior holdovers from the Waters era, specifically Word, Kenny Carpenter and Anthony Wright, to step up in the starting rotation. In addition, lending to a sense of urgency, the new players he’s brought into the mix, freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, along with Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith, have played big minutes so far this season.

While the Arkansas State win was a much-needed boost, the non-conference road doesn’t get any easier, which includes tough road contests against Top 25 teams Cincinnati and Michigan State. That said, the Vikings appear to be in a better position than preseason pundits saw them, and with the volatility of the Horizon League, don’t be surprised if they pull out some wins nobody expected.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Is a Good Team…In the Future

After Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Akron, one thing was made very clear: Cleveland State, as a whole, is not a bad team. The problem is that this year, the Vikings are going to drive fans utterly insane.

While the preseason expectations have been pretty low, by all accounts, there has been some reason to think that CSU will outperform predictions. Even head coach Dennis Felton is optimistic that his team will overachieve this season.

“We want to be better than we are supposed to be,” Felton said to The Reserve prior to the start of the season. “What that translates to in term of wins and losses, there is no way for me to know that.”

And for the first half of the Zips game, the Vikings absolutely were better, out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing Akron at every turn. Unfortunately, some of the old Cleveland State bugaboos (poor three-point shooting and foul troubles), along with some new ones (the abysmal 40 percent from the free-throw line) ultimately cost CSU the game.

Then the Vikings ran into Rutgers on Tuesday.

The Scarlet Knights pushed Cleveland State around in the second half. That, coupled with the fact that the Vikings decided that this wasn’t really the game for the offense to show up, led to a 70-38 drubbing.

It’s not hard to see why, two games in, fans are dread what lies ahead. Offensively, the five seniors (Terrelle Hales is currently out) are averaging 24 points per game. The team as a whole is shooting 14.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the free-throw shooting has been even more atrocious.

All of this said, however, this can be viewed less as a failure on Felton’s part to work with what he has and more as an indictment on Gary Waters’ dwindling recruiting prowess in his final years as head coach. With an entire recruiting class (2015) no longer on the team and his 2014 and 2016 classes unable to match their defensive intensity with even a glimmer of offense, Felton’s first year was doomed from the start.

As Cleveland State preps for its home opener against Coppin State, fans have to be wondering what the appeal of this team will be as the season wears on. And while Felton will remain optimistic on his team’s performances in the coming months, the people he’s trying to convince to buy tickets, an already historically cynical bunch, are apt to disagree.

When you go beyond the surface, it looks as if Felton has already taken the frustrations of this season into consideration and has started building the foundation from which he’ll rebuild the program.

If you need any further proof of this, look no further than freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby. Kenic, the 6-9 Serbian, has already landed a spot in the starting lineup, and it isn’t very hard to see why.

With a dearth of offensive options for the Vikings, Kenic, in the first two games, has stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he currently leads the team in three-point shooting. Appleby, on the other hand, has provided a spark off the bench and clearly has shown no fear as it comes to slashing to the basket, as he did on more than one occasion in the first two games.

As freshmen, of course, there is certainly room for improvement for both players. Kenic will need to further develop his presence on the offensive glass, while Appleby will need to boost his free-throw shooting. And as the season wears on, Felton will look for ways to cut down their turnovers (both average three per game).

However, if you’re a casual fan and don’t want to get caught up in the frustration of the roller coaster this season is looking more likely to be, there’s always next year.

The one gift Waters gave Felton was a great deal of flexibility in recruiting. And with only two Waters holdovers (Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne), that has given Felton opportunities to shape the Viking roster in his own image.

In addition to Kenic and Appleby, you can expect to see more of Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith once he’s finished completing his three-game suspension for breaking team rules. There’s also freshman Shawn Christian, who has yet to see action. But with offense coming at a premium for CSU, what could it hurt to give him some minutes?

Even before the fall signing period began, Felton had already brought on some size with 6-8 forward Algevon Eichelberger, who will be available next year after transferring from DePaul. Cleveland State has also gotten Wayne (MI) Memorial combo guard Rashad Williams to sign at the beginning of the fall signing period and his AAU teammate, 6-9 forward Deante “Spider” Johnson, signed Wednesday. The Vikings have another verbal commitment Kenic’s Serbian teammate Uros Plavsic, whose 7-1 frame makes him the tallest player CSU will have had since Aaron Pogue.

The future for the Vikings looks far brighter than the present current looks like. Then again, as they say, it’s always the darkest before dawn.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

The 2017-18 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Overachievers Wanted

For a number of years during the Gary Waters era, Cleveland State developed a reputation for outperforming its initial slot in pre-season conference predictions.

Now, with the arrival of Dennis Felton, the Vikings, who had languished at the bottom of the Horizon League standings as a result of two consecutive 20-loss seasons, will have to beat the odds again in order to outpace low expectations.

Sure, patience is preached by many of the CSU faithful. But even Felton will tell you that patience will only get you so far in college basketball. And for a program with both a recent history of losing and a lack of fans showing up to the arena, the wait-and-see approach won’t win you new faces in the crowd.

However, you can almost feel the forgiveness for the potential of a third-straight losing season coming down the pike. Demote Flannigan and walk-on Tim Hasbargen have graduated, and leading scorer Rob Edwards has transferred to Arizona State. Edwards was joined in exiting by fellow Class of 2015 recruit Jibri Blount, who made his way to North Carolina Central, as well as walk-ons Daniel Levitt and Nelson Maxwell.

And those were the guys who actually played a minute for Cleveland State. Redshirts Gavin Peppers, Andy Lucien, and PJ Posey all chose new schools during the transition between Waters and Felton.

Still, even with all of these departures, you have to think that a team with six seniors on the roster should be able to rise above the low expectations set forth by, well, everybody.

And the focal point of this Viking attack must come from senior Bobby Word, who, along with sophomore point guard Kash Thomas, started all 31 games last season. Word, the Oral Roberts transfer, will need to improve upon his strong suit, three-point shooting, which fluctuated wildly during the 2016-17 campaign.

The remaining seniors will be fighting for a more prominent role, as none of them averaged more than 17 minutes per contest. The primary candidate on this front will be senior Anthony Wright, who will likely see a boost in playing time with the graduation of Flannigan, and sophomore Evan Clayborne. Also competing for time in the frontcourt will be seniors Derek Sloan, who started 23 games but only averaged 12 minutes, and Jamarcus Hairston.

Kenny Carpenter will also likely be using his senior year to make his case for additional minutes, as well Terrelle Hales, although Hales has established himself more as a rebounding threat rather than a scorer, which CSU desperately needs in the wake of Edwards’ departure.

Thomas, who made Cleveland State history to start every game as a freshman, is certainly poised to improve upon that initial campaign. Word will be one of Thomas’ primary benefactors, of course, but the Vikings will also look to some of the new faces on the squad, specifically Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith and incoming freshmen guards Tyree Appleby and Shawn Christian.

Felton has also made it clear that he’s expanding the CSU recruiting base internationally, as evidenced by the hiring of Drazen Zlovaric and the arrival of 6-9 forward Stefan Kenic, who spent this summer as part of the U20 Serbian National Team that competed in the FIBA Euro Championships. Rounding out the new faces are a pair of recent additions at the beginning of the fall semester, St. Ignatius grad Deven Stover and David Payne, who comes to the Vikings for Malcolm X College.

With all of the personnel changes with coaches and players, the leadership from the CSU veterans will have to shine through, particularly during the non-conference schedule. With teams like Rutgers, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Akron and Kent State on tap, among others, Felton’s squad is going to get to the New Year’s Day Horizon League opener against Youngstown State either battle-tested or completely demoralized. And given how the last two seasons under Waters went, the Vikings can’t afford for the latter to happen.

Moreover, Cleveland State, which has been picked anywhere from sixth to last in the conference by pre-season pundits, needs to aspire to the higher of those predictions. And while a Viking return to the upper echelon of the Horizon League would take a Herculean effort, another 20-loss season would smack in the face of any patience fans may have.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Vikings Open Season Plus a Scorer, Minus a Point Guard

Exhibitions, by their very nature, aren’t exactly supposed to tell us much. For the most part, teams use these as a tune-up for the wear-and-tear of the upcoming season. And since the opponent is typically a non-Division I school, most teams go into exhibitions with two goals: Stay healthy and don’t lose (like Detroit Mercy has done. Twice).

In Cleveland State’s case, though, there was an extra goal in mind going into its preseason tilt against Division II Tiffin. Since the Vikings were, by all accounts, scoring impaired last season, it was important for them to dip into the pool of new recruits to see who could be that second scoring option behind Rob Edwards.

And in CSU’s 89-67 win against the Dragons, it appears there may be more than one candidate for the job. And at least one of those hopefuls is a familiar face to Viking fans.

Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word, who has been widely touted for his ability to score, did exactly that on Monday night, finishing the game with 14 points in 25 minutes of work. In a competition for a spot in the starting rotation, it was Word who took the spot against Tiffin, and took full advantage of it, recording four steals to go along with his two three-pointers.

Kenny Carpenter staked his claim in the scoring role as well on Monday. While consistency was a question for the junior last season, the exhibition served as an opportunity to back up all of those off-season workouts with action. In his 16 minutes of action, Carpenter also notched 14 points, which included a pair of his own treys.

In fact, three-point shooting, which has, in recent years, given head coach Gary Waters bouts of indigestion, was surprisingly hot against the Dragons. And while nobody expects the Vikings to routinely shoot 43 percent from beyond the arc, the 10 three-pointers they made against Tiffin were a nice change of pace from the dearth of such shots last season.

The bad news, though, is that the Vikings will once again find themselves without the services of an experienced point guard in the short term. Junior college transfer Gavin Peppers, who was one of the frontrunners to start at the point this season, was seen in a walking boot. As Tom Mieskoski reported, Peppers has a rather significant bone bruise and will miss three to five weeks as a result.

While the lack of a true point guard may have been a major source of dread last season, there was a bright silver lining that came out of the exhibition that could allay fan fears, at least temporarily. The other point guard Waters signed, freshman Kash Thomas, appears to be up to the task to take on the court general role.

In his 29 minutes, Thomas had himself a highly efficient evening, recording four assists on only a pair of turnovers. And like many Cleveland State guards before him, Thomas seems to be quite the thief, finishing the game with four steals, tying Word for the team lead.

While the backcourt looks to be much-improved from the previous campaign, the frontcourt will likely remain a major issue. Perhaps it was because both Demonte Flannigan and Jibri Blount were limited to 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, but the Vikings were out-rebounded by their Division II foe, 42 to 32. It may be an omen of things to come against higher caliber opponents.

Now that the exhibition is out of the way, the real season begins on Saturday against Kent State at the NE Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which is being hosted by Youngstown State this year. Cleveland State kicks off its home slate next Tuesday against Canisius, a contest that is part of the Bluegrass Showcase.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com.

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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Cleveland State Wants a Re-Do on the Rebuild

With so many freshmen and sophomores on this Cleveland State team and a swath of departures in the off-season, it was pretty clear to fans that this was going to be a rebuild for the Vikings this year. And with any rebuild, the focus is more on the development and overall learning process, rather than wins and losses.

As Cleveland State nears the end of this campaign with four games left before the Horizon League Tournament, head coach Gary Waters has seen enough of his team to have learned at least one thing.

He’s not happy at all, particularly with the offense.

Nobody can really be surprised at this. Every contest, it seems, plays out in much the same way.

  1. Play well enough to lead or at least stay close with your opponent.
  2. The opponent makes an adjustment that neutralizes whatever offense you had.
  3. Your defense suffers because of mistakes caused by the subsequent offensive miscues (poor shots, turnovers, etc.).
  4. Attempts at a comeback fall short or worse, don’t exist at all.

Replay any of the Viking losses this season, and you will see a variation of this very process every time. The wins that have been tallied almost appear as outliers at this point, and fading away further and further into the past.

Both losses this past week reflect this as well, but none likely stings worse that Cleveland State’s overtime defeat at the hands of UIC. In a battle of young teams, the Flames, this time, won out. And to make matters worse, the Vikings because the first Division I opponent that UIC has beaten, which is a most dubious distinction.

And despite what appeared to be a breakout game for sophomore Kenny Carpenter, who finished the game with 24 points, his final shot to end regulation, coupled with key miscues by Rob Edwards and a pair of missed free throws by Jibri Blount, proved to be CSU’s undoing.

In Thursday’s 61-53 home loss to Detroit, Cleveland State was poised to ride the wave of Demonte Flannigan, who had notched 19 points in the first half and kept the Vikings close to the Titans. But after Detroit switch over to the 2-3 zone, a defense that has given CSU constant headaches, the Titans took control, led by a hot-shooting Chris Jenkins, who sank six three-pointers, and Paris Bass, who grabbed an astounding 17 boards.

Not helping matters was yet another Cleveland State brick-fest from beyond the arc. At a 15 percent clip (3-for-20), the Vikings, who had gotten locked up in the paint in the second half, didn’t stand a chance.

It has finally gotten to the point where Waters is open about evaluating what he’s got in place as far a personnel is concerned. And he’s not being very shy about it what needs to change anymore.

“We’re cleaning this house,” Waters said about the offensive problems his team has had, as posted by writer Tom Mieskoski. “A year from now, there will be five other guys who can hit threes.”

It doesn’t take much to read into this statement. At the moment, Waters doesn’t see the offense improving anytime soon. And clearly, he’s not finding a lot of hope that this is going to turn around for next year, either.

So, the logical conclusion that that CSU is going back to the drawing board for 2016-17. This, of course, isn’t exactly news.

Edwards does remain the best offensive power for the Vikings regardless. The problem has been that without a second option and with defenses shutting out the interior, Edwards is forced to put up shots that have very little chance of falling, as was evidenced by his 2-for-10 night against the Titans.

Andre Yates, who came back from his ankle and foot injuries against Detroit, has historically been a tough defender and a slasher in the paint and three-point shooting has never been his strong suit. And with defenses targeting the interior, his chances to score have become increasingly difficuly.

Carpenter’s inconsistency has likely played into Waters’ thought process, especially when he followed up his 24-point performance against the Flames with a 3-for-9 showing against the Titans. And Waters’ only other real shooter, Daniel Levitt, remains on the sidelines, though with an MRI not showing any damage to his knee that requires surgery, there is a faint glimmer of hope he’ll be back for tourney time.

A point guard was already on Waters’ list of needs, and ideally, he will find one that can also provide some firepower from the perimeter, as he’s had previously with Cedric Jackson, Charlie Lee and Norris Cole, who will be at the Oakland game on Saturday watching his No. 30 getting hoisted to the rafters along with women’s basketball great Kailey Klein.

There’s also a shooter already waiting in the wings for the Vikings. Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word will be active next season, and there’s already buzz about his offensive abilities. He’s certainly poised to be an option for Waters.

But even with those answers, many more questions remain as to the make-up of the Cleveland State roster next year. Who stays? Who goes? There are so many possible scenarios of redshirts juniors who can graduate in the spring and other players who may seek prospects elsewhere that the team fans see now could very well be entirely different come November.

So let the speculation begin. And knowing CSU fans (well, Cleveland fans in general), it’s already been going on.

Cleveland State Emerges From the Cellar

Admit it. You were getting pretty nervous on Saturday when Horizon League upstart Northern Kentucky, fresh off a win against Youngstown State, had a lead over Cleveland State. And all of those bad feelings, which you’ve probably been carrying for most of the season, started welling up.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the tanking of the season. The Vikings finally did what they do best: clamp down on defense and stop the Norse’s hot shooting in its tracks. Add in 18 points from Kenny Carpenter, a resurgent Demonte Flannigan in the second half and the emergence of yet another walk-on, freshman guard Nelson Maxwell, and Cleveland State netted its first conference win, 70-65.

The Vikings weren’t done there, though. On Monday, they faced off against Illinois-Chicago, which is still clearly acclimating to its new head coach, Steve McClain. The Flames, who haven’t beaten a Division I opponent this season, have been outmatched for the bulk of their Horizon League contests, still could have caused major problems for Cleveland State.

However, that threat never materialized at all, as the Vikings kept UIC, particularly its freshman star Dikembe Dixson, in check for the entire game. On the other side of the ball, the other top freshman in the conference, CSU’s Rob Edwards, got back into the groove after experiencing some shooting problems as of late. His 22 points would, in the end, pace the Vikings to an easy 70-53 win.

Realistically, the last two games were against the two of the teams at the bottom of the conference standings. But when you’re a team struggling to put it all together, as Cleveland State obviously has been all season, games like these turn into must-wins.

And there’s no guarantee that the return match-ups will be wins, either. That is especially try in the case of NKU, who bounced back from its loss to the Vikings in a big way by knocking off Oakland at the O’Rena, 90-73.

In the meantime, the Vikings have one more opponent to contend with before facing the Herculean task of playing Horizon League leader Valparaiso. However, like Northern Kentucky and Illinois-Chicago, their next foe is legitimately winnable.

Youngstown State comes to town on Sunday as the third of five games being played at Quicken Loans Arena. And after surprise wins against Oakland and Green Bay, the Penguins have reverted to their historically bad ways.

How bad? YSU followed up its 20-point loss to the Norse with an 81-45 against Wright State and a 96-65 shellacking at the hands of Valpo. Aside from Penguin sophomore Cameron Morse, the rest of the team has been decidedly muted during this slide. And any hope that senior Bobby Hain will come back to fix this is becoming less and less likely.

If things go as planned, Cleveland State could be at 3-5 in the conference heading into the Valparaiso game. But with any post-season chances looking non-existent, there only hope the fans have to cling on to is that their young team surprises one of the top contenders and have a little bit to look forward to for next year.

Wasn’t the Quicken Loans Arena Deal Supposed to Prevent This?

The most notable item to come out of CSU’s win UIC, aside from the relative ease in which victory came, was the overall attendance figures. Only 1,129 people came out on a snowy evening to see the win. That said, the weather was clearly not the only reason for the sparse attendance.

Down the street at the Q, the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Golden State Warriors in a re-match of last year’s NBA Finals. And while the Cavs laid a major egg against the Warriors that night, there was no way that basketball fans were avert their attention down the street to the Wolstein Center.

If you’re confused about the scheduling of Cleveland State and Cavaliers home games at the same time, you’re probably not alone. After all, the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena have a deal with CSU that, aside from the Vikings games played at the Q, includes managing event sales and marketing at the Wolstein Center.

Also, the deal was designed so both arenas would be presented to promoters as non-competitive venues, as was outlined in the original press release. Clearly there was a mix-up in the agreement on Monday.

Then again, since Cleveland State’s game against UIC was set up by the Horizon League, this conflict may very well be on the conference itself. After all, the CSU-Quicken Loans Arena deal was announced a week before the conference schedule was released.

While the Horizon League is ultimately in control of that part of the schedule, the start times can be up for debate. Monday’s contest wasn’t the first time the Vikings and the Cavs played on the same day at home, and it won’t be the last. However, tip-off times had been staggered, as was the case for the December 23rd day game between CSU and Bowling Green.

Arguably, because the Illinois-Chicago contest was slated for a federal holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), there may have been some discussion about making this game a day game. Obviously, that isn’t what happened here.

With the full partnership in place now, you’d like to hope that this conflict was a fluke and future such conflicts could be avoided in the future. And they should, because as we all know, when Cleveland State goes up against the Cavs, it loses every single time.

The 2015-16 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: If a Tree Falls In the Woods…

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.