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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

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

Cleveland State Must Learn to Close to Survive in the Horizon League Tournament

In the iconic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, snarls at salesman Shelley Levene (played in the movie by Jack Lemmon) with the famous line, “coffee’s for closers.”

This season, had Blake gotten in front of this season’s Cleveland State team, he’d probably be doing to exact same thing.

Nobody thought that the 2016-17 campaign would be anywhere near as disastrous as the 2015-16 season had been. And yet, at least on paper, here we stand. Heading into the Horizon League Tournament (aka Motor City Madness), the Vikings have only been able to muster the same amount of wins this year as they did last year.

The problem this season hasn’t been being competitive, as evidenced by the string of double-digit defeats last year. In fact, Cleveland State hung with all of its Horizon League foes, the lone exception being the 78-57 smackdown at the hands of Valparaiso.

What did become the running theme this season was the inability to cinch the close games. The Vikings were 2-8 in contests that were decided by five points or less, and that doesn’t include a 74-68 double-overtime loss to Wright State.

So instead of a finish in the middle of the conference pack (Full disclosure: I had originally expected CSU to finish fifth), Cleveland State ended up with a dismal 5-13 record in the Horizon League, which was only good enough for eighth.

Quite simply, the Vikings are better than they were; they just aren’t good enough.

The close losses have obviously taxed what’s left of the Cleveland State fan base, who showed up to home games in smaller numbers than at any point in time in the history of the Wolstein Center. And whatever student outreach had been done prior to the start of the season fell on deaf ears, as evidenced by the nearly empty student section during the home finale against Youngstown State.

And that has to weigh heavily on the mind of head coach Gary Waters, whose frustration has been more and more visible as the season drug on. Rumors of his future have been swirling around ever since the hire of new athletic director Mike Thomas.

Of course, Waters remains at the helm for now and the foreseeable future, and his focus is on how to get his squad to close out games. That’s because as improbable as it may sound, there is, indeed, a path to victory for the Vikings.

Their opening round opponent, YSU, is a team that CSU beat convincingly last Saturday, 69-55. Moreover, the top seed in the tournament is Oakland, and will be looming over the winner of the Vikings-Penguins contest.

As foreboding as the top seed would be to face, Cleveland State can take heart in the fact that it has already beaten the Golden Grizzlies ones this season and came close to pulling off another win at the Wolstein Center, if not for a missed three-pointer by Bobby Word.

Further down the line, the Raiders nearly fell victim to the Vikings in the aforementioned double overtime game, and Northern Kentucky eked out a two-point win on CSU. Either team could be waiting for Cleveland State if it should get past Oakland.

And even Valparaiso, which bested CSU twice, has all of a sudden become more vulnerable, as Alec Peters has been declared done for the season with a stress fracture.

None of this matters, however, unless the Vikings can do what they haven’t been able to do very well all season: close.

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

Image via CSUVikings.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

With the Brock Decision, Should NCAA Further Review Previous Military Service?

Usually when a college sports team goes up against the NCAA when it comes to an eligibility issue, the sanctioning body has no problem putting its foot down. So when Oakland went to bat for its freshman forward Isaiah Brock, it was facing pretty long odds.

But in this case, however, the NCAA decided that its initial assessment was wrong. And Brock, who spent four years in the United States Army prior to joining the Golden Grizzlies, would be eligible for the 2016-17 season.

The swaying rebuttal to the NCAA’s original decision, of course, was Brock’s military service, which became well-documented between the initial denial of his eligibility and its eventual reversal.

Brock, by his own admission, was a less-than-stellar student while at Forest Park High School in his native Baltimore, and chose the military as a more secure pathway to his future. For much of his time in the Army, which included a six-month stint in Afghanistan, he served as a mortuary affairs specialist.

“When a solider dies on the battlefield, we’ll go retrieve them, and they’ll come to us,” Brock said to Detroit Free Press. “We’ll process their remains, search through their belongings, search through their body, annotate all their wounds and everything that happened. You see all the ramp ceremonies with the flag draped over their body? That’s what we do, then we send them home.”

Also, during his military service, Brock grew from six feet to his present height of 6’8, and, during a chance encounter in Kuwait, met Oakland head coach Greg Kampe, who offered him a scholarship after his time in the Army was up.

The physical development was a mere complement to the internal growth Brock experienced. Recognizing the lack of effort he put into high school, he earned high marks in college courses he took while in the Army and worked hard to get a qualifying ACT score to be admitted to Oakland.

After being accepted, Brock worked to prove that his college coursework in the military was no fluke. His initial semester saw him earn B’s in his first courses, providing further proof that he was serious about his academics.

None of this personal growth seemed to factor into the NCAA’s original decision, though. In its eyes, Brock’s lack of performance in the classroom while in high school was enough to lead them to the conclusion he need another year before he could play.

The public, of course, had no real problem reminding the NCAA that this line of thinking was kind of silly. Brock was so far removed from the underachieving student he was that overlooking how he’s grown since graduation was rather unfair.

Also, the public wasn’t shy about the fact that the NCAA put a roadblock on a player who, by and large, will be a developing role player, heading off at the pass the idea that somehow Oakland was trying to get some sort of competitive advantage.

What is striking about this entire situation is that it does seem to shine a spotlight on the hole the NCAA appears to have when it comes to student-athletes coming from the military. Like Brock, many see the armed forces as an avenue to move beyond what they accomplished in high school, good, bad or indifferent.

And while that have been many former members of the military that have made the transition with no problem, the Brock case originally appeared to not take his service to country into account. Perhaps it was because the GPAs of previous ex-military student athletes weren’t as low as Brock’s were prior to joining the Golden Grizzlies.

But the entire situation should serve as an opportunity for the NCAA to review how it looks at military service as a whole.

The military, in some ways, shares a number of similarities with community colleges, in that the armed forces provides a wide range of education beyond high school. However, none of the classroom training provided by the military can transfer to any college or university.

For example, Brock, whose specialty in the Army was mortuary science, likely included coursework equivalent to that of someone who, say, completed their Associate’s degree.

The concept of understanding education and training within the military and how it should be applied to higher education is part of a much larger conversation colleges and universities should be having. But in terms of athletic eligibility, the NCAA probably should have looked at this service the first time around, rather than initially deny Brock’s eligibility and face public scrutiny.

Sure, the NCAA’s “better safe than sorry” approach to these matters has been applied to a number of situations over the years, most recently its decision to do away with the hardship waiver in 2015.

At the same time, for an organization that includes, within its membership, all the military academies, perhaps it’s time to change the rules so that student-athletes such as Brock won’t have to jump through so much bureaucracy the next time.

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

Image via Oakland University Athletics

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Vegas 16 Tournament Recap

While the NCAA Tournament is the goal for every college basketball team heading into the season, not every program is fortunate enough to qualify for the Big Dance. Traditionally, teams that did not earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament only had the NIT as a possible way of gaining postseason experience. However in recent years, other tournaments such as the CBI and CIT have been organized, allowing for more programs to experience postseason play. Postseason tournament play can be a useful way to end the season for any team, giving their respective university national exposure.

This season, the inaugural “Vegas 16” was added to the postseason schedule. While the original goal for the selection committee was to have sixteen teams participate in the tournament, they were only able to receive accepted invitations from eight. One reason why this might be the case is the tournament’s location, the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Taking a group of Division I college basketball players could be seen as a risk for a program given the distractions Las Vegas, more specifically the famous Las Vegas “Strip” of mammoth hotels, casinos, and nightclubs, has to offer. Nonetheless, the tournament would continue despite the large number of declined invitations.

The teams featured in the tournament’s bracket were Old Dominion, Tennessee Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Northern Illinois, Oakland, Towson, Louisiana Tech, and East Tennessee State. The first round games were sparsely attended, as a majority of Las Vegas patrons were interested in gambling on sporting events occurring that night.

The semifinals saw Old Dominion topping UC Santa Barbara, 64-49 behind a stellar 26 point performance from senior guard Aaron Bacote. In the second semifinal game, senior guard Kay Felder propelled Oakland past East Tennessee State by recording a triple-double. Felder scored 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out an equal amount of assists. The Golden Grizzlies also received a terrific shooting effort from senior Max Hooper, who poured in 28 points and shot 8-11 from behind the arc. Ge’Lawn Guyn led the Buccaneers with 18.

This set the stage for a championship game of Old Dominion vs. Oakland, which took place Wednesday night. The championship game of the inaugural “Vegas 16” was without a doubt the most enthralling game of the tournament. Old Dominion was able to withstand a second half surge by the Golden Grizzlies, en route to a 68-67 nailbiter of a win. Senior guard Trey Freeman led the way for the Monarchs, racking up 24 points in his final game in a Monarchs’ uniform. Freeman ranked thirteenth in the country in points per game this season, with 22. Once again, Kay Felder led Oakland with 24 points. However, fellow senior Percy Gibson, who added 13 points, was the only other Golden Grizzly to score in double figures.

Old Dominion brings home the first ever “Vegas 16” tournament title to a newly realigned Conference USA that thoroughly enjoyed conference champion Middle Tennessee’s historic first round upset of Michigan State. Old Dominion finished in fourth place in Conference USA play, posting a 12-6 record, while sporting an overall mark of 25-13. While the “Vegas 16” is far from the NCAA Tournament, seeing two senior-led teams like Oakland and Old Dominion battle for a championship was an exciting way to end each teams’ respective seasons.

Email Alec at alec.kwait@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait.

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.

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.