Tag Archives: Youngstown State Penguins

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

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Ma’Lik Richmond Deserves The Chance That Bo Pelini Is Offering Him At Youngstown State

Chances are that you haven’t heard of Ma’Lik Richmond. Richmond wasn’t a high profile football recruit coming out of Steubenville High School. He doesn’t play for a Power-5 or even a mid-major program. In fact, Richmond isn’t even a scholarship player. Richmond is a walk-on player for Bo Pelini’s Youngstown State Penguins.

Richmond was convicted of rape in 2013, sentenced to one year in a juvenile detention center and was released after serving just shy of his full sentence.

Richmond, by all accounts, has rehabilitated himself. The young man returned to his high school and was once again a member of the Steubenville High School football team. Richmond attended two colleges prior to enrolling at Youngstown State; California University of Pennsylvania and Potomac State College. Since being released from the detention center, Richmond has had no additional run-ins with the law that we are aware of. He seems to have genuinely embraced the second chance he was provided and has made the most of it.

But none of this matters to Katelyn Davis. All that matters to Davis and the Change.org petition that she has started is that Richmond was found guilty of rape just over four years ago. To Davis, there is no true rehabilitation. Davis would have us believe that Richmond deserves to wear his scarlet letter for all eternity.

Davis does believe that Richmond is worthy of a second chance for an education but that his second chance should not include being a member of the football team.

“I’m not saying that Richmond should be expelled. He does deserve a second chance at his education,” Davis told WKYC. “I do hope that he is successful in life, but he should not be representing YSU as a football player.”

A person is either given a second chance or they aren’t. This is particularly true in the case of Richmond. His second chance was given when he was allowed back in Steubenville High School which included playing football. Richmond’s third chance was given when he enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania. His fourth chance was provided by Potomac State College. And now he’s at Youngstown State and wants to play football. I see no problem with Bo Pelini giving Richmond the opportunity to play football and it doesn’t matter that he’s a walk-on. My opinion would be the same even if Pelini had Richmond on scholarship.

Davis has no issue with allowing Richmond to attend Youngstown State as a student. But when Pelini allows him on the football team, that’s where she draws the line. Davis considers education to be a right as opposed to playing football, which she considers to be a privilege.

Does he deserve a second chance? Yes, he does, and he is receiving that second chance by furthering his education on YSU’s campus. Does he deserve the privilege of playing on a football team and representing a university? Absolutely not. Education is a right, whereas playing on a sports team is not.

Where in the Bill of Rights is an education included? It’s not. Just as playing football wasn’t mentioned by our Founding Fathers. In her attempt to stand on the moral high ground, Davis does nothing more than lead her emotionally charged mob. And right on cue, Brenda Tracy, the woman in the high castle, provided her support to Davis.

When Davis and Tracy attempt to play the morality card, they fall woefully short of making an argument rooted in rationality. This is because they are splitting hairs in order to draw attention to their cause. An education isn’t a right just as playing football isn’t a right. If activists such as Davis and Tracy are accepting of a person like Richmond receiving an education, then they should also be supportive of a person like Richmond playing football. Otherwise their argument is nothing more than a contradiction. And contradictions don’t exist when discussing truth.

Richmond committed a crime and he was found guilty of that crime. After serving his time, he made the most of the multiple chances given to him. The opportunity to return to the football field once again should be included in his successful rehabilitation journey.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Commons Wikimedia

There Is No Cleveland State-Youngstown State Rivalry. And There May Never Be.

It’s almost like that scene in the movie “Mean Girls” where Regina George snaps at Gretchen Weiners tell her to stop trying to make the word fetch a thing.

Ever since Youngstown State entered the Horizon League in 2001, much to the consternation of literally every fan in the conference, there was always the hope that somehow, some way, the Penguins, perennial underachievers in basketball, would finally right the ship.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State, after toiling in sub-mediocrity, did turn things around during the height of the Gary Waters era.

Had YSU gotten its act together during the tenure of Jerry Slocum, the battle between the two schools would have been rife for a natural rivalry. It made sense. Cleveland and Youngstown’s geographic proximity could have made it a cinch.

But it never happened. That heated feud between the two schools has failed to present itself.

Now, Slocum and Waters, who consistently butted heads when they roamed their respective sidelines, are gone. And at least one of their replacements seems to be making a concerted effort to goad the other into action.

And still, no luck in getting a rivalry going.

YSU tabbed Division II runner-up coach Jerrod Calhoun as Slocum’s successor, while CSU opted for ex-Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton. Calhoun built a success at Fairmont State, while Felton opted to spend time with the San Antonio Spurs after his departure from Georgia, then returned to the college ranks as part of the Tulsa coaching staff.

Despite their resumes, Calhoun has a sizable advantage in terms of his connections to Northeast Ohio, particularly as a former Cleveland State player under Rollie Massimino. Theoretically, that should have given Calhoun an edge in the CSU coaching search.

Cleveland State athletic director Mike Thomas, however, seemed to think otherwise and hired Felton.

With Calhoun chosen to lead YSU, it seems that he has been focusing a great deal on what should be Cleveland State’s backyard.

And Thursday, Calhoun hit closer to CSU’s home than ever.

This time, it was Waters himself, along with noted Viking alum D’Aundray Brown, who came to the Youngstown State campus and speak with Calhoun’s players.

And it is in this instance that we may all now lay to rest any silly notion that a rivalry between Cleveland State and YSU exists or, more to the point, will ever exist.

Give Calhoun credit, of course, for trying the jumpstart things a little. But it’s clear that Felton isn’t biting.

But more than that, rivalry discussion can be dismissed by the mere reaction, or rather lack thereof, from the remaining CSU fans. If Youngstown State were such bitter rivals, conventional wisdom would tell you that the Viking faithful would be incensed.

No such reaction really came. For some, in fact, the entire event was dismissed outright, as if it was much ado about nothing.

Perhaps that indifference really speaks to the long-festering root of Cleveland State’s issues with apathy and complacency. And this massive problem may be the primary reason why this potential rivalry never really gotten off the ground.

That’s not to say that YSU has been just as apathetic over the years, as the long drag of subpar basketball has certainly a contributing factor. What’s been CSU’s excuse? And while Calhoun appears to have recognized the hills he will have to climb to sell his program, what will Felton come up with to address the same issue?

While it’s early to determine whether Calhoun’s sprint out the gate or Felton’s marathon-like pace will produce results on the court, off the court, the feud that should be clamored for has not really materialized.

And at this point, the prospects remain dim that it ever will.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Disgruntled Cleveland State Fan’s Guide to Finding a New Team to Root For

When you take over a program that already had trouble with transfers, not to mention a serious problem with visibility, perhaps it’s not the best plan to, I don’t know, disappear off the planet?

But that appears to be what new Cleveland State basketball coach Dennis Felton has done, though to be fair, it’s not like he exactly had a choice. Without a coaching staff officially in place, Felton has had to scramble around the country trying to secure recruits for the spring signing period.

Of course, Felton may already have former Northern Illinois assistant Lou Dawkins hired. But it’s really hard to know if that’s official, given that the only indication the hire has happened is from a few tweets, most notably from Garfield Heights High School coach Sonny Johnson.

It may not be fair to Felton, but back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a non-existent fan base and a media landscape with the attention span of a newt should have sparked some sense of urgency. The wait-and-see approach was probably not going to be the best plan.

Instead, Cleveland State decided to do what it does every single off-season, as if somebody didn’t get the memo that Gary Waters retired.

So, in effect, the institution that incentivized the heck out of Felton with six figures worth of bonuses if he performs well saddled him with the same game plan that really didn’t excite anybody inside or outside campus. This basically guarantees that nobody will care what happens to the Vikings this season, unless Felton somehow goes rogue and starts promoting out of the circle of apathy he currently finds himself in.

And with Rob Edwards officially deciding to transfer to Arizona State, the glimmer of a true star has faded away, leaving Felton with a gaggle of role players (save for Kash Thomas and, potentially, Shawn Christian), as well as unknown spring signees.

With yet another year’s worth of unknowns concerning the basketball program and a university that has proven itself completely incapable of drawing and sustaining the attention of anybody to its crown jewel, fans may very well be at their wit’s end with Cleveland State.

And that might mean finding another college hoops team to root for, if you’ve gotten to that breaking point. So, as always, I’m here to help. Here are some potential new schools.

Ohio State

I start with the obvious one, mostly because if you’re a Cleveland State student, you’re already paying way more attention to OSU than the school you actually attend. As far as basketball is concerned, though, this may be a trap. The Buckeyes have been pretty mediocre the last few seasons, to the extent that there’s a legitimate debate as to how much longer Thad Matta will remain as coach. That said, you probably own all kinds of Ohio State gear, so you do you.

Youngstown State

Don’t look now, but Youngstown State has decided it cares about men’s basketball. That much was clear when the Penguins tapped Fairmont State’s Jerrod Calhoun as its new head coach. Calhoun, of course, was widely thought to be a favorite for the CSU gig. But since that didn’t happen, Calhoun is making it his mission to convince Northeast Ohio prep stars to forgo downtown Cleveland and make the trek to the Mahoning Valley. And let’s not forget YSU still has All-Horizon League star Cameron Morse, who scores in bunches.

Kent State

Last year was supposed to be a down year for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes still won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rob Senderoff will be looking to expound on his success from this past season. And even better news, if you’re an active reader of Cleveland.com, Kent State will actually get coverage! The only down side is that the MAC Center is kind of a hike and parking is a nightmare.

Akron

Like Kent State, Akron benefits from Cleveland.com caring about what the Zips do. And it may be quite a bit, seeing as how longtime head coach Keith Dambrot has left for Duquesne. Replacing him was another name that was tossed about during the Cleveland State coaching search, John Groce. It’s probably going to be a rebuilding year for Akron, but at least it will get people’s attention.

John Carroll

If you’ve had it with Division I basketball, you might as well take a look at one of the most successful Division III schools in the area, John Carroll University. Ask Kentucky’s John Calipari about the Blue Streaks, whose player rotation he emulated a few years back. And while legendary head coach Mike Moran has retired, he is being replaced by assistant coach Pete Moran. As a former player (not to mention Mike’s son), the younger Moran will carry his father’s work forward into the future.

If putting together a list of teams to follow instead of Cleveland State is harsh, particularly to those who continue to preach patience, this is where we’re at. It’s almost as if athletics has decided it’s not worth the work to actively seek out new fans, even though the additional revenue would make it look like the program isn’t cool with sponging off of students.

And you’re not off the hook, either, students. In fact, with every passing year, you look more like suckers. Why? Because you spend more money per year on average on something you don’t care about (athletics) than something you go out of your way to complain about everyday (parking)!

The off-season doesn’t mean CSU get to take April through October off promoting men’s basketball, but from an outsider’s point of view, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Listen to the angry fans, for once. And maybe you can start to right the ship.

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

Image via Cleveland State University

Dennis Felton’s at Cleveland State. Now the Real Work Must Begin.

Well, the hire has been made and the introductory press conference is now in the books. Dennis Felton is now the head men’s basketball coach at Cleveland State. Among the guests at his presser were athletic director Mike Thomas, who chose Felton over, among others, Jerrod Calhoun and Jermaine Kimbrough, and the recently-retired Gary Waters, whom Felton considers a mentor.

Felton, to his credit, has the presence of mind to understand what’s at stake in the coming months as it relates to the CSU program. There are already many questions that will need to be answered before the 2017-18 season tips off in November.

At the forefront is the local ties. During his press conference, Felton mentioned the need to focus on local recruiting to strengthen the ties between Cleveland State and the community. The challenge becomes overcoming his own lack of ties to Northeast Ohio.

The question may inevitably answer itself during Felton’s hiring of a new coaching staff. While nobody is sure if either former assistants Larry DeSimpelare or Jermaine Henderson will be retained, there is certainly at least one slot open, as Cornelius Jackson has accepted an offer to join the Marshall staff.

At this point, the hiring of an assistant with local ties is the highest priority, especially considering with the announcement of Calhoun as the new head coach at Youngstown State, Northeast Ohio will be a major target for him and his Penguins staff.

Helping Felton’s cause are as well the recent shows of support from two of the area’s most prominent names in high school hoops: St. Edwards’ Eric Flannery and Garfield Heights’ Sonny Johnson. In the case of Johnson, the endorsement does seem to indicate that one of his players, CSU signee Shawn Christian, will definitely honor his commitment to the Vikings and be a part of the squad next year.

It’s too early to tell, but any help from the high school ranks would go a long way, especially after Babe Kwasniak, the head coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was openly baffled by Cleveland State’s seeming refusal to give further consideration to Calhoun. This is particularly noteworthy, given that recent CSU player Demonte Flannigan was recruited out of VASJ.

Beyond the incoming recruiting, retaining current players will have to be on Felton’s agenda. And, according to a report from the New-Herald’s David Glasier, sophomore star Rob Edwards is at the top of that list.

As it stands, Felton will already be looking to fill at least seven open scholarship slots for 2018. But before that even happens, he now must worry about the prospects of potentially losing his top playmaker to another school. Felton’s ties to the NBA, a clear aspiration for Edwards, may contribute to providing a compelling argument. But it’s not really clear at this point whether it will work.

Other major questions on the current Cleveland State roster remain as well. Who else is thinking of leaving? What becomes of Derek Sloan? Where does redshirt freshman Andy Lucien fit into all of this? While it’s a situation that Felton has faced in his prior head coaching roles at Western Kentucky and Georgia, there can be little hesitation.

The last, and quite possibly biggest, piece of the puzzle is CSU’s overall standing within the Cleveland sports landscape. Even as Felton’s press conference splashed on the headlines, that news had to compete with both Calhoun’s hire at YSU and the recent announcement at Akron’s Keith Dambrot will be taking over at Duquesne.

Again, from Felton’s own experience, the lack of attention isn’t a new situation for him. One story he related during the press conference was the miniscule crowds that showed up to Western Kentucky games during the early years of his tenure. Upon his departure in 2003, the Hilltoppers averaged more than 5,400 people per home game.

It also probably helped that Felton’s WKU teams didn’t lose a single game at home from 2001 to 2003.

While that may be impressive, as Felton is likely aware, Cleveland is not basketball-hungry Kentucky. CSU not only competes for attention with the Cavaliers, it also has to contend with Akron and Kent State, whose own success can snatch away any Viking media attention in a heartbeat.

The next few months will likely give Felton the opportunity to dispel any concerns that fans and the media (myself included on both counts) have about his hiring. Any misstep along the way either by Felton or Cleveland State could prove costly.

Let’s be honest here. Felton was a safe pick. With the expectations that Thomas would make a home-run hire, the selection of Felton can be considered, at best, a ground-rule double. Sure, the batter made it safely on base, but he’s going to need a lot of help to make it home to score.

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

Image via CSUVikings.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

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 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.