Tag Archives: Andre Yates

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.

Amid Cloudy Present, Cleveland State Men's Basketball Looks to the Future

Even by Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters’ own assessment, the selection of the Vikings to finish seventh in the Horizon League seemed exceedingly high. At the heart of the matter, as it has been throughout the non-conference slate, has been the offense.

The overriding theme Waters has conveyed, is the ongoing development of his young squad. With a schedule that would have provided a more veteran team with opportunities for quality wins and bolster post-season aspiration, the youth movement has been prone to a trial by fire.

As a consequence, there have been plenty of opportunities to get burned.

Such was the case in Cleveland State’s season opener at Quicken Loans Arena against Kent State. There were certainly flashes of what the future will hold for the Vikings during most of the first half. Leading the charge was Rob Edwards, who has ascended to a starting spot faster than any freshman in the Waters era.

And then there was Andre Yates. The junior guard had one of his best games in the young season against the Golden Flashes, joining Edwards to lead the team with 14 points. This included four three-pointers, which has been a sore spot early on for Cleveland State.

But as there were high points for the Vikings, the low points came at the part of the game you never want to have happen: the end. And the mistakes on offense that tend to happen with an inexperienced group, coupled with absolutely no answer for Kent State big man Kaliq Spicer, proved to be Cleveland State’s undoing, losing the game, 66-62.

At 2-6, Vikings fans can only really look forward to the ongoing development of the freshman. In addition to Edwards, who is making a real case for Horizon League Freshman of the Year, there’s Jibri Blout, who scored nine points against the Flashes and at times seemed to be about to get in the paint with ease.

Two other freshmen, Jeron Rogers and walk-on Daniel Levitt, will likely be relied on much more in the part of the court that’s hurt Cleveland State the most: the three-point line. The Vikings remain at the bottom of the NCAA in that category, and, Vinny Zollo, who was looked upon to provide some firepower beyond the arc, was 0-5 against Kent State and has been much more effective in the paint than the perimeter.

Assists have also been a real issue early on, as Yates, Edwards and Kenny Carpenter have struggled at the point. However, there appears to be some relief coming in the form of Myles Hamilton. The Kennesaw State transfer, who sat out the first seven contests due to a suspension and injuries, played 18 minutes against the Flashes and notched three assists. In fact, the loss to Kent State saw the Vikings post the most assists all season at 17, with four apiece coming, surprisingly enough, from Zollo and fellow forward Demonte Flannigan.

So, while the miscues and missed opportunities make the non-conference schedule seem like one big, painful learning experience, the early lesson may translate into some real surprises when the Vikings start Horizon League play.

The Present (And Future) of Cleveland State Women’s Basketball Is Bright

With all of the players that Cleveland State women’s basketball coach Kate Peterson Abiad had sitting out from last season due to injuries, it was only a matter of time before they would take their experience and translate that into wins.

It hasn’t come easily, though. Two of the Vikings’ first four losses were squeakers, including a last-second defeat in the home opener against Bucknell and an overtime loss on the road at Niagara.

As last Saturday’s 69-48 romp over Bowling Green at Quicken Loans Arena may indicate, the rebuilding for Cleveland State may, in fact, nearly be complete.

Leading the team against the Falcons was sophomore Kayla Livingston, who tied her season high with 21 points. Her 14 points per game and 45.7 percent three-point shooting since returning from an injury that wiped out here 2014-15 campaign has providing the Vikings with an offensive spark and allowed her to return to the form that put her on the Horizon League All-Newcomer team in 2013-14.

Making her own bid to be this season’s top freshman and returning from her own injury last season, forward Ashanti Abshaw has started this year leading the team with 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Her 16 points and eight boards against Bowling Green, coupled with her double-double in CSU’s 60-49 win against Kent State, was good enough for her to be named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week.

Coming off the bench, junior guard Adesuwa Aideyman has made her minutes count. She has scored 17 points in three straight contests, putting those numbers up in 20 minutes against the Falcons.

While Wright State and Wisconsin-Green Bay remain the overwhelming favorites at the top of the Horizon League standings, CSU may be on better footing than their sixth-place conference finish prediction would suggest.

Cleveland State Is Back on Television (If You Have Time Warner Cable)

After Cleveland State finished last season with games televised on Sportstime Ohio and the Horizon League TV schedule limited the Vikings to ESPN3, it had some wondering if the only way fans could see them play was to come to the arena or have an Internet connection.

The good news is that CSU will, in fact be back on the airwaves. Starting with Saturday’s contest against Ohio at the Q, the Viking men will play on television seven times this season, and the women will appear three times.

The bad news, though, is that if you don’t have Time Warner Cable, you still need your Internet connection. All of these contests, which will feature the announce team of Al Pawlowski and former Cleveland State standout Pat Vuyancih, will only be aired on TWC Sports Net.

Of course, when you’re staring at the prospect of having no TV games at all, you can sort of view this as progress.

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.

Cleveland State Uses Defense to Upset Green Bay

There’s always a game Cleveland State has marked on the calendar as the top match-up of the season. And for the second year in a row, that the home game at the Wolstein Center against Wisconsin-Green Bay. Last year, missing their top scorer Bryn Forbes due to an illness, the Vikings struggled against a Phoenix squad that featured Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes.

For the second year in a row, the illness bug has stricken Cleveland State again. This time, it was Marlin Mason, who missed his third straight game with a virus. The Vikings also had starting guard Andre Yates only at 50 percent.

In order to beat a Green Bay team that was picked to finish first in the Horizon League, Cleveland State needed to start out quickly and certainly keep Sykes at bay.

Mission accomplished.

The Vikings held the lead on the Phoenix for the vast majority of the game, and weathered a Green Bay run at the start of the second half to get a huge win at home, 76-62. The win pulls CSU back even at the top of the Horizon League standings with Valparaiso, who survived a scare against Illinois-Chicago.

“I thought our energy level was high from the very beginning,” said head coach Gary Waters. “And we talked about that in the locker room. We said this is our house. We have a chance to be in first place in this league, and what we have to do is control our house. And I think that’s what we did today.”

As has been the case for most of their victories this season, Cleveland State was paced by its top three players, Trey Lewis, Charlie Lee and Anton Grady. This time, however, the memory of being overpowered last year was fresh in their minds, and they were looking for some payback.

“This was a huge game for us,” Lewis said. “I was telling Anton (Grady) right before the game started, ‘You remember what happened last year,’ and that was our mindset coming into this game. They dominated us last year, and we came out with the mindset that we would dominate this year.”

For the first 20 minutes, the Vikings swarmed on defense. The Phoenix coughed up the ball nine times, leading to 14 Cleveland State points. Moreover, Sykes was limited to only two first-half points, being spotted quite effectively by Yates’ replacement in the lineup, Kaza Keane. Also not helping was that Sykes committed his second foul with six minutes left in the half, leaving him to sit on the bench until the closing seconds.

Defense, as it has been all season, played a huge part of the early Viking advantage. Cleveland State rendered Green Bay scoreless for five minutes, which allowed the Vikings to pull out to a 27-11 lead. Even at the end of the first half when Cleveland State only hit two out of 10 field goals, the Phoenix were only able to cut the lead down to 11 at halftime.

In the second half, though Green Bay showed why it was picked to finish at the top of the Horizon League standings, going on a 6-0 run. Lewis then turned around with a three-pointer. Then Waters brought Yates in to take over for Keane, who committed his third foul, and clamped down on defense.

Lewis finished the game with a double-double, notching 25 points and 12 rebounds. Grady fell short of a double-double, but still made his presence known in the paint with 24 points and six boards. Lee played every part of the role of distributor, with seven assists to go along with 12 points.

The win was also in front of one of the largest crowds of the season, with 3,525 people coming to watch the Viking performance. While it doesn’t put them over the Boyd Line (The 1,770 per game average set in 1995-96), the win does give Cleveland State fans some incentive to put the team over that average.

“This was a big crowd game,” Water said of the attendance versus the Phoenix. “And when people come out to see you, you need to give them a good performance. And that gives them the idea that they should come back and watch some more, and I thought we did a great job of that today.”

Mason’s Outlook Looking Better

The virus that has been causing Mason to sit out three games may finally be subsiding. Waters said that Mason underwent a second spinal tap late in the week, and it appears that he is feeling much better. Waters is confident that Mason will return for next week’s games at home against Youngstown State and Wright State.

O’No! A Bump in the Road!

The Cleveland State-Green Bay match-up would have meant much more to the Vikings, had it not been for a trip earlier in the week to Oakland for a return contest with the Golden Grizzlies. The O’rena, as it turns out, has become the toughest place to play in the Horizon League by far. Just ask the Phoenix and Valparaiso.

And despite coming back from being down double digits, Cleveland State couldn’t overcome it, and a Lewis three-pointer that fell just short sealed the game for Oakland, 59-56. As was the case in the 65-61 win at the Wolstein Center, Lewis was constantly harassed by Golden Grizzlies defensive specialist Dante Williams, and was limited to just five points.

Foul trouble also reared its ugly head in the loss, as the Vikings spent much of the first half without Grady and Zollo, who committed two fouls in the opening 75 seconds of the game. In total, Oakland ended up taking advantage by getting to the foul line an astonishing 28 times, compared to just seven for Cleveland State.

While the Golden Grizzlies have enjoyed a free throw advantage for most of their home wins (Green Bay being the exception), it was the Viking scoring droughts that proved to be their ultimate undoing. And in spite of shooting 44 percent from the floor, Cleveland State misfired badly from beyond the arc, shooting just 4-of-14 for a dismal 28 percent.

With the Vikings defeat, Oakland has now defeated the top three teams in the conference, as well as Wright State and Milwaukee. Unless Horizon League bottom-feeders Youngstown State or Illinois-Chicago somehow fluke their way into a win, which is highly unlikely, the February 15th game against Detroit will determine whether the Golden Grizzlies will sport perfect record in the O’rena.

Cleveland State Keeps Rolling, Even With Injuries and Illness

Nearly halfway into the Horizon League schedule, Cleveland State is showing no signs of letting up on his conference foes. By dominating Youngstown State on the road Saturday and beating Detroit at home on Friday, the Vikings have strung together yet another three-game winning streak.

In doing so, Cleveland State sits at 6-1 in the conference, sharing the top spot with preseason favorite Green Bay, who survived a scare at home against Valparaiso. The Phoenix, of course, will come to the Wolstein Center next Saturday for what could very well shape up as a battle for first place.

All of this recent success for the Vikings comes on the heels of a so-so- non-conference slate, in which fans felt understandably pessimistic about the road ahead. Now, even the most skeptical observers are finding reasons to be optimistic.

The Friday win against the Titans is made even more impressive by the fact that Cleveland State found itself down not one, but two starters. Guard and defensive powerhouse Andre Yates suffered a high ankle sprain in the win against YSU and will likely be out for at least two weeks. The Vikings were also without the services of senior forward Marlin Mason, who came down with flu-like symptoms and ended up in the hospital.

The loss of key personnel forced head coach Gary Waters to look deep into his lineup for solutions to match up well with Detroit. He found that in Vinny Zollo, who started in Mason’s place, and his reserve guards, including Terrelle Hales, who returned after spraining his ankle in Saturday’s win. At several points during the win, Waters had four guards on the floor, giving the Titans a considerable size advantage.

It didn’t seem to really matter.

The Vikings, down by nine points at two times in the second half, turned to their signature pressure defense to get them back in the game. And just like they did in their comeback win against Wright State, they kept the Titans from scoring a field goal for seven minutes in the waning moments.

Saturday’s win over Youngstown State was much less in question for nearly the entire contest. Cleveland State had no problem dispatching the Penguins with a dominant showing both in the paint and on the perimeter, shooting 48 percent from the field. The Vikings may have won by 13, but their overpowering of YSU, including the neutralizing of Penguin forward Bobby Hain, made it seem as if they had won by much more.

Before the pivotal match-up against Green Bay, Cleveland State faces a tough test on Monday when they travel to Oakland. For their part, the Golden Grizzlies have been nearly unbeatable on their home court this season, including an early-season upset of the Phoenix. Oakland will also be seeking revenge for losing to the Vikings in Cleveland on January 8th.

While a win on Monday is a huge undertaking for Cleveland State, especially with Yates out of the lineup. However, given the success the Vikings have had so far on the road in conference game, coming home with a victory is not out of the realm of possibilities.

The Trey Lewis Takeover Returns

After a couple of quiet games to start the conference schedule, Lewis has exploded over the past week. Against Detroit, Lewis torched the Titans for 30 points on 9-for-20 shooting, including 5 for 11 from three-point range. He also was very active on the boards, pulling down eight rebounds.

The offensive surge came on top of a 29-point performance in the Youngstown State romp. Once again, Lewis was on fire from beyond the arc, nailing seven threes in 13 attempts.

Monday night’s game against the Golden Grizzlies will provide Lewis with an opportunity to seek some payback. In game in Cleveland, he was held scoreless, having only attempted two shots and constantly hounded by Oakland’s defensive monster, Dante Williams. Lewis will obviously be looking to make sure that performance was a fluke.

The Truth Dominates the Horizon League

Anton Grady continues to turn in performances in conference games that put him in the upper echelon of Horizon League frontcourt players. In seven games so far, Grady has chipped in 14.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. This includes three games in which he has recorded a double-double.

In spite of Detroit’s size advantage, Grady had no problem getting the edge in the paint, notching 15 points and a season-high 14 boards. He also was huge on defense, making four blocks, including a tremendous swat on Paris Bass with 3:42 left in the game.

Best of all, Grady has kept his foul troubles to a minimum, which has allowed him to play more than 30 minutes a game during the conference run. It has all added up to him returning to the form he displayed during his freshman year, in which he was considered one of the best players in the Horizon League.

If things keep going the way they are, The Truth, indeed, will have risen once more.

Ouch!

It’s likely that Mason will return to the lineup on Monday, but this week didn’t go as planned for him. His hospital stay for flu-like symptoms included, according to Waters, a spinal tap to check for meningitis. After Mason was released out of the hospital on Friday, Waters said that the doctors has cleared him to play. However, given that he was still sore from the spinal tap, Mason understandably didn’t give it a go.

Live By the Free Throw, Die By the Free Throw (Part II)

If there was ever a game in which the Vikings’ erratic foul shooting was on display, it was certainly on Saturday against Detroit. In fact, the first half and the second half from the charity stripe were as different as night and day.

The first half, by all accounts, was probably the worst free throw shooting performance by a Cleveland State squad probably ever. The Vikings show 4 for 14 from the line. That’s right. 4 for 14. And it would have been worse (2 for 12), had it not been for Kaza Keane draining a pair at the close of the half.

Daylight came, however, in the second half. In what can only be described as some crazy reverse of polarity in the universe, Cleveland State fared much better, shooting 16 for 19 from the free-throw line. Of course, it probably helped that most of those made shots came from Lewis and Charlie Lee, who is far and away the team’s best foul shooter.

Waters had expressed concern for the lack of practice on free throws during the week, given his team’s varying class schedules. It’s likely going to continue to be a running theme for the remainder of the season, though Cleveland State probably hopes that it won’t cost them.

That’s Right. Cleveland State Is on a Winning Streak.

“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called two in a row. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a ‘winning streak’… It has happened before!”

– Lou Brown, “Major League II”

As Cleveland sports fans, we all love our movie references, no matter how obscure. And in a sense, the above quote from everybody’s favorite fictional Indians manager should have struck a chord in Cleveland State fans everywhere. That’s because going into the Horizon League schedule, a winning streak seemed to be a foreign concept to the Vikings.

In fact, to find a stretch of Cleveland State basketball where the program couldn’t string together three straight wins, you’d have to go back to the tenure of Mike Garland. All of it. Seriously, Garland’s teams never won three in a row, ever, in the entire three seasons he was here.

Going into the conference, it was starting to look as if the same fate was going to befall Gary Waters’ squad as well. Even worse, CSU hadn’t won back-to-back games against Division I schools during the non-conference schedule, let alone three.

Then the Vikings flipped the switch.

As fans have witnessed on many occasions during the Waters era, Cleveland State’s out-of-conference results, which could be viewed as so-so at best, may have actually prepared the team for its Horizon League foes after all. Skepticism among fans naturally set in, even after pasting Milwaukee by 27 points at the Wolstein Center.

But this week saw the Vikings best Illinois-Chicago and Oakland, which now puts them at 3-0 in the conference.

Naturally, either game could have been a trap for Cleveland State. Fans can certainly point to Savannah State and Eastern Illinois as proof of that this season. Plus the Flames with their win against Youngstown State and the Golden Grizzlies’ surprise of Valparaiso provided obvious cause for concern.

And yet, the Vikings used their trademark defense and timely scoring, something that hadn’t happened much this season, to fend off late-game runs by both foes, besting UIC in Sunday’s contest, 74-69, and Oakland at home on Thursday, 65-61.

With a perfect record in the Horizon League, Cleveland State now faces its toughest test against the Crusaders on Saturday night. Valpo overcame the loss of Keith Carter for an undetermined amount of time due to a dislocated toe to dismantle the Flames at home, 85-56. With the Vikings and Crusaders picked second and third in the pre-season poll, respectively, the contest at the ARC, though considerably early in the conference slate, will serve as a test on who is truly the better team to this point.

For Valparaiso’s part, the non-conference schedule, unlike Cleveland State’s, proved to be much more successful, with 13 wins against only two losses to Missouri and New Mexico. The Vikings will need to replicate its fast starts this week and keep the Crusader frontcourt in check, much as they did last year.

Anton Grady’s Back-Up Will Be…

There appears to be a competition as to who will come in to spell Cleveland State’s top frontcourt player, especially in the event he finds himself in foul trouble, a situation that was more common than not early on this year.

It appeared that this role would go to Aaron Scales, who received the bulk of playing time against Virginia Commonwealth and in the Horizon League opener versus Milwaukee. On the road against UIC, though, there was no debate about playing time at all, with Grady notching a season-high 36 minutes that results in his first double-double this year.

Against Oakland, though, Scales didn’t see the floor at all, ceding his minutes as Grady’s back-up to fellow sophomore Demonte Flannigan. For his part, Flannigan took advantage of every second of his 16 minutes, scoring eight points and pulling down four boards.

The debate on who will be Grady’s back-up will likely remain fluid for the remainder of the season. That’s mostly because Scales and Flannigan clearly bring two different styles to the Viking frontcourt, and Waters will call upon one or the other, depending on who they will be facing at the time. For the game against Valpo, with 6-10 Vashil Fernandez in the middle, it’s a pretty good bet that the much-bigger Scales will get the nod over Flannigan.

But then again, if Grady stays out of foul trouble and bests the Crusader big man as he did last year, there may not be any debate at all.

No Trey Lewis? No Problem.

CSU’s victory over Oakland was made even more amazing by the fact that the leading scorer for the Vikings, Trey Lewis, was held scoreless. In fact, Lewis only attempted two shots the entire game. To be fair, the Golden Grizzlies did have the 6-6 Dante Williams, their main stopper, defending him.

But what Lewis lacked in scoring he more than made up for in creating offense in other ways, notching five assists. It also gave Cleveland State the opportunity to figure out who would else would be able to score.

The answer turned out to be Lewis’ partner in the backcourt, Charlie Lee, which scored 13 and dished out seven assists. And it was also Andre Yates, the defensive leader of the team (a well-defended title, of course). He led the team with 14 points in 22 minutes.

The X-Factor – Marlin Mason

In the beginning of the season, Waters believed that the 6-6 senior would be the X-factor for the Vikings having a successful season. His performance, though, has been all over the place, and at some points was non-existent on offense, as was the case against Milwaukee.

Going into the conference schedule, though, Mason seems to have found his place as a shot blocker. He swatted away four shots against UIC and followed that up with three more blocks against Oakland. He also, in the two wins this week, quietly chipped in offensively, scoring 12 against the Flames and 11 versus the Golden Grizzlies.

Moving forward, Mason will need to be the X-factor that Waters is looking for, as opposed a scene from the X Factor television show in which Simon Cowell brusquely says to a contestant, “That’s going to be a no for me.”

Can the Horizon League Slate Fix Cleveland State’s Season of Blah?

A mid-February game against Western Carolina notwithstanding, Cleveland State has closed out its non-conference schedule with a 72-63 loss at Virginia Commonwealth. As has been the case throughout the early part of the year, the Vikings spent large swaths of time not scoring at all. The fact that they were able to keep it close is yet another testament to the toughness display by the CSU defense.

But as any Cleveland Browns fan will tell you, it doesn’t matter what kind of defense you have. Without any offense, you’re out of luck.

And this has really be the overriding theme of the Cleveland State non-conference slate. The defense, which has always been a point of pride for head Coach Gary Waters, has been as good as it has ever been. That said, the erratic play on the offensive end has just killed anything Waters has wanted to accomplish.

For any team, the non-conference schedule is an opportunity to assess what you have and develop what you don’t have. In CSU’s case, it seemed as if progress was made at one point, it took a step backward at another point.

Truly this was the case for Cleveland State, especially with a 6-8 record. The Vikings couldn’t put together consecutive wins against Division I opponents, and losses to Savannah State and Eastern Illinois fall under the “How on Earth Is That Possible?” category.

Now, being sub-.500 in non-conference games is not the biggest sign of panic. Three of those losses came from top teams, including VCU, Virginia and Louisville. And in years past, Cleveland State as fared far worse out of conference and against more questionable competition.

At the same time, moral victories against high-major teams have never really inspired the masses to come out to the Wolstein Center, nor has it sparked much attention from the local media.

To put it bluntly, the Vikings have entered into what I can only describe as a Season of Blah.

Yes, winning puts eyes on a team. Impressively enough, so does flaming out in spectacular fashion. Look at the end of every Browns season if you need any proof of that.

Blah doesn’t really do any of that.

The first part of the Horizon League schedule could possibly take the blah out of this season, albeit very, very slowly.

It was certainly the case in the home conference opener against Milwaukee, in which Cleveland State couldn’t get anything go offensively like clockwork and were down by three at halftime.

Then came the second half.

Nobody’s exactly sure what happened, but the Vikings couldn’t miss. No, really. Cleveland State shot 82 percent from the floor in the second half. And all those three-pointers CSU has been chucking up for most of the non-conference slate? Against the Panthers, the Vikings only shot 11. In place of shots beyond the arc came an astounding 52 points in the paint.

Obviously, a 27-point beatdown of Milwaukee could very well be mistaken as an aberration. Only the next three games against Illinois-Chicago, Oakland and Valparaiso show if Cleveland State has learned from its non-conference trials or if this truly will be a Season of Blah.

Of Course Aaron Scales Did That

Last week, I spent quite a bit of time unloading on the red-shirt sophomore big man for his performance down the stretch of the Eastern Illinois loss.

So it only makes sense that this week, I get to eat a heaping helping of crow.

Scales turned in an excellent performance against VCU, scoring eight points and grabbing a career-high nine rebounds. He took full advantage of his playing time against the Rams while Anton Grady was getting patched up after taking an elbow to his head.

It has become more apparent that Scale will become the next guy off the bench in the frontcourt after Vinny Zollo. This was originally the hope all along that he would be able to make the type of contributions to alleviate some pressure in the middle on Grady.

And so I must retract my statement last week openly wondering about Scales’ development. Let’s hope I can continue to be further proven wrong in the future.

The 1-2 Defensive Punch in the Backcourt

Friday’s blowout of Milwaukee featured one of those strange occasions where Andre Yates, who has clearly become the defensive leader of the Vikings, actually took a back seat to someone who was playing even better.

That honor went to freshman Terrell Hales, who put split time at the third guard position with Yates against the Panthers. In his 18 minutes, Hales was all over the place, finishing with four points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

With Hales and Yates in the rotation with the kind of defensive power Waters covets on his teams, they will both be extremely valuable during the conference schedule, especially if Cleveland State gets into a scoring drought and needs to keep other teams from taking advantage.

The Horizon League Expansion Speculation

Prior to the start of the Cleveland State-Virginia Commonwealth game, CSU athletic director John Parry discussed potential expansion of the Horizon League with radio play-by-play announcer Al Pawlowski. When talking about this, fans of any Horizon League school cross their and hope that they don’t hear a glut of initials (read: IUPUI or IPFW).

Instead, Parry mentioned four schools as possible entries. The first was one already familiar to some in the Horizon League – Belmont. The Bruins already are a conference member in soccer and have agreed to play conference schools in a number of other sports. The idea of becoming a full-time league member would be considered the next natural step.

The second school, Northern Kentucky, has also been discussed in certain circles as well. At the moment, the Norse are sitting in the way station of Division I, the Atlantic Sun Conference, and is in the third year of their transition from Division II. However, since NKU won’t be a full D1 school until July 2016, the Horizon League may hold off until then. Once they clear that hurdle, the Norse have the facilities and access to the Cincinnati media market the conference has been looking for.

Murray State was also mentioned as a potential addition. The Racers could be looking for a competition upgrade from the Ohio Valley Conference the same as Belmont may be. Their omission from the post-season during the 2012-13 season despite 21 wins and making it to the OVC tournament finals.

Of the four teams mentioned by Parry, perhaps the inclusion of Lipscomb was the biggest head-scratcher. The Bisons have not had the type of success that either Belmont or Murray State has, nor have they set the world on fire in the Atlantic Sun. The only explanation would be to find a travel partner from the cross-town Bruins, should they be invited to the Horizon League.

Expansion couldn’t happen fast enough in the eyes of both fans and conference schools alike. The departures of both Butler and, most recent, Loyola-Chicago left scheduling gaps that usually ended up becoming meaningless non-Division I contests.

Unbeknownst to Cleveland, Cleveland State Beat Western Illinois

While the rest of Northeast Ohio languished in what could likely signal the end of the Brian Hoyer era in Cleveland and beginning of Johnny Manziel’s, 1,187 fans came to the Wolstein Center to watch Cleveland State thoroughly manhandle Western Illinois, 76-54.

And as bad as the Vikings had been offensively in their previous game against Toledo, they played one of their best games against the Leathernecks, shooting 48 percent from the field and, more importantly, staying out of the kind of foul trouble that has plagued them so far this season.

The win on Sunday was just one of several events that took play across Cleveland State athletics, including a trip by members of the men’s and women’s swimming teams to one of the biggest events in the country.

Limiting Shots Beyond the Arc

After the loss to Toledo, head coach Gary Waters was adamant about keeping his team from chucking up the long ball at will. As a result, he has apparently put a cap on the number of three-pointers that can be shot in a game to 15 and only wants four players to shoot.

The strategy worked on Sunday, though the Vikings did shoot one over their limit. It didn’t matter, though, since they shot a scorching 9-for-16 from beyond the arc. And while it was reported that Trey Lewis, Charlie Lee, Marlin Mason and Vinny Zollo would be the four, that didn’t stop Andre Yates from shooting and making three treys. It looks as if that fourth spot on the shooting list might be a floating position.


The Defense Is Always There

As has been the case for most of the season, Cleveland State has been dominant on defense. Sunday’s romp over Western Illinois was no exception. The Vikings’ signature pressure forced the Leathernecks to cough up the ball 21 times, which resulted in 34 CSU points. This included four steals compliments of Yates, who has quickly become the defensive leader on this team.

Lee’s Short Bench Stint

Even though Waters has originally planned to have Lee come off the bench until he got back into the swing of things, he opted to put Lee in the starting lineup against the Leathernecks. In 27 minutes, he tallied seven points, two assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals.

While Lee will need to make adjustments, his role as the leader on the floor is essential if the Vikings have any shot as they enter the conference schedule.

The Fight for Minutes at Guard

Waters opted to go very deep in his bench in the early going of Sunday’s game, which made sense, considering that CSU pulled far ahead of Western Illinois from the outset. The competition for minutes among the guards, though, remains heated.

Kaza Keane, who started in place of Lee during his suspension, is now fighting for playing time, and made his presence known on Sunday with seven points in 13 minutes. Terrelle Hales continues to be a defensive spark for the Vikings, putting in a bench-high 17 minutes.

With Keane, Hales, Kenny Carpenter and Derek Sloan available, there will be those games in which some of them won’t play. That will be especially true if the starters are needed for extended periods. In order to prove their worth, the guards will have to remain ready, both offensively and defensively, to make a case for playing time.

Next Week: The S’more Schedule

With finals over, the Vikings will have three games which can only be described as a s’more, which is to say two graham cracker-hard opponents on each side and one gigantic marshmallow in the middle.

The first graham cracker comes in the form of a visit to the Stroh Center to face Bowling Green. The Falcons are 5-2 thus far, and are a perfect 3-0 at home. They’ve also bested two other Horizon League teams, Wright State and Detroit, which the win over the Titans coming on the road at Calihan Hall.

On Thursday, Cleveland State travels to Virginia, ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 and fifth in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. The Cavaliers have been dominant in the early going, and recently put an end to Virginia Commonwealth’s home winning streak in convincing fashion. As tough a contest as Louisville was for the Vikings, this game will prove to be just as tough.

The gigantic marshmallow, of course, is Monday’s game against Mt. Vernon Nazarene, an NAIA school in central Ohio. This will probably be one of those tilts in which Waters plays his bench for extended periods of time to see what he will have ready for Thursday.

Women’s Basketball Perfect in Home Stand (So Far)

While life on the road has been rather rough on the Cleveland State women’s basketball team, sporting only a 1-3 record in those contests, the Vikings have been able to hold serve at home. It hasn’t been easy, though. In the first two games of a four-game home stand, CSU has had to fend off East Carolina and Kent State, coming out winners both times by a two-point margin in each.

As has been the case this season, the Vikings have been paced by its core of seniors, including Cori Coleman and Imani Gordon, who scored 21 and 15 points, respectively, in both games of the home stand.  Fellow senior Kiersten Green was also a big part of the victory against Kent State, chipping in 22 points.

Next week, Cleveland State wraps up its home stand with a 2:00pm matinee against Belmont at Woodling Gym on Tuesday, and heading back to the Wolstein Center for a rare morning game at 11:00am against Niagara.

Sikatzki Goes National

With a break in its schedule, CSU sent five swimmers, Phillipp Sikatzki, Adam Ingeldew, Phillip Brittain, Gage Alleman and Madison Tretter, to Greensboro, North Carolina for one of the biggest competitions of the fall, the USA Winter Nationals.

While most of the Viking contingency were not able to post times to qualify for the finals, Sikatzki, the transfer from Division II Ashland, made his presence known in the 100-meter butterfly event. Qualifying for the finals in that event, he swam a time of 47.59, which was good enough for 12th place.

The Ins and Outs of Cleveland State Transfers

As has been mentioned numerous times over the years, Cleveland State has had an influx of traffic as it relates to the members of the men’s basketball team. It was, in all honesty, a precedent set as far back as when Gary Waters took the helm of the program. And from the looks of things, fans will be seeing even more new transfers in the near future.

Right from the outset, Waters accepted transfers from other schools, embracing the concept, even. He understood early on that while players may not choose the Vikings first, the door was always open for them to come aboard.

With that, his first moves were to pave the way for the arrival of three such transfers: Cedric Jackson from St. John’s, George Tandy from Eastern Illinois Northeast Ohioan Chris Moore, which initially played for UC-Santa Barbara.

At the same time, Waters also understood that as players arrive, others will undoubtedly leave. After the 2006-07 campaign, Tristan Crawford and Bahaadar Russell departed for Division II Valdosta State. The following year, Joe Davis left CSU and finished his career at Morgan State.

So when it comes to bringing in new faces and saying good-bye to old ones, it’s clear that Waters has become well-versed in the concepts.

This off-season has been no different. As it’s been widely reported, the Vikings saw two of its players from the 2013-14 campaign leave. The most prominent name, of course, is 2012-13 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Bryn Forbes, who announced over the summer that he would be heading to Michigan State.

On top of that, the NCAA had granted Forbes a hardship waiver, as he opted to return to his home state to take care of some family medical issues, meaning he will be suited up for the Spartans for the upcoming season.

Along with Forbes, Cleveland State said farewell to 6-10 center Ismaila Dauda, a junior college transfer from Nigeria. At the end of April, Dauda decided to play for North Florida, putting him back in the state where he played his prep school and junior college ball.

While losing a big man in Dauda is tough and the loss of leading scorer Forbes is bad, some comfort can be taken in what the Vikings have brought in from other schools as well.

Already a part of the Cleveland State roster is junior Trey Lewis, the Garfield Heights native who came to the Wolstein Center by way of Penn State. After an impressive sophomore year, he has already been looked at as a pre-season all-conference performer.

Joining Lewis, along with senior starting point guard Charlie Lee, will be the 6-2 combo guard Andre Yates. He takes his spot on the CSU roster after leaving Creighton and sitting out a year.

As the transfers for this year take their respective places in the Cleveland State lineup, Waters is already preparing to welcome two more into the Viking fold.

First, there is Myles Hamilton, a 6-1 guard who played his high school basketball at St. Edward’s. For the past two seasons, Hamilton played down south for Kennesaw State, where he averaged six points and 2.2 assists per game. It is reported that Hamilton will be a walk-on for CSU next season.

Given that Hamilton has had some experience at the Division I level, there’s always the distinct possibility that he can take his year off the court to make enough of an impression to win a scholarship. As reported previously, this type of move has precedent, with Tim Kamczyc and current player Derek Sloan being notable examples.

The second transfer comes in the form of Kaza Keane, who most recently played for Illinois State and will be on scholarship. As part of the Redbirds, he averaged 3.2 assists a game to lead the team during a freshman year that also saw him start 10 contests.

When he wasn’t in an Illinois State uniform, Keane used his talents to bolster the Canadian Junior National Team for two years, highlighted by his eight-assist performance against Iran in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague. His squad subsequently went on the place sixth, the highest the Canadian team has ever finished.

Keane will be the most recent Canadian to join the Vikings, the most recent being Luda Ndaye of Montreal, whose college career was hampered by multiple injuries. The Wolstein Center may also serve as a familiar place for Keane, as his sister Takima, played for Cleveland State and was part of the 2010 NCAA Tournament team.

Interestingly enough, it appears that Keane is seeking to start playing for the Vikings this upcoming season. It has been reported that he has applied for a hardship waiver to the NCAA in the hopes he will become immediately eligible.

While the circumstances behind the NCAA appeal aren’t known, the prospect of another guard in the lineup for this season may take some of the sting out of the loss of Forbes, as well as defensive stalwart Sebastian Douglas, who called it a career at the end of last season due a variety of injuries.

Whether every player in and out of the CSU program, fans always dread how things will eventually pan out. In the case of the first three transfers in the Waters era, coupled with Lewis’ recent success, there would be some evidence of benefits. It’s too bad Viking fans may have to wait a year to see it.