Tag Archives: Belmont Bruins

Slide Into Obscurity Continues for Cleveland State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State’s 2016-17 Men’s Road Schedule is Great; Home Schedule Needs Some Work, Again

When the 2016-17 Cleveland State men’s basketball schedule was released, in all honesty, there was very little left to the imagination of fans. That’s because, for the most part, the non-conference opponents had already been laid out, thanks to the active tweeting of the D1 Hoops Schedule Twitter account.

In fact, the only mystery prior to the official CSU schedule release was how many non-Division I opponents the Vikings would face this season. As the slate revealed, the answer is just one: A December 19 game against Division II Lake Erie College at the Wolstein Center. The good news is that it’s less than the two non-D1 foes CSU usually faces every season. The bad news is that in spite of recent correspondence to a fan by athletic director John Parry, there will not be 15 home games, as originally planned.

One of the other surprises that was revealed before Cleveland State’s official schedule announcement was the slate of non-conference opponents that the Vikings would host at Quicken Loans Arena. While the December 7 contest against Western Michigan had already been posted, the second game will be December 3 against Bethune-Cookman.

The scheduling of B-C has likely been a long time coming, given that their head coach is Gravelle Craig, whose resume when he played at Cleveland State was a highly impressive one. However, with the 2015 agreement between Quicken Loans Arena and CSU in mind, the Bethune-Cookman contest would probably had been better suited at the Wolstein Center.

And that may be the one head-scratcher related to the entire schedule. All of the high-profile Viking opponents, including Kentucky, Purdue, Belmont, Kent State and Ohio, are all on the road. In the case of the Bruins and Bobcats, they are return games from when both team visited Cleveland last season. And the Golden Flashes are CSU’s Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer opponent this season at Youngstown State.

The home slate, on the other hand, is one of the thinnest in recent memory. Akron and Toledo, mentioned by head coach Gary Waters on his radio show in February, never materialized. And there was clearly no way that a non-Division I foe would ever make it to the Quicken Loans Arena slate. Finally, the appeal of the Q has still not sufficiently persuaded power-conference schools to sign up to make the trek to Cleveland. All of these factors had to have led to the decision to opt for Bethune-Cookman to be the opponent at the home of the Cavaliers.

One of the chief issues that Cleveland State season ticket holders have expressed in the off-season is the decision by the Cavs to push early renewals, with those signing up late incurring additional fee hikes. Now, it would appear that even early season ticket renewals cost more per game than last year, with only 13 games on the home slate, as opposed to 15.

In addition, the long-running problem the Vikings have had in scheduling opponents that would appeal to the masses still dogs them. Moreover, what exactly is the plan to sell a game like Bethune-Cookman to the masses? While Craig was a great Cleveland State player, the memory of his performances have, in all likelihood, long faded from the casual fan’s memory.

This is to say nothing about scheduling conflicts between CSU and the Cavs that couldn’t be avoided. For instance, the November 15 game between the Vikings and Canisius runs up against the Cavs and Raptors, while the Horizon League opener versus conference tournament champ Green Bay on December 29 will bump up next to the Cavs-Celtics.

From a competitive standpoint, Cleveland State should fare far better than the disastrous 9-23 campaign last season. In fact, it can be argued that the Vikings have a shot in all but the tilts against Kentucky and Purdue during the non-conference schedule, and only Valparaiso, widely regarded as the favorite to win the Horizon League, and possibly Oakland and Green Bay present stumbling blocks for them.

But where is the push to get people, both inside and outside of Cleveland State, excited about this season? What is the plan to generate interest to get people to the games, particularly at the Wolstein Center?

These are questions that haven’t been sufficiently answered in at least the past two seasons (possibly longer) and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of an answer coming for this year.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image courtesy of CSUVikings.com

Best and Worst: Opening Round of March Madness

 

Thursday:

Best: Now, depending on your point of view and the team you root for, this could also be the worst. Iowa State, a number three seed, goes down to UAB. UAB is a team from a school that is discontinuing their football program, and now is getting rid of its basketball program regardless of how they do in the tournament. Knowing this, makes this a “best” of for the weekend so far. They came to play against Iowa State, who, may have been a bit too loose to compete with the Blazers. UAB played tough defense, made big shot after big shot, and rebounded the basketball like a lower seeded team needs to do if they are to create chaos during the opening weekend. I enjoy the chaos because it makes for great water cooler talk. Georgia State just kept hanging around and hanging around. If you are the more talented team, as Baylor was, you can’t give a team the opportunity to gain some confidence and start believing that they belong in the same gym as you. However, Baylor did just that and paid the ultimate price for that. Hats off to Georgia State. UAB and Georgia State have created the much wanted havoc that everybody secretly craves. Thank you UAB and Georgia State.

Worst: By the far, it’s the Big 12. Could they come across looking any softer? I don’t think so. Both Iowa State and Baylor came into the tournament both seeded third by the selection committee and they have showed so far that they were seeded to high. These two teams have single handedly messed up brackets for most of America. Both teams underestimated their opponents and probably thought they could just show up and win. That is coach’s nightmare. When opponents are not respected, bad things happen, and they did on Thursday for Baylor and Iowa State. Now if Oklahoma loses it’s really going to be a calamity for the Big 12 this year. Let’s hope that does not happen.

Friday:

Best: A couple things here. One of the best things I like watching during a basketball game at any level are great shooters. A player that has no conscious about shooting the ball in big situations or has incredible range. Watching the Belmont vs Virginia game had that for me. Belmont perimeter shooters showed no shame in hoisting up three after three after three, regardless if they had missed the last three point attempt. Craig Bradshaw, from Belmont, shot Belmont back into the game behind his 25 points. He also got the crowd going behind his 3 point shooting display and by a 3 point he banked in from about 23 feet. The best part about it was him beating his chest and yelling “ I called it, I called it!”

The other thing I like during this tournament is watching the higher seeded team start getting “tight” because the other lower seeded team has come to play. That was AGAIN on display with the Louisville vs UC Irvine game. Just a great game to watch. There were lead changes late in the game, pressure on both sides to answer the other team, and a lower seed playing some serious ball against a Rick Pitino coached team. If it wasn’t for the Cardinals two guards to help close out the game with free throws and a clutch steal in the last seconds of the game, Louisville may have been on the way home and the Anteaters would be moving on. Wayne Blackshear also helped get Louisville past the first round with his team leading 19 points.

Worst: By far, it’s was the uniforms for Oklahoma State and Oregon. I’m not sure who the person was behind this bright, and I mean, BRIGHT idea they need to be checked into a mental institution. It was like watching highlighters go up and down the court for two hours. The game was entertaining, but you literally could have gone blind watching that game. Anytime Oregon is on the tv schedule, you always have to wonder what kind of uniform they will come out with, but I didn’t expect to see the Cowboys come out like an orange highlighter. You expect that with Oregon, but not the other way around.

The other aspect of these opening round games that I found interesting was the ending to the UCLA vs SMU game. You feel for the kid from SMU because of the huge tipping point in the game, but you have to wonder what the referee was thinking. It was just a bad call all the way around. It was a missed call, but a call that you don’t want to give the referees a chance to call. Refs are not going to make calls late in the game, they typically swallow whistles unless it is so egregious that they have to make the call. The refs thought that this call was one that had to be made. However, replays clearly showed it was not the case. This is why we love sports though, bad calls, good calls, and everything in between.

I only hope that the next round is as good as this opening round and that my bracket doesn’t take the beating it did on Thursday and parts of Friday.

Time to Flip the NCAA’s March Madness Switch!

The best month on the sports calendar is here.  The NCAA basketball tournament.  Opening Day. The Masters. Finally.  For those on the East Coast who are snow blind after this record-setting winter, Selection Sunday heralds both the promise of spring and the unmatched excitement that accompanies college basketball’s marquee event.

For a few days after Selection Sunday, each of the 68  teams has a chance.  For some teams that chance is infinitesimal, but that doesn’t keep everyone from dreaming about what, theoretically, is possible.   College basketball’s increasing parity has given rise to a higher number of upsets in recent years.  A 15 seed has beaten a 2 seed just seven times, but the pace of high seed upsets has increased dramatically in recent years. Last year 14 seed Mercer destroyed at least 99% of the nation’s brackets on the second day of the tournament when it stunned Duke 78-71.  Last year 11 seed Dayton made the Elite Eight. Virginia Commonwealth accomplished the same feat in 2011, losing to 8 seed Butler for a spot in the championship game!  There’s a reason that Warren Buffett can offer $1,000,000 for a perfect bracket. There has never been one and there never will be.  He should offer a grabazillion dollars.  It’s a safer bet than the sunrise.

That doesn’t mean that there is nothing certain about March Madness, however. Excitement is  certain. Heartbreak is certain. Heck, even uncertainty is certain. There certainly will be some mid-major or small conference school that beats the odds to win a game or three.  Or four. However, for the first time that I know of the odds makers have made one team the even-money favorite to win the title. That team of course is Kentucky. Even money.  Bet a buck to win a buck.  The sharps in Vegas have a better feel for Kentucky’s chances than just about anyone else, so this betting line tells you all you really need to know about the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats and their national title hopes. This team of teenaged marauders and future lottery picks has cold-cocked the rest of college basketball this year and now stands just six games away from immortality.  The Wildcats had a few close calls early but now are playing at a level that likely makes pretenders of every other tournament team.Even money might seem preposterous given the incalculable number of scenarios yet to play out, but the odds makers are signaling that only long shot lovers should bother to put any team but Kentucky on the champion’s line.

It’s unfortunate that newly-ascendant teams like Northern Iowa and Virginia are having great seasons in a year in which Kentucky is having a historically great one because when a team makes history by going undefeated, that’s all anyone remembers.  What else do we remember about Indiana’s undefeated 1976 season besides the Bicentennial and Elton John singing “Philadelphia Freedom” to honor his friend Billie Jean King? Okay, I might be the only person to remember that but does anyone remember that Rutgers also was undefeated going into the Final Four?  Maybe if you went to Rutgers. History, as they say, is written by the winners.

The selection committee’s job never is easy and always is subject to ridicule.  Geography mandates the placement of the higher seeds, with but one exception. Teams from the same conference that have already played twice in the regular season cannot be among the top four seeds in the same region. Larger schools from power conferences undoubtedly get the benefit of the doubt over smaller schools from lesser conferences, as is the case with UCLA this year. The Bruins posted a 2-8 record against teams in this year’s field, but passed the “eyeball test” according to selection committee chair Scott Barnes. Was UCLA more deserving than a Colorado State team that reeled off 15 straight wins to start the season and had a better record against the RPI top 100 than did the Bruins? The selection committee determined that it did.  With so much emphasis placed on quantifiable metrics, the eyeball test seems like a very unscientific methodology.

Despite that, the committee always manages to create some compelling matchups with interesting storylines.  Virginia opens the tournament against Belmont, which features Virginia transfer Taylor Barnette.  Belmont shoots the hell out of the three, which is a shot that Virginia grudgingly concedes in order to better defend the basket.  It is not unthinkable that Belmont could shoot Virginia right out of the tournament. Should Virginia prevail,  an even more stern test likely awaits the Cavaliers. Michigan State. The Spartans ended Virginia’s season last year in an epic tournament game at Madison Square Garden and this year are Dick Vitale’s sleeper pick to make the Final Four. Additionally, Tom Izzo is a great tournament coach and has the record to prove it. According to Jared Andrews, since becoming the Spartans’ coach in 1995, Izzo is 19-4 in the round of 32 game.   Michigan State looks horribly under seeded at the seven spot, but I am sure that the committee felt like a Virginia-Michigan State rematch would make for good television. Virginia fans are feeling hosed.

Why?  Because Duke. In filling our my own brackets and doing my research, Duke’s path to Elite Eight seems absurdly easy.  Of course, that’s what we thought last year before Mercer messed everything up. However, Duke’s path most likely looks like this: San Diego State, S.F. Austin.  Yes, I am picking  S.F. Austin  to win two games.  They are the trendy 12 pick in the first round against  Utah and should they triumph, they most likely will get a game against an overseeded Georgetown squad that has gone 7-5 in its last 12 games and got knocked out of the Big East semifinals by Xavier, the 6 seed over in the West bracket. Prior to the ACC Tournament, both Virginia and Duke looked good for 1 seeds. Then both teams lost in the tournament semifinals, Virginia to a UNC team that played its best game of the year and Duke to a Notre Dame team that had already beaten the Blue Devils earlier in conference play. Duke’s loss had no apparent effect on its seeding while Virginia, getting a marginal contribution from vital cog and twice-injured Justin Anderson, was bumped to the 2 line for its loss. And people wonder why it seems like Duke gets preferential treatment? Selection Committee chairman Scott Barnes said Duke got the higher seed by virtue of its win at Virginia in January, ignoring that Duke had some inexplicable losses and Virginia didn’t.  Splitting hairs, I know.

Having now lost two of its last three, Virginia does appear wobbly.  A healthy Justin Anderson may be just what Virginia needs to go along with the motivation provided by the perceived seeding slight.  Virginia coach Tony Bennett, diplomatic as ever, waved it off, stating that every team will need to win six games to be national champion and that his team will play whoever is on the schedule. Tony Bennett, unflappable as always.

Some paths to the Final Four undoubtedly look easier than others, but then a funny thing happens. The refs throw the ball up and the players play, often with unexpected–but never boring–results. March Madness baby!

Oh, and I still hate Christian Laettner, even if he is resting in a hammock made of his own laurels.

March Madness Predictions

The most wonderful time of the year is here!  March Madness is just two days away.  Sorry play-in games, or First Four, whatever you want to be called.  The real tournament starts on Thursday.

Countless brackets will be filled out feverishly in the next few days.  Everyone has a method to the madness.  Or there are those who use a lack of an actual system, as their method of filling out what they hope to be a winning tournament bracket.

While I won’t do what Hayden was so generous to do for you yesterday, and provide you his entire bracket; what I will do is provide my take on each region.  It’ll be a mix of prediction, evaluation, and flat out speculation.  Just a little something for you to go with, or against while filling out your brackets.

The first thing I’m going to do is pick the games of the First Four.  I think bracket pools should evolve to where these are used as bonus points.  Extra credit for getting your bracket in by Tuesday.  In these games I like North Carolina A&T over Liberty; St. Mary’s to beat Middle Tennessee State; Boise State takes out La Salle; and James Madison ousts LIU Brooklyn.  They may not seem important, but it wasn’t long ago that VCU used the First Four as a springboard to the Final Four.

Alright, so here we go, region by region.

Midwest

Who will come out of the Midwest?

Answer: Louisville Cardinals – Matchups are so important in the tournament.  The greatest advantage the Cards have is that they can matchup with anyone.  The other critical variable is that U of L is predicated on defense.  No matter what, they are always in games because they will wear the opponent out, and get points off of their defense, even when the offense is struggling.  This is a deep, experienced team led by senior point guard Peyton Siva; focused on getting back to the Final Four.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: St. Louis Billikens – This is another gritty defensive team, with a lot of experience.  The core of this team gave Michigan State all they could handle last year in the round of 32.  Yes, I realize they are a #4 seed, which is a little high for a dark horse.  However, in a region with Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State, it’s fair to say that it would take a Cinderella run for anyone else to come out of this region.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Saint Mary’s Gaels – I was leaning toward the Oregon Ducks, simply because they were seeded improperly.  However, this is a Gael’s team that has been to the tournament, and has a ton of experience.  Although they have to play an extra game, which may put the Memphis Tigers on upset alert, I wouldn’t be surprised to see St. Mary’s win two games.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Duke Blue Devils – At most, I envision Duke getting to the Sweet 16.  While there’s no shame in getting there, and losing to say Michigan State; more is expected from this team.  The Blue Devils also face a tricky second game.  Creighton could be particularly dangerous; and Cincinnati would be no easy task either.  Duke could be heading home early for the second straight season.

West

Who will come out of the West?

Answer: New Mexico Lobos – The Lobos have stellar guard play from Kendall Williams and Tony Snell; and they have a legit seven-footer in Alex Kirk.  There’s not much in their way until the Sweet 16 and a possible matchup with Ohio State.  New Mexico has all the components necessary to make a Final Four run.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: Wisconsin Badgers – The Badgers are positioned at a #5 seed partially because the Big 10 teams beat the hell out of each other.  As usual Bo Ryan seems to have an endless supply of big guys who can pound you on the glass and defensively; and can also stretch the defense from the perimeter.  Wisconsin should cruise to the Sweet 16; and could be a real problem for Gonzaga, assuming the Bulldogs make it there.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Wichita State Shockers – I was tempted to say Belmont, but I think everyone, including Arizona is aware of what the Bruins can do.  Not that WichitaState is an unknown; I just think they’re better positioned to make a run.  The Shockers struggle to score at times, but they’ll get after it defensively, and come at you in waves.  I strongly considered picking WichitaState to knock out Gonzaga in the round of 32.  I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Gonzaga Bulldogs – The Zags definitely deserved a #1 seed, and they are a really good team.  However, the top line also makes them a prime candidate to be a disappointment.  Unless this team finally cracks the seal, and makes a Final Four; it will be exactly that.  I just don’t see them negotiating through Wisconsin.  If they do, either New Mexico or the Ohio State Buckeyes will take them out in the Elite Eight.

South

Who will come out of the South?

Answer: Kansas Jayhawks – The Jayhawks didn’t lose a ton from last year’s National Runner-up.  Bill Self is one of the elite coaches in the game.  They have a nice mix of upper classmen (Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford) and youth (Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis).  If things go as I think they will, Kansas may run the VCU Rams, and I doubt they get tripped up by them again.  Anything can happen, but I don’t see much at the bottom of the region to keep them from Atlanta.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: VCU Rams – So I just said Kansas gets out of the region.  Well, if anyone could take them out, I say it’s VCU.  Shaka Smart’s team gets up and down, shoots the triple, and creates havoc on defense.  They really don’t look physically imposing, but they are relentless.  The Rams can’t overlook the Michigan Wolverines in the round of 32.  However, VCU is more than capable of making a deep run.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: South Dakota State Jackrabbits – Any team with Nate Wolters has a chance to cause problems.  The fact that Michigan isn’t a top flight defensive team helps immensely.  Wolters should be able to get his offense going, and he has enough support to get out of the round of 64.  Reaching the Sweet 16 would be huge for the Jackrabbits, and certainly feasible with a possible mid-major matchup in the round of 32 with either the Akron Zips or VCU.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Michigan Wolverines – About 15 games into this season, I thought the Wolverines were the best team in the country.  Trey Burke is a Player of the Year candidate.  They have firepower galore.  They also settle for a lot of perimeter shots, and don’t play very good defense.  Combine that with an underwhelming coach in John Beilein; and you have a tournament disappointment.

East

Who will come out of the East?

Answer: Syracuse Orange – I realize the Orange didn’t exactly set the world on fire down the stretch.  The talent and experience is there to make this a formidable foe in the tourney.  The Orange has solid guard play, and James Southerland has been torching the nets from three.  The first major test should be the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16.  For teams that haven’t run into it often, the length of the Syracuse zone defense can be a real problem.  I think both Indiana and the Miami Hurricanes struggle with that problem and the Orange crash the Final Four.

Which dark horse team could take the region?

Answer: Temple Owls – The East seems like the least likely to have a dark horse representative in the Final Four.  However, my rationale is simple.  Temple plays a methodical style, and has a player in Khalif Wyatt who is capable of carrying a team on his back.  If the Owls were to knock off Indiana in the round of 32, I could see them making their way through the weakest of the regions.

Which lower seed could make some noise?

Answer: Bucknell Bison – This is a flat out good team.  Mike Muscala will be a household name by the time the Bison exit the tourney.  Bucknell is well balanced, and has played major competition.  This is the one double-digit seed I’m confident will go to the Sweet 16 at minimum.  They’ll get by the Butler Bulldogs and then oust the Davidson Wildcats after they pull the upset of the Marquette Golden Eagles.  Once they get that far, who knows what can happen.

Who will disappoint?

Answer: Indiana Hoosiers – Again, being the top seed has its privileges, and its drawbacks.  The Hoosiers have been their own worst enemy when they’ve lost this season.  They just seem to lose focus.  I don’t see them keeping it for three straight weeks.  If they do, they could win it all.  If they don’t, they could suffer a worse fate than the Sweet 16 ouster I’ve predicted for them.

Final Four

As you can see, in breaking down the regions, I gave you my Final Four picks.  Louisville out of the Midwest region vs. New Mexico out of the West region.  Kansas out of the South region vs. Syracuse out of the East Region.

I’m picking my Louisville Cardinals to once again overcome the New Mexico Lobos.  They battled last season in the round of 32.  This time the stakes are higher, but the outcome will be the same.  The Cardinals take a close one.  The Kansas Jayhawks will end the improbable run by the Syracuse Orange on the other side of the bracket; setting up a Louisville vs. Kansas matchup for the National Title.

I’m picking the Louisville Cardinals to get their third National Championship.  Final score: Louisville Cardinals 72 Kansas Jayhawks 65.