Tag Archives: Cleveland State Vikings

Has Great Become the Enemy of the Good at Cleveland State?

For many of us who attended Cleveland State in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was always an air of mediocrity that seemed to surround the campus. The overriding goal for most who were there was to go to school and get out of Cleveland as soon as possible. Having that mindset resulted in a campus that wasn’t terribly accommodating to anyone who actually wanted to hang out after classes were over.

This, of course, bled into Athletics. Though there were a handful of sports that did thrive, it always seemed to be under the radar of John Q. Student. And for men’s basketball, the one sport you’d think would grab the attention of the average student, there was about a 15-year span where mediocrity would have been an improvement.

As a consequence, those students who were a part of that scene back then ignored CSU, and, after graduation, essentially acted like they went to college at Witness Protection Plan University. This was especially true when it came to athletics and, more to the point, basketball.

Perhaps the greatest insult was the adoption of this silly plan to put up a large green curtain to block off seats at the 13,600-seat Wolstein Center to reduce the capacity to 8,500 and create, well, I’ve never really been sure what they were trying to create. Whatever it was, it didn’t really work.

That was prior to the arrival of Gary Waters as head coach. Since that time, the basketball team has finally gotten past the point of mediocrity, consistently winning 20 or more games in all but three seasons during his tenure.

It’s a safe assumption that CSU has a good team.

But as we have clearly learned, having a good sports team essentially nets you nothing in this town. Just ask the Indians how that works. Despite being closer to a championship than the Browns or the Cavs, and being far less dysfunctional to boot, the Tribe’s attendance has ranked at or near the bottom of all baseball clubs.

The same is true at Cleveland State. The Vikings have, for the most part, remained in the upper half of the Horizon League standings during the Waters era and yet, attendance at the Wolstein Center has consistently been at or near last in the conference.

Attendance, though, has never seemed to be a factor in terms of keeping Waters around. The winning, coupled with the academic achievement of his players, has already netted him an extension that will keep him here until he is 69, which means that CSU will be, in all likelihood, his last coaching stop.

But when you get that kind of contract extension, where is that motivation to move from good to great? Viking fans had only seen that once in 2008-09, when they broke a 22-year drought by making it to the NCAA Tournament.

Ever since then, it’s always been close, but no cigar. Here’s the breakdown of that’s gone.

2010-11: Norris Cole’s senior year. Cleveland State loses to Butler in the Horizon League tournament finals. Loses to the College of Charleston in the second round of the NIT.

2011-12: Senior-laden team that included Jeremy Montgomery and Tre Harmon. Lost in the Horizon League tournament semi-finals to Detroit. Loses to Oregon in the first round of the NIT.

2013-14: Team with best backcourt in the conference and Sixth Man of the Year Jon Harris loses in the Horizon League tournament semi-finals to Wright State. Loses to Ohio in the first round of the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament.

In each of these years, you saw flashes of brilliance for these teams. But in the end, it’s the same result. And sure, making it to a post-season tournament is a good thing. But when do we get to see more?

And more is what it would take for Northeast Ohio to stand up and take notice, because clearly this isn’t really the case now. This is also true of the thousands of students and thousands more alumni who could be at the games, but aren’t.

This seems to be just fine, though. Waters will say over and over again that he’s not satisfied with the lack of attention or the fact that his teams can’t seem to get over the hump and get back into the NCAA Tournament. But, in reality, is there any real motivation for this to happen?

Complacency seems to be the driver here. From the outside, it looks as if this program has been deemed good enough that there doesn’t need to be anything else to change. So what if nobody shows up to the game or pays attention to what’s going on? Everything is just fine.

And it seems as if good enough should be some sort of selling point for those who were around during the low days in the 1990s and early 2000s when it comes to getting them to watch the games in person.

So far, that strategy hasn’t worked, either.

It’s ironic that Waters came to Cleveland State when the entire campus was undergoing a change I never thought would come when I was either and undergrad or a graduate student. There is already so much more on campus than anyone who attended could ever have dreamed.

And yet, it seems as if good enough will be sufficient, and good enough will be something that doesn’t spur any aspirations to greatness in the near future. They’ve gotten over being mediocre, to be sure, but where’s the spark to be better?

The answer appears to be that there is no reason to have a spark, and as long as the team is still good, those who want greatness should just sit down and shut up.

If that’s truly the case, I hope they aren’t surprised when more and more fans stop paying attention and pretend like they went to school at Witness Protection Program University, too.

So Bryn Forbes Really Is Leaving

If this whole thing had drug out any longer, we could confuse this for a coaching search.

As it was reported a few weeks ago, Cleveland State guard and leading scorer Bryn Forbes has been considering a transfer out of the program and to Michigan State, potentially. It has also been reported that the ball is currently in MSU’s court, as they have yet to formally announce any interest in offering Forbes a scholarship to transfer.

Meanwhile, the Spartans have moved much more quickly on another guard in the form of West Virginia’s Eron Harris. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reportedly had no problem rolling out the red carpet for the 6-3 shooting guard, and both ESPN and CBS Sports have put it on record that Harris will be transferring to East Lansing and complete he last two years of eligibility there.

So where would that leave Forbes?

Good question. With the transfer of Harris, the Spartans seemed to be all set at the shooting guard position for the near future, meaning that Forbes was most likely going to be turned down for an invitation to join the team.

Harris’ stats out of Morgantown were more impressive than Forbes’, as Harris averaged 17.2 points per game with the Mountaineers, as opposed to 15.6 for Forbes. Izzo was also more impressed with the level of competition Harris faced, whereas Forbes, Kentucky aside, saw mostly mid-major opponents. Sure, it’s an unfair comparison, but clearly Izzo didn’t care about that.

Even if there is a chance that a move might be made, this would, in the end, not be the best choice for Forbes in terms of his basketball career. With the arrival of Harris, any chance that Forbes would get of having any significant playing time at Michigan State would essentially be wiped out.

For Cleveland State fans, Harris being chosen over Forbes plus the fact Forbes hadn’t previously asked to be released could be considered as a sigh of relief. However, as we’ve found out, this wasn’t the end of this saga. In fact, given that Forbes is basing his decision on personal grounds, as it was originally reported, then we may yet see him leave.

The only thing we’re missing at this point is the scheduling of a one-hour special that takes place at a Boys and Girls Club.

Instead, we’ve been greeted by a report from the Graham Couch of the Detroit Free Press, who has received word from Forbes himself that he will, in fact be making his way to East Lansing. This is backed up by confirmation from Cleveland State that Forbes has been released from his scholarship to make the transfer.

None of these events have exactly troubled the CSU coaching staff, who had already given Forbes their blessing to seek out other opportunities. As the benefactor of a player making a transfer decision based on personal reasons, as they did with Jon Harris last season, the Vikings clearly understand that if a player has things going on off the court that would necessitate leaving, they’re not going to stop him.

Clearly, the family issues that Forbes has faced, as opposed to any basketball-related, have been the primary driver of this decision.  As Couch has also reported, Forbes may, as Harris did with Cleveland State, seek a hardship waiver, given that his primary motivation is to attend to the ongoing medical issues with his sister.

If Michigan State had been off the table, though, there were still other opportunities for Forbes to get closer to his hometown. After all, both Western Michigan in Kalamazoo and Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant are much closer to Forbes’ home in Lansing than Cleveland is.  So, it’s safe to say that a move to a MAC school have been as much of a possibility than one to the Big Ten.

Lost in all of this, of course, was the growing probability that Forbes wouldn’t leave Cleveland State at all. Many CSU fans have spent weeks languishing over the prospect of losing their leading scorer and 2012-13 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year, which would come on the heels of the departure of their best defensive guard Sebastian Douglas.

During this time period, we’ve all peered through the lineup, which has been bolstered by the signing of forward Vinny Zollo and the return of Aaron Scales from his redshirt year. And even though a 1-2 punch that would be the loss of both Forbes and Douglas, it wouldn’t be entirely fatal. After all, Charlie Lee and Trey Lewis, both starters last year, would be back, and Cleveland State welcomes Creighton transfer Andre Yates, as well as freshmen Terrell Hales  and Kenny Carpenter, to the lineup.

If Forbes had indeed planned to come back to CSU for his junior year, the big question of veteran depth in the backcourt would have all of a sudden disappeared. The Vikings would absolutely have one of the deepest rotations in the Horizon League, and could potentially resurrect the debate on whether or not to redshirt Hales.

Plus, of course, Cleveland State would have brought back its top scorer and easily their best three-point shooter. On a squad that has preached defense since the arrival of Gary Waters, having some additional spark on offense never hurts.

Finally, the gigantic question mark that has surrounded the Vikings and their ability to compete for a conference championship would have also faded further away. While Wisconsin-Green Bay, led by senior guard Keifer Sykes, remains a favorite, a Cleveland State team with Forbes and a deeper frontcourt would certainly have had something to say about that.

But, in the end, it didn’t work out that way. And with Forbes all but gone back to Michigan, the Vikings now have to deal with the subsequent fallout of losing both a starter and their leading scorer, neither of which helps them in their quest to get to the top off the Horizon League heap.

The Norris Cole Conundrum

If you’re a Cleveland State student, alumni, faculty or staff member, you would think that this moment in time would be a sense of pride for you. Former Viking point guard Norris Cole, for the third time in as many season as he’s been in the NBA, has made a return trip to the NBA Finals in a return bout with the San Antonio Spurs.

But in this case, it’s kind of complicated.

We all know the reason why, of course. It’s because that Cole plays for the Miami Heat.

Yes, that Miami Heat, where Lord Voldemort himself, LeBron James, took his talents.

In retrospect, this should have been a much happier time for those associated with CSU. After all, it’s not every year that a player from a mid-major conference gets picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.

For Cleveland State, that road has been even longer. The last time a CSU player was picked was in 1986, when Clinton Smith, part of the Cinderella 1985-86 squad, was chosen in the fifth round. And you have to go back to 1981 and 1982, when Franklin Edwards and Darren Tillis were selected in the first round, respectively.

But we knew that day was close. The first sign that there might be a place for a Cleveland State player in the NBA was when Cedric Jackson, whose alley-oop dunk and hot shooting made him the clear star of the Viking’s upset of Wake Forest in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He was subsequently signed the next season to a series of 10-day contracts with the Cavs, Spurs and Wizards before going to play overseas.

As a good as Jackson was for CSU, his partner in the backcourt for the 2008-09 season, Cole, would prove to be much better. His road to the NBA should be major point of pride for Cleveland State. Anyone who’s followed the program for any length of time knows Cole was planning to go to Walsh University on a football scholarship, and CSU head coach Gary Waters was the only Division I school to offer him a chance to play basketball at the Division I level.

And he didn’t disappoint.

His stellar career with the Vikings was highlighted by his 41-point, 20-assist and nine-rebound effort against Youngstown State in 2011, a feat only matched by Blake Griffin. Ironically, it was Cole and the rest of the 2010-11 Cleveland State team that proved to be a ray of light amid the darkness of The Decision and the Cavaliers’ resulting collapse.

Plus he had the 90s-era flat-top, not only an homage to his father but a nice tip of the cap to old-schoolers everywhere.

With the performances he consistently put on game in and game out at CSU, ultimately ending in the NIT against the College of Charleston and another mid-major pro prospect in Andrew Goudelock, it seemed almost certain that the NBA was in Cole’s future. It was only a matter of where he’d land.

And then came the 2011 NBA Draft. Cole wasn’t the only Horizon League star up on the board that night. Butler’s Shelvin Mack, who had led his team to back-to-back NCAA championship games, was also available, and there was plenty of debate as to who would be chosen first.

By the end of the first round, it turned out to be Coe. And that’s where the conundrum began.

With their first-round pick (28th overall), the Chicago Bulls selected him. However, the pick didn’t make any kind of sense, as the Bulls already had a starting point guard in Derrick Rose and a capable back-up in C.J. Watson and John Lucas, Jr. Of course, with Rose’s injury troubles later in his career, Chicago might have been smarter to keep Cole.

Then the announcement came that the Bulls had traded Cole to the Timberwolves, which made even less sense. The year before, Minnesota had gone on an inexplicable spree of picking up guards, and had Rick Rubio waiting in the wings.

So, with all of these moves, one more head-scratching than the other, what was going to happen to Cole? Well, we got that answer soon enough. He had been traded one last time.

To Miami.

All things being equal, the move to Miami made sense. After all, he’d have plenty of time to learn the pro game behind Mario Chalmers. Plus, it was in American Airlines Arena where Cole and his Cleveland State teammates had shocked the world in the 2009 NCAA Tournament when they easily dispatched Wake Forest. Not only had Jackson created a name for himself, but Cole also showed the masses his defensive talents, locking up eventual lottery pick Jeff Teague the entire game.

But all of this, of course, was pre-Decision. It was also before the Heat became the embodiment of everything that went wrong with the NBA.

Still, CSU remained prideful of their famous alum, even it if smacked in the face of ire from Cleveland basketball fans. The height of awkwardness was when a large banner that was placed outside of the Wolstein Center in commemoration of Cole’s achievements.

And his devotion to his alma matter continues on, as he has sent numerous posts from his Twitter account about CSU, even beyond the regular discussion about his former team.

So, when it comes to Cole, you have a real internal struggle if you’re affiliated with Cleveland State in any way. On the one hand, you have arguably one of the most recognizable alumni since Tim Russert. On the other hand, you have you allegiances against the Miami Heat, for obvious reasons.

I’ve asked myself if it’s OK to be a Norris Cole fan and not be a fan of the Miami Heat. After all, wearing a Heat jersey in this town is akin to wearing a t-shirt with Art Modell’s face on it. And it doesn’t whose jersey it is, even a CSU guy.

So, until another Decision arrives, we will just have to continue to suffer this crisis of conscience.

The Underwhelming Extension of Cleveland State AD John Parry

When Lee Reed decided to leave as the athletic director of Cleveland State to take the same position at Georgetown in 2010, many fans had no clue who would succeed him. At the time, CSU opted to bring retired Butler University AD John Parry to temporarily assume the role.

So much for temporary.

The powers that be at CSU decided to lift the interim tag from Parry’s title in 2011, and allowed him three years. And recently, they’ve opted to add three more years to Parry’s tenure, extending his contract through 2017. Keep in mind, once again, that prior to coming here, he was retired.

From an athletic performance standpoint, the teams that are a part of the Cleveland State athletic program have essentially stayed the same, which is to say there’s been plenty of successes. This was capped off in 2013 with CSU winning a second McCafferty Trophy, the award presented by the Horizon League for the school who has excelled across all of the conference’s sponsored sports. And this year, Cleveland State’s men’s sports found themselves on top of the conference standings again.

Academically, Cleveland State athletics has also kept its momentum from the Reed era. That includes this past year, in which eight teams were recognized by the NCAA for having high academic progress rates (APRs). Men’s basketball is among the tops in all of Division I, which is in stark contrast to fellow Horizon League school Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which has been hit with a post-season ban in men’s basketball for its low APR.

Clearly, the message being sent with this extension is that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. However, despite all of these successes, something just doesn’t seem right about keeping Parry for three more years.

When you look at the overall success of Cleveland State athletics, many of those key contributors are holdovers from when Reed was in charge. So, it essentially seems like when Parry came in, everything was already on cruise control, and all he needed to do was not screw anything up.

And not screw anything up is what he’s done, at least in the eyes of the CSU top brass. But is that the plan for the future?

The angst over Parry possibly stems from one of his first moves as athletic director: The end of Cleveland State baseball. The program’s biggest issue was the lack of a true home field. Their nomadic existence took them all over the place, from Gordon Park to Euclid to, of all places, Lorain, a full 30 miles away from campus. From an outsider’s view, rather than bring the team closer to home, and subsequently eliminate the travel costs, Parry decided enough was enough, and shut things down.

Sure, from a business standpoint, this was probably the right move. But someone will have to explain to me in the future how the plan changed from building a baseball field on campus (which was in several proposed ideas during the Michael Schwartz presidency) to getting rid of it all together. It seemed like once Parry stepped in, baseball was doomed.

While this move may have rankled some, the most pressing issue among fans would be the outside attention given to men’s basketball, or a seeming lack thereof. While the Vikings have won consistently, less and less people have been showing up to games. The television deal Cleveland State struck with Sportstime Ohio has dwindled into nothing but what the Horizon League produces and a weekly show that is nestled somewhere between the Heartland Poker Tour and Beer Money. On top of that, game broadcasts on the radio have been limited to stations that barely reach outside of Cuyahoga County.

Worst of all, Cleveland State now has to fight for coverage with Akron and Kent State, as it now has to share one beat writer at the Plain Dealer, and he can’t be everywhere at once.

It’s bad enough that men’s basketball gets the bare minimum of coverage. Try being part of the women’s basketball team, or golf, volleyball or any of the other sports Cleveland State sponsors. They barely exist outside of Sports Information Director Greg Murphy’s Twitter feed to the public.

This can’t help with donations, either. That would likely explain why Parry has brought in a staff member who handles development. That’s got to be a rough gig.

Parry needs to make it a priority to improve the visibility of not only the athletic program’s crown jewel, but every other sport, because at this point, the lack of attention is borderline criminal. And it is this that should be the cornerstone of fan ire towards him.

I recently had a student athlete state very plainly that Parry brings a lot to CSU athletics. I’d really love to know what that is. It can’t be academic support. That was in place well before Parry stepped in. And it can’t be performance. All of the coaches who have been a part of the success of the program, for the most part, were also in place prior to Parry’s arrival.

So, what is it? What is that insurmountable evidence that justified a contract extension for a guy who was already retired before he even stepped on the Cleveland State campus?

Of course, we’ll never really get that answer. We’ll only get the occasional grumbling from someone telling us, “Oh, if you only knew.”

But I don’t. That’s why I’m asking. And I’m not the only one.

Cleveland State Transfer Troubles and Help Up Front

Amid conflicting reports from multiple news outlets in both Cleveland and Michigan, it appears that Cleveland State guard Bryn Forbes may be seeking life elsewhere in the form of Michigan State. As a Lansing native and with family close by, the move presumably would make sense to the 2012-13 Horizon League Newcomer of the year.

While according to the Plain Dealer and the Detroit Free Press, nothing has been finalized (Though the Cleveland Leader and WTAM’s Nick Camino disagree), all signs would appear to point to Forbes hitting the road out of Cleveland. History, as it turns out, is not on the side of the Vikings.

Over the course of the past three years, at least one player has transferred out of Cleveland State for a better situation in their mind.

Last year, it was Junior Lomomba. The much-touted recruit from Madison, Wisconsin by way of Montreal was started off slow due to a foot injury. Ironically, his playing time during his freshman year wasn’t high due to the emergence of Forbes. As a result, Lomomba decided to leave, and will play for Providence next season..

The year before, guard Ike Nwamu said good-bye to the Vikings, making Mercer University his school of choice. This past season, the Bears beat last season’s NCAA Tournament Cinderella team , Florida Gulf Coast, to take the Atlantic Sun conference crown and make their own way to the NCAAs.

At the end of the 2010-11 season found Cleveland State staring down the barrel of a mass exodus, as
Charlie Woods and Josh McCoy departed to play at Division II Missouri-St. Louis. On top of that, guard Anthony Wells also went the Division II route, taking off to play for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and back-up center Joe Latas went to Houston Baptist, though he had already graduated. Despite this, and the loss of Norris Cole to graduation and the NBA, the Vikings still managed to share the regular-season Horizon League title.

None of this even counts the 2009-2010 season, when all three Viking junior college transfers, Lance James, Jared Cunningham and Kevin Anderson, disappeared off the planet. Though, to be fair, 2010-11, which featured Cole as the superstar, made everyone pretty much forget those three.

Understandably, this trend shouldn’t sit well with anyone, from fans to the Cleveland State coaching staff. But it keeps on happening, and Forbes isn’t even the only one from this year. Ismaila Dauda, center from Polk Junior College, is also gone, transferring to North Florida.

The Vikings still seem to overcome this ongoing issue, posting 20-win seasons four out of the last six seasons. However, in this particular instance, this potentially represents a 1-2 punch to depth at the guard position that Cleveland State didn’t need to take.

As Forbes contemplates leaving, another stalwart of the Viking rotation looks to be gone as well. Sebastian Douglas, who has undoubtedly been one of the team’s best players off the best, not to mention a defensive force, has suffered from multiple issues in both knees. The situation has apparently gotten to the point where Douglas will need to call it a career.

The loss of Douglas was already a blow to the Cleveland State backcourt. Forbes leaving would blow a hole in the rotation, especially given that he averaged 15.6 points a game.

Even in this possible latest round of departures, Vikings head coach Gary Waters may very well move past this once again. First of all, he still keeps his primary two starting guards, senior Charlie Lee and junior Trey Lewis. He also has Creighton transfer Andre Yates, as well as freshmen Terrell Hales Kenny Carpenter.

At some point in time, though, Waters will have to figure out how to keep all of his players around for their entire careers.

While the backcourt depth gets thinner or, at the very least, more inexperienced, the Vikings may very well have gotten a shot in the arm with the signing of 6-8 forward Vinny Zollo and the return of 6-9 Aaron Scales, who spent the 2013-14 season as a redshirt.

Zollo comes to Cleveland after a long and winding journey back to Division I basketball. The Winchester, Kentucky native started his career with Western Kentucky, where he started 14 of 35 games and helped the Hilltoppers to an NCAA Tournament appearance.

After the 2011-12 season, Zollo went the juco route, spending last season at Northwest Florida State, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds a game in a crowded frontcourt.

Having Zollo and Scales in the rotation present an opportunity for Waters to keep forward Anton Grady from spending the entire season in the middle. While Grady has been used in that capacity, it’s clear that getting banged around by bigger centers will eventually take its toll. And as everyone saw in 2012-13, when Grady was out with a knee injury, he is the one player the Vikings can’t afford to lose again.

The expectations for both Zollo and Scales are pretty reasonable at this point. Even if the two average 10 minutes a game, it will an entire half in which Grady can play a more natural position at power forward. That was clearly the original goal when Scales was redshirt in favor of seniors Devon Long and Luda Ndaye. But Ndaye was hurt until the very end of the season, and it became clear that Grady and fellow forward Jon Harris proved to a more effective duo up front.

Another potential effect of the signing of Zollo, plus the potential departure of Forbes, is a shift at the 3. Traditionally, in the guard-heavy Horizon League, Waters has made it a habit of putting three guards out on the floor.

However, with Forbes possibly gone and Zollo having previously started in Division I, Waters now has the option of shifting Marlin Mason to the small forward position which, like Grady at power forward, would be a more natural position. This could also give Mason some additional scoring chances, which, as a 4, he appeared hesitant to take advantage of in spite of the ability to put the ball in the basket from multiple spots on the court.

Akron Zips Look to Get Their Season on Track at Cleveland State

by Ryan Isley

For most teams, a two-game losing streak would signal trouble. For the Akron Zips men’s basketball team, it just means it is time to get started.

The Zips (1-2) will return to action for their first game in what seems like months when they travel to Cleveland State Saturday to take on the Vikings (4-4). In reality, it has only been two weeks. But for a team who is trying to gel and find their identity, it may as well have been a two month layoff.

Akron will not only be facing the possible rust of having two weeks off, but also will be trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since November 28 – December 10, 2009. Of course, the two losses leading up to this game were both on the road against good competition, as the Zips lost at St. Mary’s 85-63 and then at Middle Tennessee 80-73.

“We played two very good teams on the road in St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee and I am sure they would have been very disappointed had we beaten them,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “We are disappointed we didn’t win but by the same token, the percentages were against us.”

In his now 10 seasons at the helm of the Akron basketball program, Dambrot’s teams have lost back-to-back games just 14 times, including just three losing streaks of three games. Like the streak they are in the midst of now, 10 of their 14 losing streaks have included games on the road or at a neutral site.

What has been more impressive than the lack of losing streaks is how Akron has responded when one does happen.

Following losing streaks of two or three games, the Zips have run off stretches of 10-2, 4-2, 7-3, 9-2, 12-2, 6-1, 9-2, 4-1, 5-3, 16-2, and most recently, 19-0 last season after losses at Creighton (December 9) and at Detroit (December 15).

 

Now Akron will face a battle-tested Cleveland State team, who has played eight games to Akron’s three, including a game at Kentucky in which the Vikings almost pulled off the upset of the young basketball season. The Zips won this match-up last season by a margin of 87-57 in front of their home crowd for their fourth win in the last six meetings between the two programs, but Dambrot realizes this is a much different set of circumstances.

“They have really improved. When you add transfers like Trey Lewis and Jon Harris and you get some of those other guys back healthy, all of a sudden you have a different team,” Dambrot said. “They are going to play with great toughness like (Cleveland State head coach) Gary (Waters’) teams always do and we are built similarly so it’s going to be a battle.

“They have a little bit of an advantage because it is at their place and they have been playing a little bit more than us but we will be ready to play.”

The reason Akron has not played as many games is because they will be traveling to Hawaii for the Hawaiian Diamond Head Classic Tournament over Christmas. Anybody who knows Dambrot knows this has been difficult for him, as he isn’t a fan of having too much time off between games and thinks it has slightly hindered their progression early in the season.

“This has been a weird deal for us,” Dambrot said. “You play the hand that you are dealt, this is the hand we were dealt, this is what we signed up for because of the Christmas Tournament. We just have to progress at a little different rate than we are used to doing.”

Due to the scheduling quirk, Akron came home for an exhibition last week in which they defeated Malone 77-65. While it wasn’t a regular season game, it was a chance for Dambrot to get a look at certain players, as the Zips played without Demetrius Treadwell and Jake Kretzer.

“We got to play Kwan (Cheatham) a little bit more, we got to play Nyles (Evans) more than he normally would have played. (Nick) Harney played a little bit more (as did) Reggie McAdams and Deji (Ibitayo),” Dambrot said. “Those guys are going to be important parts for us and they all got to play which was good for us.”

The game against Cleveland State could set the Zips up for another of those patented Dambrot runs, as they will return home for their next three games before heading to Hawaii. They will host Bethune-Cookman on December 14, Oral Roberts on December 16 and then Detroit on December 18. It will also be a relief for the Zips to flip the calendar to December, where they are 44-19 under Dambrot, including a mark 31-3 at home.

“If we win this game, we are kind of set a little bit. We have some games at home against some good teams that we can win,” Dambrot said. “Most of the time when we play in our building, we are going to win. The good teams and win on the road against good teams. What we have to do is try to sneak one out at Cleveland State and then play at home for three games – that will help.”

So if the Akron Zips can pull one out this Saturday in Cleveland – a city in which they are 17-7 under Dambrot – it could be just what they need to kick start the season. And we have seen what that can produce.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Photo Courtesy: Akron Zips Athletics