Tag Archives: Kash Thomas

For Cleveland State, Next Year Has Arrived (But Not For Everybody)

The Cleveland State men’s basketball season, the first for head coach Dennis Felton, has finally come to its end. At this stage, most CSU fans have just resided themselves watching the future, which clearly rests on the shoulders of sophomores Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne and freshmen Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic, rather than hope the present would get any better.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season: The Vikings got hot at Motor City Madness. All the way to the final game.

CSU, for its part, could have just rested on the first-round win over Youngstown State, which, of course, was a grind until the very end. The long odds and shot turnaround time from the victory against the Penguins would make any Vikings fan skeptical of beating Northern Kentucky, which had bested CSU by double digits twice in the regular season, let alone get to the final game.

But yet, there the Vikings were, fighting through nail-biter after nail-biter. And for the third year in a row, the top seed at the Horizon League Tournament failed to win the whole thing. And for the second year, the No. 1 seed inexplicably lost to the winner of the 8-9 first round game.

This year’s victim was Northern Kentucky, who, aside from getting swept by Wright State, had been pretty well-set at the top of the conference standings. And as for Cleveland State, the Norse had no issues dispatching of the Vikings twice in the regular season, with both contests won by at least 15 points.

CSU dismissed those early-season setbacks and ran headlong into the defending champions with no fear. The end result was a nine-point Cleveland State win, and Appleby was the star. The All-Freshmen team selection was unconscious in the second half, finishing with a game-high 24 points and putting all conference foes on notice that he’d be a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The ugly defensive slugfest against Oakland that was finally settled with 32.4 second left. That’s when Appleby stared down the Horizon League’s top shot-blocking squad and dropped a baseline layup.

And when that was through, senior Kenny Carpenter, whose 14 second-half points proved to be key, locked down Kendrick Nunn, the conference player of the year, and kept his final shot from getting in the basket, leaving Cleveland State with an astounding 44-43 win.

Even though Wright State proved to be too much for the Vikings in the finals, handing CSU a 74-57 defeat en route to a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the foundation, it appears, has been laid.

For the Cleveland State fans that took the wait-and-see approach with Felton in his inaugural campaign, the Motor City Madness run was an early payoff to their patience. And CSU, who did everything within its power to get fans to Little Caesars Arena, can now think about how to expound upon this late-season success.

There will be far greater expectations for both the on-court performance and fan enthusiasm. Even with six departing seniors, Felton will still return two full-time starters (Appleby and Kenic), one former starter turned sixth man (Thomas), Clayborne, Dontel Highsmith and Shawn Christian.

Add into the mix DePaul transfer Algevon Eichelberger, fall signees Rashad Williams and Deante “Spider” Johnson, plus Dibaji Walker, Seth Milner, Uros Plavsic and JUCO transfer Jalaam Hill, who are all expected to join CSU during the spring signing period. With the general consensus being that this is the most talented recruiting class in a long time, Felton will have to get them all adjusted to the Division I game quickly.

One sign he may get a chance to get the team on the same page quicker than, say, midway through the non-conference schedule, is the pending trip to Europe. Men’s basketball has already started the fundraising effort to get the $20,000 in funds to make that trip a reality. And with $4,635 already banked from CSU’s annual Giving Day event in February, it’s only a matter of time before the team gets the rest of the funds and can start packing their bags.

From a fan standpoint, Athletics must take a good, hard look at the effort put in during the conference tourney and parlay that into a plan to boost attendance at the Wolstein Center. The smart move would be to keep the summer social media push (which featured weekly videos and the blitz on Twitter involving the mascot, Magnus) going year-round.

The logical first stop? Spring signing day. After all, all the new recruits are on Twitter, along with Thomas, Appleby, Highsmith and Clayborne. The chatter between all of them in the off-season will be something to watch.

So, as the title implies, next year has arrived, but not for everybody. For the seniors, next year is here in the form of new adventures, both on the court and off, after graduation. For the underclassmen and recruits, next year comes in the form of getting to know each other and the prospect of making 20-loss seasons a thing of the past.

For the coaches, next year comes in the form of the spring signing period, along with taking a good, hard look at the recruiting class of 2019 and beyond. For the fans, next year comes in the form of, well, beating each other up on social media and the CSU Viking Hoops message board run by writer Tom Mieskoski.

For me and this column, however, there is no next year.

In January, I made the decision to stop the CSU column I have written since May 2014, starting at the now-defunct More Than a Fan: Cleveland and continuing here at Campus Pressbox in March 2016. It’s been a good run, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Sure, you’ll still see me break out the occasional Twitter rant, but as far as this column is concerned, that’s a wrap. There’s still plenty of news and views about Cleveland State out there, starting with Mieskoski’s Cleveland State Hoops site and including upstarts like 216 Sports and The Reserve News. You’d do well to follow all of them, as I have.

For someone who never thought he’d be writing anywhere ever again, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover my alma mater. And I thank all of you, both at Cleveland State and beyond, who made this possible. Because at the end of the day, win or lose, I will always be a fan.

An occasionally grouchy, angry fan, but a fan, nonetheless.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald

Image via CSUVikings.com

The 2017-18 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Overachievers Wanted

For a number of years during the Gary Waters era, Cleveland State developed a reputation for outperforming its initial slot in pre-season conference predictions.

Now, with the arrival of Dennis Felton, the Vikings, who had languished at the bottom of the Horizon League standings as a result of two consecutive 20-loss seasons, will have to beat the odds again in order to outpace low expectations.

Sure, patience is preached by many of the CSU faithful. But even Felton will tell you that patience will only get you so far in college basketball. And for a program with both a recent history of losing and a lack of fans showing up to the arena, the wait-and-see approach won’t win you new faces in the crowd.

However, you can almost feel the forgiveness for the potential of a third-straight losing season coming down the pike. Demote Flannigan and walk-on Tim Hasbargen have graduated, and leading scorer Rob Edwards has transferred to Arizona State. Edwards was joined in exiting by fellow Class of 2015 recruit Jibri Blount, who made his way to North Carolina Central, as well as walk-ons Daniel Levitt and Nelson Maxwell.

And those were the guys who actually played a minute for Cleveland State. Redshirts Gavin Peppers, Andy Lucien, and PJ Posey all chose new schools during the transition between Waters and Felton.

Still, even with all of these departures, you have to think that a team with six seniors on the roster should be able to rise above the low expectations set forth by, well, everybody.

And the focal point of this Viking attack must come from senior Bobby Word, who, along with sophomore point guard Kash Thomas, started all 31 games last season. Word, the Oral Roberts transfer, will need to improve upon his strong suit, three-point shooting, which fluctuated wildly during the 2016-17 campaign.

The remaining seniors will be fighting for a more prominent role, as none of them averaged more than 17 minutes per contest. The primary candidate on this front will be senior Anthony Wright, who will likely see a boost in playing time with the graduation of Flannigan, and sophomore Evan Clayborne. Also competing for time in the frontcourt will be seniors Derek Sloan, who started 23 games but only averaged 12 minutes, and Jamarcus Hairston.

Kenny Carpenter will also likely be using his senior year to make his case for additional minutes, as well Terrelle Hales, although Hales has established himself more as a rebounding threat rather than a scorer, which CSU desperately needs in the wake of Edwards’ departure.

Thomas, who made Cleveland State history to start every game as a freshman, is certainly poised to improve upon that initial campaign. Word will be one of Thomas’ primary benefactors, of course, but the Vikings will also look to some of the new faces on the squad, specifically Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith and incoming freshmen guards Tyree Appleby and Shawn Christian.

Felton has also made it clear that he’s expanding the CSU recruiting base internationally, as evidenced by the hiring of Drazen Zlovaric and the arrival of 6-9 forward Stefan Kenic, who spent this summer as part of the U20 Serbian National Team that competed in the FIBA Euro Championships. Rounding out the new faces are a pair of recent additions at the beginning of the fall semester, St. Ignatius grad Deven Stover and David Payne, who comes to the Vikings for Malcolm X College.

With all of the personnel changes with coaches and players, the leadership from the CSU veterans will have to shine through, particularly during the non-conference schedule. With teams like Rutgers, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Akron and Kent State on tap, among others, Felton’s squad is going to get to the New Year’s Day Horizon League opener against Youngstown State either battle-tested or completely demoralized. And given how the last two seasons under Waters went, the Vikings can’t afford for the latter to happen.

Moreover, Cleveland State, which has been picked anywhere from sixth to last in the conference by pre-season pundits, needs to aspire to the higher of those predictions. And while a Viking return to the upper echelon of the Horizon League would take a Herculean effort, another 20-loss season would smack in the face of any patience fans may have.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Surprise Twist Ending to Cleveland State’s Twin Bill Versus Horizon League Leaders

Things haven’t gone Cleveland State’s way at all this year, which has prompted the fans that haven’t lost interest to wonder if this season is a repeat of the dreadful performance last season.

And on Saturday against Valparaiso, the Vikings once again let offensive woes erase a first-half lead. Like a broken record, CSU also found itself digging a double-digit hole that it had to dig out of, which, in the end proved to be insurmountable. As a result, the Crusaders, who were fighting for a top spot in the Horizon League standings, came away the victor.

The box score from the Viking loss reads like many of the others this season: A player on the opposing team (in this case, Valpo’s Alec Peters) goes off (30 points), CSU gets woefully rebounded (43-25); Three-point shooting is abysmal (33.3 percent; worse if you take away Bobby Word’s 4-for-9 performance), and so on.

Needless to say, the prospects for Monday’s match-up against Oakland at the O’Rena looked pretty grim. The Golden Grizzlies were looking to bounce back from an inexplicable loss to cross-town rival Detroit, and the Vikings, who haven’t won on the road all season, looked to be the perfect team to take their frustrations out on. Plus, given CSU’s lack of size in the frountcourt, Oakland, led by Jalen Hayes, were poised to have a field day and add to its already robust block total.

So, given all the advantages the Grizzlies had going for them and how the Vikings have found it hard getting out of jams they’ve gotten into this season, all signs pointed to an easy Oakland win. Add to that the fact that Cleveland State broke out the black jerseys again, which, over the last few years have been about as much luck as a black cat or the Buffalo Bills in the 90s.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout: The Vikings played their best game of the season. Not only that, CSU never trailed the entire game and came out of the O’Rena, which is notorious for being the toughest place in the conference to play, and won handily, 76-65.

Not surprisingly, the key to the Viking win was Rob Edwards, who was celebrating a homecoming of sorts, having graduated from Cass Tech in Detroit. The sophomore guard played the game of his career, scorching Oakland for 32 points that included nailing four three-pointers. He also led the team with seven rebounds and was, by all accounts, unstoppable.

And while Hayes did make his presence known, dropping in 25 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds, Cleveland State kept the rest of the team at bay. It also helped that the Golden Grizzlies were absolutely horrendous beyond the arc, making only two three-pointers in 18 attempts.

The Vikings also succeeded in keeping Oakland from swatting them out of the gym, holding the Grizzlies to only four blocks in the contest. Rebounding also was in Cleveland State’s favor, finishing the game with a 36-32 advantage on the glass.

It was freshman Kash Thomas, though, who provided the biggest jolt for the Vikings. The point guard ended with 16 points in 35 minutes, and Oakland didn’t seem to have any answer for either him or Edwards. In an up-and-down campaign for the first-year player out of Montreal, this win could be seen a checkmark on the plus side for Thomas.

While the win against the Grizzlies can be, by all accounts, considered a marquee victory for Cleveland State, the trip to Wisconsin looms. And for the Vikings, the road games against Green Bay and Milwaukee have always been daunting, even as the Panthers have found themselves near the bottom of the Horizon League standings. With that, CSU needs to notch at least a split of the two-game set, or the outlook for the second half of the conference slate looks much bleaker.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Returns Home (Sort Of) Battered and Beaten

It has really gotten to the point at Cleveland State where it’s become extremely difficult to figure out if there’s any progress happening. The initial returns did indicate that maybe, just maybe, the Vikings would avoid the fate that felled them last season. And let’s face it, nobody wants to see a repeat of last year.

But even with leaving the 101-70 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky out of the equation (since the Wildcats are putting that kind of hurting on all opponents this season), the measure of progress is looking harder to find.

And when Cleveland State continues to make the same mistakes over and over again (Read: long scoring droughts, giving up double-digit leads, etc.), it makes anybody wonder if the cycle of misery experienced from 2015-16 isn’t coming back to rear its ugly head.

Making matters worse is what appears to be a decided lack of depth, in spite of a rather robust rotation that coach Gary Waters has utilized. This has become a particularly glaring issue at point guard, where Gavin Peppers is still out of the rotation with a bone bruise on his foot.

Freshman Kash Thomas, as promising as he has been early on, has also run into some issues that his inexperience and a dearth of help in the rotation have brought to light. Kentucky and, most recent, Arkansas State have been able to target him on defense and, as a consequence, make him a non-factor on offense, as evidenced by limiting him to zero points in the first halves of both contests.

Now, the injury bug has come to claim Rob Edwards, CSU’s leading scorer, even as Demonte Flannigan and Terrelle Hales have come back from early health issues. A hand injury resulted in him sitting out of practice prior to the road trip against the Red Wolves. And limited to 22 minutes in the 78-51 rout at the hands of Arkansas State, Edwards was held scoreless.

In fact, with the Vikings sporting a 1-5 record, it seems as if the only highlight of the upcoming home game at Quicken Loans Arena against Bethune-Cookman is the return of a Cleveland State great. The Wildcats are coached by Gravelle Craig, who was part of the 1992-93 Vikings squad that tore through the Mid-Continent Conference (now called the Summit League) en route to a regular-season title.

For his part, Craig garner first-team all-conference honors (to go along with his second-team honors the previous year) and honorable mention All-American recognition from Basketball Weekly that season. His 5.5 assists per game remains the all-time record for dishes in CSU history.

The emotional boost that will be part of this Ohio homecoming for Craig, along with several members of the Bethune-Cookman roster and staff (including senior writer Dan Ryan) won’t be the only thing the Vikings will have to contend with. Cleveland State will also have to find an answer for the Wildcats’ junior guard, Brandon Tabb.

The 6-5 juco transfer has been on a tear, and was recently named MEAC Co-Player of the Week. Tabb’s 22.1 points per game also leads the conference and ranks him 22nd in the entire country, plus he is second nationally in three-pointers made.

With as many issues as the Vikings have had defending beyond the arc, even in their sole win against Canisius, having Tabb go off on them won’t help matters. And with the Bethune-Cookman faithful seemingly more excited about the game at the Q than Cleveland State fans are, the last thing Waters needs is reinforcement of his assertion that games at the home of the Cavaliers are little more than neutral-site contests to him.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

CSU Is a Case Study in a Tale of Two Teams

As I mentioned in my last column, this year’s Cleveland State squad will do things that will drive fans crazy, as the young players adjust to the college game and, more importantly, each other. Little did any of us know that one of those “make you crazy” moments would come to pass so quickly.

That moment, of course, came in the first half of the Vikings’ match-up against Tennessee-Martin, which was the second of four games that are part of the Bluegrass Showcase. With Cleveland State playing horrendously on offense, the Skyhawks had no problem taking advantage. And with 50 points in the first half, it appeared that even the signature Viking defense had all but fizzled away.

Being down 50-23 to open the second half, Cleveland State fans were probably shuffling for the remote control to find the Cavs game. But much like the opening contest against Kent State, when the Vikings found themselves down 20, the comeback began.

And throughout the second half, Cleveland State chipped away at the UT-Martin lead, getting it down to single digits and, thanks to a pair of Jibri Blount free throws, got as close as 70-66. In the end, though, the deficit proved to be insurmountable, as the Skyhawks prevailed, 85-74.

Fans will tell you that are no such things as moral victories, but with the type of team the Vikings have right now, you’ll take what you can get. And yes, fans should expect that no matter the circumstances, Cleveland State has to get into the habit of playing for the entire game, rather than let the opponent run of the score in the first 20 minutes.

That said, the second half of the UT-Martin game proved that the Vikings are capable of some serious damage. Cleveland State forced the Skyhawks to cough up the ball 16 times in that half, and outrebounded them, 22-17. For a Viking squad that was already short on size, with senior Demonte Flannigan still out of the lineup, being able to outmuscle UT-Martin on the boards was nothing short of a miracle.

However, with the third game in the Bluegrass Showcase coming up against Kentucky, there is absolutely no room for error. The top-ranked Wildcats, through their first four games, have been tearing their opponents apart. That includes drubbing then-No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48, on the Spartans’ home court.

And Kentucky hasn’t been taking it easy on the Bluegrass Showcase foes, either. In fact, the Wildcats essentially used its wins against Canisius and Duquesne as glorified exhibition games. Kentucky used its sensational backcourt to roll the Golden Griffins, 93-69. Then, after cruising against the Spartans, the Wildcats hammered the Dukes, 93-59.

Not helping Cleveland State’s prospects on Wednesday is the fact that its dearth of size will be exploited by Kentucky, as 6-10 freshmen Edrice Adebayo will be leading the charge in the frontcourt. And as promising as the Viking guards have been with Rob Edwards, Bobby Word and Kash Thomas, the Wildcats will counter with their three best scorers, Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox.

All signs basically point to a huge Kentucky win. But, as was evidenced by Cleveland State’s fight with the Wildcats in 2013, you can never count out a Gary Waters-led team.

Then again, if the Vikings don’t show up for the first half again, Kentucky, unlike CSU’s previous opponents, will have none of any sort of comeback and make things worse.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

 

Welcome to the Cleveland State Youth Movement

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters has always relied on senior leadership throughout his tenure to provide some form of stability to his squad. In years past, you could easy differentiate the successful teams from those that weren’t based on the number of seniors on the roster.

Using that as a measure, it’s rather easy to see that in years where only one senior played a role in the rotation, the Vikings struggled. This was true during the 2012-13 season, Tim Kamczyc’s senior year, and last season, when Vinny Zollo was the lone senior.

So, in a season as critical and as uncertain as this one is for Cleveland State, it’s a bit surprising that only one senior, Demonte Flannigan, is a part of this roster. And for the first two games against Kent State and Canisius, the Vikings didn’t even have him. Prior to the game against the Flashes at Youngstown State’s Beeghly Center, Flannigan was rushed to the hospital due to chest pains.

And he wasn’t cleared to play in the subsequent game versus the Golden Griffins, either, which left Cleveland State down three players, with Flannigan joining juniors Gavin Peppers and Terrelle Hales on the sidelines.

In the opening half of the Kent State game, fans could feel the sense of dread that dogged them all last year creep in. The Vikings were shooting blanks and going down by as much as 21 points with five minutes left in the half. Not helping matters was the fact that fans who couldn’t make the trip to Youngstown found themselves shut out of both the audio and video feeds online for a big chunk of that half.

But a funny thing happened on the way to navel-gazing. Cleveland State finally snapped out of what’s been a nearly year-long funk and did what it usually does when knocked down: fight back. And it was Jamarcus Hairston, the junior-college forward, who tossed in a three-pointer to force overtime against the Flashes.

Even though the Vikings ran out of gas and fell, 79-74, it seemed as if there may be some glimpses of what had been hallmarks of the program in the Waters era. And something else stuck out as noteworthy: The underclassmen, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, played a major role in the comeback.

In years past, Waters has been adamant about not starting freshmen right away. This was even true last year, as Rob Edwards didn’t get his first start until the Rhode Island game and Jibri Blount didn’t get the nod until the January 30th contest against Horizon League foe UIC.

However, it seems that necessity, and perhaps a superstar in the making, has prompted Waters to re-think his original notion. With Peppers out, Waters turned to freshman Kash Thomas to take on the role of floor general. And in the Kent State game, he finished with 13 points and nine assists.

And Flannigan’s absence has spurred on Evan Clayborne’s introduction into the rotation, chipping in four rebounds in 32 minutes against the Flashes.

The youth movement’s next test came on Tuesday night against Canisius, and impressively, the Vikings did something else fans haven’t seen in a while: provide a balanced attack against its foe. Five Cleveland State players, including Edwards, Blount, Thomas, junior Bobby Word and, coming out of nowhere, Derek Sloan, all scored in double figures en route to a 67-64 win.

Without a senior in the rotation at the moment, it appears that the Vikings have made the adjustments needed, making this a potential sign that the 2015-16 disaster will soon be a distant memory. With a very tough UT-Martin squad coming up and nationally-ranked Kentucky on the horizon, wins may be hard to come by in the near-term.

But as Waters would likely echo sentiments he’s conveyed in years past: Judge this team in January and February. Perhaps this year, that judgment will be that Cleveland State is back to where it usually is: Within shouting distance of the top of the Horizon League standings.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Vikings Open Season Plus a Scorer, Minus a Point Guard

Exhibitions, by their very nature, aren’t exactly supposed to tell us much. For the most part, teams use these as a tune-up for the wear-and-tear of the upcoming season. And since the opponent is typically a non-Division I school, most teams go into exhibitions with two goals: Stay healthy and don’t lose (like Detroit Mercy has done. Twice).

In Cleveland State’s case, though, there was an extra goal in mind going into its preseason tilt against Division II Tiffin. Since the Vikings were, by all accounts, scoring impaired last season, it was important for them to dip into the pool of new recruits to see who could be that second scoring option behind Rob Edwards.

And in CSU’s 89-67 win against the Dragons, it appears there may be more than one candidate for the job. And at least one of those hopefuls is a familiar face to Viking fans.

Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word, who has been widely touted for his ability to score, did exactly that on Monday night, finishing the game with 14 points in 25 minutes of work. In a competition for a spot in the starting rotation, it was Word who took the spot against Tiffin, and took full advantage of it, recording four steals to go along with his two three-pointers.

Kenny Carpenter staked his claim in the scoring role as well on Monday. While consistency was a question for the junior last season, the exhibition served as an opportunity to back up all of those off-season workouts with action. In his 16 minutes of action, Carpenter also notched 14 points, which included a pair of his own treys.

In fact, three-point shooting, which has, in recent years, given head coach Gary Waters bouts of indigestion, was surprisingly hot against the Dragons. And while nobody expects the Vikings to routinely shoot 43 percent from beyond the arc, the 10 three-pointers they made against Tiffin were a nice change of pace from the dearth of such shots last season.

The bad news, though, is that the Vikings will once again find themselves without the services of an experienced point guard in the short term. Junior college transfer Gavin Peppers, who was one of the frontrunners to start at the point this season, was seen in a walking boot. As Tom Mieskoski reported, Peppers has a rather significant bone bruise and will miss three to five weeks as a result.

While the lack of a true point guard may have been a major source of dread last season, there was a bright silver lining that came out of the exhibition that could allay fan fears, at least temporarily. The other point guard Waters signed, freshman Kash Thomas, appears to be up to the task to take on the court general role.

In his 29 minutes, Thomas had himself a highly efficient evening, recording four assists on only a pair of turnovers. And like many Cleveland State guards before him, Thomas seems to be quite the thief, finishing the game with four steals, tying Word for the team lead.

While the backcourt looks to be much-improved from the previous campaign, the frontcourt will likely remain a major issue. Perhaps it was because both Demonte Flannigan and Jibri Blount were limited to 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, but the Vikings were out-rebounded by their Division II foe, 42 to 32. It may be an omen of things to come against higher caliber opponents.

Now that the exhibition is out of the way, the real season begins on Saturday against Kent State at the NE Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which is being hosted by Youngstown State this year. Cleveland State kicks off its home slate next Tuesday against Canisius, a contest that is part of the Bluegrass Showcase.

Email Bob at [email protected].

Image via CSUVikings.com

The 2016-17 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters, throughout the course of one of the worst campaigns of his career last season, hinted that he wanted to start fresh for 2016-17. Nobody could really blame him, with a dismal 9-23 showing, a first-round conference tournament exit and turmoil at basically every turn.

Looking at what Waters has put together for this year, there’s really no telling what’s going to happen.

Even the college basketball pundits, in their annual prognostications, are varying wildly as to how the Vikings will end up in the Horizon League standings, from as high as fifth to as low as ninth. Even the official conference preseason rankings had CSU predicted to finish eighth.

Realistically, any of those predictions could be right because, honestly, nobody has a clue what Cleveland State is capable of.

One thing that can be said about this Viking squad is that the leader of this team is, in fact, a sophomore. That’s Rob Edwards. The All-Freshman guard, and pre-season Second Team All-Horizon League pick, seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring, with 12.4 points per game. For a team that ranked at the bottom of all teams (not just the conference) in scoring at 60.8 points per contest, to get that type of production was sorely needed.

The problem was, though, that Edwards was far more efficient off the dribble than he was running the point. Actually, that was Cleveland State’s problem for the duration of the 2015-16 season.

While so much was made of the transfers by Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, the one thing that really killed CSU was the lack of a true point guard. That wasn’t supposed to be a problem for Waters, but his depth in the backcourt disintegrated even before the season began.

Kaza Keane, who was projected to be the starter, returned to his native Canada to thrive with national champion Carleton University. And Myles Hamilton, the other pure point guard on the roster, imploded, starting the season suspended and ending up kicked off the team after a verbal altercation during the Green Bay game. That left freshman walk-on Nelson Maxwell, and a patchwork of shooting guards left to shoulder the load.

Waters wasn’t about to tempt fate this year, snagging Laramie County (WY) Community College’s Gavin Peppers and freshman Kash Thomas from Quebec. In addition to their skills at point guard, both can provide another need from beyond the arc, as Peppers and Thomas shot 37 and 44 percent, respectively, from three-point range.

Beyond alleviating the point guard issue, Edwards should get much more help in the scoring department with the Cleveland State debut of Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word. Averaging 8.4 points a game for the Golden Eagles, he saved his best for the end, including a 22-point effort against Loyola-Chicago in the CBI. Walk-on sharpshooter Daniel Levitt will also make his return after sitting out a huge chunk of the season with a knee injury.

As guard depth has long been a signature of the Waters era, it also means there’s probably going to be a risk of some odd men out, with playing time coming at a premium. Walk-on Tim Hasbargen from Germany will likely return to the end of the bench, now that the guard coffers have once again been filled.

But what of Kenny Carpenter and Terrelle Hales? Despite Hales’ strength on defense and Carpenter’s flashes of skill last year, the two juniors may find themselves on the outside looking in, especially if the bulk of the scoring is being provided by the backcourt.

Size is still a major issue for the Vikings, with no one over 6’8″. While this may not matter in the Horizon League contests (the key exceptions being UIC and preseason favorite Valparaiso), non-conference foes, such as Kentucky and Purdue, could have a field day.

That notwithstanding, there will be depth in the frontcourt, with the lone CSU senior, Demonte Flannigan, leading the way. As the team’s leading returning rebounder and second-leading scorer, the Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s product will need to keep out of foul trouble, an issue that plagued him much of last season.

Jibri Blount will also be providing key minutes at forward, coming back after his own impressive freshman year. Though hampered by an ankle injury down the stretch, Blount did make five starts last year.

They will be joined by 6’8″ juco transfer Jamarcus Hairston, a third-team Division II All-NJCAA player from Louisburg Junior College. Hairston, who averaged nine boards per game and possesses range beyond the arc, could be an x-factor for the Vikings, in terms of stretching out the floor.

A pair of other unknown quantities on the frontcourt will be another juco transfer, Anthony Wright, and Evan Clayborne, a freshman from Dayton Thurgood Marshall. Derek Sloan will also be returning for his junior year and, like Wright, will be rotating between guard and forward slots.

With so much change, Waters appears to be in win-now mode, perhaps for the first time since he’s been at Cleveland State. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Vikings are really wildcards when it comes to where they’ll finish out the season.

That leads to the biggest question of all. If Cleveland State should somehow come out on the low end of preseason predictions, what becomes of Waters?

Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that no matter the outcome this season, Waters would not face a day of reckoning until after a new athletic director is selected after John Parry retires.

Like the preseason predictions, Waters’ own future may very well be anyone’s guess.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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