What’s to say about this year’s edition of the Cleveland State men’s basketball team that hasn’t already been said?
There’s the loss of two guards, Sebastian Douglas and Bryn Forbes, the latter making headlines for transferring to Michigan State and receiving a hardship waiver, making him eligible to play this season instead of having to sit out the mandatory year.
There’s the gain of one and possibly two guards transferring in. Andre Yates finally gets to make his debut in a Viking uniform after waiting a year after his departure from Creighton. Plus, there’s Illinois State transfer Kaza Keane, who recently received a waiver to start playing this year.
Then there’s the oft-maligned frontcourt. Last season, Cleveland State was bolstered by the presence of senior Jon Harris, who brought in both much-needed rebounding and perimeter shooting that hadn’t been around in recent years. Harris has graduated, though, leaving junior star Anton Grady without a running partner.
Let’s not forget the long-standing trouble the Vikings have had in the middle. For all intents and purposes, Grady is not, nor should ever have been, the answer at center. He has always been best-suited as a power forward.
This is where the return of Aaron Scales from his redshirt year and the signing of Vinny Zollo come in. As long as the two are able to contribute at least 20-25 minutes per game in the middle, it will free Grady up to play at his more natural position and, more importantly, prevent him from being subjected to the wear and tear of going up against bigger bodies at center for an extended period of time.
Besides the losses of Douglas and Forbes, the starting backcourt hasn’t really changed that much, and will probably be the best it’s ever been. Senior Charlie Lee, whose first two years were marked with a great deal of inconsistency, seemed to break out last season, at times being the catalysts that Cleveland State has desperately needed.
Trey Lewis, the Penn State transfer, is entering his second year as a Viking, and has some lofty accolades already, being named a pre-season first team Horizon League player in nearly every major college basketball publication.
While Lee and Lewis remain stalwarts in the starting guard position, the question of depth undoubtedly will come to light. While Yates will certainly help address the depth issue, the remainder of that question will likely be answered by Keane and freshman Kenny Carpenter.
And what about Marlin Mason? This season will be his last chance to expound on the flashes of brilliance that he’s displayed over his past three years. But will he? Mason has proved to have some talent both in the paint and behind the arc, but seems to have always deferred to his teammates for most of his career at Cleveland State.
Now that Forbes is gone, Mason will have to step it up even more than he has. He’ll likely have the chance to play at the small forward position when coach Gary Waters opts to do so. But he will have to fix the issues that resulted in foul trouble for him last season, plus he will have to start being more sure of his shot. We’ve seen him have the ability to make shots. He just have to do it more often to cancel out Forbes leaving.
Then there’s the non-conference schedule.
Honestly, aside from road trips to Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth and Louisville, who on this schedule scares anyone? Toledo? This will be a home game for the Vikings this time, and a certain opportunity to avenge the narrow loss from last season at Toledo.
Cleveland State should absolutely not lose any non-conference games at the Wolstein Center this year. That said, who on earth thought it would be a good idea to schedule anyone, let alone non-Division I schools, on the same night as Cavaliers home games?
The Vikings have their home opener on November 17th against Tiffin. And no, Tiffin didn’t all of a sudden join the ranks of Division I. You can also imagine what’s going on down the street at Quicken Loans Arena the same night. That’s right. The Cavs will be hosting the Denver Nuggets.
You’d like to think this was an isolated incident, but Cleveland State-Jacksonville State takes place on the same night as Cavs-Spurs (November 19th), and the Vikings take on another non-Division I opponent Mt. Vernon Nazarene when the Cavs play the Charlotte Hornets.
There’s no doubt that Cleveland State will win these games. It’s too bad nobody will likely be around to see them.
As far as the Horizon League goes, the Vikings will likely finish second. Wisconsin-Green Bay remains the odds-on favorite to win the conference, and senior point guard Kiefer Sykes is, by all accounts, this year’s mid-major darling when it comes to NBA draft prospects. And why not? The 5-11 Sykes has ridiculous vertical leap and outstanding ball-handling skills. It should remind Cleveland State fans of Norris Cole a little bit. Greg Mays and Jordan Fouse will also give the Vikings plenty of headaches as well. Most pundits have the top two spots going either way, but the leadership of Sykes gives the Phoenix a slight advantage.
Valparaiso should have been the one team that would be going toe-to-toe for that second spot against Cleveland State, but the recent knee injury by Lexus Williams will be a blow to the young Crusaders squad, and they will likely finish third. Detroit, led by Juwan Howard, Jr., may surprise some and compete with the Vikings, but the Titans don’t appear improve enough to overtake the top three teams, so fourth place is probably where they’ll end up.
Wright State, the team that upset Cleveland State in the Horizon League Tournament last year, will likely not repeat that feat this season, having lost all of their starters from last year. However, returning guard Reggie Arceneaux and Butler transfer Crishawn Hopkins might have a little something in store for the Vikings, so fifth place is as good a spot as any for the Raiders to finish.
Oakland lost a huge piece in Travis Bader, and Corey Petros won’t be enough to keep the Grizzlies from a sixth-place finish. Defending Horizon League tournament champ Milwaukee is in rebuilding mode, as is Youngstown State, and will finish seventh and eighth, respectively.
Rounding out the conference teams, as at seems they are every season, are the Flames of Illinois-Chicago. Last place is once again their destination, and the only plausible reason why Howard Moore will retain his job as head coach is because it would be far too expensive to buy him out.
In the end, unless there’s some great collapse or surprise by any of the Horizon League teams, Cleveland State will, in all likelihood, win 20 games once again but get stopped by Green Bay and therefore end up in the NIT. In other words, the Vikings will probably win enough games not to anger too many people. However, given their professional competition down the street, they likely won’t see an outpouring of new fans, either.
There is one last thing. Last season, Cleveland State, for some odd reason, accepted an invitation to the CollegeInsiders Tournament, which seemed to be a horrible, hastily thrown together type of deal. If the Vikings do fail to make the NCAA or NIT, they would do well not to consider this train wreck of a tournament as a viable option. Just call it a season.