With so many freshmen and sophomores on this Cleveland State team and a swath of departures in the off-season, it was pretty clear to fans that this was going to be a rebuild for the Vikings this year. And with any rebuild, the focus is more on the development and overall learning process, rather than wins and losses.
As Cleveland State nears the end of this campaign with four games left before the Horizon League Tournament, head coach Gary Waters has seen enough of his team to have learned at least one thing.
He’s not happy at all, particularly with the offense.
Nobody can really be surprised at this. Every contest, it seems, plays out in much the same way.
- Play well enough to lead or at least stay close with your opponent.
- The opponent makes an adjustment that neutralizes whatever offense you had.
- Your defense suffers because of mistakes caused by the subsequent offensive miscues (poor shots, turnovers, etc.).
- Attempts at a comeback fall short or worse, don’t exist at all.
Replay any of the Viking losses this season, and you will see a variation of this very process every time. The wins that have been tallied almost appear as outliers at this point, and fading away further and further into the past.
Both losses this past week reflect this as well, but none likely stings worse that Cleveland State’s overtime defeat at the hands of UIC. In a battle of young teams, the Flames, this time, won out. And to make matters worse, the Vikings because the first Division I opponent that UIC has beaten, which is a most dubious distinction.
And despite what appeared to be a breakout game for sophomore Kenny Carpenter, who finished the game with 24 points, his final shot to end regulation, coupled with key miscues by Rob Edwards and a pair of missed free throws by Jibri Blount, proved to be CSU’s undoing.
In Thursday’s 61-53 home loss to Detroit, Cleveland State was poised to ride the wave of Demonte Flannigan, who had notched 19 points in the first half and kept the Vikings close to the Titans. But after Detroit switch over to the 2-3 zone, a defense that has given CSU constant headaches, the Titans took control, led by a hot-shooting Chris Jenkins, who sank six three-pointers, and Paris Bass, who grabbed an astounding 17 boards.
Not helping matters was yet another Cleveland State brick-fest from beyond the arc. At a 15 percent clip (3-for-20), the Vikings, who had gotten locked up in the paint in the second half, didn’t stand a chance.
It has finally gotten to the point where Waters is open about evaluating what he’s got in place as far a personnel is concerned. And he’s not being very shy about it what needs to change anymore.
“We’re cleaning this house,” Waters said about the offensive problems his team has had, as posted by writer Tom Mieskoski. “A year from now, there will be five other guys who can hit threes.”
It doesn’t take much to read into this statement. At the moment, Waters doesn’t see the offense improving anytime soon. And clearly, he’s not finding a lot of hope that this is going to turn around for next year, either.
So, the logical conclusion that that CSU is going back to the drawing board for 2016-17. This, of course, isn’t exactly news.
Edwards does remain the best offensive power for the Vikings regardless. The problem has been that without a second option and with defenses shutting out the interior, Edwards is forced to put up shots that have very little chance of falling, as was evidenced by his 2-for-10 night against the Titans.
Andre Yates, who came back from his ankle and foot injuries against Detroit, has historically been a tough defender and a slasher in the paint and three-point shooting has never been his strong suit. And with defenses targeting the interior, his chances to score have become increasingly difficuly.
Carpenter’s inconsistency has likely played into Waters’ thought process, especially when he followed up his 24-point performance against the Flames with a 3-for-9 showing against the Titans. And Waters’ only other real shooter, Daniel Levitt, remains on the sidelines, though with an MRI not showing any damage to his knee that requires surgery, there is a faint glimmer of hope he’ll be back for tourney time.
A point guard was already on Waters’ list of needs, and ideally, he will find one that can also provide some firepower from the perimeter, as he’s had previously with Cedric Jackson, Charlie Lee and Norris Cole, who will be at the Oakland game on Saturday watching his No. 30 getting hoisted to the rafters along with women’s basketball great Kailey Klein.
There’s also a shooter already waiting in the wings for the Vikings. Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word will be active next season, and there’s already buzz about his offensive abilities. He’s certainly poised to be an option for Waters.
But even with those answers, many more questions remain as to the make-up of the Cleveland State roster next year. Who stays? Who goes? There are so many possible scenarios of redshirts juniors who can graduate in the spring and other players who may seek prospects elsewhere that the team fans see now could very well be entirely different come November.
So let the speculation begin. And knowing CSU fans (well, Cleveland fans in general), it’s already been going on.