After Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Akron, one thing was made very clear: Cleveland State, as a whole, is not a bad team. The problem is that this year, the Vikings are going to drive fans utterly insane.
While the preseason expectations have been pretty low, by all accounts, there has been some reason to think that CSU will outperform predictions. Even head coach Dennis Felton is optimistic that his team will overachieve this season.
“We want to be better than we are supposed to be,” Felton said to The Reserve prior to the start of the season. “What that translates to in term of wins and losses, there is no way for me to know that.”
And for the first half of the Zips game, the Vikings absolutely were better, out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing Akron at every turn. Unfortunately, some of the old Cleveland State bugaboos (poor three-point shooting and foul troubles), along with some new ones (the abysmal 40 percent from the free-throw line) ultimately cost CSU the game.
Then the Vikings ran into Rutgers on Tuesday.
The Scarlet Knights pushed Cleveland State around in the second half. That, coupled with the fact that the Vikings decided that this wasn’t really the game for the offense to show up, led to a 70-38 drubbing.
It’s not hard to see why, two games in, fans are dread what lies ahead. Offensively, the five seniors (Terrelle Hales is currently out) are averaging 24 points per game. The team as a whole is shooting 14.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the free-throw shooting has been even more atrocious.
All of this said, however, this can be viewed less as a failure on Felton’s part to work with what he has and more as an indictment on Gary Waters’ dwindling recruiting prowess in his final years as head coach. With an entire recruiting class (2015) no longer on the team and his 2014 and 2016 classes unable to match their defensive intensity with even a glimmer of offense, Felton’s first year was doomed from the start.
As Cleveland State preps for its home opener against Coppin State, fans have to be wondering what the appeal of this team will be as the season wears on. And while Felton will remain optimistic on his team’s performances in the coming months, the people he’s trying to convince to buy tickets, an already historically cynical bunch, are apt to disagree.
When you go beyond the surface, it looks as if Felton has already taken the frustrations of this season into consideration and has started building the foundation from which he’ll rebuild the program.
If you need any further proof of this, look no further than freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby. Kenic, the 6-9 Serbian, has already landed a spot in the starting lineup, and it isn’t very hard to see why.
With a dearth of offensive options for the Vikings, Kenic, in the first two games, has stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he currently leads the team in three-point shooting. Appleby, on the other hand, has provided a spark off the bench and clearly has shown no fear as it comes to slashing to the basket, as he did on more than one occasion in the first two games.
As freshmen, of course, there is certainly room for improvement for both players. Kenic will need to further develop his presence on the offensive glass, while Appleby will need to boost his free-throw shooting. And as the season wears on, Felton will look for ways to cut down their turnovers (both average three per game).
However, if you’re a casual fan and don’t want to get caught up in the frustration of the roller coaster this season is looking more likely to be, there’s always next year.
The one gift Waters gave Felton was a great deal of flexibility in recruiting. And with only two Waters holdovers (Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne), that has given Felton opportunities to shape the Viking roster in his own image.
In addition to Kenic and Appleby, you can expect to see more of Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith once he’s finished completing his three-game suspension for breaking team rules. There’s also freshman Shawn Christian, who has yet to see action. But with offense coming at a premium for CSU, what could it hurt to give him some minutes?
Even before the fall signing period began, Felton had already brought on some size with 6-8 forward Algevon Eichelberger, who will be available next year after transferring from DePaul. Cleveland State has also gotten Wayne (MI) Memorial combo guard Rashad Williams to sign at the beginning of the fall signing period and his AAU teammate, 6-9 forward Deante “Spider” Johnson, signed Wednesday. The Vikings have another verbal commitment Kenic’s Serbian teammate Uros Plavsic, whose 7-1 frame makes him the tallest player CSU will have had since Aaron Pogue.
The future for the Vikings looks far brighter than the present current looks like. Then again, as they say, it’s always the darkest before dawn.
Email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.
Image via CSUVikings.com