Tag Archives: Trey Lewis

My Thoughts on the Decision, the Scandal, and the Future of Louisville Basketball

Last Friday around noon, I started seeing tweets about a press conference that the University of Louisville would hold, in which they would announce a postseason ban for the men’s basketball team this year. Obviously as a lifelong, fan of the Cardinals; and a fanatic about college basketball, that was quite a bomb to drop all over my Friday afternoon.

I knew this day would come, so I didn’t immediately smash anything within arms-reach. When I was younger, that would’ve been my immediate reaction. Instead I’ve chosen to give it a couple of days to allow the emotion of the situation to die down a bit; and organize my thoughts on the ordeal in its entirety.

There are a number of aspects to this story which need to be addressed, and I’ll attempt to approach each one of them individually, and present my opinions; and offer solutions when possible. I didn’t write anything about this situation when it surfaced last summer; but as a U of L fan, I have to put in my two cents, so here it goes.

The most important variable in this whole scenario is the decision made on Friday; a self-imposed, postseason ban on this year’s team. First of all, does this make sense? The answer is no. If the concern of University President Ramsey was to provide the NCAA with a pound of flesh, in order to avoid them taking more; why not do so before the season started? Doing so would have allowed Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to seek out a waiver to play elsewhere if they wanted to.

Clearly this is a move to try to avoid long-term damage to the program. Which, sure, yes, that’s important too. But ultimately, it’s just a weak, politically driven move. Save face at all costs, keep the program safe for the future, blah, blah, blah.

You knew at some point penalties were coming, regardless of how weak or strong this case, penalties were coming. So why not take your chances. Force the NCAA to impose the penalties. We all know it takes them years to do it anyway. Don’t take the moment away from the current players who were not a part of the situation. I realize this isn’t really an earth-shattering viewpoint, and it’s been said; but it bears repeating.

Then there’s the self-policing aspect of this whole thing. This certainly isn’t something new. It has been happening in the NCAA for years. I thought it was garbage last year when Syracuse did it, especially since there was a good chance they weren’t going to qualify for the Tournament.   I don’t think any better of it now.

First of all, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s akin to someone getting caught after robbing a bank, then offering to give back the remainder of the money; and in exchange, receiving no jail time. Personally I think the penalty for violations should be loss of scholarships. Nothing else has as significant of an impact.

Sure, playing in the NCAA Tournament is important. But taking away scholarships may facilitate a schools lack of participation, by proxy. If you don’t have enough scholarships, you can’t recruit as effectively. If you can’t recruit the types of players necessary to win consistently, you won’t be in the tournament. You’ve now effectively penalized a school for their indiscretions; and it will be on them to operate efficiently going forward, in order to get back in the game.

After Louisville played on Saturday, Rick Pitino offered an alternate solution. The penalty would be a $10 million fine to the school in violation; along with the Head Coach losing half of his salary; regardless of whether or not it could be proven he was involved.

Okay, not bad, but my concern would be where that money goes. The NCAA isn’t exactly a beacon of light, so I don’t really trust them to handle that cash. Next thing you know, every school in America will be found to have violations; and the coffers of the NCAA will be filled. Personally I’d pass on this option.

Caught up in this whirlwind, are the current U of L players. Garnering particular sympathy, are Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Both of these young men transferred from mid-major schools Drexel, and Cleveland State, respectively. They’re seniors, who will now have no opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.

That is the battle cry that many Cardinals fans are championing after this decision. While I agree with them, it’s not only because of Damion and Trey. Don’t get me wrong, I really like these guys. However, transferring to a school that routinely participates in the Big Dance doesn’t guarantee you anything.

The decision wouldn’t have been fair if it was done this year, next year, or the year after; because none of these kids were involved with the alleged violations. If the University decided to impose this ban next season, it wouldn’t have been fair for Mangok Mathiang. He’ll be a senior, and a guy who will have been with the program for five years. Is it more fair to take away his senior season? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, simply due to the nature of the beast, future teams will always be the ones penalized for past indiscretions. No matter what school you’re at, the guilty parties are typically long gone. Again, that’s why I think scholarship loss, in addition to suspensions of the Head Coach are, better options.

Now, I do want to bring Damion Lee and Trey Lewis back into focus for just a moment. Due to this announcement, the spotlight has suddenly been turned directly onto them. Most of the attention is good; and people feel for them. That’s great, and they certainly deserve it. They’re both great guys, work hard, and have been leaders. As a Cardinals fan, I couldn’t ask for more; thank you guys.

On the flip side, there have been a number of college basketball analysts who have decided that this is a perfect time to rip them to shreds. Suddenly, the fact that they’re both graduate transfers makes them traitors. Suddenly, they left their former schools in the lurch. Are you [insert bad word] kidding me!

Funny how many of these same people are on the side of the athlete when it comes to leaving school early, or jumping straight to the NBA. In those situations, it’s all about what’s right for the athlete. So a kid transferring to a more prestigious school, after having spent a number of years at a mid-major, is a betrayal huh? What a joke.

Transfers have to meet specific requirements in order to actually do this. One of those being, that they have to transfer to a school that offers a graduate degree program not offered at their current school. The previous school also has to grant their blessing. So don’t tell me about kids betraying a school. The universities get plenty of mileage out of them while they’re there.

Graduate transfers have been taking place for years. They have become more prominent in the last decade or so. In my opinion, the ability to transfer in this manner is actually a way to true-up a kids recruiting. In an era of over hype, and instant gratification, plenty of “top recruits” underperform at major schools.

Kids like Damion Lee and Trey Lewis both outperformed the level of school they ended up at. Why shouldn’t they be afforded the opportunity to now choose a high major school, and compete at the level they dreamed they could? They’ve earned it. They also earned the right to play in the NCAA Tournament.

If the powers that be at the University of Louisville deemed it necessary to take that away, they should’ve done it as soon as this news broke. That way, Trey Lewis could’ve been playing at Xavier and Damion Lee at Maryland or Arizona; enjoying a shot at the title. Regardless, not one person should be acting like these guys deserve some punishment for choosing to transfer. Save your “Karma is a bitch” sentiment. It’s as stupid your superstitious beliefs. Phew, moving on.

So then there’s the actual case. As fans, most of us never want to believe it when extracurricular activity takes place. I certainly won’t suggest that nothing happened here. I believe that Andre McGee had an arrangement with Katina Powell. I’m sure some money changed hands. I also don’t believe there’s much more to it than that.

Sure, that alone would have penalties assigned to it. McGee was a member of the basketball staff, so anything he did, or attempted to do to try to lure recruits, would be a violation. What is irksome though, is that still to this day, not one thing has been concretely proven. Not one thing.

The hundred page pamphlet they classified as a book has pictures of people hanging out at parties fully clothed. Heavens to murgatroid, how could they do that! Powell’s so called ledger is a compilation of vague information, unconvincingly scrawled on notebook paper. How that amounts to evidence, I just don’t get.

Players already on the team were mentioned, like Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell; along with former players like Terrence Williams, who was already gone to the NBA. Russ was a lightly recruited, two-star athlete coming out of high school. No one was using additional means to try to lure him anywhere. Needless to say, there are holes in the story.

For months the Powell camp kept indicating that she has piles of additional evidence that hasn’t been produced yet. I ask this question, because I haven’t heard it asked enough; why wasn’t it in the book then?

If your intent was to bring this to light, so that those participating in these indiscretions are brought to justice, why not write a much more detailed book, with every piece of evidence possible? There was no timeline to finish this. If all of this evidence existed, they could’ve written an entire series of books, and really blown the doors off the University. That way, the case would be open and shut. It doesn’t add up that they would leave critical evidence out of the book.

Now, people will, and have asked, “Why would U of L self-impose sanctions, if they weren’t told of more evidence being uncovered?” That’s a valid question, but there’s a simple answer. For the same reason people plea bargain in court when not guilty; the fear of greater punishment, based on the appearance of impropriety. Like I said, if I were in charge, I’d go Colonel Jessup, and tell the NCAA that if they want to investigate me, they could roll the dice and take their chances. But I’m a stubborn SOB, and I’d probably get the book thrown at me.

I don’t believe that there’s any more to this case than there was in October when everyone took a hiatus from talking about this. In my opinion, U of L was simply informed that they were going to be facing sanctions regardless, and chose to try to soften the blow with this peace offering.

Again, I’m not saying that the program isn’t likely due some penalties, but I don’t think they should have kowtowed to the NCAA and offered them up. The NCAA should have been forced to impose their penalties based on the vague facts and half-truths they have available to them.

Finally, where in all this mess does Rick Pitino fall? As to the decision to forego the NCAA Tournament this year, by all accounts, including his own, he wasn’t consulted. In a way he’s lucky, because most of the Louisville fan base isn’t laying blame on him for the decision. Who knows if he would’ve made the same recommendation, with the specter of his future teams being in jeopardy? I’d like to believe he would’ve chosen to allow this team to finish the season; and cross the bridge of violations if/when the NCAA determined what those would be.

I also have questions about Rick’s future as the U of L coach, based on the fact that he wasn’t consulted on this. Even if Tom Jurich and James Ramsey were going to make the ultimate decision; wouldn’t they at least ask Coach Pitino what his thoughts were? He’s been here for 15 years, and he’s the Hall of Fame, face of your program. I don’t think he’ll be fired, but it certainly seems like a strange way to handle that decision.

That brings us to Rick’s role in the allegations that have led us here. Logically, there’s no reason to believe that he would know about alleged hooker/stripper parties taking place in dorms. First of all, he doesn’t reside anywhere near the dorms. Head Basketball Coaches aren’t popping into the dorm rooms of their players to see what they’re up to.

He’s also not involved in the hosting portion of the recruiting visits. Coaches essentially instruct the host players not to let the recruits get into too much trouble, or do anything that will land them on the evening news. Major college basketball coaches aren’t invited to the party portion of the night. So no, if there were hookers and strippers on recruiting visits, Rick Pitino would not know or be involved in it.

Another variable which doesn’t add up to Coach Pitino being involved with providing prostitutes to players/recruits, is the method with which it was done. A lot has been made of the money which was involved. Folks, according to Katina Powell, it was $10,000 over four years; and approximately 20 “parties”. Well, if you bust out your calculator that’s only $500/party.

The early sentiment is that the money had to come from someplace else, other than just Andre McGee. Why? You’re telling me a Director of Basketball Operations couldn’t afford $500? Hell, a handful of college kids could scrape together $500 to pay for a stripper party themselves. I know college athletes are always portrayed as these poor, malnourished souls, but that’s awfully presumptive. Not every kid who gets an athletic scholarship comes from poverty. I’m not claiming that these particular kids did that in this case, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The main point I’m trying to make with the money though, is that if Rick were going to do this as a means to land recruits; he wouldn’t have done it on the cheap. The man is a millionaire with connections. He would’ve spent top dollar, for beautiful high-priced escorts, who worked for a madam that had a reputation for discretion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the practice. I’m simply suggesting that if a coach of Pitino’s means were to use this tactic, they’d channel it through unnamed parties outside of the program; and not leave any sort of trail.

Now, if you want to approach this from the viewpoint of whether Rick Pitino should have known what allegedly transpired, then you have a valid argument. The answer there has to be yes. I firmly believe that the Head Coach, especially in college basketball, is the CEO of the program. They get paid the big bucks to have total control of their program.

I know that’s not really fair. Especially considering that coaches at other programs have escaped punishment in the past by claiming ignorance, but that doesn’t make it right. If this was going on over the four year period, then he had to hear a rumor, or a whisper, something that would pique his curiosity. If he didn’t then he wasn’t paying enough attention, or didn’t want to know. And yes, for that, there are consequences.

How U of L moves forward with Rick Pitino is the burning question. Many people feel that he should be fired, that this scandal is the last straw; and that group includes many Louisville fans. If the administration would choose to do that now, based on the circumstances, I’d understand it. I felt the same way after the Karen Sypher scandal. I wouldn’t like it necessarily, but I get the argument for it.

I love what Rick Pitino has done for this basketball program, and I think he’s an all-time great coach. His tenure, and the last five years in particular, have been everything a fan could ask for when it comes to success on the court. That said, as much as I don’t want him to, there’s a large part of my heart and mind that feels like he should resign. Take the high road, and allow the program to move forward. He’s accomplished all that there is to accomplish, and it may simply be time for a fresh start.

In my lifetime, Louisville has only had two coaches; Denny Crum and Rick Pitino. Two Hall of Fame coaches, two legends of the game. It would be a painful transition, but one that may be necessary. No matter what decision is made about Coach Pitino’s future, I’ll support the team.

Ultimately, my loyalty is to the University of Louisville Basketball Program. I want what is best for the continued success of the program. We have the best fan base in college sports, and that’s why during this period of tumult, now more than ever, Cardinals fans need to band together and support this team. Louisville First, Cards Forever.

Photo: Paul and Cathy/Flickr

Why Is Everybody Leaving Cleveland State Basketball???

I can’t wait to see what CSU’s pitch to draw fans is going to be next year. Will “Cleveland State Basketball: At Least We’re Not Youngstown State!” be the slogan?

As it stands right now, it won’t be because fans will have any kind of hope to win anything next season. That tends to happen when you lose your top three scorers and four of your five starters. It’s kind of sad that fans may be referring to the back-to-back CollegeInsider.com Tournament bids as the salad days.

Though not entirely unexpected, redshirt junior forward Anton Grady has been given his release to leave Cleveland State and transfer. As was the case with Trey Lewis, Grady, who will graduate this May, is immediately eligible to play for another school.

But that wasn’t the only bad news this week coming out of the Wolstein Center, which seems to be a fountain of crappy news as of late. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jermaine Kimbrough is leaving the Vikings to join Nevada and its new head coach, Eric Musselman.

So, when Cleveland State ends up finishing at the bottom of the Horizon League because of these recent events, I want you to have expected the flood of excuses and gripes coming out of the Wolstein Center.

“Oh, the system is broken!”

“The NCAA needs to change its transfer rules!”

A variation of each of these two statements is pretty much all you’re ever going to get out of the men’s basketball offices or Athletics, for that matter. And unless CSU is planning to cut another sport, you’ll probably read about all of these events in some news dump that’s lumped in with Akron and Kent State on cleveland.com.

So instead of waiting for questions that will never be asked and answers that will never be given, let me go ahead and start throwing around some ideas.

I will go ahead and start with the most obvious problem; the elephant in the room, if you will. If you have the opportunity to play at a high-major school, like Lewis, Bryn Forbes and, most likely, Grady do, aren’t you going to take it? And it’s not like the Vikings haven’t been able to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in years past.

No, this is all about the attention.

Take Lewis’ final destination of Louisville, for example. Thousands of people showed up for the Cleveland State game in November. Thousands. When Lewis announced his transfer, countless Cardinal fans were all over it, as was the local media.

Meanwhile, the Vikings, who only lost three games at the Wolstein Center this season, finished last in the Horizon League in home attendance, drawing less than 2,000 a game. Yes, Cleveland State was outdrawn by conference doormats YSU and Illinois-Chicago.

And I threw UIC in there to head off a well-heeled point constantly made by the folks at CSU about how it’s hard to draw in a pro town.

Chicago, of course, has five pro sports teams and four Division I programs (including nearby Northwestern). And Illinois-Chicago has bested Cleveland State in attendance two years in a row, including the 2013-14 season in which the Vikings finished second and the Flames won only a single game in the conference.

And if you have aspirations of a professional career, as I expect Lewis and Grady should have, you want as much media attention as possible.

How exactly is that going to happen when the largest newspaper in the area pays more attention to Ohio State and lumps your coverage in with two schools not located in Cleveland? Plus, how is that going to happen when one of the two sports radio stations largely ignores everything about your school (except your ad dollars, of course)?

I admit that I’m terribly frustrated by Lewis and Grady’s departure, but I understand why they left. In fact, I’ll bet that there are hordes of self-loathing CSU students who would transfer out the first chance they got.

And I also understand why Kimbrough would want to seek life elsewhere. After all, if you’ve been at the same job for nine years and you basically had no hope for a promotion, wouldn’t you want to get a better deal?

Yes, all of this sounds pretty harsh. So what? All anybody within the confines of Cleveland State is going to do is secretly grumble about anything I just said. It’s not like you haven’t been doing that for nearly 20 years anyway.

The transfer system may be broken, but perhaps you should look inward to see if you’re not a little broken yourselves, CSU.

The program has had a decent run. There’s no doubt about that. But the good times were brief, and we’re looking at a very low time once again that hasn’t been seen since coach Gary Waters took over. With three years left on his contract, Waters needs to check to see if complacency hasn’t set in and that it hasn’t infected his program.

Otherwise, we may soon have to do away with the “at least we’re not Youngstown State” point.

Trey Lewis Is Leaving Cleveland State

Time to start panicking, Cleveland State fans. All three of you. Trey Lewis is leaving the program.

It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise to any of you, really. After all, Lewis is finishing his degree in May. That means per NCAA rules, Lewis, and Anton Grady, for that matter, can transfer and have immediate eligibility anywhere else.

The same thing happened when Valparaiso’s Brandon Wood graduated and spent his final year of eligibility at Michigan State. On a smaller scale, it’s what allowed former Viking center Joe Latas to play his last year at Houston Baptist.

Of course, neither of them were a first-team All-Horizon League player. And neither of them led their teams in scoring, as Lewis did with 16.3 per game.

Not helping matters is that this wipes out yet another starter from the Cleveland State lineup. Seniors Charlie Lee and Marlin Mason were already leaving, due to graduate, and Lee was the third-leading scorer on top of that.

But there’s just one other thing that is sending CSU fans into a frothing panic. This is the second year in a row this has happened.

You might have caught that transfer over the weekend helping the Spartans make it to the Final Four. Bryn Forbes, who finished with 14 points in Michigan State’s overtime win over Louisville, received a hardship waiver after leaving Cleveland State, allowing him to play immediately.

The whole thing has to make you wonder if this is a problem with college basketball in general or with Cleveland State in particular. Honestly, why can’t this program seem to hold on to its top players. If it was just Forbes, I’d chalk it up to being an isolated incident. But now Lewis is leaving, too? And who’s to say that Grady won’t take his degree and his seek life elsewhere?

It’s a valid question that needs to be asked. Have we officially entered an era in which mid-majors are slowly but surely becoming little more than junior colleges that allow high-major programs to save themselves the trouble of developing players? And if this is actually true, is CSU just the victim of plain old bad luck.

Considering that this is still Cleveland we’re talking about, the prospect of being cursed does have some validity to it.

And you can’t really fault Lewis here. You have to believe after accounting for basically all of Cleveland State’s scoring against Louisville, his stock was on the rise. When the opportunity to play for Rick Pitino and the Cardinals, a possible landing spot, you’re not really going to pass that up, are you?

This latest transfer should also serve as a wake-up call to CSU. Now, I’m not talking about Athletics here. I’m talking about the student body who doesn’t seem to mind shelling out more than $9 million for sports programs and completely ignoring them. I’m talking about the alumni and other donors who are clearly frightened of the prospect of going back to the bad old days of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Something’s wrong here. Sure, Cleveland State isn’t getting any worse, but it sure isn’t getting any better. How can it when top players don’t want to stay? When are you planning to say something about it?

Cleveland State Hammers Western Michigan to Move on in the CIT

With a third-tier tournament such as the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament, it’s hard to get an idea on what kind of intensity teams will come out with. For some, the wear of the long season and the lack of motivation to play can turn a usually-stalwart team into a tub of goo.

So when Cleveland State traveled to Kalamazoo to play Western Michigan in its first-round CIT match-up, nobody was really sure how the Vikings would come out against the Broncos. Would they come out with fire that fueled them during their wins against Green Bay? Or would they come out flat, as they did in their losses down the stretch.

We got our answer: Cleveland State 86, Western Michigan 57.

And the Vikings made it look really easy.

In fact, the only trouble anybody faced during the game were the fans, who spent the opening part of the game scrambling to find their radios when the CIT video feed went on the blink. And when it came back, they were greeted by a broadcast team that apparently doesn’t read their notes.

Both Anton Grady and Andre Yates, who wear Nos. 15 and 1, respectively, switched jersey numbers for the CIT opener to 5 for Grady and 2 for Yates. Despite the fact that CSU Sports Information director Greg Murphy passed along the changes, that didn’t stop the announcers from confusing Yates with transfer Myles Hamilton, who is sitting out this season, and Grady for red-shirted Jono Janssen.

Other than that, it was probably one of the most dominant offensive games the Vikings have had all season against a team not named Mt. Vernon Nazarene.

As it turned out, the three-pointer, which has been a problem for Cleveland State when it shot far too many, wasn’t really a problem against the Broncos. The Vikings were scorching from beyond the arc, shooting 52 percent, hitting on 13, which was one short of an all-time record.

Speaking of records, Charlie Lee, who was looking to extend his final season a little longer, was really eyeing the single-game mark of nine triples set by Percell Coles in 2003 and Trey Lewis earlier this season. He came up one short, but led all scorers with 28 points and dished out six assists.

Even Grady got into the three-point act himself. He ended up shooting as many treys in this game (three) as he had the entire season, hitting on two of them.

For everything Grady has done this season in the paint and from the perimeter, if the three-pointer becomes a part of his arsenal next season, he’s going to be far more dangerous to Horizon League opponents.

Given the online broadcasting difficulties, most fans not listening to the play-by-play broadcast from Al Pawlowski probably missed the opening minute and a half, which saw Western Michigan with what would be its only lead of the game at 5-3. That’s when the Vikings ripped off a 13-2 run led by Lee, Grady and Marlin Mason.

Ironically, Pawlowski mentioned that this was a good CSU game to watch during this run, as many were still trying in vain to get the streaming video to work.

Of course, it didn’t looking like it would turn into the romp it did later on in the first half, as the Vikings, who led 26-11 at the 12-minute media timeout, went cold for five minutes, allowing WMU to cut the lead to six. Then Lee went unconscious, swishing home a trio of triples that would have made the ball catch fire in his hands like the old NBA Jam video game.

By halftime, Cleveland State was comfortably ahead of the Broncos, 49-31. And then, to start off the second half, the Vikings decided to have a little fun.

CSU opened the half with three dunks; a breakaway from Trey Lewis and two alley-oops, with Mason on the receiving end of the flush.

For those scoring at home, it should be noted that Mason’s Twitter handle is, in fact, @flight_Mason21. He had three slams in the game, as part of his 13 points. It’s safe to say he lived up to his handle in the win.

The Viking lead was well over 30 for most of the closing minutes during the game, and since the victory was assured, it gave head coach Gary Waters the opportunity to give his top players some much-needed rest down the stretch.

Lee and Mason were joined as scoring leaders by Grady, who finished with 21 points to go along with 14 rebounds as part of yet another double-double. Lewis, who was quiet in the first half, scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

Oddly enough, Cleveland State is now the only Horizon League team left playing in the post-season. Valparaiso fell in its opening round game of the NCAA Tournament to Maryland. Green Bay, the conference’s only representative in the NIT, lost, 69-56, to CSU guard Kaza Keane’s former team, Illinois State. And Oakland dropped a rare decision in the O’Rena in its CIT opener against Eastern Illinois, 97-91.

The Viking men also outpaced the women, who played in the first round of the WNIT at the same time as their male counterparts, losing to Michigan, 72-50. The CSU women’s basketball team finished its season at 19-13 and saw its three seniors, Cori Coleman, Imani Gordon and Kiersten Green, score more than 1,000 points each for their careers, a Cleveland State first.

For the men, the CIT continues on Monday, when they travel to Newark to play the New Jersey Institute of Technology, who hold the distinction of being the only Division I school without a conference and going into Crisler Arena and beating the Wolverines earlier in the season.

Cleveland State Sweeps Green Bay in Huge Overtime Win

Welcome to Championship Mode.

Friday was one of those games in the past that made Cleveland State fans fill with a heaping helping of dread the last few years. That was mostly because of the fact that the Vikings have faltered multiple times in a big game with a nationally-televised audience, this time on ESPN2.

Add to that the fact that Wisconsin-Green Bay has been invincible at home this season at 12-0 and hadn’t lost in the Resch Center since February 8, 2014. Moreover, the Phoenix, who were drop-kicked by the Vikings in Cleveland, were out for revenge. Finally, CSU hadn’t won in Green Bay since 2010, and there were plenty of good Viking squads that have tried to get a victory there and come up short.

Cleveland State knew all of this going in. And still won in overtime, 66-61.

It took everything the Vikings could dish out: Anton Grady putting up another double-double, Trey Lewis turning it on in overtime…

…and a completely bonkers 31-foot shot by Charlie Lee as the shot clock wound down that made SportCenter’s Top 10 Plays.

You know. This one.

It’s the type of game that gets everyone paying attention, even as the Cavs were on the air at the same time pasting the Wizards. Actually, it seems like a pretty nice good-luck charm to have CSU and the Cavaliers playing on the same day. Both teams have won on the six days when that has happened this season.

And the game came after one of the rare occasions when a game had to be canceled. Earlier this week, the Vikings were supposed to head to Western Carolina to play the Catamounts. But the horrendous weather resulted in CSU’s travel plans getting cut off, as no plane or bus could get through the wintry mess.

So, instead of head coach Gary Waters trying to figure out how to rotate his players for an oddball non-conference game so that they wouldn’t be worn out for the critical match-up in Green Bay, he caught a break. More importantly, so did his team.

And it was a good thing, too. Out of the 45 minutes played on Friday night, Lee played all 45, Lewis played 44 and Grady played 43. Add to that Marlin Mason putting in 36 minutes and Kaza Keane, who had the distinction of guarding Phoenix dynamo Keifer Sykes, notched 35 minutes.

The win over Green Bay also provided everyone with yet another example of how Grady has become one of the best players in the Horizon League, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds, marking the seventh time he has done that in league play. Yes, in 14 conference games, Grady has a double-double in half of them.

Nothing about the victory was easy for Cleveland State. The Vikings had to contend with the Phoenix defense which, impressively enough, has been better than CSU’s this season, only allowing 60.6 points per game, compare to Cleveland State’s 61.6. Because of that, Green Bay was able to do something no other team has been able to do to the Vikings all season: Cause turnovers.

The first half turned out to be one of Cleveland State’s worst of the year when it came to handling the ball, coughing it up 10 times. Needless to say, Waters, who has been on record multiple times with his loathing of turnovers, had to have been beside himself.

It also looked like the Phoenix finally had turned the Vikings away late in the second half, when Sykes and Greg Mays nailed back-to-back three-pointers to give Green Bay its largest lead of the game at 50-44 with five minutes left in the game. Cleveland State, who was in the midst of a five-minute scoring drought, looked as if it was over.

Then came a healthy dose of Grady and Lewis, who scored eight points in tandem, and that insane Lee three-pointer with 1:18 left to give Cleveland State the lead. In the extra frame, the Vikings turned on the defense, holding the Phoenix to a pair of field goal, a Mays dunk and a Sykes lay-up when the win was already sealed.

Cleveland State’s huge victory over Green Bay capped off a good week, which started on Sunday with another conference win at the Wolstein Center. This time, it was against an Illinois-Chicago team that had previously knocked off Detroit, who beat the Vikings last Friday, and injury-riddled Wright State.

With a little momentum, the Flames, featuring a completely different lineup than the one that lost to Cleveland State in January, didn’t make it easy on the Vikings. In fact, with a 34-30 lead at halftime, UIC wanted to prove it was no longer one of the doormats of the Horizon League.

Cleveland State was having none of that, though, clamping down on defense while Lewis and Mason went to work. While Grady missed another double-double by a point, he still grabbed 13 boards. Lewis once again led all players with 18 points, while Mason chipped in 11, including a monstrous alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lee.

With the wins, the Vikings remain in control of their own destiny in the Horizon League with a chance to finish at the top of the conference and, as a result, host the Horizon League Tournament. But they will have to stay in Championship Mode for two more games.

First, there is the tail-end of the notorious Wisconsin Trip on Sunday, when Cleveland State travels to Milwaukee to play the Panthers, who has been very good at home as of late and game Valparaiso all it could handle before eventually falling.

Should the Vikings win, that would set up a potential winner-take-all contest in Cleveland against the Crusaders next Friday in a 10:00pm tilt on ESPNU. Prior to that, Viketoberfest, a craft beer event that is probably one of the more inventive promotions at the Wolstein Center this season.

Cleveland State Uses Defense to Upset Green Bay

There’s always a game Cleveland State has marked on the calendar as the top match-up of the season. And for the second year in a row, that the home game at the Wolstein Center against Wisconsin-Green Bay. Last year, missing their top scorer Bryn Forbes due to an illness, the Vikings struggled against a Phoenix squad that featured Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes.

For the second year in a row, the illness bug has stricken Cleveland State again. This time, it was Marlin Mason, who missed his third straight game with a virus. The Vikings also had starting guard Andre Yates only at 50 percent.

In order to beat a Green Bay team that was picked to finish first in the Horizon League, Cleveland State needed to start out quickly and certainly keep Sykes at bay.

Mission accomplished.

The Vikings held the lead on the Phoenix for the vast majority of the game, and weathered a Green Bay run at the start of the second half to get a huge win at home, 76-62. The win pulls CSU back even at the top of the Horizon League standings with Valparaiso, who survived a scare against Illinois-Chicago.

“I thought our energy level was high from the very beginning,” said head coach Gary Waters. “And we talked about that in the locker room. We said this is our house. We have a chance to be in first place in this league, and what we have to do is control our house. And I think that’s what we did today.”

As has been the case for most of their victories this season, Cleveland State was paced by its top three players, Trey Lewis, Charlie Lee and Anton Grady. This time, however, the memory of being overpowered last year was fresh in their minds, and they were looking for some payback.

“This was a huge game for us,” Lewis said. “I was telling Anton (Grady) right before the game started, ‘You remember what happened last year,’ and that was our mindset coming into this game. They dominated us last year, and we came out with the mindset that we would dominate this year.”

For the first 20 minutes, the Vikings swarmed on defense. The Phoenix coughed up the ball nine times, leading to 14 Cleveland State points. Moreover, Sykes was limited to only two first-half points, being spotted quite effectively by Yates’ replacement in the lineup, Kaza Keane. Also not helping was that Sykes committed his second foul with six minutes left in the half, leaving him to sit on the bench until the closing seconds.

Defense, as it has been all season, played a huge part of the early Viking advantage. Cleveland State rendered Green Bay scoreless for five minutes, which allowed the Vikings to pull out to a 27-11 lead. Even at the end of the first half when Cleveland State only hit two out of 10 field goals, the Phoenix were only able to cut the lead down to 11 at halftime.

In the second half, though Green Bay showed why it was picked to finish at the top of the Horizon League standings, going on a 6-0 run. Lewis then turned around with a three-pointer. Then Waters brought Yates in to take over for Keane, who committed his third foul, and clamped down on defense.

Lewis finished the game with a double-double, notching 25 points and 12 rebounds. Grady fell short of a double-double, but still made his presence known in the paint with 24 points and six boards. Lee played every part of the role of distributor, with seven assists to go along with 12 points.

The win was also in front of one of the largest crowds of the season, with 3,525 people coming to watch the Viking performance. While it doesn’t put them over the Boyd Line (The 1,770 per game average set in 1995-96), the win does give Cleveland State fans some incentive to put the team over that average.

“This was a big crowd game,” Water said of the attendance versus the Phoenix. “And when people come out to see you, you need to give them a good performance. And that gives them the idea that they should come back and watch some more, and I thought we did a great job of that today.”

Mason’s Outlook Looking Better

The virus that has been causing Mason to sit out three games may finally be subsiding. Waters said that Mason underwent a second spinal tap late in the week, and it appears that he is feeling much better. Waters is confident that Mason will return for next week’s games at home against Youngstown State and Wright State.

O’No! A Bump in the Road!

The Cleveland State-Green Bay match-up would have meant much more to the Vikings, had it not been for a trip earlier in the week to Oakland for a return contest with the Golden Grizzlies. The O’rena, as it turns out, has become the toughest place to play in the Horizon League by far. Just ask the Phoenix and Valparaiso.

And despite coming back from being down double digits, Cleveland State couldn’t overcome it, and a Lewis three-pointer that fell just short sealed the game for Oakland, 59-56. As was the case in the 65-61 win at the Wolstein Center, Lewis was constantly harassed by Golden Grizzlies defensive specialist Dante Williams, and was limited to just five points.

Foul trouble also reared its ugly head in the loss, as the Vikings spent much of the first half without Grady and Zollo, who committed two fouls in the opening 75 seconds of the game. In total, Oakland ended up taking advantage by getting to the foul line an astonishing 28 times, compared to just seven for Cleveland State.

While the Golden Grizzlies have enjoyed a free throw advantage for most of their home wins (Green Bay being the exception), it was the Viking scoring droughts that proved to be their ultimate undoing. And in spite of shooting 44 percent from the floor, Cleveland State misfired badly from beyond the arc, shooting just 4-of-14 for a dismal 28 percent.

With the Vikings defeat, Oakland has now defeated the top three teams in the conference, as well as Wright State and Milwaukee. Unless Horizon League bottom-feeders Youngstown State or Illinois-Chicago somehow fluke their way into a win, which is highly unlikely, the February 15th game against Detroit will determine whether the Golden Grizzlies will sport perfect record in the O’rena.

Cleveland State Weekly Recap: Driving Fans Crazy

For the few diehard Cleveland State fans, this marks one of those weeks that make absolutely no sense to anyone but them. Of course the Vikings lose to a really, really bad Savannah State team. Of course Cleveland State hangs with Louisville. And of course the Vikings go to Marshall and survive a late run to get their first road win of the season.

And, of course, it’s the ups and downs that make CSU fans absolutely insane.

We should really be used to this by now, with Cleveland State playing up to some of the best teams in college basketball, then play down to some of the worst. But rarely anybody see that play out in the span of five days. Consider that an emotional roller coaster the size of Millennium Force.

The Incredible Disappearing and Reappearing Frontcourt

Easily the biggest source of aggravation this week has been the play for the frontcourt, or at least the play when they’ve been on the floor. For Savannah State and Louisville, that meant not much of the first half at all, thanks to the oldest of old enemies, foul trouble.

And even when fouling wasn’t the problem, starters Anton Grady and Marlin Mason ran into a big problem against the Cardinals, literally. The Louisville frontcourt players spent most of the contest owning the Vikings in the paint, swatting away shots with impunity. This forced Grady to attempt the mid-range jumper. Unfortunately, this was one of these games where the shots just didn’t fall. As for Mason, he was basically non-existent on offense.

Mason turned that around against Marshall, though, by torching the Thundering Herd for 18 points, including four three-pointers. And while Grady found himself on the bench with foul trouble once again, he chipped in 15 of 17 points in the second half in the win over Marshall.

So in spite of not being a factor earlier in the week, for all intents and purposes, the game against Lousville was an anomaly. Moving forward against more equally-sized competition, Mason and Grady should be more of a factor.

Any Other Scorers? Anyone?

It’s no secret that the leader on offense for the Vikings was going to be Trey Lewis. After all, he was named a pre-season Horizon League first-teamer. But for the bulk of this week, he’s basically represented most, if not all, of Cleveland State’s firepower.

Against Louisville, that was more of the case that anyone should ever be comfortable with. In the loss, the Vikings only score 33 points, and Lewis scored 24 of them on 9-of-20 shooting, including four three-pointers. The rest of the team? They shot an absolutely horrendous 4 for 32.

While going up against the No. 6 team in the country is a unique situation, someone in the Cleveland State rotation not named Lewis needs to kick it into gear or the rest of the season is going to be a long haul, especially during games when Lewis doesn’t have his best stuff.

And that’s exactly what happened for a good part of the game against the Thundering Herd. Lewis ran into some early foul trouble and had to sit a good part of the first half. This game, though, Mason was able to take over as the primary scorer. Lewis would eventually come back and finish with 14 points, including a pair of critical three-pointers down the stretch.

With Charlie Lee coming back from his six-game suspension, he may come in and help with the scoring. However, given his history as a streaky shooter, Lee may very well end up getting in line with everyone else.

At Least There’s Defense

When Louisville pasted Savannah state by 63 points on Monday, there was very little hope that the Vikings weren’t going to be able to keep it close. The Cardinals had also been hot shooters, including beyond the three-point arc.

But in spite of the loss, Cleveland State played defense of the season, holding Louisville to 31.9 percent from the field and stole the ball from the Cardinals 10 times. The defensive effort seemed to neutralize Louisville’s massive inside presence, at least until the end.

The Vikings carried that forward into Huntington, holding Marshall to 29 percent in the first half. CSU then used defense, particularly nine steals, to keep the Thundering Herd from making the kind of comeback that Cleveland State couldn’t stop against Savannah State.

Toledo: Your Marquee Match-Up

CSU’s non-conference schedule does not look all that exciting, to say the least. But the one game that every fan should consider to be a must-watch is Wednesday, when the Vikings play host to Toledo.

The game against the Rockets provides an opportunity for Cleveland State to get a little bit of revenge from last season’s loss at Toledo last season.  And with the Rockets considered to be one of the favorites in the Mid-American Conference, it’s certainly one of those games in which a team picked to finished highly in the Horizon League to get some bragging rights.

Of course, it would have helped if Toledo wasn’t coming in with losses against Virginia Commonwealth and against fellow Horizon League school Detroit. The 82-79 loss against the Titans came on Tuesday as part of the Progressive Legends rub-regional hosted on the Rockets’ home court.

So, while the records don’t exactly make the contest against Toledo look like Clash of the Titans, it will still be very important in terms of preparing for the Vikings’ future, which will include two conference games against Detroit, as well as the December 29th road trip to Richmond to play VCU.

Cleveland State Men's Basketball Preview – Win Or Else (Sort Of)

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.

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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.