Cleveland State Vikings
Overall Rank: #53
Conference Rank: #1 Horizon
2007-08: 21-13, 12-6, 2nd
2007-08 postseason: NIT
Coach Gary Waters led Cleveland State to their first postseason berth in 20 years. It will not take another 20 years before the Vikings are playing meaningful games in March. Outside of superstars Cedric Jackson and J’Nathan Bullock, seven players were playing around 15 to 25 minutes per game. Four of them are back and that gives CSU plenty of experienced players to work with this year.
Losing Breyhon Watson, Joe Davis and Kevin Francis is not a good thing, but it will not hurt the Vikings too much. Watson rarely put up big numbers, but he was the only player besides Jackson and Bullock to start over 24 games. Joe Davis was the team’s third leading scorer, mostly off the bench, and has opted to transfer. At 6-8 and 200 pounds, Francis was another big body who could come in and grab some rebounds and pick up a few fouls. Guard Nick Weaver has graduated after seeing limited action during his senior campaign.
None of the newcomers will need to play a huge role this season, but there are a whole lot of them who will be competing for some minutes off the bench. In the backcourt, Jeremy Montgomery, Josh McCoy and Trevon Harmon will be the main backups. Montgomery, a 6-1 combo guard, went under the recruiting radar a bit due to a broken hand, but the Chicago, Illinois product is a crafty player who can handle the ball and score in a hurry. For now he will likely spend most of his time backing up Jackson at the point, learning how to be a scoring point guard in the Horizon League from somebody who knows. Small forward Daitwan Eppinger came on strong at the end of his senior season of high school. If he continued that leap while redshirting in Cleveland during the 2007-2008 campaign, the Vikings will have another great athlete on the floor who can score around the basket and hit the mid-range jumper. The power forward and center spots already have four returning players, but Ethan Anderson, Tim Kamczyc, Joe Latas and Charlie Woods could find a few minutes here and there. Latas, a 6-11 redshirt freshman, and Woods are the two players who will likely earn the most minutes this season.
Who to Watch:
Jackson went from a roleplayer at St. John’s to a star at Cleveland State. In his first year with the Vikings, the 6-3 point guard averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals. With a year in the system, the senior should have an even better campaign in 2008-2009. With Bullock at one of the forward spots, the opposing defense has a tough decision to make. Bullock led CSU with 14.8 points and 6.6 boards and the 6-5 senior gives the Vikings two legitimate Horizon League Player of the Year candidates. Jackson is the team’s best three-point shooter. In fact, he is virtually the team’s only returning long range shooter. Bullock who hit less than one three-pointer per game is the team’s second best outside shooter at this point. If the newcomers cannot fill that void, it will become too easy to stop the Vikings from slashing to the basket.
Norris Cole and D’Aundray Brown are quality players who are ready to step into starting roles, but they have yet to prove that they can be the outside shooters that the team needs. Cole would be the best candidate to fill that role, but he only shot 23.8 percent from beyond the arc last year. Finding a scorer in the frontcourt as well would help CSU open up the outside and give Cole and others open looks. Center Chris Moore is a decent scorer and averaged 4.9 points per game last year, but George Tandy is a much better rebounder and shot blocker and will likely be the starter. If Tandy, now a senior, can consistently score around the basket, Cleveland State’s offense will be difficult to stop. If not, the team will have to depend on Jackson and Bullock too much and that might lead to just another NIT bid.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Cedric Jackson, Senior, Guard, 13.9 points per game
Norris Cole, Sophomore, Guard, 4.9 points per game
D’Aundray Brown, Sophomore, Guard, 4.9 points per game
J’Nathan Bullock, Senior, Forward, 14.8 points per game
George Tandy, Senior, Forward, 4.2 points per game