College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Bullet points on the struggling Cleveland State Vikings

The Cleveland State Vikings fell to the Green Bay Phoenix at the Wolstein Center Thursday night, 87-67. The loss is the Vikings’ third straight and fourth in a row against Division I foes. (They beat Division II Cedarville on December 29.) They now stand at 5-11 overall and 0-3 in Horizon League play.

Cleveland State jumped out to a 15-2 lead on the Phoenix (10-5) to open the game, but went into halftime trailing 41-30. They climbed within seven midway through the second half, but Green Bay kept them at arm’s length and sailed to a 20-point victory. Cleveland State has allowed at least 86 points in each of its first three conference games.

Green Bay shot the hell out of the ball. They were 30-of-58 from the field (51.7 percent), 11-of-21 on threes (52.4 percent), and 16-of-22 from the free throw line (72.7 percent). Many of those shots came on open looks, but some went in regardless of the defense. Phoenix reserve Turner Botz poured in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting (4-5 3FG), leading scorer Carrington Love scored 16 on 5-of-11 (3-6 3FG), and do-it-all forward Jordan Fouse added 14 (3-7 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6-6 FT). There were stretches when Green Bay, especially Botz, just couldn’t miss.

Cleveland State had four players in double figures. Andre Yates scored 16 (6-13 FG), Vinny Zollo 13 (5-11 FG, 2-4 3FG), Tim Hasbargen 11 (3-5 FG, 4-6 FT), and Demonte Flannigan 10 (5-10 FG). Rob Edwards, the team’s top scorer, scored just five points as Green Bay made a point of taking the ball out of his hands; he did have seven rebounds and five assists. The Vikings shot a very solid 46.4 percent from the floor, but they committed a ghastly 23 turnovers that led to 28 Green Bay points.

In lieu of a traditional game writeup, I thought it best to sketch out some bullet points about what’s plaguing the Vikings as they sit in the basement of the Horizon League. (This is also an excuse to avoid writing more about a game that frankly wasn’t all that interesting.)

  • There was a flare-up on the bench between Gary Waters and senior guard Myles Hamilton in the first half. After committing a foul (and having had a hand in two turnovers shortly before), Hamilton was taken out of the game. Some words were exchanged, and he went straight into the locker room. He rejoined the bench in the second half, but he didn’t play. After the game, Waters said, “You may not see that boy ever again. I got to sit down and think about it.”
    • UPDATE: Hamilton has since been dismissed from the team. The school released the following statement Friday afternoon: “Cleveland State head men’s basketball coach Gary Waters has announced that junior guard Myles Hamilton has been dismissed from the team effective immediately for violation of team policies. ‘We wish Myles the best and appreciate his contributions to our program,’ Waters said.”
  • This is pure speculation on my part, but: I wonder if Waters and his fiery sideline demeanor are reaching this club. He is prone to little outbursts after players make mistakes, which tend to be punctuated with convulsing limbs or displeased faces. It also seems that players often have a short leash — one mistake could be enough to land them on the bench. I think a little more patience is in order, especially since it was no state secret that this would be a rebuilding year.
  • Cleveland State’s defense is decidedly worrisome, especially as it is the calling card of Waters squads. They opened the season with some solid defensive efforts — they held Akron to 65 points, Rhode Island to 73, and Rider to 52 in the season’s first two weeks — but things have gotten worse since then. They allowed 86, 88, and 87 points in their first three Horizon League games. Their season points-against average stands at a decent 63.8 after Thursday, but that’s including two games against Division II opponents. If things don’t turn around, that number will go up in a hurry.
  • To be fair, CSU opened conference play with three of the top teams in the Horizon League — and it won’t get any easier with 11-5 Milwaukee coming to town Saturday. That said, they knew they were getting some of the league’s best early on. If they held Maryland to 80 points, can’t they do the same against Oakland and Detroit?
  • The Vikings did well crashing the offensive boards early against Green Bay. They had six offensive rebounds in the first five minutes of the game, which helped them build a 13-2 lead. The Phoenix did a better job on the defensive glass as the game went on, resulting in plenty of transition and semi-transition opportunities. Too often CSU had multiple players chasing the ball downcourt. Green Bay capitalized with a healthy diet of drive-and-kick action, and they knocked down the open shots generated therefrom. It brought to mind Zach Lowe’s recent writing about the ongoing preference for transition defense over offensive rebounding in the NBA. More selective crashes could behoove CSU.
  • As Green Bay came back and built its lead, Cleveland State’s defense grew less organized. They opened the game contesting everything, especially near the basket. They communicated and they moved in concert with one another. In time, however, they simply showed less urgency when it came to stopping the ball and matching up. Their teamwide confidence seems fragile, which could dovetail with the earlier points about Waters.
  • With how well Green Bay shot Thursday, it may not have mattered what CSU did on D. The Phoenix hit everything. Carrington Love banking in a second-half three from the left wing with a hand in his face was a microcosm of the evening.
  • Freshman Rob Edwards is a real player. He’s quick, he’s strong, and he can handle the ball. He gets beautiful rotation on his jumper, and he’s knocking down 44 percent of his threes. He can do a little bit of everything, including create his own shot. The issue is that he is one of the few Vikings who can do so consistently. (Andre Yates is another.) Smart opponents will get the ball out of his hands, as Green Bay did, and that’s when CSU’s offense can grow stagnant.
  • Terrell Hales still does great work on the defensive end. The sophomore is a rangy 6-foot-4, he’s quick, he has good hands, good feet, and he does a nice job of dodging screens. His value really shows against teams with dangerous backcourt scorers. That said, he just doesn’t bring much to the table on offense. He’s a starter, but he’s averaging 1.6 points per game and has a team-low 7.3 usage rating, per Sports Reference. He doesn’t have a reliable jumper, so he needs to find other ways to get involved on offense. Studying Dwayne Wade’s off-ball cuts would be a good start.

2015-16 was never going to be a championship season for Cleveland State. It has to be hard for them to watch Trey Lewis, Bryn Forbes, and Anton Grady, who all transferred away from CSU, play at Louisville, Michigan State, and Wichita State, respectively. The trouble is that they’re trending downward in the heart of conference play. A four-game stretch from January 14-24 against Wright State, Northern Kentucky, Illinois-Chicago, and Youngstown State offers a good shot at least a couple wins. But the Horizon League has some good clubs this year. If Cleveland State doesn’t show some progress, they could be looking at more than a few double-digit losses in the weeks to come.