The Cleveland State Vikings men’s basketball team began their regular season with back to back defeats at the hands of two NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago in BYU and Ohio University. On the surface, these two losses might seem frustrating for fans of the program since they too were in The Big Dance last season as a 15 seed. However, Dennis Gates gave no reason to sound the alarm as there are indeed areas in which the Vikings can take solace despite the undesired outcomes.
In the season opener which took place in Provo, Utah, the Vikings utilized their high octane pressure defense to force fourteen BYU turnovers. This significantly aided CSU’s ability to keep the game close throughout, despite a lights out shooting performance from senior point guard Alex Barcello. Barcello not only shot 5-6 from the field in the BYU 69-59 victory, but he also was a staggering 13/13 from the free throw line. Cleveland State as a team shot 15-24 from the line, as the Vikings leaving points at the charity stripe has been a theme throughout the first two regular season contests.
Perimeter shooting has also been an area of concern so far this season for the Vikings. Through the first two regular season games, Cleveland State shot only 8/36 from behind the three point arc. While this is a small sample size, perimeter shooting was not CSU’s strong suit a season ago either as the Vikings’ ability to create open looks came off their pressure defense. Opposing teams with veteran guards might give Cleveland State some trouble, as juniors and seniors could be better equipped to deal with CSU’s defensive pressure and tenacity compared to freshmen and sophomores.
One specific area in which the Vikings had success versus Ohio University was creating fast break opportunities. Out of the 56 points Cleveland State scored on Saturday, 24 of them came via the fast break. This will be a theme for the Vikings this year, much like last, as Cleveland State more often than not looks to push the basketball following a miss or turnover in hopes of creating an easy basket. Not only will this assist the Vikings while they figure out which half court offensive sets work best, but it gives Cleveland State a clear identity as a team that thrives off of transition basketball.
One hurdle CSU will have to face in upcoming games will be navigating life without their starting point guard Craig Beaudion. Beaudion suffered what Dennis Gates described as a high ankle sprain in the second half of Cleveland State’s loss to OU. An ankle sprain of that nature would keep Beaudion out of action for multiple weeks, as Yahel Hill and Deshaun Parker should see increased minutes in the mean time. Hill finished second on the team in scoring on Saturday against the Bobcats.
When asked following Saturday’s game how his staff could help stabilize their half court offense, Dennis Gates did not seemed worried about his team’s lack of production when he stated, “Well first I’m not gonna panic. When you look at the defense of an Ohio and the defense of a BYU, those are good teams…both teams have an unbelievable assist to turnover ratio…offensively, we have to continue to do labor for others. Our great player, Torrey Patton, turned down some open looks that he normally cashes in on…I’m not gonna panic or change anything.”
Basketball teams at nearly every level oftentimes take after the demeanor of their head coach. While the start to the regular season has been less than ideal from a win’s and losses perspective, Dennis Gates remaining calm and not showing any signs of panic will help his team figure out their early season offensive struggles. With both of Cleveland State’s opening two games being against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago, they will provide the team and coaching staff with valuable lessons the group can carry with them for the remainder of the year.