While it was an unfortunate end for the Cleveland State Vikings in the Horizon League Championship game against Northern Kentucky, they were able to earn a postseason berth in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) through their stellar play throughout the regular season and conference tournament. The CBI, along with the NIT, allow teams that did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament field to gain further postseason experience in a tournament atmosphere and setting. However, what makes the CBI unique is that all of the games will be played in a singular location in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Sixteen schools received invitations to the CBI including a pair from the Horizon League. Not only did the Vikings make the trip to Daytona, but Milwaukee did as well. Postseason tournament experience can be a growing opportunity for the players and coaches no matter the situation. For two rookie head coaches in Daniyal Robinson and Bart Lundy to lead their teams to postseason play with major roster turnover from the season before speaks volumes to the level of coaching in the Horizon League. While a fourth meeting between the Vikings and Panthers would not take place until the CBI finals, both teams posses the ability to advance in this tournament.
Cleveland State’s first round matchup will come against Eastern Kentucky, a school out of the Atlantic Sun Conference. EKU finished the year with a 20-13 record despite only having one senior on the team playing meaningful minutes. While the Colonels might not be on the radars of many in Cleveland, they are led by a local face as junior swingman Devontae Blanton is the team leader in points and second in assists. Blanton, a graduate of St. Edward’s High School in Cleveland, helped lead the Eagles to a pair of OHSAA State Final Fours during his tenure in high school. Blanton and Tae Williams should make for an intriguing matchup as Williams certainly has the ability to make life difficult for the talented Blanton with his length and ability to cover ground defensively.
When breaking down this matchup statistically, there is not much that jumps out that gives either team much of an advantage. One area that could make a difference is that EKU shoots roughly nine more three pointers per game than the Vikings, despite the two team’s percentages being nearly identical from behind the arc. While opponents are shooting just under 32% from three point range against the Vikings this year, CSU must be diligent once again against a team they have not seen that thrives on finding the open shooter.
In terms of common opponents, the Vikings and Colonels played both Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky this season with both squads falling to the Bearcats and the Vikings winning one against the Norse compared to Eastern Kentucky, who fell at NKU in a close battle by three points in their lone non conference affair.
Tip-off between the Vikings and Colonels is set for Sunday morning at 11am in Daytona Beach. The first round and quarterfinals of the CBI can be streamed on FLO Sports, with the semifinals and finals airing on ESPN2.