Purveyors of Hope… The Cleveland State Vikings

And now it’s time for something completely positive…

The Cleveland State Vikings have continued their onslaught on the 2010-2011 college basketball season.  As it stands right now, the Vikings have an overall record of 20-3 and find themselves in first place in the Horizon League with a record of 9-2.  If that’s not enough to get excited about, The Vikings are now the #1 ranked team in the mid-major top 25 and have now begun receiving votes in the National Top 25.

To sum it all up, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of Cleveland St. Vikings basketball.

The play of the Vikings hasn’t gone unnoticed either.  One of the nation’s top college basketball analysts, Seth Davis, recently said that he believes the Vikings will be strongly considered for an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament even if they can’t topple Butler and win the Horizion League championship.  That’s exciting considering that Butler has been the media darling this year thanks to their national title game run of a year ago.  Many felt that Butler would run through the Horizon League again on their way back to the NCAA Tournament.  Turns out Cleveland State has different ideas in mind.  But how have they gotten to this point?

The majority of the credit has to go to Head Coach Gary Waters.  Prior to Waters’ arrival in Cleveland, the Vikings were in shambles.  From 1990-2006, the Vikings accumulated a record of 192-261 with only 4 winning seasons under Mike Boyd, Rollie Massimino, and Mike Garland.  Since taking over the basketball program from Garland in 2006, Waters has accumulated an overall record of 93-65, has winning records in 4 of 5 seasons, won the Horizon League Championship in 2009, and made NIT and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009 respectively.  Now in his fifth season as the head coach of the Vikings, he has primed them for what looks like another Cinderella run through the NCAA Tournament.  This is due in part to instilling a tough, defensive minded philosophy in his players.  Right now they are the 29th most efficient defensive team in the NCAA.

Credit also has to go to the players Coach Waters has been able to bring to the Viking basketball program, the most notable of which is senior guard Norris Cole.  Cole has been an absolute stud this season for the Vikings and has been their go to guy.  He is averaging 20 points per game for the Vikings along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists and has the talent to take a game over at any time.  He’s that good.  In addition to being the statistical leader of the Vikings he’s also the emotional leader of the team.  So goes Cole, so go the Vikings.  He’s the one of the few players remaining on the team who played a key role in the success of the 2009 team that went to the NCAA Tournament.  His experience will be crucial if the team has any hope of making a deep run come March.

Cole is not the entire team however.  He’s surrounded by a very good supporting cast which includes junior Trevon Harmon (13 ppg), junior Jeremy Montgomery (11 ppg) and junior Aaron Pogue (8 ppg, 6rpg).  The one noticeable thing all these players have in common, Cole included, is that they are all upper classmen.  That bodes well for this team moving forward.  It means they have been playing together for quite some time and have a plethora of experience.  From that perspective they have the make up of the classic mid-major team that makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

This weekend the Vikings have their hands full.  They take on the Valparaiso Crusaders on Thursday and the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday.  Coincidentally, those two teams are responsible for two of the Vikings three losses on the season.  They lost a close one to Valpo, 64-58.  The Butler game didn’t go as well.  They lost to Butler, 79-56.  However, both of those games were played on the road and Butler’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse is traditionally one of the hardest places to play in all of college basketball.

So with all of that in mind, the Vikings need support.  Clevelanders are begging for a winner.  Well folks, here’s a winner.  Unfortunately, they have been unable to gain the support of the community.  This is one of the top basketball programs in the country right now and deserves better than that.  It’s important that the Wolstein Center be full for these games.  Besides, what else are we going to do, watch the Cavs?  Would the Cavs even be able to beat the Vikings right now?  Exactly.

To help boost interest in the game against Butler on Saturday, Cleveland St. is organizing “Black Out Butler” and is encouraging fans to wear black to the game on Saturday.  The goal is to create an intimidating environment to help rattle Butler.  Whether or not it will work remains to be seen, but it’s a good idea none the less.  Regardless, the Vikings need to win this game in order to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.  The game should be a fun experience.  I wish I could go, but alas, I’m stuck in New Orleans.  So do your duty Clevelanders and get behind a team that is actually winning and providing some excitement…

A team that is actually providing a sense of hope.

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