The Norris Cole era is over at Cleveland State but Viking men’s basketball coach Gary Waters is ready for the challenges that his team will face in trying to defend its share of the Horizon League regular season title.
“The first dozen games will be a challenge for this team,” said Waters in his first luncheon meeting with area media at the Wolstein Center.
“It will be a success if we come out of those first 12 games at .500,” he explained.
Those dozen games, starting with the season opener on Nov. 13 at Vanderbilt, have little to do with Horizon League play but it will have a lot to do with how the Vikings will perform this season.
“We’re bigger and we have to correct our rebounding problems we had last year,” admitted Waters. “And we have to move on with Norris gone (to graduation),” continued the Viking coach.
Last season, the Vikings were out-rebounded consistantly but were able to overcome that shortsoming by forcing numerous turnovers on defense.
The challenge does come with some positives for the Vikings, who actually return five starters despite the loss of Cole to the Miami Heat of the NBA. Cole was drafted 28th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bulls and immediately traded to Miami.
The key to those first 12 games is most are on the road. Following the visit to Nashville on Nov. 13 to play Vanderbilt on ESPNU, the Vikings are home for a 2-game home stand Nov. 15 with Rio Grande and Nov. 18 against St. Bonaventure.
Cleveland State then is away from the Wolstein Center for seven in a row including its first two Horizon League games. CSU opens defense of its share of the league crown Dec. 1 at Wright State and follows that with a Dec. 3 game at Detroit.
The Vikings return five starters because of the return of senior guard D’Aundray Brown, who sat out last season with a hand injury prior to the 2010-11 season. Brown, a 3-time letter winner, has been CSU’s best defender when he has been on the floor away from injuries. He also missed the NCAA tournament in 2008 with a knee injury.
Brown, a 6-foot-4-inch fifth year senior from Youngstown Ursuline, will join four others who started each of CSU’s 36 games last season, led by Horizon League pre-season selection Tim Kamczyc.
Harmon and Montgomery both scored in double figures for the Vikings, who got off to a 12-0 start on the way to a 27-9 record that included a 13-5 Horizon League mark to join Butler and Milwaukee as tri-champs.
All three entered post season play last season with Butler reaching the NCAA title game for the second consecutive year and Milwaukee and CSU playing in the NIT.
After losing the Horizon League tournament title game to Butler on a neutral floor at Milwaukee, the Vikings played twice at home inthe NIT, besting Vermont and losing to College of Charleston to end the year 27-9 and 17-3 at home.
Last season, Harmon, a 6-1 senior from Pasadena, Cal., scored 13.2 points and collected 4.0 rebounds while Montgomery, a 6-2 senior from Chicago, was right behind, scoring 11.6 points with 2.6 assists.
In the front court, Pogue, a 6-9 senior from Dayton, looks to extend his solid play in the middle where he scored 8.2 points and collected 6.1 rebounds while Kamczyc, a 6-7 senior from Strongsville, rounds out the line up with 5.9 points and 3.7 boards.
New to the club are four freshmen that Waters thinks will be the foundation for the the future. The include 6-8 forward Anton Grady from Cleveland Central Catholic, 5-9 point guard Charles Lee from Milwaukee, 6-6 forward Marlin Mason from Detroit and 6-3 guard Ike Nwamu from Greensboro, N.C.
While Waters sees Butler and Detroit along with his own Vikings as the early season favorites for the Horizon League title, he isn’t shy about speaking of his club’s successes.
“We have had three post season appearances, two conference championships, two players in the pros, who have opened doors for our recruting and an NCAA tournament appearance,” boasted Waters.
Waters, who had similar success while coaching at Kent State of the Mid-American Conference, has locked his team into annual games with neighboring Akron and Kent State of the MAC.
The Vikings, who defeated both MAC foes last season, play at Kent State Nov. 22 and host Akron Dec. 10 and visit Toledo Dec. 28 to wrap up a 3-game set against the rival league. Last season, the Horizon League held a 18-12 edge with all 10 HL teams grabbing at least one win over a MAC team.
Cleveland State and the Horizon League have 23 games with MAC teams with 16 of the 23 on the road. The big day for the two conferences is Dec. 10 when there are seven games matching up a team from each league.