Scouting Report: Cleveland State
Without Festus Ezeli holding down the fort near the tin, Vanderbilt isn't expected to be brilliant in this first month of the college basketball season. The Commodores are expected to rally around their missing center before he returns from injury. Friday night's curtain-raiser against Oregon marked a solid start, but the essential lesson taught by roundball is that two days after one big game, another defining test follows. The word "letdown" cannot trip lightly from the lips of fans at Memorial Gym on Sunday afternoon. Coach Kevin Stallings needs to keep his team locked in at the defensive end of the floor against a guest from the Horizon League.
CLEVELAND STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Last season, coach Gary Waters saw his Vikings dash to a 21-3 overall record, 10-2 in the Horizon League ahead of a certain team from Indianapolis that has reached the last two NCAA Tournament championship games. Norris Cole, the do-everything point guard who is now a member of the (locked-out) Miami Heat, carried Cleveland State on his back and dazzled the college basketball community. On February 12, Cole posted one of the most jawdropping stat lines in the history of hoops, a 41-point, 20-rebound, nine-assist masterclass against Youngstown State. In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson went for 42, 15 and 7 to help the Los Angeles Lakers close out the Philadelphia 76ers. Cole's performance didn't occur under such high stakes or in the glare of the media spotlight, but the jawdropping display underscored the extent to which the immensely skilled floor general was the heart of the 2011 Vikings.
This year, Cole is gone. The lack of a spiritual leader could be an issue in the early stages of this season for CSU, but the other four members of the starting five are back for Waters and his staff. Cleveland State had a star player who initiated so much of the team's action and offense last season. This year, a deeper squad needs to win with a work-by-committee approach, collectively compensating for the loss of a "climb-aboard-and-just-follow-me" kind of player in the person of Mr. Cole.
Starting Lineup – Two Forwards, Three Guards (No True Center)
Power Forward – Aaron Pogue – Senior, 6-9, 265 2010-11: 8.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Pogue – like just about every other big man in the Horizon League – was bedeviled last year by Matt Howard, the Butler star who became the most indispensible player on the Horizon League team that not only made two straight NCAA title games, but beat Cleveland State three times last season. Now that Howard has graduated, Pogue could become the most prominent "effort guy" in the Horizon League. Pogue is known within the CSU program for being the kind of player who regularly finds his way to the ball, especially on the offensive glass. Pogue uses great technique on defense and puts himself in position to block or alter shots. Pogue is basically a player who knows what to do and where to go in any situation. Steve Tchiengang will receive a worthy test of his fundamentals when he goes against Pogue.
Power Forward– Tim Camczyc – Junior, 6-7, 200; 2010-11: 5.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Camczyc is a converted small forward, but he can still play the European game and step behind the 3-point line to keep defenses honest. Camczyc is not an indiscriminate mad-bomber of a long-distance shooter; he picks his spots, and he shoots the ball well as a result. Camczyc hit 33 of 80 threes last season, a sterling .413 percentage that contributed to his team-leading effective field goal percentage: 52.9. If Pogue is the lunch-pail worker bee for Cleveland State, Camczyc is the sneaky offensive player who cannot be ignored.
Shooting Guard– Jeremy Montgomery – Senior, 6-2, 190; 2010-11: 11.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Montgomery took 171 attempts behind the arc last season, hitting just under 33 percent of them. This is the kind of shooter defenses have to crowd: It's important to get on top of Montgomery's shooting hand in order to disrupt his release, but as long as this type of player IS indeed crowded, it's fine to let him shoot, because he'll almost certainly miss in such a situation. It's important for Vanderbilt to deny Montgomery clean looks within the flow of CSU's offense; it's not important to prevent Montgomery from shooting the ball at all. That's a status reserved for higher-level shooters who can hit threes at a 40-percent clip or better.
Shooting Guard – Travon Harmon – Senior, 6-1, 185; 2010-11: 13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 steals per game
Harmon's shooting profile is almost the same as Montgomery's. The senior attempted 181 treys last season and hit 34 percent of them. However, it's at the defensive end of the floor where Harmon shines. He was a member of the All-Horizon League Defensive Team last season, giving the Vikings tenacious backcourt defense and enabling Cole to focus more of his energies on his offensive game (plus the boards). Pay attention to Harmon's steals per game average – it was fourth in the Horizon League last year.
Guard – D'Aundray Brown – Senior, 6-4, 185; 2010-11: Did not play due to a finger injury
Brown is the mysterious piece in this starting-five puzzle for Waters. Will he play Brown at the point to keep the other four positions intact, or will the CSU coaching staff shift Harmon to the point and allow Brown – with his greater size – play on the wings? The way Brown fits into the lineup will have a lot to do with CSU's level of cohesion against Vanderbilt and in the early stages of the Vikings' season.
When Cleveland State tried to make the NCAA Tournament last season, the final push for the Vikings came in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament against Butler. In that game, only two CSU bench players – Joe Latas and Josh McCoy – saw more than five minutes of playing time, essentially making Waters' rotation a seven-man operation. Latas and McCoy are both gone, so CSU's bench is a big, gaping unknown. Waters will need newcomers to carry part of the load for the Vikings this season, especially freshmen Anton Grady and Charles Lee. Grady is a 6-8, 210-pound athlete who, to put it plainly, is not a lumbering, space-eating power forward. Recruiting evaluations can and do (and will) overhype players, but published accounts of Grady's all-around game do point to the idea that he can do many things with the basketball. He's not the kind of power forward whose toolbox of skills is painfully limited (many power forwards fit that last description). Lee is a 5-9, 160-pound lightning flash of a point guard who is really quick but also physically frail. Lee is the kind of player who – if prevented from running the fast break or denied in his attempts to dribble-drive to the basket – has no recourse on the court.
Keys to the Game
1) Be prepared to work on a Sunday. Early tip-off, mid-major program, just settling into the season – it's a recipe for an unfocused performance. Merely working hard will cover a multitude of sins in this game; Vandy doesn't have to look good. It's mandate for the season – something we'll repeat a lot of times (with good need, too…) – is to become a tough team, not a pretty one.
2) Hound the point. No Norris Cole, eh? Time to make Cleveland State pay. The Vikings should round into a very good team by season's end, but in the curtain-raiser for CSU's season, the absence of its stud point guard should loom large. This is where Vandy must pounce on defense, offering the gateway to a lot of cheap baskets at the other end of the floor.
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