Who Are You: Cleveland State

The Vikings invade Maples Tuesday Night!

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Tuesday evening's NIT first round home contest versus the Cleveland State Vikings!

I sat down at 6pm Sunday night to flip the tube to ESPNU, fist-pumping and chanting the three letters of the tourney I was hoping to see Stanford participate in. But when Iowa was selected and three eight-team brackets had been filled with just two Pac-12 teams, I started to really worry. Arizona hadn't been selected yet, and I didn't think they were going to put two Pac-12 teams in another eight-team pod like they did with Washington and Oregon.

It was getting down to crunch time now; only four teams were left unturned. Luckily, with Bucknell, Oral Roberts and Nevada already selected, all four remaining slots would go to at-large teams. And luckily, the drama did not last much longer.

As soon as the 3-6 match-up was unveiled in Arizona's pod, I lost it. If ESPN were to put a camera in my house to monitor my anticipation of Stanford's name being called, it would have gotten quite the reaction. Screaming. Shouting. Running from my family room, through the kitchen and into the entry hall to kick over my suitcase (still unpacked a day after getting back from Los Angeles) and bang on the front door, hurling expletives of jubilation all the while. Yes, it's just the NIT, but it's still a decent-sized step forward. And, after being jobbed in 2009 from the field of 32, three years of anguish were now partially remedied.

Now that the honeymoon period of making the NIT is over, let's discuss Stanford's first round opponent- the Cleveland State Vikings. I will say up front that I have not watched Cleveland State play this year save for 10 minutes of their Bracketbuster game against Drexel (they lost by 20 to the Dragons) a few Saturday mornings back, so all of this is based off reading about the team.

The Vikings are 22-10 overall, 12-6 in conference play. They hail from the Horizon League, traditionally one of the stronger mid-major conferences in the land made famous by the Butler Bulldogs for their back-to-back NCAA Championship Game appearances. Speaking of Butler, Cleveland State beat the Bulldoggin' Brad Stevenses at Hinkle Fieldhouse this year (and also lost to them at home). I'm sure everyone here doesn't need a reminder of the Stanford-Butler game from earlier this season…

That is the first warning sign that this upcoming game will be a battle. Another one would be that the Vikings beat Vanderbilt on the road by 13, two days after the Commodores knocked off Oregon by 14. They also beat two other NCAA Tourney teams - St. Bonaventure at home and Detroit twice before losing to the Titans in the Horizon League Semis (they also lost to South Florida, making them 4-2 against tournament teams). The Vikings additionally are 1-3 against the NIT field (beating Akron at home, getting swept by Valpo and losing to Drexel), 2-2 against the CBI field (splitting with both Butler and Milwaukee) and a perfect 3-0 against the now-32-team CIT field (beating Toledo, Kent State and Robert Morris). That makes them 10-7 against teams playing in the postseason. By comparison, Stanford is 5-3 against NCAA Tournament teams (beating Colorado twice, Cal once, NC State and Colorado State; losing to Cal twice and Syracuse once), 0-4 against NIT teams (losing twice to Oregon and once to Washington and Arizona), 2-2 against CBI teams (losing to Butler and Washington State, beating Oregon State twice) and 0-0 against the CIT field, making Stanford 7-9 against teams playing in the postseason.

Yet another warning sign would be their style of play. I had a chance to sit down with Johnny Dawkins on Monday for a Cardinal Channel interview, and I asked him what Pac-12 team Cleveland State reminds him most of. His response? Washington.

Gulp.

Dawkins said the Vikings are a very aggressive team defensively and look to pressure the ball a ton. This is evidenced by the fact that they force more than 16-and-a-half turnovers per game and hold teams to just below 60 points per contest (top-20 in the nation).

This is a very experienced team. When completely healthy, head coach Gary Waters runs out four seniors (D'Aundray Brown, Trevon Harmon, Jeremy Montgomery and Aaron Pogue) and one junior (Tim Kamczyc) for his starting lineup, and all are very productive. Pogue, the man with the least impressive stats (5.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg) is second on the team in offensive rebounding and blocks. He is also an absolute LOAD at 6'9 and 270 pounds. Kamzcyc, the next least impressive from a scoring standpoint, is a dangerous three-point shooter. He doesn't utilize his downtown J all that much (just 61 times in 32 games), but connects on 46 percent the ones he does take.

The other three - Brown, Harmon and Montgomery - all average double figures in scoring. However, D'Aundray Brown is more than just a scoring threat. In addition to his 11 points per game, he leads the team, Horizon League and is 8th in the nation with 2.6 steals per game. As a result, he landed a spot on the Horizon League all-defensive team. He had been sidelined with a groin injury, but returned to play 32 minutes against Detroit in the conference tournament (and produced - 17 points and seven boards). Expect Brown, a 6'4 guard, to be putting a lot of pressure on the ball. Chasson, Aaron and Jarrett will need to be extra careful with the rock in their hands on Tuesday night.

Trevon Harmon (6'1, 185-lb guard out of Pasadena) is the team's leader in scoring at just south of 13 tallies per contest. He gets almost 60 percent of his points from deep, making 71 threes at a 38.4 percent clip from behind the line. He is also just outside of the top-100 in the NCAA for three-pointers made per game.

While there is a lot of experience on this team, the Vikings do get some contributions from their underclassmen, most notably Anton Grady, a 6'8, 215-pound freshman who was selected to the Horizon League All-Freshman team for his averages of 8.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

Back to the team at large (oh those last two words sound so nice now that Stanford has been selected as one). Here's a look at Cleveland State's stats compared to Stanford, with opponents' stats in parentheses:

Category

Cleveland State

Stanford

Scoring

66.0 (59.6)

70.5 (62.9)

FG%

.450 (.412)

.439 (.419)

3FG%

.363 (.318)

.368 (.334)

FT%

.714

.665

Rebounds

32.0 (31.8)

37.0 (31.8)

Defensive Rebounding %

.649 (.649)

.724 (.642)

Assists

13.7 (10.5)

12.5 (10.6)

Assists/FG ratio

.560 (.538)

.504 (NOLA Stand Up!) (.480)

Turnovers

13.7 (16.6)

13.8 (14.6)

Steals

8.5

6.2

Blocks

3.4

3.2

Percentage of shots as 3s

.333 (.320)

.325 (.303)

 

Looking at those stats, Stanford would appear to have the biggest advantage on the glass. Based on Cleveland State's defensive rebounding percentage and Stanford's opponents' defensive rebounding percentage, I would expect Stanford to grab about 12 (and could be substantially more) offensive rebounds on Tuesday night (also based on an average of 32 missed shots per game). What they do with those extra opportunities will go a long way in determining who moves on to play either Ole Miss or Illinois State.

Another key Tuesday night is free throw shooting. Of course free throw shooting is always important, but it will be even more so against Cleveland State. That's because the Vikings have allowed opponents to shoot 278 more free throws than them over the course of the season; a figure that averages out to about nine extra attempts per game. Stanford can expect to shoot around 20-25 free throws against the Vikes if they are aggressive enough.

Or if Farm Boys don't let the on-ball pressure result in turnovers and instead wind up as slaps that get whistled by the zebras. Making sure shots get up in possessions will be another huge factor, like it always is (but takes on an added importance because Cleveland State is especially pesky). I said it before, and I'll say it again: Randle, Bright and Mann will need to find their inner-Mitch Johnson.

If the Card can do those three things well - cashing in on extra possessions, making freebies and not turning the ball over - a date to Oxford is probable, provided the Rebels hold up their end of the bargain. But of course, those won't be easy to execute against an aggressive and experienced Cleveland State. You can never discount Midwest toughness in the postseason (unless you're talking about the Big Ten, which we aren't).

This game could be a good barometer of where this team is at, compared to December. Back then, the Farm Boys lost to a hard-nosed Horizon League team at home by five points. On March 13th, the Cardinal will face a team that finished one game ahead of the Bulldogs in the Horizon League standings and split with the back-to-back National runners-up in the regular season.

What will the result be this time?


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