Cleveland State facing most important weekend of the season
It's been a rough year in front of the ESPN cameras for CSU, most recently a 74-63 loss Sunday at Old Dominion. The Vikings rely on senior guard Norris Cole and pressure defense to force turnovers because they're thin on the front line and the bench. They had one half of the equation working on Sunday.
Cole, the leading candidate for Horizon League player of the year, scored 35 points and kept CSU in the game in the first half. The rest of the team only had 28 points, and Old Dominion held a 51-22 rebounding advantage.
The Vikings now face their most important weekend of the season. They could win the HL regular season title and clinch a bye to the semifinals in the league tournament, which the No. 1 seed hosts (plus the championship game at the highest remaining seed). They could also finish out of the top two seeds and have to win two games just to get to the semis.
As of Sunday, CSU is 12-4 in the HL, followed by Valparaiso (11-4) and Butler (12-5). Here are their remaining schedules:
- CSU: vs. Milwaukee on Thursday, vs. Green Bay on Saturday
- Valpo: at Green Bay on Monday, vs. Loyola on Thursday, vs. UIC on Saturday
- Butler: vs. Loyola on Saturday
The best case for the Vikings is to keep winning and have Valpo lose at least once. If CSU and Valpo finish tied and Butler finishes third, Valpo would win the tiebreaker. Butler also has the tiebreaker edge on CSU because the Bulldogs won both matchups against the Vikings this season.
Getting every advantage it can in the league tournament is important for CSU because its profile for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament isn't strong. The bracket projection sites have CSU in the field at the moment because they're in first place in the league and therefore the presumed tournament champion. As an at-large, it would be tough to pick the Vikings over Butler - if the HL received a second bid. It's looking more and more as if CSU's loss to Butler at home on Feb. 5 was the hinge to their season.
If CSU doesn't win the league tournament, it will make for a nervous Selection Sunday in the Wolstein Center. Losing a résumé-bolstering game at Old Dominion will make for even sweatier palms.
- Howard Primer