Cleveland, Ohio — Tonight begins a new season of Cleveland State men’s basketball. Head Coach Dennis Felton and his practically all-new team will hit the floor against Davidson tonight at 7 p.m.
Coming off a 12-23 regular season and stunning Motor City Madness run to a second place finish, the Vikings are looking to take the first big step under Felton back to the top of the Horizon League.
Even though last season was largely disappointing (yes, the tournament run was fun, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves), the team did find and develop a strong 1-2 punch on offense in now sophomores Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic.
Being the poster boys of Felton’s positionless offense, Appleby, who stands at 6 feet 1 inch tall, thrives by driving towards the rim and Kenic, who stands at 6 feet 9 inches tall, is most useful on the perimeter.
Both will have no problem averaging double-digit points this season. On top of that, Appleby’s passing and Kenic’s rebounding should factor in and result in solid all-around seasons for the young duo.
Where things get interesting is, well, everywhere else. Appleby and Kenic are the only two returning starters, as the Vikings suffered major losses to both graduation and transfer.
In the team’s lone exhibition matchup last week, Felton and co. trotted out Algevon Eichelberger, Seth Millner and Dontel Highsmith alongside Appleby and Kenic.
It’s hard to read any into this because 11 players were on the court for 10 or more minutes. I do, however, expect Eichelberger to play a significant role this season. The sophomore missed last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but his size (6-foot-8-inches, 250 lbs.) will be a treasure under the rim in a Horizon League that is, for the most part, undersized.
Personally, I think the final two spots to start the season will be manned by Kasheem Thomas and Highsmith. I think Felton will opt for experience to begin the season, before possibly moving more towards the likes of Millner and Williams down the road.
Jalaam Hill, a junior who transferred to CSU, will likely take a key bench roll.
Something Felton is not going to be able to avoid this season is playing freshmen. Other than Appleby and Kenic, no other freshman saw regular playing time last season.
The Vikings are overwhelmingly bottom heavy. The ratio of nine underclassmen to five upperclassmen means freshmen are going to play. While I don’t expect them to get a lot of minutes early, I do think, by the end of the season, they will be regulars in the rotation.
I’m not going to predict a record for this season. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s going to be another 10-12 win season for the Vikings. But, what Felton does this year should be the groundwork for a budding team that, in a year or two, can start thinking about competing for a regular season title.
Photo by Michael Pace