Team preview: Cleveland State

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2011-12 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: November 3, 2011, 11:45 AM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

The good news is Cleveland State brings back everybody on the roster of a championship team except one player. The bad news is that the one player is irreplaceable.

Norris Cole had a dream senior year. He averaged 21.7 points and was voted the Horizon League's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He leaves the program with 90 career wins, one short of the all-time record set by Mouse McFadden from 1985-89. Then Cole's year got even better. He was the 28th pick of the NBA draft, sneaking in the first round. He'll be a teammate of LeBron James in Miami if the league ever settles its collective-bargaining issue. Certainly no one player could fill the sneakers of a guy who led the league in scoring, recorded 80 steals and set up his teammates with 191 assistsand played 35.7 minutes a game.

"I think we've got bodies," coach Gary Waters said, "but I don't know if they can do what Norris did. The thing with point production is that a lot of guys, I won't say relied, but they deferred to him. We'll be more balanced this year."

PLAYERS

The Vikings can assemble a pretty impressive committee of veterans to try to take up Cole's slack. A starter returns at every other position, and not just any run-of-the-mill starter. The Vikings were one of only three teams in the nation last year who started the same lineup in every game. Trevon Harmon (13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is back at off-guard. Jeremy Montgomery (11.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is back at the shooting guard/wing. Tim Kamczyc (5.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) returns at power forward and big Aaron Pogue (8.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is set for another season in the post. All but Kamczyc are seniors.

If that weren't enough returning vets, there's more. D'Aundray Brown, a former starter and member of the Horizon League all-defensive team, returns for a fifth year after redshirting in 2010-11. The 6-4 Brown tore a ligament in the index finger on his shooting hand in late October and coach Gary Waters eventually made the decision to redshirt him and bring him back for another season when he could be healthy from the get-go. Brown averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 boards in 2009-10, playing mostly on a wing, but moving to power forward on occasion. He ended up as Cleveland's leading rebounder.

Sitting last year couldn't have been easy. Brown watched the Vikings race to a 12-0 start and go on to clinch a share (with Butler and Milwaukee) of their first conference championship since the Mid-Continent Conference days of 1992-93. Butler knocked Cleveland out of the conference tournament in the semifinals. The Vikings were thus relegated to the NIT. They beat Vermont in the opening round but fell victim to a frigid shooting night (1-of-25 3PT) in a second-round loss to College of Charleston.

The 27 wins were the program's most since 1985-86, but Waters was left hungry for more. A lack of punch off the bench left the starters playing too many minutes and tired legs may have been a factor in a 6-6 finish down the stretch.

"It was a combination of things," Waters said. "Our bench wasn't as strong as we'd like. We only had two or three at most who could give us any minutes, and they were inconsistent."

Despite Cole's absence, the Vikings appear reinforced and capable of contending for the title again. The obvious problem is finding a point guard. Charles Lee, a 5-9, 160-pound freshman from Milwaukee, is by default a candidate for early playing time.

"I think he's very good," Waters said. "He was one of the two or three best point guards in Wisconsin, and then he played prep school. He can come in here and help us. Charles can defend and he's as pure a point guard as you're going to see coming out of high school, and even more pure coming out of prep school. What I like is he knows when to pass it and when to shoot it."

An intriguing possibility is Sebastian Douglas, a 6-3 combo guard who was forced to redshirt as a freshman last year after undergoing knee surgery. By season's end Douglas was back on the court, running the scout team in practice and battling against Cole and Harmon. "He was our top recruit two years ago," Waters said.

Then there's the option of Harmon and/or Montgomery having the ball in their hands. The 6-1 Harmon was once considered a combo guard, but Cole's iron grip on the point freed him to play off the ball the last two seasons. He cranked up a team-high 181 treys, sinking 33.7 percent of them. Harmon isn't a one-trick pony. He's disruptive at the other end, garnering Horizon All-Defensive honors with his 55 steals, and usually defends the other team's point.

Montgomery is a potent complement to Harmon. He launched 171 three-balls, converting 32.7 percent. His 63 assists were second best on the team.

Kamczyc, a 6-6 junior, hustled his way into a starting job last fall when Brown's injury rattled the rotation. He commands defensive attention facing the basket because at 41.3 percent, he was the team's most accurate three-point shooter (33-of-80). Kamczyc has a high hoops IQ (53 assists) and scraps at both ends of the floor (33 steals).

Blue Ribbon Previews

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Closer to the basket is the 6-9, 275-pound Pogue's territory. He hit 51.6 percent of his attempts (none from beyond the arc) but, alas, couldn't match that mark from the free-throw line. Pogue shot 147 free throws, second high behind Cole, but made only 50.3 percent of them. Pogue also creates free throws for the other guys. He was whistled for 139 fouls and was disqualified six times.

Kamczyc won't lose any of his minutes on account of Brown's return. Even though Brown played some four in 2009-10, he won't be making even a cameo there this time around, Waters said. "He's going to be a two or a three," Waters said. "With the year off, he improved his shooting and his ball handling."

With an iron-man trio playing 31-plus minutes a game on the perimeter, the Vikings didn't get a lot of guard help from the bench. Josh McCoy (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) who averaged 14.6 minutes and was a reliable three-point threat at 36.8 percent, has transferred seeking more playing time.

McCoy wasn't the only one who sought greener pastures elsewhere. Senior post Joe Latas completed his degree and transferred for a graduate season at a smaller school. Forward Charles Woods has also left the team. From last year's bench, that leaves forward Ludovic Ndaye (1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg), who perhaps boasts the most culturally creative name in the league. Ndaye is a 6-9 Canadian who averaged 8.8 minutes in 34 games and has worked to improve his footwork in hopes of an expanded role.

There is also 6-7, 230-pound sophomore Devon Long (2.0 ppg, 0.9 rpg), who appeared in 17 games last season without creating many waves in the box score. In Long's case, less could be more. "Devon lost about 30 pounds so I'm going to have to play him some in the post this year," Waters said.

Joining Lee in the incoming freshman class is 6-8 forward Anton Grady, who was one of the more highly regarded prospects in Ohio. Grady, who prepped at Cleveland Central Catholic, averaged 22.3 points, 14.8 boards and 4.4 blocked shots as a senior.

Marlon Mason, a 6-6 forward, comes from Cass Tech in Detroit, where he averaged 11.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

Ike Nwamu is a 6-3 shooting guard from Westchester Country Day in Greensboro, N.C. He scored at a 17.4-points-per-game clip as a senior.

"This is probably the best talent we've brought in," Waters said. "If we've improved ourselves in any area, it's that we're more athletic. Grady is athletic, he can rebound and score. He's a four to start with, but we'll train him some at the three. Nwamu is a wing, a two or a three. We haven't had an athlete like him in the program for a long timeand he can shoot the ball."

So even with a plethora of returnees, Waters expects the freshmen to upgrade the Vikings. Then there's the return of Brown and Douglas, whom Cleveland State could have used last year to shore up the depth and spread the minutes.

"We feel good about our team," Waters said, "but there is a question mark. It's going to be hard to replace Norris, and him being a point guard, that's probably the most difficult position to replace."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: B+
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: B

Of the three teams that tied for the Horizon League title last winter, Cleveland State returns the most experience. If the Vikings can figure out a way to minimize the loss of HL Player of the Year Norris Cole, they will be right back in the title hunt.

Gary Waters' teams will always defend hard and this one will be no different. Cole was such a catalyst at the point on both ends of the court the returning seniors will have to step up and set a tone for the rest of the team to follow. That's especially true for guards Trevon Harmon and Jeremy Montgomery.

The return of D'Aundray Brown from a medical redshirt year will be a plus. If only he were a point guard, the team's biggest question would be solved. He's not, but he will shore up the rotation as an active defender who can make things happen.

With Brown back in the mix and a little more help from the bench and from newcomers like Charles Lee and Anton Grady, Cleveland State could avoid the late-season fatigue that struck last season. With fresher legs, the Vikings will have a big say in who wears the Horizon League crown.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.