By Ben Hercik
Last year, Cinderella decided to take up residence in Cleveland, as the Vikings men’s basketball team made a run to the Horizon League Tournament Finals. The Vikings came into the tournament as the eighth seed, and had to battle through the entire bracket.
They ran off wins over Youngstown State University, Northern Kentucky University and Oakland University to get to the finals Ultimately, the clock struck midnight when the Vikings lost the final to Wright State University, 74-57. After the run, there were higher expectations set for the 2018-19 season.
The team was picked as the seventh best team in the conference and sophomore guard Tyree Appleby was named to the Preseason All-Horizon League First Team, meaning he was one of the five best players in the entire conference. Appleby was the first member of the Vikings team to be named to the team since Trey Lewis from the 2014-15 season.
Once the season started, the ball did not bounce the Vikings’ way. The team started the season on a 2-7 slump. Among the seven losses, one was to the reigning Atlantic 10 Conference champions in Davidson University, another was to The Ohio State University, a team that was nationally ranked at the time.
In those losses, the team struggled in several aspects, with the main areas being in rebounds, turnovers and points off of turnovers. The Vikings are being outrebounded by a differential of 32. They turned the ball over 30 more times than their oppositions, which has led to teams scoring 19.7 more points per game, while they averaged 11.4 points per game off of turnovers.
The team then went on a brief run where they won three out of four games just prior to starting conference play. Each win was convincing as well, with the lone loss being an overtime heartbreaker versus Illinois State University. It seemed like the team had found a groove heading into conference play.
In the three wins, the Vikings found success distributing the ball and having points scored by multiple players, including the players off the bench. In the three wins, the Vikings averaged 17 assists per game, and were able to limit their opponents to 9.3 assists per game. The Vikings’ bench contributed 24 points per game which was able to take a lot of the pressure off of the starters.
Once conference season started, the team took a step backwards. The Vikings have lost the first eight of the nine conference games. This has put them at the bottom of the Horizon League standings and has made their task of repeating last season’s run a lot more challenging. The Vikings’ lone win in this stretch came over Youngstown State, which came on Jan. 26.
The issues that plagued the Vikings are the same ones that were issues that were happening at the beginning of the season. The rebound margin grew to a 48 differencial, they have turned the ball over 34 times more than their opponents — which has led to their opponents scoring 18.6 more points per game, while they are only scoring 16.3 points per game off of turnovers that they create.
The athletes are performing very well and working hard to get back to their winning ways. Appleby is currently averaging 17.2 points per game. However, it is not Appleby doing it all alone. He is followed by sophomore forward Stefan Kenic, junior forward Jaalam Hill and freshman forward Rashad Williams. Kenic and Hill are both averaging 10.2 points per game while Williams is providing 9.8 points per game off of the bench. Appleby and junior guard Kasheem Thomas are also helping their teammates score more points thanks to their assists per game. Appleby is averaging 5.2 assists per game, while Thomas follows him, averaging three assists per game. Hill and Kenic, along with freshman forward Seth Millner, are also getting it done when it comes to rebounds. Hill is averaging 6.2 rebounds per game, while Millner and Kenic are averaging 4.2 and 4.1 rebounds per game, respectively.
Currently sitting at 6-16, the Vikings still have a long road ahead of them. They have to play every team in the Horizon League once more before the conference tournament.
Even if the Vikings were to win out, they would more than likely need another visit from Cinderella if they want to make another run to try and qualify to be apart of the March Madness that is the NCAA Championship Tournament.