Men’s basketball reflects on last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance

Despite their first round loss, the team remains optimistic and hopes to return at the end of this season.

Last season was a series of highs and lows for Cleveland State University’s men’s basketball team; however, the Vikings accomplished the unthinkable. At the start of the season, the team was 0-3, but this record was not reflective for long. Something ignited within the core of the team, and the fire was unleashed. The Vikings fought against any preconceived notions that were established by preceding seasons, preseason polls and those who doubted them.  

The team was able to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. In the 2020 March Madness tournament, the Vikings took on The Houston Cougars in the first round. The Vikings trailed by only eight points at the half, but the Cougars ultimately pulled away and the Vikings’ magical season ended. The team is poised to make it back to the “dance” again this year.  

The men’s basketball team celebrates their well-deserved league championship title. Photo courtesy of Viking Athletics

Summer 2019 was a season of reconstruction for the men’s basketball program. Five players returned for a season with an empty head coach position that needed to be filled. The university was desperate for a new leader for the program, to help rebuild and cultivate a new men’s basketball team. The program looked to Dennis Gates to do so as the new head coach.

In his short time here, Gates has cultivated an entirely new culture for CSU basketball. He implemented a serious and hard-working atmosphere surrounding the team. Gates leads by example. His attire speaks to the culture that he has cultivated here at Cleveland State. Gates is known for being one of the few coaches to still wear a suit, and this speaks to the reputation he is building here.

Gates led the team to its best season start in university history. The Vikings fired off nine straight wins, which checked the box for the program’s longest winning streak since the 2010-2011 season. He is only the second coach in university history to earn the title Horizon League Coach of the year, and yet he’s claimed the title both seasons he’s been at CSU. 

Coach Gates getting the team fired up during a game. Photo courtesy of Viking Athletics

With the immense progress that Gates and the rest of his staff have accomplished in turning the program around in just two seasons, Cleveland State intends to keep him from slipping through the University’s grip.

Gates recently signed a contract extension with the university, which extends his original five- year contract from 2019, to take him through the 2026-2027 season. Along with this, CSU also intends to invest more into the assistant coaching, upgrade equipment, recruiting, travel and even improve the team’s home schedule. 

Earlier this month, the reigning Horizon League champions announced their 2021-2022 official schedule. The Vikings are set to face all the Horizon League teams. Facing each one at home and on the road, adding up to 22 Horizon League matchups.

Cleveland State will get back to it at the end of October facing Case Western Reserve University in an exhibition game. Following this and another match against Otterbein, the men’s basketball team will start their next season of dreams at Brigham Young on Nov. 9.

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