The Cleveland State University The men’s basketball team is drawing national attention for its turnaround season. The Vikings are 12-5 and ranked first in the Horizon League. The last time they had a winning season was 2014-15.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says head coach Dennis Gates has found a recipe for success.
Cleveland State University has a long track record in the field Horizon League. In 1986, the team made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, becoming the first # 14 seed to do so.
Later under head coach Gary WatersThe Vikings had six post-season berths, including reaching the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
Waters retired in 2017 after 11 years after losing two seasons in a row. Then came two more years of decline under his successor, Dennis Felton.
“The whole thing is just crater-like [and] You kept losing 20 games. Team GPA, which had always been very strong with Gary Waters, had dropped to just over 2.0, “said Pluto.
Felton was fired in July 2019 and Scott Garrett was appointed as the new sporting director Dennis Gateswho had served eight seasons on the Florida state coaching staff.
“You took the whole Horizon League by surprise. Nobody even saw this coming.”
A new strategy for building a team
Gates’ first season at CSU last year ended with a record of 11-17, but Pluto said Gates believed he could turn it around. His main strategy was to recruit overlooked junior college players.
“When you think of junior college players, [you think] You have something wrong with them. There are either academic problems or attitude problems, or they are not very athletic initially, “said Pluto.
But Pluto said Gates saw something different in many of these players. “Their grades were good; they are good kids. They were looking for a place to play,” he said.
Gates was known for recruiting solid players in the state of Florida and leading the Seminoles to the NCAA Sweet 16 tournament in the 2018-19 season. The year before, they went to Elite 8.
Win from the committee
Pluto says the team’s GPA has increased from about 2.2 to over 3.0 since Gates arrived, with six players recently being put on Dean’s List.
Gates also implemented a strategy called “winning by committee” in which he continuously rotates players in and out of the game.
“The idea is if you get some of these hardworking guys [you] Get them to work together and maintain the energy level. [that] They will overtake it, “said Pluto. He said it was also a way to wear down your opponent.
But Pluto says getting a few young players to work together can often be difficult.
“A lot of coaches came up with this stuff. But [you have to get] Buying children and you need to recruit the right kind of children. ”
From Tuesday, February 2, the CSU will take first place in the Horizon League.
Back on the map
Cleveland State plays in the Horizon League and not the Mid-American Conference with other Division I schools, Kent State University and the University of Akron because the CSU doesn’t play football.
The CSU is currently in first place in the league, just ahead of Wright State. The two teams will compete against each other on February 15th and 16th. The winner of the conference will automatically receive a bid for March Madness.
“They took the entire Horizon League by surprise. Nobody even saw this coming,” said Pluto.
Pluto said it was exciting to have Kent State (10-4), Akron (10-4) and Cleveland State (12-5) competitive at the same time. He hopes they will all play against each other in independent games next year when schools can get back to their normal timetables amid the pandemic.
“In the meantime, it’s fun to see Cleveland state become relevant again,” he said.