The Cleveland State Vikings were defeated by Butler twice during the regular season. In both of those games, the Vikings lost by two points. The conference tournament championship game offered Cleveland State a chance to avenge those two losses. They took full advantage of that opportunity.
Cleveland State defeated Butler 57-54 in the Horizon League tournament championship game, earning the Vikings an automatic birth in the 2009 NCAA tournament. The victory was made even sweeter by the fact that Butler beat Cleveland State 50-48 and 58-56 in their two previous meetings during the season. The victory in the tournament title game was an upset but it certainly wasn’t shocking. Cleveland State went 12-6 in conference play and is heading to the NCAA tournament with an overall record of 25-10.
Unlike teams from other smaller conferences, Cleveland State faces a NCAA tournament team twice in conference play. Butler is a top #20 team and will definitely be playing in the Big Dance. The Vikes suffered a 15 point loss to Washington in the second game of the season. Both Kansas State and West Virginia defeated Cleveland State by ten points in the first month of the season. The Vikings have one huge win against a NCAA tournament team, a 72-69 thriller against Syracuse.
Senior forward J’Nathan Bullock leads Cleveland State into the NCAA tournament, averaging 15.3 points and seven rebounds a game. Sophomore guard Norris Cole averages 12.9 points a game and fellow guard Cedric Jackson, a senior, adds 10.5 points and 5.4 assists per contest. Sophomore D’Aundray Brown contributes 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Vikings.
Cleveland State is a team that isn’t dominant on offense or defense. The Vikings only average 66 points and 34 rebounds a game. As a team, the Vikings shoot 31.7 percent from three point land and 43 percent from the field. An undersized team such as Cleveland State will have to shoot better in order to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament.
The Vikings are going into the NCAA tournament on somewhat of a run. They have won four straight, including the big win against Butler to end pre-NCAA tournament play. Cleveland State’s longest winning streak of the season is seven, which occurred during Horizon League play.
The Horizon League wasn’t particularly weak in 2008-09. Four teams (Butler, Green Bay, Cleveland State and Wright State) finished the season with 20 or more overall wins. The fact that Cleveland State only lost by ten or more points four times speaks to the tenacity of the Vikings. Nevertheless, their first round opponent will need to have an off night (or day) for Cleveland State to pull off an upset.
All stats courtesy of ESPN