Tonight, Cleveland basketball fans are in for a treat. Two games; college and pro, with actual meaning! Nobody will be there I'm sure, but the biggest game in years for the Cleveland State Vikings takes place tonight at the Wolstein Center as #12 ranked Butler Bulldogs visit with first place in the Horizon League on the line. To quote the great Harry Doyle from Major League "in case you didn't notice, and judging by the attendance, you haven't," the Vikings are the surprise of the Horizon League, sitting atop the standings at 5-0, 12-5 overall. Butler's lone loss was a 43-42 stunner to Wright State, where their shooting was colder than Barry Bonds talking to the media (32%).
Nobody knows a thing about Gary Waters Vikings club. Here is a little background. Waters has pulled a great class of Freshman and transfers (10 newcomers) that have turned around the program instantly. They go nine deep. One of those transfers, Cedric Jackson (St. John's), leads the team in both scoring (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg). Junior leader and three year starter J'Nathan Bullock is the heart and soul of the team. The undersized Forward (6-4) is right there with Jackson in scoring at 14.4 ppg while grabbing a team high six rebounds a game. He is also money at the line, 87%. They don't shoot the deep ball well (29%) as a team, but they are a smart team, well coached club. On their resume are wins over Florida State, South Florida, and at Wright State, where Butler could not win.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs come in red hot, winners of eight straight. They are a three-point oriented club, who plays as fundamentally sound brand of basketball as you will see. As a team, they shoot 39% from deep and usually all five players on the floor can stroke it at any time. They are led by Senior Guards Mike Green (15.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 42% from three) and A.J. Graves (14.6, 37% from three). The difference between this year's Butler's team and others in the past is they have a legitimate post threat in 6-8 Freshman Matt Howard. He has started from day one and has proven to be the one guy in the Horizon League that teams do not have an answer for. In their 21 point thrashing of Ohio State, Howard took it right at prized Freshman Kosta Koufos to the tune of 23 points. Veterans Pete Campbell, Julian Betko, and Drew Streicher have all played major roles in last year's Sweet 16 run. This team is no joke. They have collected wins over Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Florida State, Bradley, and Southern Illinois. That is as good of a resume as you will see in the country.
Can the Vikings pull this one out? Our guess is no, but it will be closer than you think.
Meanwhile, the NBA showcases a rematch of last year's NBA Finals tonight on TNT as the Cavaliers travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs. You know odds are I'll maybe watch the fourth quarter of this game and the Cavaliers will most likely be out-classed again as they were last June. Lebron James for one, feels as though he let people down with the way he and his team played in the Finals. "It bothered me because I wasn't able to dominate like I feel I can," he said as the Cavs prepared to meet the Spurs tonight for the first time since then. "I knew I needed to get better before, but after that I knew I had a lot of work to do."
To be honest, what more needs to be said about a regular season NBA game? It's not worth breaking down. That's the bottom line.
Predictions: Butler 62 Cleveland State 56. Spurs 95 Cavaliers 85
San Antonio Spurs Memories - Brian Windhorst, Akron Beacon-Journal
Butler Rolling Under Stevens - Joe Maxse, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Viking Finds Line to Success - Joe Maxse, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Cleveland State's Rise Surprises Even It's Coach - David Woods, Indianapolis Star