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August 19, 2008

Preseason Countdown: No. 59 Cleveland State


Head coach: Gary Waters
Last season: 21-13 overall, 12-6 in Horizon.
Postseason: Earned bid to NIT; lost in first round to Dayton 66-57.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

Senior point guard Cedric Jackson may be the best player in the Horizon League. A former role player at St. John's, he proved to be a terrific playmaker in his first year for the Vikings last season after a transfer. Jackson was one of two players (the other was conference player of the year Mike Green of Butler) in the league to rank in the top 10 in scoring (eighth) and assists (second) and the top 20 in rebounding (15th). He also led the league with 2.6 steals per game, which tied for ninth nationally.

Senior point guard Cedric Jackson is easily one of the top players in the Horizon League.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Cedric Jackson, 6-3/Sr.
13.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.6 spg
G Norris Cole, 6-1/Soph.
4.9 ppg
G D'Aundray Brown, 6-4/Soph.
4.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F J'Nathan Bullock, 6-5/Sr.
14.8 ppg, 6.6 ppg
F George Tandy, 6-8/Sr.
4.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
TOP RESERVES
C Chris Moore, 6-9/Sr.
4.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg
G Jeremy Montgomery, 6-2/ Fr.
True freshman
Jackson can take over games. He scored a career-high 27 points in a 69-66 upset of Florida State and had a near-triple double (18 points, nine rebounds and nine assists) in a 74-64 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But the coaching staff wants him to focus more on being a distributor, largely to take advantage of a large crop of promising young guards.

Sophomores Norris Cole and D'Aundray Brown appear ready to handle bigger roles after both contributing last season. Cole (whose cousin, Trent Cole, plays defensive end for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles) came off the bench to score in double figures in four of the Vikings' last six games. Brown started 11 games and proved to be a solid defender and rebounder.

Three freshmen also are expected to play. Three-star recruit Jeremy Montgomery, a left-handed point guard, received interest from a handful of high-major schools. Josh McCoy's strength is outside shooting, an area in which the team needs to improve. The wild card is Trevon Harmon. Perhaps the most talented newcomer, Harmon will not become eligible until after the fall semester in mid-December.

FRONTCOURT

If Jackson isn't the best player in the Horizon League, it may be only because teammate J'Nathan Bullock returns for his senior season. He moved to small forward last season and put together the best year of his career, ranking sixth in the league in scoring and seventh in rebounding.

With more time on the perimeter, the 6-5, 240-pound Bullock - who has a powerful inside game - emerged as a solid 3-point shooter and in turn became an even more difficult matchup. In the Vikings' 81-64 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay, he had a career-high 39 points.

Senior center George Tandy, who transferred from Eastern Illinois two years ago, is a solid shot blocker. However, he struggled to get involved on offense last season. Another senior center, Chris Moore (6-9, 240), who transferred from UC-Santa Barbara two years ago, is a solid backup who provides good size and experience off the bench.

OFFENSE

The Vikings utilize a variety of different looks on offense. Coach Gary Waters often will make changes from game to game based on the type of defense his team is facing.

DEFENSE

A traditional man-to-man was the staple last season. With a deeper and more experienced team, the Vikings expect to be more aggressive and mix in some full-court pressure.

SHOES TO FILL

G Joe Davis. Getting offense from the bench wasn't a problem last season thanks to sixth man Joe Davis. He averaged 8.4 points in only 18.4 minutes per game. His role will be a difficult one to fill.

MUST STEP UP

Tandy. Nobody expects Tandy to become a dominant low-post scorer, but if he can raise his scoring average into the 10-points per game range, the Vikings will be much tougher to defend. That would stop opposing defenses from focusing too much on Bullock and Jackson.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Montgomery. Any of the three freshman guards could be the pick here, but expect Montgomery to contribute the most. Montgomery, from the Chicago area, has too much talent not to be part of the rotation. He received recruiting interest from Clemson, Florida and Illinois.

Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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