Ever since his days at Kent State, Gary Waters has always scheduled with an eye toward landing an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. So far this year, his Cleveland State team is piecing together quite a resume even though Waters tweaked his philosophy a bit.
The likes of Kentucky and Ohio State have been replaced by Kent State and Akron but going into today's game at West Virginia (7-2), six of the 12-0 Vikings' victories have come against teams ranked among the top 100 in the nation, according to Realtimerpi.com. Cleveland State, which has the most wins in the nation, currently has an at-large friendly RPI of 21.
Indeed, the Vikings have wins over preseason contenders from the Metro Atlantic Athletic (Iona), Mid-American (Kent State and Akron), Northeast (Robert Morris), and Southland (Sam Houston State) conferences.
"What I did was play quality mid-majors," said Waters, whose team also has a win over St. Bonaventure this season. "It's a whole different look. People look for wins so they try and get lesser opponents but what I said is, 'We need to play against quality mid-majors so if we win on the road or at home, it looks like we're playing someone."
Waters began preparing for this season by bulking up the schedule a year ago when his team finished 16-17.
"Last year we had a fairly new team and they didn't know how to play with each other," Waters said. "In the process of that, we were playing high-major teams."
In addition to playing league rival Butler twice, Cleveland State played Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio State and Kansas State. Butler was the national runner-up to Duke, while West Virginia advanced to the Final Four by beating Kentucky.
"We played some good teams and learned from those games," Waters said. "We learned how to play at that level and by the end of the season we were playing competitive basketball. We carried that on to this year."
Cleveland State runs a three-guard lineup featuring senior point guard Norris Cole, and juniors Trevon Harmon and Jeremy Montgomery. Cole averaged just 4.9 points as a freshman but is now the team's leading scorer at 21.3 a game. A win over West Virginia today could inch the Vikings closer to the Top 25. The Vikings lost at home to the Mountaineers last season, 80-78, on a buzzer-beater by Da'Sean Butler.
"We're not pressing ourselves," Montgomery told the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently. "We are not getting the big head."
Only an inflated record.
Canisius freshman Chris Manhertz, much like UB's Javon McCrea, devours rebounds -- something that isn't lost on coach Tom Parrotta.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Manhertz, who is tied for fourth on the team in rebounding average (3.8) but is ninth in average minutes played (7.3), will see more playing time. Parrotta hinted that Manhertz could find his way into the starting lineup. Over the last two games, Manhertz has 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
"Toughness is something that he brings to the table," Parrotta said. "I kind of just have to go with him because he provides something that we're not getting right now and that's toughness. Whether he starts, that's totally up to him, it really is."
The Atlantic 10's surprise team of the early season is Fordham. After starting the season picking up pretty much where they left off a year ago -- they dropped four of six -- Tom Pecora's crew has won three straight over Lehigh, Manhattan and St. John's.
It was puzzling to see Pecora leave what was perceived to be a better job at Hofstra for Fordham, which seems better suited for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference than the A-10 but after going 2-16 a year ago, the Rams are 5-4.
Want evidence as to why big-time programs would prefer not to play mid-majors? Look no further than games played this week by previously unbeaten Tennessee and Louisville.
Tennessee came off a huge road win at Pitt when it was knocked off by Oakland while Louisville was a newly minted Top 25 team but is sure to fall from the rankings after being dropped by Drexel. Guaranteed games for the big boys are supposed to, well, guarantee victories, right?
San Diego State's leap into the Top 10 has done wonders for the Aztecs at the ticket office. They've sold out their last four games at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl (7,971). Before that, the school had eight sellouts in its history.
It could be a tough season for first-year coach Alan Major and Charlotte. Now that top scorer Shamari Spears has been dismissed from the team, the 49ers have a nine-man roster with only seven scholarship players. Charlotte played with just six scholarship players in a season-opening loss to Gardner-Webb because of suspensions to Spears and An'Juan Wilderness. Buffalo native and former Niagara and Canisius assistant Desmond Oliver is currently an assistant at Charlotte.
Parrotta would like to work Reggie Groves into the rotation, but the Canisius redshirt freshman guard still hasn't fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
Groves didn't play in the Golden Griffins' loss last week against St. Francis (N.Y.) and appeared for only a minute in their previous game against South Dakota. Parrotta is considering placing a stationary bike near the bench to help Groves warm up during games.
"It does take him a long amount of time to warm up," Parrotta said. "When we do warmups he's fine but once he sits for a while then goes in, it takes him a while to get going."