The Cleveland State Vikings figure to be improved this season with added depth at both forward and the backcourt, so look for a nice home win to start the year Saturday.
A sub-.500 team in the Horizon League last year could be undervalued vs. a MAAC team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament two years in a row Saturday afternoon when the Iona Gaels pay a visit to the Cleveland State Vikings in the season opener for both teams from the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH at 2:00 ET.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Cleveland State as a home favorite for this contest with the current line at -2½ with odds of -106.
The Vikings come off of a disappointing season where not only did they finish under .500 at 14-18, but they were also one of the worst bets in the country going 10-18 ATS in all of their lined games. That figures to change however as added depth would not make a season-ending injury quite as crippling, like last season when Cleveland State fell apart after losing 6-8 forward Anton Grady, who averaged 13.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in just six games.
Iona made its second straight Big Dance last season, but it was not as good as the previous season after losing Scott Machado from that team. In fact, the Gaels went only 11-7 inside the MAAC in 2012-13, but they got hot at the right time and won the MAAC Tournament, earning the automatic berth to the Dance.
Cleveland State returns four starters from last season including its two leading scorers in Bryn Forbes and Charlie Lee, with Lee also leading the Horizon League in assists and considered one of the best mid-major level point guards in the country. Grady is also back and healthy, prompting the Vikings to be ranked third in the Horizon League in the pre-season coaches’ poll despite finishing four game below .500 last year.
Further cause for optimism is the addition of two transfers in Trey Lewis from Penn State, who should start immediately in the backcourt alongside Lee, and forward Jon Harris, a bruising power forward from Miami-Ohio. Cleveland State did go 9-5 at home last season, and the Vikings are capable of being even better than that this year and are looking for a promising start in front of the home folks.
Iona may have backed in to the NCAA Tournament in March, but the Gaels were promptly bounced with ease 95-70 by the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gaels return two All-MAAC Preseason selections from that team in Sean Armand and David Laury, but nobody else on the Gaels has shot a high percentage at the college level, as the main reason that Iona led the country in scoring in 2012-13 at 80.4 points per game was because of an extremely fast tempo.
That is where Lee can bring more value to Cleveland State though as he has the ability to control the pace from the point, and it also helps to now have a competent two-guard in Lewis as his sidekick. Look for that duo to do their very best to play this game at a pace that the Vikings like and not get drawn into a track meet that Iona would favor.
Add this all up and we recommend giving the small spot with home standing Cleveland State on Saturday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Cleveland State -2½ (-106)