The harder things are the more you appreciate them.
And for the Cleveland State Vikings, returning to the Horizon League Championship game against Butler was anything but easy.
Unlike last year, when the team earned the two-game bye to the semi-finals, this year the team needed to grind out three tough wins to reach the finals.
Compounding matters, arguably the team's best overall defender (and I know Cedric Jackson won defensive player of the year in the Horizon), D'Aundray Brown hurt his knee in the first half of game one of the tourney. With the team's thin bench to begin with, Brown's injury pushed the starters to the limit. Thankfully, the Vikes will get a much needed two-day rest, and possibly Brown back, for the title match.
So, how did the Vikes pull off its curent run? Well, by its trademark defense of course.
The box score for the opposition usually read a field-goal percentage in the 30s. The team went all out with tough pressure man-to-man defense that challenged every shot. No team scored above the 70 mark so far.
Offensively, Jackson and Bullock were there normally dependable selves. The surprise of the tourney so far for the Vikes has been the emergence of Norris Cole. This smooth shooting junior shooting guard has averaged more than 20 points for the tourney and made every big shot when necessary.
What should make the Vikings scary to Butler fans is that they now have three legitimate players that could take over a game. The big burly Bullock with his power inside game; the quick guard Jackson with his penetration and passing; and now the silky smooth Cole with his deadly outside shot. You can stop one or two of these players, but not likely all three.
Fans of bubble teams throughout the country will be watching this game very closely, as a Viking victory would hand the Horizon League two seeds for the big dance, essentially eliminating an at large bid. And based on the last two games the teams played, a (last second game-winning three and a two point win both for the Bulldogs), that scenario is certainly possible.
As for you Viking fans out there, sit back and appreciate this run. It doesn't get any better than this!