The Cleveland State men's basketball team had one of its most successful seasons in school history during the 2010-11 season.
CSU went 27-9 and finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Horizon League with Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Butler, the national runner-ups for the second straight season.
The 27 wins were the second-most in school history, trailing only the 1985-86 squad who won 29.
But they fell just short of reaching its team goal of playing in the NCAA tournament, losing to Butler for the third time in the Horizon League semifinals. They earned a National Invitation Tournament bid, but lost in the second round to the College of Charleston.
"After winning 27 games, at one point, I was disappointed," CSU coach Gary Waters said at last week's media gathering. "But I had to reach back and think about it. This was a good, good year."
He also added, "One thing I took away [from this season] we weren't that far off as a team. These young men accomplished a lot. What they accomplished will only help us at what we are going to do next year."
One reason Waters was probably disappointed was because at one point they were 21-3 and ranked the No. 1 Mid-Major in the country by CollegeInsider.com.
But without much bench production, the starters had to play major minutes and they eventually ran out of gas down the stretch going 6-6 in its final 12 games.
With four starters returning and a lot more depth coming off the bench, they should again be able to compete for the Horizon League title next season.
The returning starters include seniors-to-be guards Trevon Harmon (13.2 points per game) and Jeremy Montgomery (11.6), junior-to-be forward Tim Kamczyc (5.9) and senior-to-be center Aaron Pogue (8.2).
They also gain a fifth starter back with the return of D'Aundray Brown, who missed his entire senior season following preseason surgery on his right index finger. The 6-foot-4 Brown was CSU's best defender and rebounder as a junior.
The biggest loss for the Vikings will be the graduation of Norris Cole. Cole was the only player in the nation to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists a game this season. He will likely continue his career in the NBA. They also lose veteran back-up center Joe Latas.
"Next year's group will be a more balance scoring across," said Waters.
Waters says he expects Brown, Harmon, and Pogue to become the leaders of the team next season. He plans on calling them his consul instead of captains and says they will lead by a group decision.
This season three starters had to play over 30 minutes. Waters says that won't happen again.
"I already told D'Aundray Brown the maximum minutes he will play next season is 28. The same for Tre and Jeremy," said Waters. "They will have stronger legs down the stretch."
The two things that really hurt CSU this season were rebounding and depth. Waters thinks those areas will be much improved next season.
"There will be somebody on the bench [next year] that can score," said Waters. "The positive thing we will be a longer team. We won't have the 6-10 or 6-11 guys [out there], but we will have a 6-9 or 6-8 on the floor most of the time."
Waters says the bench will be much improved because of the additions of redshirt freshmen Sebastian Douglas and incoming freshmen Anton Grady, Charles Lee, and Ike Nwamu.
Douglas missed the entire 2010-11 season after suffering a season-ending knee injury that required surgery during the spring. At the end of the season, he was running the scout team's offense in practice and going to battle against Cole and Harmon.
"Sebastian is a combo guard who can also play point guard," said Waters.
Grady, a 6-foot-8 forward from Cleveland Central Catholic High School, should help the Vikings immediately with his size and his knack for rebounding the ball.
He tied the Ohio high school state tournament record with 22 rebounds in a semifinals victory over Portsmouth High School.
"He brings another interior presence both on offense and defensive side," said Waters. "He can also shoot from the outside. I like his ability to block shots and defend."
Lee, a 5-foot-8 point guard from Milwaukee, is the only true point guard on the roster, according to Waters.
"Charlie is a little different then Norris Cole," said Waters. "Norris was more of a scoring point guard and Charlie is a pass first point guard, but he can also score."
Nwamu, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from North Carolina, has made a name for himself with several spectacular dunking videos on Youtube.com, but Waters says his strength is actually his 3-point shooting.
"Ike has all the physical attributes and the abilities," said Waters.
CSU's other two signees in the early signing period, Tre' Brown and Marlon Mason have yet to qualify academically, according to Waters, and are not yet confirmed for the team next year.
Waters is also looking at the possibility of bringing in another post player during the late signing period.
"We are looking at three or four [post players]," said Waters. "We got to find the right one that fits us and willing to come here. The post guys we're looking at has to be a high quality post guy and a lot of teams are looking at him."
As for next year's schedule, CSU will host Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Lafayette, St. Bonaventure, Akron and a BracketBusters game. They will be on the road against Robert Morris, Kent State, South Florida and Toledo.
They will also play in a tournament with two high-majors in it.