Make no mistake. The departure of Rob Edwards from Cleveland State was a major blow. The Vikings’ leading scorer was poised to have a breakout junior campaign but opted to transfer to Arizona State instead of making the transition from Gary Waters to Dennis Felton.
That said, Edwards was only part of CSU’s offensive picture from last season that has been wiped away. Demonte Flannigan’s points also won’t be there for Felton, as the starting forward graduated. Between Flannigan and Edwards, the Vikings will be missing out on nearly 41 percent of its scoring from last year.
Some might look at the incoming set of recruits to make up the difference. But the new class, which includes, freshmen Shawn Christian, Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, as well as transfer Donte Highsmith, is kind of a wildcard, even though there is evidence from the Thursday exhibition against Cedarville that this group can fill some of those gaps.
What fans should look for this season, in addition to the prospect of throwing the new class into the fire immediately, is the leadership of the upperclassmen. And with six seniors on the roster, it’s little wonder that Felton should be able to look within to find some points.
And realistically, Felton should have to look no further than one of those seniors in the backcourt: Bobby Word.
While sophomore point guard Kash Thomas may certainly be a factor on the offensive end, depending on how quickly he comes back from a concussion, he will need some people to pass the ball to. And Word would qualify as those scoring options for Thomas.
Word, the senior transfer from Oral Roberts, would be the best choice, given that he is still slated to be in the starting rotation. He finished the 2015-16 campaign third on the team in scoring, matching Flannigan’s 11.1 points-per-contest. He also made an early splash that included a season-high 25 points against Western Michigan.
But as the season wore on, the three-point shooting that Word became known for got away from him, and he found himself in quite an offensive funk. The low point game in back-to-back games in February against Oakland and Valparaiso. The perfect storm of poor three-point shooting (0 percent) and fouling out effectively neutralized Word as an offensive concern.
Even as Felton has committed to a positionless system on the court, Word is expected to play a key role. And while the game situations might dictate that Felton plays multiple guards beyond the three that have been a Waters signature lineup, Word has the opportunity to be a focal point of the offense.
For Word to accomplish this, of course, he will need to cut down on the shooting slumps that bedeviled him for a good part of 2015-16. And if the droughts happen, they need to end rather quickly.
Such was the case during the exhibition against Cedarville. Even though he was relatively quiet offensively, Word would eventually drop six of 12 shots, including a pair of three-pointers, tallying 14 points before leaving the game with 5:56 left. Word also added four assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals.
With the opener at Akron on November 11th looming, Word is already emerging as the senior leader Felton needs in his inaugural campaign. That said, it’s important for Word to remain consistent on the offensive end if Cleveland State hopes to outperform the low expectations set forth by preseason prognosticators.
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Image via CSUVikings.com