Why did the Cleveland State Vikings recently have a five game losing streak?
It’s simple–whenever a team loses their most valuable player, they’re going to suffer.
The Cleveland State Vikings have had their fair share of above-average talent on the roster over the past few years. Cedric Jackson played briefly for multiple teams in the NBA and is currently playing overseas. Both J’Nathan Bullock and George Tandy have also played overseas. Norris Cole, the best known Viking alum, was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and is currently a major contributor for the Miami Heat. Some of the Vikings’ talented freshmen such as Anton Grady and Marlin Mason also have the potential to play professionally after their careers at Cleveland State have been completed.
However, a strong case could be made for the claim that the Vikings’ most valuable player over the past few years is senior D’Aundray Brown.
Brown’s contributions on the court and importance to the Vikings often go unnoticed to fans because he is not a prolific scorer or flashy player in general. Nevertheless, Brown’s intense defense, leadership on the court, and constant hustle have helped propel the Vikings into the victory column on countless occasions. The Vikings’ press—which is the key to their success—operates much more effectively when Brown, who is among the NCAA leaders in steals, is on the court.
Unfortunately, Brown’s promising career at Cleveland State has been derailed multiple times over the past few seasons because of injuries. During each of his absences, the Vikings’ performance on the court has declined dramatically.
In the 2009-2010 season, Brown suffered an eye injury that caused him to miss the Vikings’ final game in the Horizon League Tournament. The Vikings lost by seven points to a Milwaukee Panthers team who rode a great shooting performance into the tournament semifinals. Brown’s defensive intensity could have easily made a difference in that game.
Brown missed the entire 2010-2011 season with a wrist injury. The effects of Brown’s injury were not seen at first, as the Vikings raced out to a 21-3 record. However, the Vikings’ bench failed to produce all season long, and the Vikings’ starters were forced to log major minutes for much of the season. The heavy minutes took their toll towards the end of the season, as the Vikings struggled down the stretch and lost four of their final seven regular-season games. These losses cost the Vikings the opportunity to host the Horizon League Tournament, and the Vikings ultimately lost to Butler in the tournament semifinals. Towards the end of the season, Vikings coach Gary Waters was quoted as saying that the Vikings would have won the Horizon League Tournament if Brown had been on the roster. Any Vikings fan who watched the exhausted Vikings towards the end of the season would easily agree with Waters’ statement.
This season, the Vikings sprinted out to yet another successful start to the season. With Brown fully healthy and contributing lockdown defense and hustle, the Vikings won several close games early in the season and defeated several quality opponents. Beginning the year with an upset of the nationally-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores, the Vikings appeared to be poised to win the regular season Horizon League Championship until Brown suffered a groin injury against the Loyola Ramblers.
Brown’s injury sent the Vikings into a tailspin that nearly derailed their season. The Vikings lost five straight games, including two blowout losses to the Valparaiso Crusaders and Drexel Dragons, and were in major danger of falling to third place in the Horizon League and losing the opportunity to receive an automatic spot in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Without Brown, the Vikings looked nothing like the intense, focused, and crisp team that had dominated many of their previous opponents and effortlessly won buzzer-beater games. The Vikings looked lost on offense, were unable to impose their turnover-producing defensive pressure on opponents, and played nothing like the team that had dominated opponents earlier in the season. Fortunately for the Vikings and their fans, the Vikings righted their ship and managed to secure the second seed in the Horizon League Tournament after they won their two final conference games without Brown and were aided by a crucial Valparaiso win over the Butler Bulldogs.
Sure, other Vikings have put up more stats and make more headlines. However, when the impact on the play and record of the Vikings is taken into consideration, Brown’s enormous impact on the Vikings cannot be disputed. If one defines Most Valuable Player as the player who has the biggest impact on his team’s fortunes, Brown surely must be mentioned in the conversation for the Vikings’ most valuable player.