Checking in on the… Horizon LeaguePosted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2008
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
I’m going to keep it simple this time around…using a symbol so recognizable, that sometimes teams use this gesture as a way to call their plays on the floor. It’s either “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as we spotlight the latest and greatest happenings in the Horizon League.
THREE THUMBS UP (If we had that many): UIC – (4-2, 0-0)
The Flames knocked off Vanderbilt on Wednesday at the home of the Commodores, 74-55. “Vanderbilt,” UIC head coach Jimmy Collins told me before the season started, “is the most difficult place on the planet to play.” Well, Collins’ club made it look easy, shooting 12-of-19 from the 3-point arc (63%), outrebounding Vandy, while also tallying more assists and less turnovers than their SEC opponent. We all know Josh Mayo can play (30 points on 8-of-10 shooting from 3-point line), but the key to this firestorm was sophomore, Robert “Robo” Kreps (23 points on 10-of-15 shooting). If Kreps can continue to support Mayo on the perimeter, all while 7-footer Scott VanderMeer controls the glass, UIC could make a push for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003-04.
THUMBS UP (As in “two” or “both”): Butler – (6-0, 1-0)
As surprising as anything that’s happened this year in the Horizon League, perhaps the cherry on top is the fact that the Bulldogs are threatening to tighten their grip on the league in what is supposed to be a “down” year. I gotta give kudos to Butler for popping off 6 straight to open the season, specifically for their wins over Northwestern (who knocked off Florida State earlier this week), and for winning on the road at pre-season favorite Cleveland State. Butler would have undoubtedly received my “triple thumb” if it hadn’t been for how ugly they played against the Vikings. I’d like to boast about how it was an outstanding defensive effort by both squads, but I know ugly basketball when I see it. Regardless, this year’s version of the Bulldogs did something last season’s 30-4 crew couldn’t do, and that’s win in Cleveburgh. The potential on this squad is scary. If they can play with a little more maturity on the road, keep the turnover rate at their normal level, then we’ll likely see an 8-0 showdown with Ohio State.
THUMB UP (Left or right? Your choice…): Green Bay – (4-2, 1-0), Detroit – (2-4, 0-1)
Before I get to Green Bay, I want to acknowledge that I’m fully aware how tough I’ve been on Detroit this season. Well, don’t consider this a bailout, but they’ve done some things worthy of some positive press here on RTC. Since we last updated you on the happenings in the Horizon League, Detroit has managed two victories, by 15 points over Eastern Michigan, and by 5 points over the Saint Louis Fighting Majerus-es. Trust me when I say that any win is a good win for this program, considering where it’s been. New head coach Ray McCallum has this team competing, and Xavier Keeling appears poised to, at the very least, earn All-Newcomer honors in the Horizon League.
As for Green Bay, the last time I shared my thoughts on the league, the Phoenix promptly went out that night and laid an egg against Rollins College. Who? Don’t pretend like you’ve ever heard of it. I’m convinced it didn’t exist until the night of that game with Green Bay, and was created for the sole purpose of causing me (and Phoenix fans) grief. Despite the embarrassing defeat, Green Bay adjusted to life without Ryan Tillema and Cordero Barkley, and hasn’t lost since. While Barkley will miss the entire season, the hope in Titletown is that Tillema will be able to return next week. In another interesting move, All-Horizon League honoree Mike Schachtner has seen his starting spot evaporate, but remains one of Green Bay’s most productive players. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out once Tillema is back in the fold.
THUMB DOWN (Just one…no more, no less): Milwaukee – (4-4, 1-0), Valparaiso – (3-4, 1-1)
Milwaukee’s downward facing thumb has nothing to do with basketball. Last week, starting guard Ricky Franklin did this. Unacceptable, especially for a team that’s had its share of off the court issues.
Valparaiso’s issues, on the other hand, have everything to do with basketball, f you want to call it that. The only souvenirs they brought back from their trip to St. Thomas for the Paradise Jam were three losses. They followed that up with a 24 point beatdown at the hands of Cleveland State, capped off by the ejection of head coach Homer Drew. Senior forward Urule Igbavboa finally had a breakout game in a victory over Youngstown State, going for 27 points and 9 boards. Senior point guard Brandon McPherson has returned to the practice floor on a limited basis. His return won’t come soon enough, as the Crusaders are sorely lacking leadership.
THUMBS DOWN (With a face of displeasure): Cleveland State – (5-3, 1-1)
They have it all – the experience, the pre-season hype, an architect on the sidelines in Gary Waters, and yet I’m not convinced they realize that they MUST win meaningful games, especially at home. Playing at Washington was an opportunity – loss. Hosting Kansas State was another opportunity – loss. And when Butler came to town on Thursday – loss. Forget trying to make a statement in the non-league portion of your schedule, they just lost a league game, at home, to a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Roll the video again!!! Now, I know it’s “Butler,” but if they’re ever going to break through in the Horizon League this is their year, and they’re quickly letting it slip away. Someone aside from J’Nathan Bullock needs to be able to hit a shot outside of 15 feet. Shooting twenty-four percent from the three-point line (27-for-111) doesn’t exactly help things, either. Step up.
DOZENS OF THUMBS DOWN (Ugh…): Wright State – (0-5, 0-1)
First of all, they’re making me look like a complete idiot. Second of all – 0-5! Seriously? 37 points against Miami (Ohio)? Lost to Sam Houston State? Unfortunately, this is going to get worse before it gets better. All-Horizon League 1st Teamer Vaughn Duggins is out until January, at the earliest, after breaking a digit. I hate to say it, and I don’t want to believe it, but this has disaster written all over it. Raiders, please prove me wrong.
Now for some Horizon League games to look forward to over the next couple weeks:
- Cleveland State @ West Virginia
- UIC vs. Loyola (HLN – 8pm ET)
- Butler @ Bradley
- Butler @ Ohio State (Big Ten Network – 12:00 Noon)
- Green Bay @ Wisconsin
- UIC @ Georgia Tech
- Wright State @ Wake Forest (FSN – 4pm ET)
- Cleveland State @ Syracuse
- Youngstown State @ Kent State
*HLN refers to the Horizon League Network, the Horizon League’s broadband initiative, which is set to webcast 130 men’s basketball games this season, including out-of-conference “home” contests and ALL in-league matchups. The Horizon League offers the service for FREE, and signing up takes about 30 seconds. The site also offers on-demand content, team-specific features, and a weekly update featuring the “goings-on” around the league. The site also features a blog, if you’re really craving more Horizon League content.