Checking in on the… Horizon LeaguePosted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2008
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
ROLL THE VIDEO!
Oh hell, why not…ROLL THE 2nd VIDEO…
Alright, just had to get that out of the way. Chances are you’ve already seen one or both of those clips but these two little treasures illustrate how bothersome Horizon League teams can be for their power conference foes…this season or any other.
That said, the HL’s strong showing these past couple weeks has fans hoping for a two-bid March, and not the typical “upset-the-best-team-in-the-league-championship-game” two-bid scenario that the HL has experienced recently. It’s still going to take a few more meaty victories, but the kitchen hasn’t stopped serving dinner quite yet.
New rule this week: have an RPI under 200, or don’t expect to be mentioned. Around here, it’s a privilege, not a right. So, in order of the best impressions left since the last Horizon League “Check In,” lets take a trip around the league.
CLEVELAND STATE (7-4, 1-1, RPI: 68)
“Cleveland State rocks.” Ugh… that phrase looks as bad in print as it did being spoken by the play-by-play announcer following Cedric Jackson’s heave to beat the Orange. Regardless, it doesn’t get much better than upsetting a ranked, power-conference opponent, not to mention, one that loves to spend the non-conference season in their friendly confines as much as possible. Despite the headlines they garnered, the fact remains that the Vikings still have yet to find someone to consistently compliment J’Nathan Bullock. Last season, that person was Jackson and perhaps tossing that dagger into Syracuse will get him going. How Bullock was able to put up 18 in the 2nd half against the Orange, without having anyone helping to extend that vaunted ‘Cuse zone defense, is impressive in itself. Norris Cole is certainly doing his part (11.8 ppg). I have a sinking feeling though, that this 26%-clip from the 3-point line is going to catch up with the Vikes when Bullock has an off night- just like it did against Butler.
UIC (7-2, 1-0, RPI: 49)
How ‘bout this Flames’ fans – you go deep into ACC territory and knock off Georgia Tech, only to be upstaged by your brethren on Lake Erie one night later, and POOF, everyone seems to forget what you’ve done. Not this guy. I see what you’re doing and I like it. The win over the Ramblin’ Wreck was UIC’s second win over a power conference team in 11 days (dismantled Vanderbilt on Dec. 3, in Nashville, by 19). Losing at Bradley, and at home against Depaul, is really starting to look like a couple of major missed opportunities. The most exciting thing for UIC is not the fact that Josh Mayo is pouring in 20+ points per game and shooting 52% from the 3-point line; it’s that he’s finally getting help on the offensive end. Scott VanderMeer led the way at Georgia Tech with 19 points and is averaging 14 ppg. I’ll also guarantee, right now, that he’ll lead the Horizon League in rebounds (9.1 rpg). Sophomore Robo Kreps has also had 24 and 23 point efforts already this year. The only thing bothering me is that I feel like I’ve seen this story before. Mayo led the nation in 3-point shooting for much of last season, but cooled off considerably down the stretch. And, in 2005-2006 the Flames knocked off Georgia Tech, Mississippi, and Northwestern, then proceeded to finish 16-15 overall. Don’t do that again.
BUTLER (8-1, 2-0, RPI: 2)
The Bulldogs suffered their first defeat of the season on December 13th, falling at Ohio State 54-51. And wow did they look young in doing so. Butler committed 19 turnovers in that contest, which for the Bulldogs is a total usually seen over the course of two games. In years past, this many turnovers would have doomed Butler in just about any big game, but this isn’t your big brother’s Butler Bulldogs. This squad of Dawgs is actually out-rebounding their competition (+1.9 margin for the season), something that has been a point of contempt among Butler fans for many a season, as they were routinely pounded on the glass. Not anymore. Aside from that, this squad has the same balanced scoring attack as their predecessors in Hinkle Fieldhouse – 5 players have led the team in scoring on a given night, and 3 of them are averaging more than 12 ppg. Of late, the hot hands belong to freshmen Gordon Hayward (52 pts in last 3 games) and Shelvin Mack (55 pts in last 3 games). If these two pups keep it going, Matt Howard is going to be putting up huge numbers once teams begin adjusting their gameplans for stopping Hayward and Mack.
GREEN BAY (6-4, 2-0, RPI: 158)
I’ve gotta believe that around this time of year, coaches get as leery about grades and transfers as they do about losing to a cupcake. Well, Green Bay already lost to their cupcake (D2 Rollins College), and now they’ve lost a key member of their rotation. Chop Tang decided that he couldn’t bear smelling any more beer and cheese, and decided to transfer. Unfortunately, this led to the Phoenix getting “Tang’d” by Oakland, at home. Those 8.7 ppg that Tang provided may have kept this from happening. Oh, and if you follow the link above, you’ll read that the other junior college transfer Green Bay brought in this season, Jesse Childs, will not return to the team after having been suspended prior to the season. The silver lining is that, I’m not 100% certain Green Bay needed these guys to begin with. They brought back every single contributor from last season. Not to mention, to make room for Tang, Mike Schachtner (an All-League 2nd teamer last season) was coming off the bench. Ryan Tillema has also returned from an injury he suffered earlier in the season, which will only help the Phoenix. The bad part about all of this is that Green Bay’s misfortune is coinciding with a complete tank-job by the Packers. When the “Pack” and the “Nix” are both slumping, one has to feel for a city that, frankly, has little else going for it. The casino is nice, though.
LOYOLA (5-5, 0-1, RPI: 91)
Don’t let that RPI fool you – the Ramblers have Northern Illinois (RPI: 322) and Alcorn State (RPI: 324) in their next two games. Not much else to say here, other than Justin Cerasoli is starting to resemble the player he was at the end of last season. The scoring help can’t come quick enough for J.R. Blount (15.5 ppg).
Elsewhere, Wright State (3-7, 0-2) is beginning to show signs of life. The Raiders have won 3 of 4, including a win over Arkansas-Little Rock (something Creighton couldn’t do), with the only loss coming at Wake Forest. Wright State and I still aren’t on speaking terms, but I’m on starting to contemplate the idea of reconciliation. Milwaukee (5-5, 2-0) and Valparaiso (3-6, 1-1) have RPIs of 216 and 303 and have done nothing of importance over the last couple weeks. Scratch that, Valpo got beat at home by IPFW. I wonder if Valpo fans have the guts to start one of those “www.fireourheadcoach.com” websites. I hope not. Detroit (3-6, 0-2) and Youngstown State (1-7, 0-2) have entered the witness protection program. Their respective RPIs will not be disclosed at this time. Detroit newcomer Xavier Keeling re-aggravated a foot injury and will miss a few weeks, just to pour a little salt in the wound.
GAMES TO WATCH (12.20.08 – 1.2.09)
- Valparaiso vs. North Carolina (@ United Center, ESPNU – 2:00pm ET)
- Milwaukee vs. Bradley (HLN – 8:00pm ET)
- UIC @ Illinois State – A UIC win would go a long way in proving they’re a contender in the HL.
- Butler @ Xavier (ESPNU – 7:00pm ET) – As of today (12.19.08) this is a match-up of RPI #1 vs. RPI #2. Wow.
- Cleveland State vs. Kent State (HLN – 7:00pm ET) – This is a must-win if CSU has any thought of an “at-large” come March.
- Valparaiso @ Purdue (Big Ten Network – 4:00pm ET)
- Butler vs. UAB (HLN – 7:00pm ET)
- Wright State vs. Cleveland State (HLN – 7:00pm ET) – Thought to be a significant HL game prior to the season. Thanks, Wright.
*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.