Checking in on the… Horizon LeaguePosted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2009
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
- Milwaukee (3-0, 7-5)
- Butler (2-0, 11-1)
- Green Bay (2-0, 9-4)
- UIC ( 1-1, 8-4)
- Valparaiso (1-1, 4-9)
- Cleveland State (1-2, 10-5)
- Wright State (1-2, 7-7)
- Youngstown State (1-2, 4-8)
- Loyola (0-1, 8-5)
- Detroit (0-3, 4-8)
I’m feeling a little prophetic since the last time we checked in on the Horizon League. All I’ll say is that the developments don’t bode well for the Horizon League’s two-bid aspirations. But, it does speak to the level of competition that teams face night in and night out in the Horizon League. Before we get into some team-by-team breakdowns, lets take a quick look at the league as a whole, which has enjoyed a successful non-conference season.
With league play now in full swing, the Horizon League boasts an impressive 60-44 non-conference record. Detroit, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Youngstown State each have one non-league game remaining on their schedules, and all ten teams will compete in the ESPN BracketBusters on February 21, so this number is still subject to change. Now, granted, a handful of these 60 wins (and 44 losses, sadly) came against non-D1 competition. More importantly though, the Horizon League as a whole has a winning record against comparable conferences such as the Missouri Valley (5-3), Atlantic 10 (3-2), Conference USA (3-1), and Mid-American (11-9). As of December 31st, the league had an RPI of 11 (behind the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10, and WCC), which is the same spot the league ended last season in the conference RPI ratings. The league can also hang its collective hat on its wins against Big East, ACC, Big Ten, and SEC opponents (6 total).
All told, since late November the Horizon League has been steamrolling it’s way toward having two “locks” for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of any potential upsets in the league tournament. Butler, Cleveland State and UIC are undoubtedly the three favorites to fill those two spots. Unfortunately, however, two of those three teams decided to make things difficult on themselves by losing to lesser opponents this past Tuesday. Here’s a hint… it wasn’t Butler.
Wanna talk about it? I do.
#25 BUTLER (11-1, 2-0 – RPI on 12.31.08: 1)
Objectivity is the name of the game when reporting to the masses. Sure, we all have rooting interests, alma-maters, and so on, and I’ve done all I can to downplay what Butler has done this season, as I live and work in Indianapolis (the Horizon League’s headquarters are here in the Circle City) and am exposed to the Bulldogs on a regular basis. That said, the gloves are coming off. This team full of neophytes is poised beyond its years. It’s a little scary. Their shared moxie has been on full display the past two weeks, marching into Cincinnati to thump Xavier (with Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward both posting double-doubles), only to follow that up with a come from behind victory at home over UAB. The Bulldogs faced an 11-point halftime deficit against the Blazers, but Shelvin Mack came out in the 2nd half with guns “blazing” (horrible pun intended). In a Samson-like performance (yes, a biblical reference), Mack began the game wearing a white t-shirt under his uniform, but emerged from the locker room with the sleeves removed. The freshman promptly buried 5 three-pointers in the first 7 minutes of the 2nd half, on his way to 22 points. The deficit had turned into a lead, and Butler never gave it back. Mack is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, you think Billy Gillispie is wishing he had this home-towner right about now? Regardless, this guy is saying “I told ya so.”
CLEVELAND STATE (10-5, 1-2 – RPI on 12.31.08: 71)
I promised myself that this week I wouldn’t write about how the Vikings can’t shoot from outside of 12-feet and that they’re suspect as soon as J’Nathan Bullock has an off night offensively. Well, even though Bullock still got his (23 points his last time out), this is a promise I can actually keep. I don’t need to write any more about it, just look at the box score from their game with Wright State. Funny how earlier this year I was up in arms about the Raiders (whom we’ll get to in a minute), baffled by how badly they were blowing a golden opportunity to raise the profile of the Horizon League. It seems that with the Vikings’ loss at Wright State this past Tuesday, the “get it together” torch has officially been passed to Cleveland State. While the Viking faithful here in cyberspace seem to be convinced that the sky is falling, this loss may not turn out to be that big of a deal, as Wright State is finally starting to look like the team we (we = me) thought they could be. Speaking of the Raiders…
WRIGHT STATE (7-7, 1-2 – RPI on 12.31.08: 172)
…thank you for finally deciding to play basketball this season. And, yes, I’m sorry. Sorry for being so harsh these past few weeks. Please accept my apology and understand that I never gave up on you. I was just a little frustrated during your 0-6 start, as I’m sure you were as well (end of sappy made up love letter). Wright State has won 5 straight and 6 of 7, the only loss coming at Wake Forest. While I’m happy that they’re starting to play to their potential, with Vaughn Duggins getting close to returning from injury, I’m not totally thrilled that they beat up on a potential NCAA at-large team like Cleveland State. Why? Because Wright State could run the table from here on out and still wouldn’t be considered for an NCAA at-large bid. That pesky 0-6 thing, with losses to Central Michigan and Sam Houston State, burns a little. Kinda like, never mind.
UIC (8-4, 1-1 – RPI on 12.31.08: 76)
This is so typical of UIC – big wins, followed by bad losses. Losing to Illinois State, on the road, isn’t a bad thing…but it sure would have made a lot of people feel better about this team being a legit, NCAA-caliber team. On the other hand, losing to league-foe Milwaukee, at home, is a bit more cause for concern. Ultimately, much like Cleveland State’s dependence on the success of one player, the Flames live and die with Josh Mayo. Furthermore, Mayo’s success hinges largely on how well he shoots from the 3-point arc. That’s like playing with fire (horrible pun #2…intended) and screams “.500-record.”
Elsewhere, kudos to Milwaukee for their 3-0 start in Horizon League play. Deonte Roberts only played 3 minutes in the Panthers’ victory over UIC. Either he was sick/injured or this is a sign of things to come in Milwaukee. In Green Bay, no news is good news. And no, beating Houston Baptist and Western Michigan is NOT news. Loyola has won its last two games, and their RPI has fallen more than 40 spots (134 as of 12.31.08). Sorta speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Detroit, Valparaiso and Youngstown State are still dwelling in the cellar.
GAMES TO WATCH (1.2.09 – 1.16.09)
- 1.3.09 UIC vs. Green Bay – 8:00pm ET on HLN; Valparaiso vs. Butler – 8:00pm ET on HLN / Lakeshore TV (Chicago-land) / WFYI – DT (Indianapolis area) / ESPN Full Court
- 1.8.09 Butler vs. Wright State – 7:00pm ET on HLN / MyNDY in Central Indiana
- 1.9.09 Milwaukee vs. Green Bay – 9:00pm ET on ESPNU
- 1.10.09 Cleveland State vs. UIC – 7:30pm ET on HLN
- 1.16.09 Detroit vs. Wright State – 9:00pm ET on ESPNU
*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.