Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2009

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

  1. Butler (#15/15)  12-1, 21-2
  2. Green Bay   11-3, 19-7
  3. Cleveland State  9-5, 18-8
  4. Wright State   9-5, 15-10
  5. Milwaukee   9-5, 14-10
  6. Youngstown State  6-8, 9-15
  7. Loyola    4-10, 12-14
  8. UIC    4-10, 11-13
  9. Valparaiso   3-10, 6-18
  10. Detroit    2-12, 7-17

This edition of the HL “check in” comes smack dab in the middle of a whirlwind tour of the Horizon League.  Loyola to Cleveland State to Butler to Valparaiso…four games in six days, all in an effort to sew up my notes on as many teams as possible heading into the Horizon League Championship, which begins on March 3rd.  Some things are already crystal clear while others remain murky, much like the weather we deal with here in the Midwest this time of year.  Two weeks ago it was snow measured in feet and this week it’s been unseasonable warmth, followed by wind and rain.  It’s a nice sign that March is right around the corner, but for now the return of the winter chill is a reminder that this time of year features “Mock Selection Thursday” and not “Selection Sunday.”

Last time I checked in, I referred to Loyola as possibly the most “anonymous” team in the Horizon League.  I had no idea how witness-protected Loyola truly was until taking in their home game with Wright State this past Tuesday night.  It’s worth noting that Loyola’s athletics staff is without question one of the best in the Horizon League.  The people employed in that department are as hard working as anyone, more accommodating than most, and selfishly, their HLN webcasts are among the best in the league.  Unfortunately, none of that helps the basketball team win games, and doesn’t put butts in the bleachers.  For such a small, tight-knit campus, the lack of student support (and fan support in general) was really disheartening – to the tune of about 15 students attending by their own free will.  There were, admittedly, more students in attendance but they were either working, playing in the band, a student-athlete being honored at halftime, or a member of the women’s basketball team.  Most fans, students or otherwise, looked as if there were eight other places they’d rather be.

This is probably the last time I’ll mention Loyola this season (at any sort of length anyway), but there’s a lot of work to be done with that program.  This was undoubtedly the season Jim Whitesell was building toward, as it’s a veteran bunch that started the season by playing in the Preseason NIT.  I took the bait, and forecasted a top-half finish in the HL along with a 20-win season.  Not so much.  This thought never crossed my mind back in November, but Whitesell may be the first pink-slipped coach in this current crop of 10 HL head coaches.

From here on out, there are only two items that really matter in the Horizon League…1)  BracketBusters2)  HL Tournament seeding.  Lets talk about both, shall we?

The Horizon League will have three games televised in the 7th Annual ESPNU BracketBusters.  For the third consecutive year, Butler will play in the marquee match-up of the weekend, this time traveling to take on Steph Curry and Davidson (game time and network listed below).  Butler has had a knack for being able to shut down star players within the Horizon League, thanks to junior defensive stopper, Willie Veasley.  Veasley is a versatile 6’3” forward/guard, bulky enough to defend players larger than him, quick enough to defend guards on the perimeter, all while contributing on the offensive end.  All signs point to Veasley drawing the assignment of slowing down Curry.  This will be, without question, the toughest assignment of his career.  This game, just like the last two seasons (vs. Southern Illinois and Drake), will have a major impact on Butler’s NCAA Tournament seed. 

Fans in Green Bay viewed their BracketBuster pairing with Long Beach State as somewhat of a snub.  It won’t be an easy travel schedule to plan, but the reality here is that Green Bay isn’t going to the NCAA Tournament unless they earn the HL’s automatic bid.  Beating a better opponent in the BracketBuster wasn’t going to get them anywhere, so they should just be happy to be playing on television.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Ryan Tillema and Co. but they simply didn’t play ANYONE in the non-league season.

The head-scratcher in the HL on BracketBuster Saturday, pits Wright State against Northeastern.  At the time it was announced, Northeastern was leading the CAA.  Now?  They’re slip-sliding down the standings.  Meanwhile, Brad Brownell’s crew continues to win games with defense (except that game a week ago vs. Butler).  Frankly, defense is just about the only thing the Raiders do well, as they rank in the top-10 nationally in defensive-FG% (38% as of 2/13).  I’d have rather seen Milwaukee vs. North Dakota State on the ESPN family of networks, but my influence is…well…not influential.

As for Horizon League Tournament seeding, things have gotten a little more interesting as of late, specifically in the past couple days.  Butler lost its first HL game at Green Bay on February 3rd, bringing the ‘Nix within a game of the Bulldogs.  That margin lasted for a week, as Green Bay ran into a buzzsaw on February 12th at Youngstown State.  Yep, that’s right, Youngstown State.  The Penguins have won three straight, and are sitting in 6th-place in the HL standings.  6th-place is an important spot in the HL, as it’s the final team to host a 1st-round game in the HL Tournament.  Just to refresh your memory, the top two seeds receive byes into the semi-final round, with seeds 3-6 hosting 1st-round games against seeds 7-10.  The tournament moves to the site of the top-seed beginning with 2nd-round games.

With two weeks left in the regular season, it would take a monumental collapse by Butler for them to not win the regular season crown and host the HL Tournament.  Green Bay is still certainly in the driver’s seat for the other “golden ticket” to the semi-final round, but with games @ Cleveland State and @ Wright State, things could get interesting. 

Speaking of Cleveland State, the return of D’Aundray Brown has the offense clicking a little better.  They still have a home date with Green Bay, and a trip to Butler in their future, so leap-frogging the Phoenix won’t be easy. 

Milwaukee will host Butler, but also must travel to Wright State, so their prospects for moving up are slim. 

If you’ve been able to follow this, you probably realize by now that Wright State is the team to watch over the next two weeks.  If Cleveland State can get by Green Bay on February 14th, look out, as Wright State hosts both Milwaukee and Green Bay on the final weekend of the regular season.

This isn’t madness – this is chaos.

GAMES TO WATCH (2.13.09 – 2.28.09)

2.13.09

  • Butler vs. UIC – 7:00pm ET on ESPNU

2.14.09

  • Cleveland St. vs. Green Bay – 7:30pm ET on HLN

2.18.09

  • Milwaukee vs. Butler – 8:00pm ET on HLN

2.21.09

  • Wright State vs. Northeastern – 11:00am ET on ESPNU
  • Butler @ Davidson – 12:00pm ET on ESPN
  • Green Bay @ Long Beach State – 5:30pm ET on ESPNU
  • Milwaukee vs. North Dakota State – 8:00pm ET on HLN

2.26.09

  • Wright State vs. Milwaukee – 7:00pm ET on HLN

2.27.09

  • Loyola vs. UIC – 9:00pm ET on ESPNU

2.28.09

  • Butler vs. Cleveland State – 12:00pm ET on ESPN2
  • Wright State vs. Green Bay – 7:00pm ET on HLN

*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.

rtmsf (3729 Posts)


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One Response to “Checking in on the… Horizon League”

  1. Ryan Z says:

    That’s interesting that the HL holds its conf. tourney games on the favorite’s home court rather than one neutral arena. Seriously though, did Green Bay just get lucky or is Butler really vulnerable?

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