Horizon League Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2009

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

1. Butler 15-3 25-4
2. Green Bay 13-5 22-9
3. Cleveland State 12-6 21-10
4. Wright State 12-6 18-12
5. Milwaukee 11-7 16-13
6. Youngstown State 7-11 11-18
7. UIC 7-11 15-14
8. Loyola 6-12 14-17
9. Valparaiso 5-13 9-21
10. Detroit 2-16 7-22

First things first…the Horizon League announced it’s all-league teams and award winners on Monday. A complete list can be found here, but we have the 1st-teamers:

Matt Howard – Sophomore – Butler (Player of the Year)
Gordon Hayward – Freshman – Butler
Ryan Tillema – Senior – Green Bay
J’Nathan Bullock – Senior – Cleveland State
Josh Mayo – Senior – UIC

Study this list closely, and you’ll have an idea why Butler should continue to dominate the Horizon League for the foreseeable future. Zoiks, Scoob.

So anyway, how’d we get here? It’s suddenly March…and while most see this as a time for “anything’s possible” and “why not us,” I see it more as a time when a team’s flaws are exposed for the masses. Sure, it’s true, this IS the time when small winning streaks can make up for months of setbacks…and everyone gets their shot…but more times than not, teams at the top hold serve and rudely remind their counterparts why they’ve been floundering all season long. At the same time, this is an opportunity for me to save a little face from my original predictions back in November. Upon further review, however, things didn’t turn out so bad after all.

Lets take a look at Tuesday’s opening round match-ups…then we’ll get to Butler and Green Bay as they wait patiently in the semifinal round.


At the top of the bracket, Cleveland State should have no trouble getting past Detroit. The Vikings have been playing much closer to “form” the past few weeks, and much of that can be attributed to the return of D’Aundray Brown. While Brown missed several weeks with an injury, Norris Cole developed into the 2nd scoring option CSU had been lacking all season. Now, with Brown back in the mix…Gary Waters’ club has two solid perimeter options to go along with all-league performer, J’Nathan Bullock. It’s also worth noting that Cleveland State lost twice to Butler this season, by a combined four points (50-48, 58-56). The Vikings have lost 4 straight to the Bulldogs, including last year’s HL Tournament Championship game…and I’m sure this veteran bunch would love nothing more than one more shot at their nemesis.

The match-up between Youngstown State and UIC is about as much of a toss up as you’ll find. Jerry Slocum’s group of strays formed a gang somewhere back in late January, and started knocking off teams left and right. There was a common sentiment around the league that the Penguins were talented, but the those of us that follow the league closely have been so conditioned to YSU equating to losing, that I didn’t give them enough credit prior to the season. DeAndre Mays, Kelvin Bright, and Sirlester Martin can all play. Thankfully for their fans, they play together…and will do so again next season. Meanwhile, UIC is about as disappointing as it gets. The only reason they were able to climb into the 7-seed is that they have the league’s top-gunner in Josh Mayo. Mayo scores a lot of points, but typically has to take close to 20 shots to get there.

The Wright State – Valparaiso game is the first, in my opinion, where an upset could take place. Sure, I was falling all over myself about Wright State before the season started, but what I failed to take into account was how sorely they would miss their post players that graduated last season. The Raiders were never a team that scored a lot of points, but when Vaughn Duggins went down early in the season (in the middle of an 0-6 start)…things looked bleak. Kudos to Brad Brownell for rallying his troops and finishing strong…but that whole “scoring” thing still seems to be an issue some nights. Valparaiso, on the other hand, is experiencing one of its worst seasons in recent memory. Admittedly, I was afraid this could happen to the Crusaders this season, but the way they’ve played down the stretch is admirable. Homer Drew proved last season that he’s still got plenty of magic when it comes to post-season tournaments, when they knocked off Wright State in the 2nd round of last year’s HL Tournament. I’ve gotta believe that Urule Igbavboa and Jake Diebler will be doing everything in their power to extend their careers, one game at a time.

Last year’s only 1st round upset in the HL Tournament came courtesy of the Loyola Ramblers. Their victim…Milwaukee. These two will square off again Tuesday night in the ultimate HL battle of inconsistent teams. By all accounts, Milwaukee has no business losing this game. They’ve got a couple of All-HL honorees in James “Big Lumber” Eayrs and Tone Boyle, and they’ll be playing on their home floor…but something just doesn’t sit well with me in this game. Maybe it has something to do with Loyola going into Hinkle Fieldhouse a couple weeks ago and knocking off Butler. Oh wait, yep…that’s it. Then again, Milwaukee did take care of Butler just three days later, but that was on their own home floor. If the Ramblers can get a Butler-type performance from Josh Hicks and Justin Cerasoli…they may just march on.

Butler and Green Bay are sitting in their cozy semifinal pods, waiting /wishing for a bloodbath to ensue. Unfortunately, this tournament is set up for “chalk” and that’s usually what we get. The top-seed has won this tournament four years in a row, and frankly, that appears to be how the Horizon League likes it. With the tournament taking place at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse (from the 2nd round on), the Bulldogs will be the overwhelming favorites. The other teams that could snatch the title from Butler’s grasp are all squads that have proven they can play with the Bulldogs on any given night. That list included Green Bay, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee. Yep, that’s right…no Wright State on that list. Believe me, their defense is something to admire but they just don’t have enough firepower offensively to make a run at this thing. Milwaukee is only on this list because they eeked out a victory at home over Butler two weeks ago. When Milwaukee played at Butler earlier this season, the score was 78-48. You get the idea. With the way the bracket is setup, a semifinal game between Green Bay and Cleveland State would be epic. They split the season series, and both know they are NCAA-caliber teams…but MUST have the automatic bid if they want to go dancing.

With all of that in mind, I’m expecting to see a 2nd consecutive championship game between Butler and Cleveland State. The Vikings are playing well again, and just in time. They, more than any other team I’ve seen Butler play this year, get the Bulldogs out of their game by forcing Butler into bad shots and speeding up the game. Cedric Jackson certainly has something to do with that…as he’s a total pest for opposing guards. Controlling tempo has always been a hallmark of recent successful Butler squads, but in two games against CSU this season…they’ve struggled mightily with that very task. It sounds miniscule, but means everything to Butler’s success

Maybe the HL will end up getting multiple bids after all…

GAMES TO WATCH (3.3.09 – 3.10.09)
3.3.09 – @ Higher Seeds
Game 1: #3 Cleveland State vs. #10 Detroit – 7pm ET on HLN
Game 2: #6 Youngstown State vs. #7 UIC – 7pm ET on HLN
Game 3: #4 Wright State vs. #9 Valparaiso – 7pm ET on HLN
Game 4: #5 Milwaukee vs. #8 Loyola – 8pm ET on HLN

3.6.09 – @ Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler)
Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner – 6pm ET on HLN
Game 6: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner – 8pm ET on HLN

3.7.09 – @ Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler)
Game 7: #1 Butler vs. Game 5 Winner – 7pm ET on ESPNU
Game 8: #2 Green Bay vs. Game 6 Winner – 9pm ET on ESPNU

3.10.09 – @ Highest Remaining Seed
Game 9: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner – 9:00pm ET on ESPN

*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 (3954 Posts)

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