Summer School in the Horizon LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on August 3rd, 2010
John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
Around The Horizon League:
- NBA Draft: The Horizon League doesn’t always pop up on the NBA’s radar, but Gordon Hayward shot up the draft boards last season and ended up being drafted ninth overall by the Utah Jazz. Haywardof course led Butler to the NCAA Tournament title game before going pro.
- Coaching Changes: It took until the middle of July, but the UIC Flames officially announced the retirement of long-time head coach and all-time wins leader Jimmy Collins. The move is effective August 31 and the coaching search is already on. The Flames are conducting a nationwide hunt for someone who can bring them out of basement of the Horizon League.
- Keeping It In The Family: Ray McCallum, Jr. is considered one of the top players in the 2010 freshman class. The fact that he chose the Detroit Titans stunned no one. McCallum is going to play for his father, and will help make Detroit one of the favorites in the Horizon League.
- Brownout: The other big head coaching change in the league was the departure of Brad Brownell from Wright State. Brownell had finished 12-6 in conference each of the past three seasons with the Raiders. He took over at Clemson for the departed Oliver Purnell in a classic game of coaching musical chairs. Brownell’s replacement, Billy Donlon, will be expected to maintain the high level of play the program has reached recently and maybe even make an NCAA Tournament. Donlon was the team’s associate head coach under Brownell, so there is a lot of continuity in the program.
- Going Young: When head coach Todd Kowalczyk left Green Bay for a bigger payday at Toledo, not many people expected the Phoenix to hire one of the youngest coaches in all of Division I basketball. Green Bay made the intriguing decided to stay in house and hire Brian Wardle. Wardle had been an assistant with the Phoenix before the hire.
- Butler – The Bulldogs, even without Hayward, remain the team to beat. Brad Stevens isn’t going anywhere any time soon (especially with that 12-year contract extension he just signed) and neither is “the Butler way.” Also, the Bulldogs return POY candidate Shelvin Mack, defensive stopper Ronald Nored, 2008-09 POY Matt Howard and have another year of big man Andrew Smith, who has loads of potential. Mack is a very talented player and his experience with USA Basketball this summer will help him continue to develop his game.
- Detroit – Ray McCallum‘s bunch underachieved last season with a 9-9 record in conference despite some excellent scoring margins. This season the Titans have to take that next step. Ray McCallum, Jr. gives the Titans an elite talent to add to leading returning scorers and rebounders Chase Simon (14.0 PPG. 5.0 RPG) and Eli Holman (11.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG). That is the backbone of a talented team that has to live up to expectations this season.
- Wright State – The Raiders continue to book a difficult non-conference schedule with Cincinnati, Charlotte and Air Force all on the slate in 2010. Wright State will also take on Richmond and at least one other high-caliber team in the Chicago Invitational Challenge. They’re doing it because they have the talent to play at a high level – Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans are two returning rising-senior starters, and two other fellows in the upcoming senior class averaged at least 16 minutes a game last year, specifically guard Troy Tabler and forward Cooper Land. Billy Donlon has experienced senior leadership in droves, including last year’s team leaders in scoring and steals (Duggins, with 14.2 PPG and 1.3 SPG) as well as assists (Evans, 3.2 APG). Also, of those rising seniors, three of them were in the team’s top four in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio; this portends well for a team that finished the year 48th in the nation in that stat (tops in the Horizon).
- Valparaiso – Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson give the Crusaders two talented pieces to work around and Homer Drew is one of the best coaches in the business. He provides stability in a conference where change truly is all around him. Freshman Jay Harris from Aurora, Illinois, may be able to spell Wood a bit as well.
- Cleveland State – The entire Vikings team returns. Yup, it must be great to be Cleveland State right about now. It’s not like this was a bad team last season either. The Vikings finished 10-8 in conference last season and 16-17 overall after skidding a bit out of the gate. Norris Cole will provide steady senior leadership at the point and a host of guards makes the Vikings very dangerous. Gary Waters‘ squad does have some questions in the paint, but it might not matter if no one can catch them.
- Green Bay – Brian Wardle doesn’t step in to a cupboard that is bare by any means. Rahmon Fletcher is an all-league caliber player when healthy. His senior leadership, along with that of Bryquis Perine will be important for the Phoenix. One intriguing prospect coming to Green Bay is 7’0 center Alec Brown. Loyola was also interested in Brown, who averaged 22.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 4.9 BPG during his senior season in high school.
- Milwaukee – Gone is Ricky Franklin, who at times willed the Panthers to victory last season. Still, Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle are two talented players that Milwaukee will build upon. Also gone is Big Lumber, James Eayrs – man, will I miss that guy. Never doubt coach Rob Jeter, as he seems to always find a way to finish in the top half of the conference.
- Loyola (IL) – This Loyola squad looks very much like the one that finished last season a disappointing 5-13 in conference. The paint is Loyola’s strength. Andy Polka will be a redshirt senior and is an excellent glue guy; Walt Gibler, the Horizon League’s Sixth Man of the Year and Ben Averkamp also return. The success of the squad relies on Jim Whitesell‘s need to tighten the bench to just the most talented players on his roster and the play of junior point guard Courtney Stanley. If Jordan Hicks regains his form from his freshman season, he could make an impact as well.
- UIC – Until we find out who is taking over for Jimmy Collins at head coach, it is hard to judge how the Flames’ season will shake out. Whoever takes over should have a lot of players to sort through. He’ll also get impact transfer Paul Carter. Carter comes from Minnesota, where he was a rotation player for Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers the past few seasons. Carter has come back to Chicago to be near his sister who is suffering from cancer. Back are Robo Kreps and Zavion Neely, two promising guards.
- Youngstown State – Jerry Slocum‘s team has been at the bottom of the Horizon League for awhile now. Vytas Sulskis is a talented scorer, but there isn’t much around him. Youngstown does bring in four freshmen, so maybe one of them can make a big impact on the court. The Penguins are also bringing in a few junior college players in order to shake up the roster a bit.
- Will the rising tide of the Bulldogs truly lift all boats? With Butler looking to continue its dominance, and a number of teams still trying to take a step forward, the upper to middle tier of the Horizon League should be a tough battle once again.
- Will the coaching changes in the league lead to a drastic shake up in the standings as well? This is a league whose coaches knew each other’s strategies last season. Playing a true home-and-home schedule over the course of the conference schedule each season will do that to you. Now, though, there might be some wrinkles again. The talent will be very similar to last season, with most of the big names in the conference returning, but the people pushing the buttons will be different.