2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Horizon LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2012
- The Departure of Butler: It’s pretty crazy to think that the Horizon League has produced two of the last three runners-up in the NCAA Tournament, but Butler did indeed reach the final game of the season in both 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs have been the reason why the conference receives the national attention that it does, but they are now members of the A-10. What does this mean for the conference? Wright State head coach Billy Donlon and Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters don’t seem to think much of the departure, as the former noted that Butler finished fifth in the conference a season ago, and the latter speculated that the Bulldogs would not have been the favorites this season. Despite this, Butler’s departure has been covered extensively by the national media, and we will be able to see its effects in the seasons to come.
- Will Valparaiso Dominate Conference Play? Results from the Media Day polls would seem to indicate that Valparaiso will indeed dominate the Horizon League, as the Crusaders received 40 of the possible 44 first-place votes this preseason. Valpo went 14-4 in conference last year, and returns reigning Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff and first team all-Horizon League forward Kevin Van Wijk. Reaching the NCAA Tournament will be the goal for the Crusaders, as this was a feat they were unable to accomplish one season ago.
- Year Three of the McCallum Experiment: Two elite recruits, ranked #17 and #33 in the 2010 ESPN 100, both decided to play for their fathers at mid-major schools in Michigan. Things haven’t turned out so well for the player ranked #33 in his class, as Trey Zeigler transferred from Central Michigan to Pittsburgh after his dad’s firing. For Ray McCallum, Jr., the seventeenth-best recruit of his class, things have worked out just fine. Detroit reached the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the Horizon League Tournament largely due to the contributions of the younger McCallum on the court and of his father, Ray McCallum, Sr., on the sidelines. The junior point guard has high expectations this season, as he was named the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Valparaiso (15-1)
- Detroit (13-3)
- Green Bay (11-5)
- Youngstown State (10-6)
- Cleveland State (9-7)
- Milwaukee (5-11)
- Loyola (4-12)
- Illinois-Chicago (3-13)
- Wright State (2-14)
Preseason All-Conference Team (2011-12 stats in parentheses)
- Guard: Ray McCallum Jr. – Detroit (15.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.6 SPG) Perhaps the most talented player that the Horizon League has seen in recent memory, McCallum has put up excellent numbers in his first two seasons as a Titan. A superb junior campaign could do wonders for his professional prospects, as he could be a first-round draft pick in either the 2013 or 2014 NBA Draft.
- Guard: Kendrick Perry – Youngstown State (16.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.4 SPG) Quietly one of the better sophomores in the nation last year, Perry will look to put up even better numbers as a junior. Although he stands at only 6’0”, he is a force on both sides of the ball, as he led the conference in scoring and was second in steals a season ago.
- Forward: Ryan Broekhoff – Valparaiso (14.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG) Broekhoff, now a senior, is the Horizon League’s reigning Player of the Year and he should finally get the national attention that he deserves. The 6’7” Australian is one of the most diverse players in the country, a claim that can be verified by the 66 three-pointers that he hit and the fact that he led the conference in rebounding.
- Forward: Kevin Van Wijk – Valparaiso (14.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG) Van Wijk, Broekhoff’s frontcourt mate at Valpo, was a member of the All-Horizon first team a season ago. He is incredibly efficient, as made evident by his 61.7 percent shooting last year, and should put up similar numbers in 2012-13.
- Center: Alec Brown – Green Bay (13.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.0 BPG) The 7’1” center is a defensive stud, flat out. Brown blocked 11 shots (11!) in a game last season against Wright State, and his presence is unmistakable, but he needs to assert himself more on the offensive end of the floor.
Sixth Man: Damian Eargle – Youngstown State (11.1 RPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.7 BPG) Eargle is not nearly as tall as the aforementioned Brown, but the 6’7” forward/center is an absolute athletic freak. He turned away a ridiculous 3.7 shots per game last season, and is improving on offense, as his 25-point performance against Detroit in the conference tournament indicates.
Impact Newcomer: Juwan Howard Jr. – Detroit – Howard transferred to Detroit by way of Western Michigan, where he averaged 9.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2010-11. He shouldn’t be expected to replace Chase Simon, but will nonetheless be a valuable wing for the Titans.
Valparaiso (NCAA Seed: #12): After going 14-4 in the conference last season, Valpo was defeated by a shocking margin of 20 points at the hands of Detroit in the Horizon League Tournament championship game. With the return of Broekhoff, Van Wijk, and head coach Bryce Drew, who knows a little bit about March Madness himself, the Crusaders will be dangerous, both in the conference and nationally. Valparaiso will win the conference because of its depth, experience, and the obvious disappointment from a season ago. Although third- and fourth-leading scorers Richie Edwards and Jay Harris decided to transfer, Matt Kenney (7.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG), Will Bogan (7.2 PPG), and Erik Buggs (4.4 PPG, 3.0 APG) all return to the backcourt. Transfer Bobby Capobianco, a 6’9”, 250-pound bruiser, is expected to make an immediate impact after playing sparingly in his first two seasons at Indiana. The Crusaders will be challenged during their non-conference schedule, as they will travel to Kent State, Saint Louis, New Mexico, and Murray State before opening up Horizon League play. If they can manage to win a few of these tough road games and dominate the conference as expected, they should get a solid NCAA Tournament seed. They might not be dancing, however, if conference foes Detroit or Green Bay get in the way.
- Detroit (NIT): Given Detroit’s returning talent, including McCallum, Doug Anderson (9.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG), Nick Minnerath (11.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG in 2010-11), and Jason Calliste (10.2 PPG, 56 3FGs), it is feasible that the Titans repeat as conference champions this season. Eli Holman and Chase Simon graduated, but Minnerath will be back after playing in only five games last season due to injury, and Howard will contribute right away. Detroit has a tough non-conference schedule, with games at St. John’s, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Temple; with a few wins, it could make the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference title. Realistically, though, the NIT is where Detroit will most likely end up.
- Green Bay: Alec Brown, the best player on the Phoenix, is 7’1”, and should be able to keep his team competitive in any game due to his imposing and unmatchable size. Teamed with Brennan Cougill (9.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG), Green Bay has one of the most imposing frontcourts in the league. The backcourt is manned by Keifer Sykes (11.2 PPG, 3.4 APG), who turned in a stellar freshman season and will look to have another strong season, and sharpshooter Kam Cerroni (7.9 PPG, 60 3FGs made) also returns. Green Bay will be playing in a postseason tournament, but in order to get a bid to the Big Dance, it will need to exceed expectations.
Reader’s Take II
- Juwan Howard Jr. – Detroit – He contributed as a freshman at Western Michigan two seasons ago, and should do the same in the Horizon League for three seasons as a Titan. What are the odds that his dad will still be playing by the time he graduates?
- Bobby Capobianco – Valparaiso – The big-bodied forward was unable to crack the rotation at Indiana as a sophomore, which is nothing to be ashamed of. At the mid-major level, his size and prowess will be more valuable, and Valpo is looking forward to what he will bring to the table.
- Joey Miller – Illinois-Chicago – Miller, a transfer from Eastern Illinois, will have three years of eligibility at Illinois-Chicago. He averaged 10.4 points per game as a freshman, but his dad was fired and he opted for a change of scenery.
- Cully Payne – Loyola – Payne was a member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team for the 2009-10 season as an Iowa Hawkeye, but suffered a sports hernia injury as a sophomore and then chose to transfer. In his first season at Iowa, he averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 assists per game.
Spotlight On… Valparaiso’s International Recruiting
Ryan Broekhoff came to play college basketball in the United States from Australia, and he has had a phenomenal career. He attended the Australian Institute of Sport, the same program that sent Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills to college and then to the NBA. International recruits can often go under the radar, as these three Australians all played at mid-major programs. Although he was unable to crack the final roster for the Australian national team for the 2012 Olympics, Broekhoff will most likely play for the Boomers at the highest level in the future. For mid-major programs like Valparaiso to get elite talent, they have to recruit in an unorthodox manner. It will be interesting to see if Broekhoff’s career and success at Valpo will lead to an Australian pipeline à la Saint Mary’s.
The Crusaders’ other star forward, Kevin Van Wijk, is a native of the Netherlands. He is also one of the top players in the Horizon League, and the pair will be hard to replace next season. It is very possible that Valpo continues to look for more players from abroad in the future; as Broekhoff and Van Wijk have shown, it can pay off big time.
Butler may be gone, but that does not mean the Horizon League will be irrelevant on the college hoops scene. Valparaiso and Detroit are both capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament, and the conference champion, whoever it may be, could quite possibly win a game or two in March. The conference has a lot to offer, and it is definitely not short on star power. There are a handful of good teams, and although Valpo is the favorite, there should be plenty of competition during league play. Brad Stevens and his Bulldogs waved goodbye in order to move to the A-10, but the immediate future looks bright for the Horizon League.