Breaking Down the Horizon League RacePosted by WCarey on January 31st, 2013
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Detroit and Wright State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
While Detroit represented the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament last season, prior to this season Butler had long maintained a virtual stronghold on the top position in the conference. Luckily for the current members of the Horizon League, Butler is no longer around as the Bulldogs bolted after the 2011-12 season to join the Atlantic 10. With the Bulldogs’ departure, teams who had long played second fiddle to Brad Stevens’ program were now given the opportunity to make themselves known as serious contenders. The following is a breakdown of the four teams who currently possess the best chance of taking home the conference crown this year and represent the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament.
1. Valparaiso – 16-6 overall (6-2 in Horizon League) – Bryce Drew’s Crusaders are not only in first place in the conference, but they are also one of the hottest teams in the league. After dropping their conference opener, a home match-up with Loyola, the Crusaders have notched wins in six of their last seven games. Valpo is led by a duo of foreign-born front line standouts. Australian senior forward Ryan Broekhoff – last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year – leads the team in scoring (17.2 PPG) and rebounding (8.5 RPG), while fellow senior forward Kevin Van Wijk, a native of the Netherlands, trails only Broekhoff for the team lead in scoring (13.5 PPG) and rebounding (5.2 RPG). While the Crusaders dropped their most recent contest – a road setback to Youngstown State on Wednesday – the remainder of their schedule is manageable enough for the team to remain the favorite to earn the regular season crown and the top seed in the league tournament.
2. Detroit – 14-8 overall (6-3 in Horizon League) – Last season’s conference tournament champion, the Titans once again have a solid opportunity to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. Getting by Valparaiso may be a tall task, but Ray McCallum’s squad definitely has the firepower to beat anyone in the league. Led by junior guards Ray McCallum Jr. and Jason Calliste and senior forwards Doug Anderson and Nick Minnerath, the Titans’ five starters all average double figures in scoring. The Titans’ ability to score is illustrated by the fact that in conference play thus far, they have outscored conference foes by an average of over 11 points per game. The Titans notched an important road win at Wright State on Wednesday night, which conveniently coincided with Valparaiso’s loss at Youngstown State – meaning now the Crusaders only have a one game lead over the Titans in the hunt for the conference regular season title. Detroit lost by one at home to Valpo earlier this month, but it has a chance for revenge when it travels to Bryce Drew’s building on February 16.
3. Youngstown State – 13-8 overall (5-3 in Horizon League) – If Valparaiso is the hottest team in the conference then then Penguins are a close second. After dropping three of their first four league games, Jerry Slocum’s squad has regrouped to win four straight – including a win over the first-place Crusaders on Wednesday night. Led by the tenacious play of senior forward Damian Eargle and the scoring ability of junior guard Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State has found its groove at the right time. Next up for the Penguins is another tough test as they will travel to Detroit on Friday to take on a Titans squad that defeated them by 41 in Youngstown on January 10.
4. Wright State – 14-8 overall (5-4 in Horizon League) – While Valparaiso and Youngstown State are the two hot teams in the league, Billy Donlon’s Raiders have been battling recently after winning their first four conference games. Wednesday’s home loss to Detroit was the team’s third consecutive loss and dropped the team a full game behind the second-place Titans in the league standings. Despite the Raiders’ recent struggles, the team’s strong early season play cannot be discounted. As shown by the recent strong play of Youngstown State, all it takes is a little run to turn your season around and put you right back in the thick of things in terms of the conference standings. No matter how the season turns out for Donlon’s Raiders, the coach and the mostly young team that does not include a senior deserve a great deal of credit for their performance after they were picked to finish last in the league in the preseason.