Conference Tournament Primer: Horizon LeaguePosted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2014
Championship Fortnight is under way, and what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.
Dates: March 4, 7, 8, 11
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Resch Center (Green Bay, WI); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)
What to expect: Green Bay was far and away the best team in the regular season, amassing a 24-5 overall record and notching a high-profile non-conference victory over ACC regular season champion Virginia. Led by 7’1’’ center Alec Brown — an NBA prospect with an outside shot — and high-flying point guard Keifer Sykes, the Phoenix should take care of business on their home floor. Brian Wardle’s bunch has been playing some of its best basketball of the season since losing to Milwaukee in early February, securing four its final five wins on the road and dominating opponents by more than 15 points per contest. Still, watch out for Cleveland State and its lights-out three-point shooting — fourth-best in the country at 40.8 percent — as well as defending champion Valparaiso; the Crusaders took down Green Bay earlier in the year. The top seed stumbling at home is not unprecedented for this tournament, but seems unlikely this time around.
Favorite: Green Bay. The team is confident, talented and playing at home. Put simply, anything short of a championship would be hugely disappointing for the Phoenix.
Darkhorse: Valparaiso. Seems unlikely, but if the Crusaders can reach Saturday’s semifinals, they will have two games under their belts and may be able to catch Green Bay a bit rusty. An upset there, and they would be just 40 minutes away from punching their ticket — most likely at Wright State or Cleveland State. Senior guard LaVonte Dority averages 16 points per game and was named first team all-conference on Monday. Hot shooting from both he and all-freshman forward Alec Peters could bode well for Valpo.
Who wins: Green Bay. Need we say more? The league’s best team is at home and on a mission, so expect Wardle and company to keep things rolling into Selection Sunday. Even greater accomplishments loom.
Player to Watch: Keifer Sykes – Green Bay. The diminutive, athletically-gifted point guard has compiled some of the most spectacular dunks you will see all season — at any level — and makes this tournament well worth watching (not that it wasn’t already). He’s also extremely productive: The junior averages 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per contest, including a 32-point outing against Wisconsin back in November, and a 21-point, 10-assist performance in the upset over Virginia.
Bubble Implications: Green Bay is up to a #11 seed in Daniel Evans’ most recent Bracketology edition, so a loss in the conference final, perhaps to Cleveland State, would leave open the possibility of an at-large birth for the Phoenix. Again, the win over Virginia carries serious weight. A two-bid Horizon would mean an NIT bid for some other nervous team on the bubble.