Conference Tourney Primers: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way – starting with tonight’s action.

Horizon League Tournament

Dates: March 3, 6, 7, 10

Site: First round is at campus sites; quarterfinals and semifinals are at Athletics Recreation Center (Valparaiso, IN); championship is at a campus site (seeded team hosts)


What to expect: Valparaiso came up big at Cleveland State last Friday, clinching the outright conference title and earning the right to play in its own gym. That’s good news for the Crusaders, which rolled to a 26-5 record and went undefeated at home in conference play. The bad news? There are several strong challengers – Green Bay, Cleveland State and Oakland – each good enough to make a run at Bryce Drew’s club, even on the road. The senior-laden Phoenix, led by Keifer Sykes, will be an especially tough out.

Favorite: Valparaiso. The Crusaders are an exceptional defensive unit, only once surrendering more than a point per possession at home during league play. They boast the 14th-best interior defense in college hoops, thanks largely to the presence of 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez – the conference’s best shot-blocker. And if Sykes is the Horizon League’s best overall player, then forward Alec Peters (16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) can’t be far behind. Throw in home court advantage and you see why Valparaiso is the team to beat.

Darkhorse: Detroit. This may be a stretch – Detroit went 7-9 in conference play – but if there’s one team outside of the top four talented enough to string together multiple wins, it’s the Titans. Juwan Howard, Jr. (17.8 PPG) is one of the conference’s premier scorers, athletic wing Paris Bass (12.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) is its Freshman of the Year, and perhaps no other squad possesses as much depth. Plus, they enter the tournament fresh off a victory over Valparaiso. You never know.

Who wins: Green Bay. The Phoenix lost on its home floor last season, which was a bitter pill to swallow for a team capable of doing some damage in the NCAA Tournament. Three players from that squad – most notably Sykes, the Horizon League Player of the Year – are set to graduate this spring, so expect Brian Wardle’s guys to play with a sense of urgency. Green Bay gets a double-bye to the semifinals, where it will likely meet an Oakland team it just beat by 20 points, after which point Valparaiso probably awaits. After splitting a pair of games decided by five total points in the regular season, look for Green Bay’s experience to make the difference in a rubber match.

Player to watch: Kahlil Felder – Oakland. By now most everyone knows about Sykes – or at least they should – so I’ll just say this: He’s one of the best point guards in college basketball, regardless of conference. As for Felder? If the 5’9″ point guard’s eye-popping numbers don’t pique your interest (17.4 PPG, 7.7 APG, 2 SPG), then this certainly will…

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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