Checking in on … the Horizon League

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 25th, 2012

Deepak Jayanti is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. Follow him on Twitter (@10thYearSeniors) for his thoughts on college basketball.

Reader’s Take

 

Halfway Checkpoint

  • Don’t Bet On It: Parity has been a common term used to describe certain conference races such as the Big Ten, CAA or Pac-12 so far this season. Add the Horizon League to that list after the games this past weekend. Cleveland State and a surprising Valparaiso team sit on top of the standings at the halfway point of conference play. Fans of this league with a gambling itch might want to stay away because there are three teams (Butler, Milwaukee and Youngstown State) right up there, only a game behind the leaders in the standings. Milwaukee and Cleveland State were expected to be the front-runners but few expected Valpo and Youngstown to challenge them for the title. There is only one aspect of this conference that is certain at the halfway point – unpredictability.
  • International Love: No, this is not a reference to the Pitbull/Chris Brown song that is overplayed on the radio nowadays. But Bryce Drew has two great foreign-born players that form an efficient inside-outside tandem. One of the lingering questions about the Crusaders before the season started was around a reliable second scoring option outside of Ryan Broekhoff (Australia). Kevin Van Wijk (Netherlands) is averaging 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as he compliments Broekhoff’s outside game by patrolling the paint without attempting a single three-point shot all season. Drew must be paying close attention to the shooting form of his players because the Crusaders are shooting a league best 58% inside the arc. They aren’t stacked with three-point gunners but their offensive sets are designed to maximize the player’s strengths, hence less reliant on the long-range shot.
  • Senior Backcourt Leads the Way: Cleveland State is fortunate to have three seniors controlling the game during key stretches. The three Vikings – Trevon Harmon (12.1 PPG), D’Aundray Brown (11.6 PPG) and Jeremy Montgomery (10.7 PPG) provide a great foundation along with a balanced scoring attack. Gary Waters’ guards have already proved that they can win at tough venues on the road – Vanderbilt, Kent State and Butler. Their experience and composure might just be enough to win pivotal games such as the one this past weekend when they steamrolled through Milwaukee at home, 83-57. They do more than just score – the Three Amigos also limited each of Milwaukee’s guards to single digit scoring on Sunday.

The Talented Trevon Harmon Headlines A Tremendous Backcourt

  • D in Detroit doesn’t stand for Defense: All of the offensive talent means nothing if you can’t (or won’t) defend. Sure, everybody around the league is well aware of the potential NBA players on the Titans’ squad – Ray McCallum Jr. (15.2 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Eli Holman (11 PPG, 6.6 RPG).  Without a consistent defensive effort, though, they have no chance at contending for the conference title. Detroit ranks last in defensive field goal percentage across the Horizon and are giving up about one point per possession* to their opponents during conference action. They will continue to lose key games against the top squads with their lackadaisical defense – for example, they gave up 84 points to Milwaukee, which is a team that only averages about 63.6 points per game. (*All tempo free statistics are courtesy of kenpom.com)
  • Disney on ice: Huh? That’s not a typo. This event could impact where the conference tournament is held. If the teams continue to beat up on each other, the overall record of the top teams won’t be enticing enough for the NCAA committee to consider selecting two teams for the Big Dance. So despite the regular season outcome, the conference tournament’s result might easily drive the decision on Selection Sunday. If Milwaukee ends up winning the regular season (only one game behind first place), they will not be able to host the first two rounds of the conference tournament because Disney On Ice has already booked the U.S. Cellular arena from March 1-4. Now, this will only impact Milwaukee negatively IF they win the regular season title because in such a case, the tournament will be held on the home court of the second place team from the regular season. Based on the parity of the league so far, a home court advantage might be extremely crucial during the conference tourney so the Panthers fans won’t be too happy come early March if they are forced to play on the road.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (7-2, 17-4) – In addition to an experienced backcourt, the Vikings can pull their weight in the paint. They lead the league in grabbing offensive rebounds. They clean the offensive glass at a league best 36.6%. Most of this is due to the upcoming freshman Anton Grady who grabs about 5.4 rebounds per game. Another senior forward, Aaron Pogue adds to the mix as he averages 4.1 boards per game. A balanced scoring attack combined with experience means that the Vikings are well positioned to take the conference title.
  2. Valparaiso (7-2, 14-7) – Well-coached players know their strengths. The Crusaders’ shot selection during their recent stretch exemplifies Drew’s coaching abilities. This team won’t shoot lights out like their former coach but have been running most of the plays through the paint. Capitalizing on Van Wijk’s post game is the best strategy because it opens up the outside shot for Broekhoff towards the end of the games. Van Wijk is very savvy with his moves in the paint and has a fairly high free throw rate of 83.6 this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2011

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Cream of the Crop Rises: It’s only mid-December, but don’t let the overall records fool you: The conference cream of the crop has already risen to the top. There is a clear division between the upper and lower halves of the Horizon League in 2011-12. Some teams (Milwaukee, Detroit, Butler, and Valparaiso) chose to test themselves before conference play begins. With Butler having a down season, a conference crown is there for the taking and each of these schools is hoping that their tough-minded scheduling philosophy pays off late in the season.
  • UW-Milwaukee Pushes Wisconsin: Playing in front of the largest regular season home crowd in school history at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, the Panthers went on a 16-1 run in the second half to cut 17-point deficit to two. But Wisconsin hit a few big shots down the stretch to hold on for a 60-54 win. UWM – who were without injured starters Kyle Kelm and Ja’Rob McCallum – dug themselves a hole in the first half after they shot just 30% from the field and made seven of 17 free throws for the game. Tony Meijer scored all of his team-high 15 points in a seven-minute stretch in the middle of the second half.
  • Return of the Titan: 6’10’’ center Eli Holman returned from an indefinite suspension and played in his first two games this past week. Though he didn’t start either game, Holman dunked his way to 21 points and snagged seven rebounds in his season-opener against Western Michigan and then went for nine and nine (points and boards) in the Titans’ loss to Alabama. Coach Ray McCallum Sr. seems to be making Holman earn his way back into the starting lineup, which is probably smart for the sake of team chemistry. Detroit survived a tough non-conference schedule without him including a nice win over St. John’s, but a low-post force like Holman is a rarity in the Horizon League. With him, the Titans should challenge Milwaukee and Cleveland State for conference supremacy.

Brad Stevens May Have Scheduled A Bit Too Aggressively With Significant Graduation Losses Giving Way To A Young Team

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State(10-1, 2-0) –The two best non-conference wins of the season thus far belong to the Vikings (road wins over Vanderbilt and Mid-American Conference favorite Kent State). Senior D’Aundray Brown has bounced back nicely from an injured hand to lead the team in scoring (12.7 PPG) and is second in rebounding (4.5 RPG). Guard Trevon Harmon was named conference Player of the Week after averaging 20 points in victories over Robert Morris and at Akron. The key to CSU’s early-season success, however, has been tough defense. With former star Norris Cole now in the NBA, the Vikings have used a quick, smaller lineup and their trademark pressure defense to hold opponents to just 57.5 points per game while swiping ten steals per game, both conference-bests. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2011

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. You can find his daily ramblings @PantherU or @JimmyLeMKE on Twitter.

Reader’s Take I

Last season, the Horizon League put four teams in the postseason — can it do it again?


Top Storylines

  • Eli Holman’s Leave of Absence: The Detroit big man is easily the best returning post player in the H-League, but whether or not he will return is a big question. Holman was placed on “indefinite leave” from the team at the end of September to handle some legal issues drawn from an incident at a fraternity house earlier in the month. Big Ten fans will remember Holman as the player who left Indiana after getting into a confrontation with then new coach Tom Crean.  Without Holman, the Titans have a big hole in the post and would have to rely more heavily on Nick Minnerath and LeMarcus Lowe to pick up the pieces of a broken inside game.  They still have some of the best talent in the league, but without that dominant force, who knows what they’ll get.
  • Kaylon Williams In Trouble:  Milwaukee got some bad news as well, with starting point guard Kaylon Williams getting pulled over in Iowa and blowing a .228 BAC.  What makes matters worse for Williams is that he fled the scene on foot, although he was picked up shortly afterward.  No official word has come down from the university on punishment besides a short statement from head coach Rob Jeter. “We are aware of the situation involving Kaylon Williams.  We are disappointed and will take appropriate action as we gather more information and the legal process runs its course.”  This is Williams’ first offense and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss.  Last season, Milwaukee had difficulty with Williams off the floor, but prepared for further uncertainty by recruiting junior college player Paris Gulley and high school point guard Shaquille Boga.

It Says Here That Matt Howard Was the Difference Maker at Butler

  • Butler’s Back Again: Obviously, the college basketball world is familiar with the recent NCAA Tournament dominance of Butler.  “Familiar” might not be the word; “obsessed” may be closer.  In any case, Butler came a 50-footer from the title in 2010 when no one thought they would make it. They suffered a poor shooting night in 2011 to keep the Bulldogs from that elusive title when no one thought they’d be back.  Is it so crazy to say that they could make another run to the Final Four?  The answer is yes.  While losing Gordon Hayward and some key players from the previous year’s team didn’t spell the end for them in 2010-11, 2011-12 will be a different story.  Forget Shelvin Mack, Hayward, and even Brad Stevens.  To me, the one person that deserves the most credit for both of these runs is Matt Howard.  We all knew from day one that he was a special player, and what lack of NBA athleticism (he’s still athletic) he had was made up big time in his skill, determination, and intelligence. To me, he’s the best leader-by-example in basketball that I have ever seen, and his graduation means someone else at Butler will have to try and pick up that torch.  You can replace Shelvin Mack’s scoring and Zach Hahn’s knack for the timely three-pointer, but you can’t replace Matt Howard’s… Matt Howard.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

The big picture of the Horizon League got further muddled when Valparaiso, who owned first place not one week ago, lost two successive games in Wisconsin (sandwiched around an excellent Bracketbusters victory over Missouri State) and dropped back to the pack. Cleveland State is in first for the time being after defeating Wright State last week.  Their loss at Old Dominion all but ensured the Vikings need to win the conference tournament to make their way into the Big Dance, but it’s not over yet.  The big winners were Milwaukee and Butler, who moved up to second place (five losses) with Valpo’s loss at Green Bay on Monday night.  Both have hopes of hosting the Horizon League Tournament next weekend, but only two schools – Cleveland State and Milwaukee – are in control of their own destiny.

Power Rankings

1. Cleveland State (21-6, 12-4) – Gary Waters and his program missed a great opportunity to get the marquee victory they needed to get into the Dance.  Like Utah State, their resume needed a big Bracketbuster victory to set them up for an at-large berth.  Unlike USU, they didn’t deliver, and now are faced with winning the conference title to go dancing.  Fortunately for Cleveland State, all they need to do is win.  Two home victories over Milwaukee and Green Bay mean Cleveland State is the sole regular season champion, and the Horizon League Tournament goes through Cleveland.  Lose, however, and the Vikings are almost guaranteed to drop out of the top two spots (and the double-bye that comes with them) due to being swept by Butler.

2. Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5) – I’ve spent the whole season putting the Panthers lower on the Power Rankings because I didn’t want to be accused of homerism, but the fact is Milwaukee deserves to be in this spot.  Beating Valparaiso at home was huge, avenging yet another early season loss and putting the Panthers’ goal of winning a conference championship directly in sight.  CSU and Milwaukee are the only teams that control their own destiny, with either team winning out being crowned conference champs.  However, the Panthers would share the regular season crown with any combination of Cleveland State, Butler and Valparaiso.  Should Milwaukee win out, they have the trump card, a sweep over Butler that no other team has.  The loss on the road in the Bracketbuster is deceiving; Milwaukee held out their defensive stopper, Ryan Allen, after he took a hard fall on Wednesday.  He will be tasked with guarding Norris Cole, who still riding a season-long high after his national coming-out party against Youngstown State when he went off for 41 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and three steals.

3. Butler (19-9, 12-5) – The Dawgs most likely will dispatch Loyola on Senior Night, and let me just say that nobody deserves to be applauded more than Matt Howard.  Talk about a career, this guy has put everything he has into starting at power forward for the Butler Bulldogs since his freshman year, and I’d be astonished if his last regular-season home game was a loss.  Loyola has recent history of winning at Hinkle, but look for Butler to enter the Horizon League Tournament with yet another 20-win season.  To win the conference and host the tournament, Butler needs the winner of Thursday’s Cleveland State-Milwaukee game to lose on Saturday.  It’s a tall order, expecting the 7th place team to win on the road or the 9th place team to win at home, but both have done it this season – Green Bay won at Valpo and Butler fell on the sword at Youngstown State.

4. Valparaiso (18-9, 11-5) – You wanna talk about bad luck, look no further than Valpo.  Heading into Milwaukee, Valpo sat at three losses and owned a tiebreaker with Cleveland State.  Just six days later, they’re on the wrong end of tie-breakers with all three teams.  At Milwaukee, the Crusaders missed two bunny layups in the final seconds, although they got help with the Panthers missing several free throws in the closing minutes.  At Green Bay, Howard Little grabbed a rebound that would have all but sealed a victory for Valpo, but he fell to the ground and traveled, giving the ball back to Green Bay for the winning basket.  Valpo will likely start the conference tournament at the ARC in the first round.  The good news? They only have one home conference loss.

5. Wright State (16-2, 10-7) – The Raiders were still in it a couple weeks ago, but lost games to the contenders and find themselves out of the running.  Wright State is still a very dangerous team, and has beaten almost everybody in the conference despite absences from Troy Tabler and Cooper LandVaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans, when it comes down to it, are still one of the best backcourt tandems in the H-League.  Depending on where they finish, the Raiders will play Green Bay or Loyola in the first round of the tournament, teams they should be able to beat.

6. Detroit (14-15, 9-8) – Remember the beginning of the season, when the national pundits kept putting Detroit in first or second place?  Why was that?  Of course, the answer is Ray McCallum Jr.  Guys like Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and Seth Davis couldn’t fathom how a top-20 recruit would go into the Horizon League and lose enough to finish out of the top two, especially when he’s got a 6’10 monster transfer from Indiana in the block.  The truth is, none of those guys really know how good the Horizon League is.  Detroit isn’t a bad team; they have a very talented starting five and will be a tough out in the Horizon League Tournament.  Their problem is lack of bench depth and questionable coaching.  How can Ray McCallum Sr. not want the ball in Eli Holman’s hands every time down the floor?

7. Green Bay (12-16, 7-9) – The victory over Valpo on Monday was their biggest of the season, on Senior Night no less.  Brian Wardle has an outside chance at the six seed, but will likely open the conference tournament on the road at Detroit.  He is looking at a tough year in 2011-12 without Bryquis Perine, Rahmon Fletcher and Greg LeSage, but Monday night showed that he’s got an excellent building block in seven-footer Alec Brown.

8. Loyola (15-13, 6-10) – It looks like this could be the swan song for Jim Whitesell.  For the fourth season in a row, Jim Whitesell’s weak non-conference scheduling has led to the team being unprepared for the conference season. The Loyola Ramblers haven’t been above the eight seed in the conference tournament since 2006-07, and they have a large renovation to the basketball arena taking place after the season.  This could be a situation like Missouri State, when new digs meant a new coach in Cuonzo Martin.  Unlike the Bears, however, the Ramblers haven’t come truly close the tournament in a long time.  Gone after the season are seniors Andy Polka, Terrance Hill and Geoff McCammon.  The Ramblers have good pieces in Ben Averkamp, Denzel Brito and (potentially) John Gac, but they won’t have the firepower to compete in 2011-12 and after that season will lose almost everybody else of consequence.

9. Youngstown State (7-18, 2-14) – It sure looked like Youngstown State was going to make me eat some crow there for a bit. The day my RTC post condemning the YSU program as unworthy of the Horizon League was released, they up and defeated Butler.  Nearly taking out Valpo a couple days later would have been big for a program that hasn’t had a whole lot to root for.  It’s likely the final go-round for Jerry Slocum, whose wild success in lower-division NCAA did not translate to the D-I Penguins.  But the problem isn’t Slocum as much as it is the inherent problems the department has.  Unless some money is taken from football and injected into the basketball program’s budget, the Penguins will be relegated to the bottom of the barrel for the time being.  And even then it likely won’t be enough.

10. UIC (6-22, 2-15) – Unlike Youngstown State, UIC has the structure to be competitive in the Horizon League.  This season was a lost year the second April 2010 came around and Jimmy Collins was still coach.  The season was further doomed for every month Collins remained, staying long enough to make things especially tough on incoming coach Howard Moore.  The truncated recruiting timetable left the Flames with a couple good players remaining from Collins’ team and bunch of residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.  UIC will be better in 2011-12, but it will be a few years before Howard Moore gets them up to speed.  It seems funny that two of the conference’s best non-conference victories, over Illinois and Rhode Island, came from the Flames.

A Look Ahead

The season is almost over, with only one weekend remaining.  Games on Thursday and Saturday will determine the championship and seeding for the Horizon League Tournament, and while no seeds are official, we do know this:

The top four seeds – Cleveland State, Butler, Milwaukee and Valparaiso - are untouchable.  A fifth, Wright State, has guaranteed at least a home game in the conference tournament.  Detroit has an outside chance of losing their home game to Green Bay, but all signs point to Green Bay at Detroit next Tuesday.  Loyola is the safest team in their seed, with only a 0.6% chance they land in the seven seed.  Youngstown State and UIC will fill out the final two spots, and YSU will likely be the nine seed.

The final thing we know is this: the winner of Thursday’s game between Milwaukee and Cleveland State all but locks up a conference championship going into the final game of the regular season.  Both teams would need to sweep; each team going 1-1 and Butler beating Loyola would make Butler the conference champion. That scenario, however, is unlikely as Cleveland State hosts Green Bay and Milwaukee visits Youngstown State.  A game this big deserves the viewership, and as long as you’re reading this, you can see it: HorizonLeague.org, Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern.

  • 2.24.11 – Milwaukee at Cleveland State, 7 p.m., Time Warner Sports 32/HLN
  • 2.25.11 – Detroit at Wright State, 7 p.m., HLN
  • 2.26.11 – Milwaukee at Youngstown State, 1 p.m., HLN
  • 2.26.11 – Green Bay at Cleveland State, 2 p.m., HLN
  • 2.26.11 – Loyola at Butler, 2 p.m., HLN

Video of the Week – With such a huge game on the Horizon for Thursday, we’ll take a look back to December, when Cleveland State went to Milwaukee and laid a drubbing on the Panthers:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

Fans are still getting used to Butler being out of the top spot, but the past couple weeks have led the Bulldogs to losses at Wright State and (most recently) Valparaiso, and the biggest shot to the stomach may have been an overtime loss at Hinkle against Milwaukee that completed a very impressive sweep by the Panthers.  The Crusaders and Cleveland State Vikings kept on trucking, putting distance between themselves and the rest of the Horizon League by going undefeated in the last week.  CSU had an easy week, going on the road in Chicago and getting two victories.  Valparaiso, on the other hand, got everything Butler could give them and won in front of a packed house at the ARC before they were taken down by the Vikings Thursday night.

Power Rankings

1. Cleveland State (21-3, 10-2) – Since their difficult trip in Indiana, the Vikings have gone 6-0 and have been generally strong in doing so, even though their three road wins came at the dregs of the Horizon League. A victory at home against Valparaiso put them in the driver’s seat for the time being. Any H-League fans fancy spending early March in Cleveland?

2. Valparaiso (16-7, 8-3) – The Crusaders have definitely had a more difficult schedule than the Vikings since their victory on January 9, but a hiccup at home against Green Bay separates them for now.  Thursday’s game was a huge letdown, and now the Crusaders are looking up; luckily they still have the inside track on the two seed and its double-bye.

3. Wright State (15-9, 8-4) – The Raiders only had losses to the top two teams before dropping a decision at Milwaukee, adding on to the impressive streak of losing at the Panthers (the last time Wright State won at Milwaukee was in 1997).  The Raiders have, along with Detroit, the most difficult schedule remaining. A victory at the ARC next Saturday is essential for the Raiders to have a decent shot at overtaking Valpo.

4. Milwaukee (12-11, 7-5) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Panthers finally subsided with Milwaukee taking games at Butler and at home against Detroit and Wright State.  The last (and only) time the Panthers won or lost three games in a row was between November 14th through the 20th.  Beat Green Bay on Saturday, and they keep the pace with the top.  Lose, and it’s back to the pack.

5. Butler (14-9, 6-5) – Since blowing out Cleveland State, the Dawgs and Vikings have gone two separate directions.  Butler has gone 3-4 since then, dropping a game at home against Milwaukee to complete the sweep and road games at Wright State, Valpo and Youngstown State (seriously).  With five conference losses, they have a very outside shot at the all-important two seed, but it is essential that they defeat Cleveland State and Wright State to keep their hopes alive.

6. Green Bay (12-11, 6-5) – The Phoenix answered a loss at Detroit with an emphatic victory at Green Bay on Sunday.  Guard Rahmon Fletcher has scored in double figures in eight straight games, including a 24-point performance against the Titans.  Saturday’s game at Milwaukee is the only game of the week for the Phoenix, and is a huge rivalry for two teams knotted at five losses in the conference.

7. Detroit (12-12, 6-6) – Ray McCallum Sr.’s Titans have been on a downward spiral, going 2-5 over their last seven with victories over UIC and Youngstown State.  The depth of the Titans has been an issue this season, and an extremely talented starting five has had to play a ton.  When they get in foul trouble, McCallum is forced to play guys like Evan Bruinsma in important situations, as he did down the stretch Friday against Milwaukee.

8. Loyola (13-10, 4-8) – Luckily for the Ramblers, they have separated themselves from the Flames and Penguins.  Unfortunately, that still leaves them at 4-8m looking up at the pack in terms of a home game in the conference tournament. With three more losses than the sixth-place team, the Ramblers have all but lost an opportunity to host a Horizon League tournament game.  They can be dangerous in the tourney with Geoff McCammon, so look for him to get some rest once their seed is pretty much set.

9. Youngstown State (8-14, 2-10) – Wow, what a victory for Youngstown State over Butler on Thursday night.  This game will go down as one of the 2-3 best victories in program history, or at least for the decade it has been in the Horizon League.  But you see, that’s the problem.  The victory over the Bulldogs is no easy feat, but when the team tied for fifth place in the conference is one of your best victories of the decade, you’ve had a pretty awful decade.  The time is ripe for the Penguins to move on from Jerry Slocum and truly invest in their program.  Don’t be surprised if the Horizon League has meetings to consider contraction of Youngstown State if Slocum is still the coach in April, or the replacement is not paid at a comparable level of other conference schools.

10. UIC (6-17, 1-10) – This was a lost season once April 2010 passed and Jimmy Collins was still the head coach. The fact that it took until August to install a replacement for Collins, who retired over the summer, made the 2010-11 season pointless from a competitive standpoint.  Poor Paul Carter shouldn’t have applied to play immediately and instead should have sat out the season as a regular transfer.  Now, the team looks to be out of luck in the future as well, with Carter, Robo Kreps, Dipanjot Singh, Brad Birton, and potentially Zavion Neely (due to academic issues) on their way out.  Of course, a blank slate to go along with a full season of recruiting may be just what Howard Moore needs.

A Look Ahead

The two teams off on Thursday, Milwaukee and Green Bay, square off in a huge rivalry game at the U.S. Cellular Arena on Saturday afternoon.  The winner is still in the mix for a potential bye (albeit barely), but the loser will be fending off Detroit to hold onto the #6 spot and a conference home game. Following the loss at YSU, Butler is gasping for air.  The worst time for this to happen is now, as they are headed into Valhalla to take on the Vikings of Cleveland State.  CSU is fresh off a decisive victory at Valparaiso and split the season series.  It would be a huge step for the Vikings if they could bury Butler with a sixth loss in conference.  Not exactly the 1-2 matchup that ESPN was hoping for, but Butler can still make the conference race very interesting by sweeping the league leaders.

  • 2.5.2011 – Green Bay at Milwaukee, 3 p.m. ESPNU
  • 2.5.2011 – Butler at Cleveland State, noon ESPN or ESPN2
  • 2.5.2011 – Loyola at Detroit, 2 p.m. HLN
  • 2.7.2011 – Cleveland State at Detroit, 7 p.m. HLN

Expanding on Contraction

In the power rankings, I hinted that the Horizon League may want to consider contraction should Youngstown State move forward with Jerry Slocum as their head coach or replace him with a similarly shortchanged coaching staff.  Besides Valparaiso, the Penguins are the only program that has been added since the 1994-95 season, and unlike Valpo, Youngstown has never been truly competitive in the conference.  In their tenth season in the conference, YSU has never been better than fifth place, and that was in 2006-07.  They are 2-9 in the Horizon League Tournament, with their best victory a four-pointer over #6 Green Bay in the 2002-03 tourney.  Their coaching salaries are remarkably poor, only matched by the Phoenix.

But there are two things that separate Green Bay from Youngstown.  For one, the Phoenix have been successful in the past ten years (and wildly successful during the nineties), scoring two #2 seeds in the past decade.  The Penguins have never been anything more than marginal; how can the conference trump up a program who hangs its hat on a 14-7, 7-9 season as their best in a decade?  The other thing that separates the similarly penny-pinching programs at Green Bay and Youngstown State?  At UWGB, the Green Bay Phoenix are the show.  Their nationally-ranked women’s basketball program is great, but men’s basketball, like it is at eight other schools in the conference, is the meal ticket.  At YSU, football will always trump men’s basketball.  Whenever money is being allocated at the Ohio school, it goes directly into the football program.  Slocum is a good coach with over 600 victories, but never had a chance at Youngstown State because of the serious lack of resources, a very poor campus neighborhood and city at large.

At the very least, the conference members should consider setting certain restrictions to force Youngstown State to bring their program up with the rest of the League.  However, they’ve had ten years and have played the anchor, dragging down everyone’s RPI in almost every season.  What would the conference look like this year if YSU were in the Summit or NEC, two conferences that may be better fits for them?  UIC would be the anchor, but even their RPI (#277 as of today) would be higher because they’d be lifted from the two games (and one loss) to the Penguins.

Were it my call, I would cut Youngstown State; is it heartless? Probably. Shouldn’t I give them time to pick themselves up? No, because they’ve had a decade to do so and haven’t shown any interest in becoming a better program.  I don’t see any Slocum replacement changing that unless he and his staff are compensated more to the tune of other conference schools and their recruiting budget is picked up.

It’s not Youngstown State’s fault.  They are married to football, as they should be – the program is the lifeblood of the city.  But the lack of money for other sports points to the fact that the Penguins should be playing in a different conference; perhaps it’s a move to the Summit League, where they used to play, or maybe it’s the NEC.  In either case, they’d be matching up with similar budgets and have a much better opportunity to win some games.

As for the Horizon League, I wouldn’t go forward with extending an invitation to anyone just yet, but Saint Louis and/or Oakland should, at the very least, be approached.  SLU would likely turn the Horizon League down, as their situation in the A-10 isn’t bad enough travel-wise to make the move to the far better geographical fit of the H-League (or MVC for that matter).  Oakland, on the other hand, would be a great fit, evening out the travel partner situation (dropping one Ohio school and adding one in Michigan makes it two from each state: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan).

In any case, I’m just spitballing, but the fact remains it’s plainly clear that the Horizon League and Youngstown State simply aren’t meant for each other.

Video of the Week: By now, you’ve probably seen Green Bay scrub Eric Valentin setting the Guinness record for half court shots in one minute.  If you haven’t, indulge your eyes for a moment:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2011

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

Everyone thought that Cleveland State had asserted its dominance on the conference; their first four victories yielded four blowouts. We should have known, by looking at the Power Rankings, that the teams CSU smashed into the ground were the teams that sit in the bottom half of the rankings.  It should have been no surprise, then, that the Vikings were blown out at Butler and then dropped a close one against Valparaiso at the ARC in their trip through Indiana, never an easy trip for any Horizon League team.  Butler destroyed the Vikings in the battle of the top teams in the Horizon League, and they’re back to their customary #1 spot in the Power Rankings.  In one of the conference’s biggest rivalries, Milwaukee shot poorly and couldn’t go over the top of seven-footer Alec Brown in the post, dropping a 69-64 decision in Green Bay.

Power Rankings

1. Butler (12-5, 4-1) – The Bulldogs took a licking at Milwaukee last Monday, ending their 22-game conference winning streak, a Horizon League record.  They responded just as a Brad Stevens-coached team is expected to — by destroying first-place Cleveland State in front of a crowd of 7,071.  The Bulldogs changed their lot with that victory; had they lost, they’d stand at 2-2 headed into the game against Youngstown State that was too close for comfort.

2. Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2) – Any dominance the Vikings had asserted over the conference was dashed this past week.  Gary Waters‘ crew learned, as every team does, that it’s extremely difficult to win on the road at a Horizon League school.  The Vikings were blown out at Butler before dropping a decision at Valpo.  They get an easy week to recharge before their rivalry game at Youngstown State on Saturday.

3. Valparaiso (12-5, 4-1) – If the Crusaders dominated Cleveland State, they may have even overtaken second.  But the Crusaders have six road games left in the conference, a tall order in the H-League.  Should they get back to scoring in the high sixties and beyond on a consistent basis, they’ll be a tough out the rest of the way.

4. Detroit (10-7, 4-1) – Tommy Titan has got to be a happy camper.  His Detroit squad went to Chicago and came back unscathed, although the UIC Flames definitely put a scare into Ray McCallum‘s crew.  The Titans have a showdown with Butler on Friday night.

5. Wright State (11-6, 4-1) – To date, the only blotch on the Wright State resume in conference is a road loss at Detroit, one they suffered at the beginning of December. Since then, the Raiders have gone on an absolute tear through the Horizon, with only one truly close game (Green Bay, decided on a buzzer beater by Vaughn Duggins).  Still, Wright State’s four wins have come against four of the bottom five teams in the conference. We’ll have a better idea of where they’re at when they welcome Valparaiso and Butler to the Nutter Center this weekend.

6. Milwaukee (8-9, 3-3) – It’s hard to figure out the Panthers, who have excellent wins against Butler, Northern Iowa and Detroit but also quizzical losses to Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and a blowout at Wright State.  The Panthers will continue to be a middling Horizon League team until they can figure out how to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball.

7. Green Bay (8-9, 2-3) – Until Saturday, the Phoenix did not have a notable victory.  Once again, though, Green Bay defended the home court against a well-traveled Milwaukee program, separating themselves (for now) from the bottom of the pack.  A pair of games against Loyola and UIC should give an idea as to whether or not they’re truly above the cellar.

8. Loyola (10-7, 1-5) – An excellent non-conference record has been buoyed once again by the poor level of talent.  Jim Whitesell‘s team scheduled as though they were hoping to get to 15 victories.  Their lone conference win is a blowout 30-point schellacking at Youngstown State.

9. Youngstown State (6-9, 1-5) – Boy, did they come close.  A Penguins squad that’s been blown out by nearly every team they played in the conference season came to Hinkle Fieldhouse and nearly stole one from the Bulldogs.  It’s unlikely that YSU will replicate that effort for every game the rest of the season, so look for Cleveland State to clean up in the rivalry game.

10. UIC (5-12, 0-5) – The honest truth is that the UIC faithful were expecting a season like this.  You don’t have the turnover the Chicago school has weathered without going through some transition, and this season hasn’t been much of a surprise.  The Flames have an opportunity to win in Wisconsin this weekend, but a road victory is a difficult thing to obtain in the conference.

A Look Ahead

The Horizon League has been ridiculously unpredictable in the beginning of the conference season; only two teams, Detroit and Wright State (not Cleveland State and Butler) have avoided blowout losses.  From December 30th through January 5th, no game was decided by less than 16 points and more than 3.  This week has it all; Big time teams go on the road (Butler to Detroit and Wright State, CSU to Youngstown State), rivals jockey for position (UIC and Loyola invade Wisconsin), and big offense runs into big defense (Valpo heads to Dayton to take on Wright State).

  • 1/14 – Butler at Detroit, 7 p.m. ESPNU
  • 1/15 – Cleveland State at Youngstown State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network
  • 1/15 – Loyola at Milwaukee, 2 p.m. Horizon League Network
  • 1/16 - Valparaiso at Detroit, 1 p.m. Horizon League Network
  • 1/16 – Butler at Wright State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network (WNDY 23 in Indianapolis)

YouTube Clip of the Week

The fact is, it’s tough for ANYONE to travel in the Horizon League.  Just ask Butler, who lost for the seventh time in their last ten trips to Milwaukee:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

After a couple months of beating good teams but never getting over the hump and beating a great team, the Horizon League finally got that signature Top-15 program win.  The only surprising part was that it wasn’t Cleveland State at West Virginia, with the Vikings rolling into town and playing respectably before bowing out in the final five minutes.  Instead, the victory came from the hands of the UIC Flames against Illinois, who was stunned in a “home” game at the United Center (not the UIC Pavilion, their normal home).  Big East cellar-dweller DePaul ripped the hearts out of Milwaukee and Loyola, and Butler absolutely went off on Stanford.

Our Tip of the Cap goes to freshman Ray McCallum Jr. of Detroit, who won the battle of the Michigan coaches’ kids against Trey Zeigler and Central Michigan.  The Titans point guard had 23 points and 11 rebounds, marking the first double-double of his career.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (12-1, 2-0) – Sooner or later, Gary Waters‘ crew had to lose a game.  The good news is a loss in Morgantown does nothing to hurt the Vikings’ NCAA Tournament resume, even though a victory would have practically ensured a ticket to the Big Dance.  South Florida visits on Wednesday before the Vikings take a break for the holiday.
  2. Butler (6-4, 1-0) – With losses to Xavier and Evansville and a fairly ho-hum record thus far, the Bulldogs needed a statement.  Mission accomplished.  The Dawgs blasted Stanford to get themselves set for the Diamond Head Classic this week, a huge deal for the Horizon League as it jockeys for RPI position.
  3. Valparaiso (8-4, 2-0) – The Crusaders are on a winning track heading into Tuesday night’s big matchup at Oakland.  Homer Drew‘s team dispatched IPFW and Eastern Michigan, the latter securing a Horizon League season victory over the MAC.
  4. Loyola (8-4, 0-2) – Jim Whitesell had a difficult time last week, dropping a game at intra-city rival DePaul.  After the near-win against Kansas State, the loss in town really took the wind out of the Ramblers’ sails.  The Ramblers wrap up the non-conference season against Texas Pan-American, a team they obliterated early in the season at home.
  5. Detroit (7-5, 1-0) – The Titans destroyed Central Michigan in a rare nationally-televised game.  The McCallum father-son team celebrated a victory against the Zeigler father-son team in a long-awaited battle, and play at Bradley on Wednesday, a difficult place for anyone to win.
  6. Wright State (7-5, 0-1) – Billy Donlon‘s Raiders are on their biggest roll of the year, winning four in a row heading into a semester-ending battle at Charlotte, a dangerous A-10 team that is coming off an upset of Tennessee.  Should they win in North Carolina, the Raiders will ride a five-game winning streak into the conference season.
  7. UIC (5-7, 0-1) – Maybe beating a Big Ten team will get the Flames on a roll.  Oregon State of the Pac-10 welcomes UIC out west on Wednesday, the return game of a Flames win last season.  If Howard Moore‘s team can take out the Beavers and win against Youngstown State on the 30th, they’ll present a formidable opponent for Cleveland State on New Years’ Day.
  8. Milwaukee (5-7, 1-1) – It seems that the top five of the conference have separated themselves from the bottom five, and while Wright State may be making a move up the ladder, the Panthers definitely seem to be on a downturn. A close victory over lowly Bowling Green did nothing to boost confidence among the fan base following another bad loss Tuesday at DePaul.  The Panthers have a lengthy break before playing at Wright State to open the H-League season.
  9. Green Bay (5-7, 1-1) – The Phoenix escaped with a 72-68 victory over provisional D-I North Dakota on Monday.  Freshmen Daniel Turner (5 RPG) and Alec Brown (5 RPG) are the only Green Bay players of any consequence on the boards, and while they’ve never been a big-time rebounding team, the Phoenix are shooting worse than most programs.  They’re missing Troy Cotton more than they think.
  10. Youngstown State (5-5, 0-2) – Jerry Slocum‘s team is ranking at or near the bottom in many statistical categories in the conference.  The Penguins are 0-2, with both losses in conference coming to sub-.500 teams.  Their lone win in December came in a victory over Malone.  The good feelings of the early season are long gone, replaced by the all-too-familiar poor team.  All signs point toward another awful conference season for the Penguins.

A Look Ahead

Except for a couple games in January and the Bracket Buster event (only UIC and Butler aren’t participating), the Horizon League wraps up its non-league slate this week.  Valparaiso’s game at Oakland is a very important matchup for the conference and would look good following Oakland’s victory over Tennessee.  Cleveland State can solidify its at-large resume by beating up on Big East opponent USF at home, while perhaps the biggest opportunity this week belongs to Butler.  Beat Utah, most likely Florida State and hopefully Baylor, and the Dawgs can go a long way to filling out its dance card for March.  This is important because it has now been twelve years since the Horizon League has sent three teams to the Big Dance.  With CSU all but locking up a spot and Butler on the verge of a huge opportunity in Hawaii, the Horizon League Tournament opens up the possibility of a third team stealing the automatic bid and the Horizon League sending three teams to the Big Dance.  It should make sense for the selection committee, as the conference has a very good record in the NCAA Tournament even without last year’s runner-up finish for Butler.  They’ll be playing for the NIT, however, if they flop this weekend at the Diamond Head Classic.

  • 12/21 – Valparaiso at Oakland, 7:30 p.m.
  • 12/21 – South Florida at Cleveland State, 7 p.m. (HLN)
  • 12/22 – Detroit at Bradley, 8 p.m.
  • 12/23-25 – Butler in the Diamond Head Classic. (ESPNU)

Youtube Video of the Week

Oh no…the bad side of UIC beating Illinois is we all must stomach this video:

Happy Holidays!

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

It was a sobering week for Horizon League schools as the conference went 8-9 over the week and plummeted from seventh in the conference RPI to twelfth.  Upset bids against high majors were either blowouts or close, but at the end of the day, they all ended in losses.  Cleveland State owned the week’s most impressive victory yet again with a 12-point road victory at Sam Houston State, but perhaps the biggest news was the emergence of Ray McCallum, Jr.  Across the country, pundits have picked the highly-touted recruit to come in and dominate the conference, but McCallum took a little bit of time to get up to the speed he’s accustomed to.  Ray Jr. lit up Eastern Michigan with 31 points to average 25.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game in the week’s two games.

Video of the Week

When you’re rolling, you’re rolling, and Gary Waters of Cleveland State gives some insight as to how the Vikings stay perfect following his team’s victory at Sam Houston State:

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (12-0, 2-0) – The Vikings continued to roll.  Gary Waters‘ undefeated crew pummeled non-D-I West Virginia Tech before taking down Sam Houston State, their sixth victory in the RPI Top 100.  Their reward?  A matchup with 7-2 West Virginia (not Tech) in Morgantown Saturday for what figures to be their biggest test yet.
  2. Butler (5-4, 1-0) – Brad Stevens‘ Dawgs missed out on sweeping the home-and-home with Xavier with a close loss in Cincinnati early last week.  They took out their frustrations on a poor Mississippi Valley State team.  HadV they lost to Loyola in the conference opener, they would be much lower on this list.
  3. Loyola (8-3, 0-2) – It’s hard to argue that a loss improves your standing, but that’s what we’ll do.  The Ramblers’ narrow loss to Kansas State (which was much closer than the eight-point difference) and blitz of SIU-Edwardsville puts them on somewhat of a roll after getting swept by the Indiana schools at home in the opening week.
  4. Valparaiso (6-4, 2-0) – If it weren’t for the lack of signature victories this week, Valpo’s loss to Toledo would have sunk them.  This is a team that has played well thus far this season, and while a top three finish isn’t out of the question, dropping a home game to Purdue by 18 didn’t help their cause.  Toledo might win five games this season in conference play.
  5. Detroit (6-5, 1-0) – The emergence of Ray McCallum Jr. couldn’t have come at a better time for the Titans; Western Michigan confounded their second Horizon League team by defeating Detroit, and they were reeling heading into the game against Eastern Michigan.  Luckily, the coach’s son took care of business.
  6. Milwaukee (5-6, 1-1) – The loss at Wisconsin is something of an annual ritual for the Panthers.  Indeed, even Bruce Pearl’s Sweet 16 Panthers lost in Madison by more than 20.  But the Panthers gathered themselves and notched arguably the second-best victory of the week at red hot South Dakota State.  Keep shooting like they did Saturday and Milwaukee will be moving up.
  7. Wright State (5-5, 0-1) – Beating Air Force by 15 at the Nutter Center was definitely a feather in the cap of rookie coach Billy Donlon.  A 13-point home win over D-II Tusculum wasn’t a blowout, but winning is winning and the Raiders, apart from Cleveland State, were the only team to finish the week unscathed.
  8. Green Bay (4-7, 1-1) – It was encouraging to see archrival Milwaukee get blown out at Wisconsin and then lose a respectable 14-point game just a few days later, but the Phoenix are now riding a three-game losing streak and have only won one road game.  The Phoenix don’t play again until Monday.
  9. UIC (4-6, 0-1) – The Flames entered the week with just three victories against D-I teams, and two of them at the hands of lowly Toledo.  Senior Paul Carter looked good in a loss to Illinois State on Saturday, but he didn’t have much help, scoring 16 of UIC’s 43 points.
  10. Youngstown State (5-4, 0-2) – The good feelings of the early season have all but evaporated in Youngstown.  After taking their customary sweep in Wisconsin to open the conference, the Penguins were demolished by Robert Morris, 90-60.  A victory over Malone College on Monday wasn’t much consolation since Malone is still a few years away from fully reclassifying to D-II.

A Look Ahead

The week is filled with opportunities for the conference to get some notable victories.  Big East doormat DePaul hosts Milwaukee, Youngstown State visits NC State, and Stanford heads to Hinkle to take on Butler in three very winnable games for the Horizon League.  Cleveland State will be out to avenge a two-point home loss last season to the West Virginia Mountaineers, except this game is in Morgantown.  Illinois visits UIC, but the game will be played at the United Center in Chicago instead of at the Flames’ home, the UIC Pavilion.  In what may be the most interesting match-up of mid-majors, Detroit and Central Michigan square off in the battle of friends and highly-touted recruits Ray McCallum Jr. and Trey Zeigler.

  • 12/14 – Milwaukee at DePaul, 9 p.m. (ESPN Full Court)
  • 12/18 – Stanford at Butler, 2 p.m. (CBS)
  • 12/18 – Detroit at Central Michigan, ESPNU
  • 12/16 – Youngstown State at NC State, 7 p.m.
  • 12/18 – Cleveland State at West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPN360.com, ESPN Full Court)
  • 12/18 – UIC vs. Illinois at United Center, 2 p.m. (BTN)
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League correspondent for Rush The Court

A Look Back

  • How They Fared: The Horizon League, unlike most conferences, begins its conference season the first week of December; most teams play two games, with a couple playing only one game and competing non-conference the rest of the week.  Easily the most impressive team of the week was Cleveland State, who rolled through Wisconsin and preserved their undefeated record.  Norris Cole has the inside track on Player of the Year, and coach Gary Waters has assembled a dominant team behind him.
  • Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25.  They’d be wrong.  Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners.  The Vikings absolutely dominated a Milwaukee team at the U.S. Cellular Arena, where the Panthers are almost unbeatable.
  • Tip Of The Cap: This week’s TOTC goes to Matt Howard of Butler, who tied Bobby Plump (you might know him better by his fictional likeness, Jimmy Chitwood of Hoosiers) for 11th on the Butler University all-time scoring list.  Our friends at Victory Firelight were happy to see that.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0 Horizon) – For the past decade, the Vikings were 1-19 in the state of Wisconsin – 1-9 in Green Bay and 0-10 in Milwaukee.  In the week leading up to the games, coach Gary Waters called it “Revenge Week.”  Mission accomplished.  The other mission accomplished? Putting Norris Cole in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year.
  2. Valparaiso (6-2, 2-0) – Coach Homer Drew‘s Crusaders made the short trip to Chicago and calmly walked out 2-0 with a nail-biting victory at UIC and a commanding performance at Loyola.  Winning the latter pushes Valpo past Butler in our conference power rankings for the week.
  3. Butler (4-3, 1-0) – Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs sweated out a victory on Chicago’s near north side, beating Loyola 65-63.  A strong showing against Duke should have kept them at the #2 spot, but for the uncertainty surrounding Mack’s cramps and Ronald Nored‘s concussion.  Both players should be on the court this week, but the Dawgs are much thinner than last season and need both on the court even more than before.
  4. Detroit (5-4, 1-0) – The Titans split two games last week, losing at home to Akron before dumping Horizon League foe Wright State.  Ray McCallum Sr.‘s Titans could be winning even more if they had some bodies to spell their stellar starting five; four Titans are in the top ten in the conference in total minutes and minutes per game.
  5. Loyola (7-2, 0-2) – It was a sobering week for the Ramblers, who have to be thinking about 2009-10, when they began 11-2 before flopping all the way down to 14-16 for the season.  For the second straight year, the Ramblers put a scare into Butler, but the excitement at the Joe collapsed following a double-digit home loss to Valpo.
  6. Green Bay (4-4, 1-1) – Brian Wardle‘s crew came into the week favored to win a game and lose a game.  They did just that, dropping a home loss to Cleveland State before wiping the floor with Jerry Slocum’s Youngstown State Penguins.  Rahmon Fletcher continues to be a boon for the Phoenix, placing third in the conference in scoring at 16.6 PPG.
  7. Milwaukee (4-5, 1-1) – It’s hard to put the Panthers lower since they did win convincingly over Youngstown State on Thursday.  It’s impossible to put the Panthers any higher given the absolute garbage showing against Cleveland State on Saturday night.  Last week, we talked about their Jekyll and Hyde ways.  That continued this past week, but at least they came out with a W.
  8. Wright State (3-5, 0-1) – Had the Raiders pulled out a victory against middling Big East team Cincinnati or Detroit, they’d find themselves much higher on the list.  Bobby Donlon‘s crew is much different than they were under Brad Brownell, whose defensive mindset has lost its way.  The Raiders are giving up 78 points per game this season, and they won’t be seeing a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament unless that changes.
  9. UIC (4-5, 0-1) – Akron pulled out the close victory at UIC, the second near-victory for the Flames of the week.  If UIC had been killing teams heading into the conference season, they might find themselves higher.  However, that signature win over Rhode Island seems further in the rear-view mirror every day.
  10. Youngstown State (4-3, 0-2) – The Penguins’ 4-1 start got the fans in Youngstown paying attention, but a quick 0-2 start in conference against struggling clubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee puts YSU at the bottom of the barrel.  Along with Wright State and Loyola, the Penguins are one of the only teams to go winless; unlike Wright State or Loyola, they weren’t playing significantly better competition.

A Look Ahead

Week one of conference play is in the books, and the standings will remain the same until after Christmas.  Three games against high-major foes dot the lineup this week, with Purdue visiting Valpo’s ARC and Milwaukee taking a trip west to Madison.  Loyola hopes to pull off a stunning upset at Kansas State.  Let’s hope the timekeeper knows what they’re doing at the Cintas Center this year as Butler takes its turn as the away team in a home-and-home with Xavier.

  • 12/7 – Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m. ESPNU
  • 12/8 – Milwaukee at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
  • 12/8 – Wright State vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 12/9 – Butler at Xavier, 9 p.m. ESPN
  • 12/11 – Milwaukee at South Dakota State, 8 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Loyola vs. #3 Kansas State, 4 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Cleveland State at Sam Houston State, 4:30 p.m.

Remember When… they screwed up the clock at Hinkle last season?  Take a look back:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

  • How They Fared: It was a week that had mixed results for the Horizon League.  The torch-bearer for the conference, Butler, won a difficult MAAC road game by double-digits against Siena before dropping an overtime decision in Hinkle Fieldhouse against state foe Evansville.  Detroit picked up three solid victories over Albany, Bowling Green and Niagara after dropping an early-week decision at Missisippi State.  Milwaukee‘s upset bid over Marquette just failed at the end, with a missed front end of a one-and-one giving Marquette just enough breathing room to win in the dangerous U.S. Cellular Arena.  Wright State showed signs of life by defeating a good Summit League program in Oakland, weathering the storm of 25 points and seven rebounds from Keith Benson.  They then lost two games they were expected to lose against Richmond and Southern Illinois in Chicago.
  • Dropped Out: After the gut-wrenching loss to Evansville, Butler dropped out of the rankings for the first time since January.  The Horizon League is no longer represented in the Top 25 despite getting off to an excellent 42-21 record as a conference, its best in years.
  • Owning The Paint: Detroit’s 3-1 record largely comes from the play of Eli Holman, who averaged 14 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2 blocks over the four games.  Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill recorded a double-double in the loss to Western Michigan and 18 points and eight rebounds against Marquette on Saturday.
  • Tip Of The Cap: Youngstown State’s Vytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (8-0) – The Vikings’ perfect early season continued with decisive double-digit victories over Akron and St. Bonaventure.  In a time when Butler seems to be fallible, Gary Waters’ team hasn’t shown a chink in the armor yet. Norris Cole paces the conference with 20.4 points per game.
  2. Butler (3-2) – Brad Stevens is still fumbling around with his lineup, with eight different players getting starts for the Bulldogs.  Saturday’s loss to Evansville doesn’t defuse the question surrounding the search for Gordon Hayward, but it’s not every day you have to replace an NBA lottery pick. A rematch of last year’s final with Duke awaits this weekend.
  3. Detroit (4-3) – The Titans were close to taking down the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, and the rest of the week they took care of business. Eli Holman is playing at his best right now, which is very important as the Titans get ready for Wright State on Saturday.
  4. Loyola (7-0) – It can no longer be ignored: Loyola is just as perfect as Cleveland State.  Why do the Ramblers not get as much love here?  Their one-point victory at WCC doormat San Francisco would be their best victory of the year if they didn’t whoop Western Michigan on the road.
  5. Valparaiso (4-2) – The Crusaders were mostly predictable this week, losing a close one at MAC champ Ohio before beating Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  Valpo has a great road trip to open conference season; their fans only have 30 miles or so to Chicago.
  6. Youngstown State (4-1) – They may be playing nobody now, but if they weren’t robbed at Akron, they’d be undefeated heading into Milwaukee on Thursday.  The Penguins were awful in conference play in 2009-10, let’s see if Jerry Slocum‘s new roster is up to the challenge.
  7. Milwaukee (3-4) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde Panthers continued their ways, but it ended the week 0-2.  A dumb loss before Thanksgiving to Western Michigan was mirrored by a spirited and winning-worthy performance in a three-point loss to Marquette, the toughest Horizon League opponent all week.
  8. Wright State (3-3) – The Raiders got the nod over UIC and Green Bay by posting a great victory over Oakland, a team many think will win the Summit.  N’Gai Evans has made a big difference since returning to the lineup, and the Raiders need him with huge games at Cincinnati and Detroit looming this week.
  9. UIC (3-3) – Howard Moore‘s UIC Flames suffered a loss to Ernie Zeigler’s Central Michigan Chippewas the night before Thanksgiving.  They escaped an awful Toledo team on Sunday to complete the season sweep of Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets.
  10. Green Bay (3-3) – Rahmon Fletcher and the Phoenix were lucky to escape Saturday with a home victory over North Dakota State, a team that has fallen since their tourney appearance in 2009.  A Monday loss to IUPUI, whose only other win came against IU-Northwest, means that Green Bay has work to do.

A Look Ahead
Unlike most conferences that start play in January or late December, the Horizon League has “Opening Weekend,” the first set of games (tell me the conference shouldn’t market that).  The Wisconsin schools open up at home against Ohio, while the Indiana schools travel to Chicago, although Butler will play at UIC later in the season (they’ve got a big non-conference game Saturday night).  Detroit and Wright State’s “Rivalry” game will take place on Saturday. (all times eastern)

  • 12/1 – Butler at Loyola, 8 p.m. Horizon League Network
  • 12/1 – Detroit vs. Akron, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 12/1 – Wright State at Cincinnati, No TV
  • 12/2 – Youngstown State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/2 – Cleveland State at Green Bay, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/2 – Valparaiso at UIC, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Cleveland State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Wright State at Detroit, noon HLN
  • 12/4 – Youngstown State at Green Bay, 2 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Valparaiso at Loyola, 4 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Butler vs. Duke at IZOD Center, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
  • 12/4 – UIC vs. Akron, 4 p.m. HLN

If you didn’t catch the HLN, ten games this week are featured on the Horizon League’s free streaming service, the Horizon League Network (http://horizonleaguenetwork.tv or http://horizonleague.org).

Caught On Film: If you’re like me, you were disappointed when Gordon Hayward’s Too Big Yo rap was taken offline.  We’re disappointed no more!

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC Horizon League correspondent.  You can find his ramblings daily at PantherU.com.

A Look Back

The biggest news out of the Horizon League has been a dearth of dumb losses.  Things that have hampered the conference in the past such as losses to low-majors and D-II schools, or blowouts to evenly matched opponents just haven’t been the case as much as in recent years.  Despite a couple of puzzling losses — such as Milwaukee to Florida Atlantic and UIC to Charleston — the conference has been very strong out of the gate. In fact, those two schools have turned it on as well.  Milwaukee is now on a three-game winning streak culminating in a victory over Northern Iowa, and UIC dumped Rhode Island on a neutral court Sunday.

On The Trail

Recruiting is the big news everywhere this past week with the end of the fall signing period.  All in all, the Horizon League picked up some very decent commitments for the 2011 season.  Wright State beat out East Carolina and Duquesne in landing Tavares Sledge, a 6’8′ power forward from the Crimson Tide’s backyard in Tuscaloosa.  Milwaukee sweated it out for the last week, but point guard Shaquille Boga finally signed his LOI.  Boga picked the Panthers over confirmed offers from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and a slew of Missouri Valley schools such as Creighton, Southern Illinois, Missouri State and Bradley.  Boga got to see his future team defeat another of his suitors, the Northern Iowa Panthers, Saturday night along with fellow signee J.J. PanoskeButler got their point guard of the future with a signature from Australia’s Jackson Aldridge (you can find an interview with him at PantherU here).  Cleveland State inked Anton Grady, a slim 6’7 power forward out of Central Catholic High in Cleveland.  Alvin Boutte of Indianapolis picked Ray McCallum‘s Detroit Titans over offers from Akron, Wright State and IUPUI.  The point guard figures to step in behind Ray McCallum, Jr., as a freshman.

New Green Bay coach Brian Wardle is from Illinois, attended Marquette (a private school in Wisconsin with a heavy Illinois fan base), and now he’s bringing that Chicago deep dish style up with him to the land of Lambeau.  Aaron Armstead, Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes, all Illinois prospects, will join the Phoenix in 2011.  As for those teams that stay in Chicago, UIC landed three in-state recruits and two out-of-state players for 2011.  Will Simonton is a 6’11 center out of Fishburne Military Prep in Virginia, and Marc Brown is a sweet-shooting guard out of Texas, but new coach Howard Moore has shown he isn’t against recruiting the Chicago Public League to get his talent.  On the northside of Chicago, Loyola inked juco standout Colin Beatty from Barton CC in Kansas.  The Valparaiso Crusaders, looking to bolster their frontcourt depth, are bringing in Richie Edwards, a 6’8 power forward.  Youngstown State grabbed 6’9 small forward Cale Zuiker out of the Wisconsin boondocks of Marshfield.

The Infirmary

One look at Wright State’s box scores and you’ll notice a void.  N’Gai Evans, the Raiders’ point guard and one of their biggest contributors, has been out with a strained knee ligament.  While the Raiders are now 2-1 after dropping lowly Southern, they were blown out by Indiana and are seriously struggling in different ways.  WSU needs him back, and yesterday.  Without Evans and the graduated Todd Brown, guards Vaughn Duggins and Troy Tabler have struggled shooting this season.  If the Raiders are to challenge, Evans needs to be back in the lineup.  Jarvis Williams of Green Bay injured his ankle in a blowout loss at Marquette and missed the San Diego State game.

Power Rankings

  1. Butler (2-1) – It’s too early for me to go out and crown a new champ.  While Butler’s blowout loss to open Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center was anything but good, they did take care of business at home against in-state foe Ball State and hung up a Final Four banner before the season-opening victory over D-II Marian.
  2. Cleveland State (5-0) – Believe me, I racked my brain on whether or not to put CSU or Detroit over Butler in the first power ranking.  I give the nod to Cleveland State over Detroit for one simple reason: they win.  They haven’t blown out anybody (discounting non-D-I Urbana), but the Vikings haven’t lost a single game.  While UL-Lafayette and Kent State made them sweat, the Vikings have pulled it out in the end every time out.
  3. Detroit (1-2) – Should a sub-.500 team be in third place of a top 10 conference?  Not in January, but just a week and a half into the season, we’ll give Detroit a break.  Their drubbing of Indiana Tech aside, the two road losses to New Mexico (by nine) and Syracuse (by 11) were impressive, with the Titans in it until the last couple minutes each time.  Ray McCallum, Jr. is already prospering, Eli Holman is dominant and the Titans are meshing well despite suspect depth.
  4. Loyola (5-0) – Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing, and Loyola is making it happen.  The Ramblers have squashed low-majors (Eastern Kentucky by 16, Texas-Pan Am by 22) and handily beaten mid-majors.  The one thing the Ramblers hadn’t done until Saturday was win on the road, but they took care of that with an 18-point schellacking at Western Michigan.  The Ramblers are getting big help from Andy Polka and his veteran supporting cast.
  5. Milwaukee (3-2) – The Panthers started bad…real bad.  Portland may be a third-place WCC team, but 20-point losses are tough to swallow.  A nine-point loss to Florida Atlantic was even tougher to swallow.  But Milwaukee is getting better every game, and significantly so.  Dropping UC Davis was expected, but a beatdown in Niagara’s death trap, the “Taps” Gallagher Center, was gravy.  Top that off with a solid home victory over Northern Iowa, and the Panthers have arguably the best victory of the Horizon League’s young season.
  6. UIC (3-2) – The Flames get the upper hand over the bottom four for one simple reason: they beat Rhode Island out of nowhere Sunday afternoon.  A season-opening blowout at Pitt was disheartening, but the Flames only have one hiccup since, a home loss to College of Charleston.
  7. Youngstown State (2-1) – Coach Jerry Slocum has never been one to beat decent teams out of the gate.  Heck, he’s lost some pretty bad games in the early parts of his six years at Youngstown State.  But the Penguins are taking no prisoners this season.  Their three-point victory over Samford may seem so-so to some, but the Penguins of past years would lose that game.  Couple that with an eleven-point victory over Buffalo, and the Penguins were rolling until Akron got lucky Saturday night.  The guess here is they enter conference play 4-1 with games against lowly Toledo and St. Francis (PA).
  8. Green Bay (2-2) – Through four games, coach Brian Wardle is in dire need of help down in the block.  Freshmen Alec Brown and Clayton Heuer have been overmatched early, and Heuer only played four minutes against San Diego State, which seemed to work in a surprisingly close nine-point loss.  Troy Snyder, a 6’7 forward, may help them, but the Phoenix real strength is the guards; Bryquis Perine and Rahmon Fletcher are great upperclassmen who carry the team on their shoulders.
  9. Valparaiso (2-1) – The Crusaders have only been party to blowouts.  It may seem odd to have a team with two beatdown victories under its belt, but the VUCru haven’t played anyone of any consequence outside of Kansas, who murdered them by 35 at the Phog.  Winning by 47 and 54 doesn’t seem as nice when the games are against IU-Northwest and Purdue North Central.  We’ll find out much more about the Crusaders in the next two games against D-I opponents closer to their level in Ohio and Northern Colorado.
  10. Wright State (2-1) – N’Gai Evans has been out with a strained knee ligament, and the Raiders have seriously missed his scoring and passing ability.  Just the return of Evans may spark a rise in the power rankings, but be wary of the total lack of an inside game; Cole Darling and Johann Mpondo have been the best of a weak frontcourt.

A Look Ahead

  • Thanksgiving week is a time for us to all think about what we’re thankful for.  The Horizon League will hopefully be thankful for victories in the following games: Detroit at Mississippi State, Valparaiso at Ohio, Oakland at Wright State, Wright State vs. Richmond, Central Michigan at UIC, and Marquette at Milwaukee.  RPI Boosters will be big for the conference heading into in-house play just a week away.
  • Signature victories over Northern Iowa and Rhode Island are good for the conference, but the Horizon League as a whole needs more of them for the conference to get recognition beyond Butler come March.
  • Traveling teams in the Horizon League go in pairs: the University of Wisconsin’s Green Bay Phoenix and Milwaukee Panthers; Chicago’s UIC and Loyola; Indiana’s Valparaiso and Butler; Ohio’s Cleveland State and Youngstown State; and Wright State and Detroit, the odd couple.  The Chicago teams host the Indiana teams, the Ohio teams go to Wisconsin, and Wright State faces Detroit at Calihan Hall on December 4th.

One For The Calendar

  • Marquette at Milwaukee – Sunday, November 27: The Panthers play host for the first time in history to Marquette, their cross-town foe from the Big East.  If you’ve caught any of the recent Marquette blowouts on television, you might have seen a graphic detailing the current 37-0 series lead by Marquette as the second-most without a victory by the other team.  Digging deeper, however, and you’ll find that Milwaukee’s media guide lists three victories over teams named Marquette dating back to 1902.  Marquette claims these games do not count because the private school didn’t field a team until the late 1910’s.  Their first year of recorded history is just two seasons after Milwaukee claims two victories over Marquette in 1914-15.  While the Milwaukee media guide lists the series at 37-0, it says that the series started in 1902, where the Milwaukee Normal School defeated a team named Marquette, 35-16.  Very interesting to a Panther who is annoyed.  You know what I say?  Throw out any games where either team is not D-I, and you get 9-0 Marquette.  A little closer to the truth.
  • As for the game itself, the Golden Eagles’ thin front court has taken a beating in the early season.  Forward Joe Fulce will miss 2-4 weeks with a left knee injury, and freshman behemoth Davante Gardner is questionable against Duke Monday night.  Without them, Marquette has a significant size disadvantage in the block; players on the Golden Eagles that do have height (Erik Williams, Jimmy Butler) are outside scorers.  Jae Crowder may be the Golden Eagles’ best option to stack up against Milwaukee senior Anthony Hill, junior Tony Meier, and freshman Kyle Kelm.
  • One thing the Panthers can’t do against Marquette is try to go guard on guard.  While Kaylon Williams, Tone Boyle and Ryan Allen are up to the task, they’d be playing right into Marquette’s wheelhouse of Vander Blue, Darius Johnson-Odom, Dwight Buycks, and a host of other capable guards.  Get spooked and start jacking up threes and the game could be over like it was for Green Bay last Wednesday.  Play hard, keep pounding the block and control the tempo, and Marquette may be on its heels in the waning moments.  Marquette has never lost to a D-I Milwaukee team.  But then again, Milwaukee has never played the game at home.  We’ll see how the intra-city showdown goes down on Saturday.

Macking on the MAC

Following Green Bay’s victory over Miami (OH), the Horizon League has improved to 7-1 over their fellow midwest mid-major, the Mid-American Conference.  While the MAC gets a load more attention due to fielding a football conference, the Horizon League has quietly built a dominating presence.  The lone loss this season is Youngstown State (picked 10th in the Horizon) to Akron (picked 2nd in MAC East), and that only happened because Akron hit a shot to send the game to overtime.

Caught On Film

Northern Iowa gets a taste of its own clutch medicine, as Milwaukee wins a hard-fought game with a Tone Boyle jumper in the closing seconds.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 17-0
  2. Wright State 11-5
  3. Green Bay 10-6
  4. Valparaiso 10-7
  5. Cleveland State 9-7
  6. Milwaukee 8-8
  7. Detroit 7-9
  8. Loyola (IL) 5-11
  9. UIC 2-14
  10. Youngstown State 2-14

Top Storylines

  • The quest for perfection: Butler is now one game away from perfection during the regular season in the Horizon League. The final game is at Valparaiso next Friday. Before that, though, Siena will test the Bulldogs in the BracketBuster game on Saturday. It is the first nationally televised game at 11:00 AM EST.
  • The hot team: Now the hot teams are Wright State and Milwaukee. The Raiders have moved into a convincing second place in conference, but they still have two road games remaining. Milwaukee has climbed into the sixth seed in conference and has two games in Chicago after it’s BracketBuster game to improve its seeding. The Panthers lost to Loyola at home earlier this season, so they’ll be looking for revenge at the Gentile Center.
  • The most exciting team: Valparaiso is probably a season away from being a top contender in the Horizon League, but the Crusaders sure do play an entertaining style of basketball. They’ve haven’t played a game in the 60s points-wise since going to UIC on January 21.
  • The race for #2:  Technically four teams can get to 11-7 in conference still and capture the double-bye in the Horizon League tournament opposite of Butler. Here are the four teams still trying to capture that spot. If Wright State wins out they’ll obviously take the top spot, but that might be more difficult than it seems. The game at Cleveland State is a big pothole.

Team: Remaining League Games, Predicted Record

  • Wright State: @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State, 12-6
  • Green Bay: @UIC, @Loyola, 11-7
  • Cleveland State: Detroit, Wright State, 10-8
  • Valparaiso: Butler, 10-8

And a projected first round:

  • #10 Youngstown @ #3 Green Bay
  • #7 Detroit @ #6 Milwaukee
  • #9 UIC @ #4 Cleveland State
  • #8 Loyola @ #5 Valparaiso

The 5-8 and 6-7 games in this scenario would be excellent. Valparaiso just held off a furious late-game charge from Loyola to force the Ramblers onto the road for the first playoff game. Also, because of Detroit’s fall from grace they’d now have to play at Milwaukee in the first round. That’s a big switch.

A Possession-Free World

I keep possession-free statistics for the entire Horizon League. Here are some superlatives at this moment in conference.

  • Best Offense: Butler (#2 is Valparaiso)
  • Worst Offense: UIC
  • Best Defense: Butler (#2 is Detroit)
  • Worst Defense: Valparaiso
  • Luckiest: Green Bay
  • Unluckiest: Detroit

Another fun possession-free fact is that there are four teams bunched together now in the middle of the league. While Butler is the clear top dog, Wright State is number two, Detroit is number three (contrary to what their record says) and then there is a bunch. Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cleveland State and Valparaiso all get it done in different ways, but they’re essentially the same in terms of play in conference. Milwaukee plays a little more defense than the others, Valparaiso has a bit more explosive offense — but when you get down to it they all score about 0.1 points per possession more than their opponents in the league.

Finally, Bracket Busters is this weekend. My predictions for the 10 games.

  1. Siena vs. Butler – Bulldogs squeak out a close one
  2. Wright State at Ohio – Raiders should win, even on the road
  3. Indiana State vs. Green Bay – Phoenix are tough to beat at home
  4. Toledo vs. Cleveland State – Vikings should crush Rockets at home
  5. Valparaiso at Bowling Green – A tough game on the road, Crusaders might fall
  6. Niagara vs. Milwaukee – Panthers with a tough game against a MAAC foe, but at home
  7. Eastern Michigan vs. Detroit – The Titans can get back on track with a win
  8. Loyola at Creighton – A very tough match-up, Ramblers should fall in Omaha
  9. Youngstown State at UC Riverside – Tough trip west for the Penguins
  10. UIC at Evansville – Flames struggle on the road, might lose this bottom feeder battle

Overall it looks like the Horizon League could go 7-3 in BracketBusters this weekend. It will be a lot of fun to watch – well at least what few games are available on tv. Butler is the only Horizon League team on national television this season.

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