Last season, the Horizon League put four teams in the postseason — can it do it again?
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.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)
Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win
The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League Correspondent for RTC. With the conference tournament set to tip tonight, get a leg up on all things Horizon in this week’s recap and postseason preview.
To be perfectly honest, the Horizon League Tournament is stacked to allow the top two seeds the ability to get into the tournament, and it’s hard to argue with the success – each of the co-champions has won in the NCAA Tournament since the current format began. The funny thing is, hot teams really should be able to win the thing, and this year is no different. Except the hottest teams, Milwaukee (nine conference wins in a row) and Butler (seven) are the two best programs running into the Horizon League Tournament. The way those teams played, against the top teams all the way down to the bottom of the conference, was good enough to warrant the double-bye.
Butler’s side of the bracket features some really tough teams. Cleveland State is a co-champion, the first such team to have to go four games to win it. Wright State split with Butler, and both Green Bay and UIC played Butler tough during the conference season.
The Milwaukee side of the invitational features Youngstown State, who very nearly beat everyone ahead of them at the Beeghly Center; Loyola, who actually won in the U.S. Cellular Arena against the hosts; Valparaiso, who had the #1 seed until eight days ago; and Detroit, who has all the talent in the world and fought their way into the #5 seed on the last day of the regular season.
Butler will have to play Cleveland State or someone else on their side of the bracket just to get to the conference championship, but make no mistake, they’ve got someone that they’re looking forward to playing. Fast forward to the 4:35 mark.
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’sVytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Game #45. It’s a crosstown rivalry between Brew City schools and RTC Live is happy to visit Milwaukee for the first time.
This Saturday night, Marquette and Milwaukee will meet for the 38th time for an 8 p.m. showdown at U.S. Cellular Arena. And in all 37 previous encounters between these city-sharing rivals, Marquette has emerged victorious. This year’s edition comes with a new wrinkle, though: for the first time in the series, Milwaukee is the home team. With a large blue and gold contingent expected at the Cell, a raucous atmosphere is certainly expected. It’s been a rocky start to the season for Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers. They embarked on a wild road swing to begin the campaign, salvaging a 1-2 record in a four-team event in Portland. A convincing road win over Niagara and a gutty 65-63 triumph over Northern Iowa followed, but the Panthers fell to 3-3 with a disappointing home defeat the hands of Western Michigan on Tuesday. Milwaukee relies primarily on talented big man Anthony Hill and sharpshooting wing Tone Boyle for their scoring, but the efficiency of junior college transfer Kaylon Williams at the point is vital to an upset tonight. With MU missing big men Joe Fulce and Davonte Gardner, Hill could have an easier time operating in the post. Marquette began their season with four home wins before heading to Kansas City for the CBE Classic. The Golden Eagles hung with mighty #1 Duke before falling short to the Blue Devils and followed that up with a 66-63 loss to #18 Gonzaga. Marquette is led by versatile forward Jimmy Butler (22/6 vs. Duke and Gonzaga), but it’s the three-point shooting of Darius Johnson-Odom (20% this year) that must heat up for Buzz Williams’ squad. Keep an eye on whether Milwaukee employs a zone to stop Marquette’s dribble penetration, the strategy Gonzaga employed to slow down the Golden Eagles guards on Tuesday. Join us tonight for RTC Live from Marquette at Milwaukee to see if the Golden Eagles can claim their 38th straight win over the Panthers.
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. Panoske. Butler 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). ClevelandState inked AntonGrady, a slim 6’7 power forward out of Central Catholic High in Cleveland. Alvin Boutte of Indianapolis picked RayMcCallum‘s DetroitTitans 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 ValparaisoCrusaders, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 AndyPolka and his veteran supporting cast.
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.
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.
YoungstownState (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).
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.
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.
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 RyanAllen 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.
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
Predicted Order of Finish
G: ShelvinMack, Butler
G: NorrisCole, Cleveland State
F: CoryJohnson, Valparaiso
F: MattHoward, Butler
C: EliHolman, Detroit
G: BrandonWood, Valparaiso
PaulCarter (F), UIC
What does Brad Stevens and Butler have in mind for an encore after their run to the title game?
What You Need To Know
All Horizon League games and most non-conference home games will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.org, the conference’s website. All games are free and the feed is television quality in most arenas. It’s a service that has been around since 2007, and has expanded every year to be an all-encompassing athletics powerhouse for information, features and interviews on Horizon League basketball. By now, if you haven’t heard about Butler‘s run through the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably still counting your hours of free America Online.
What most people don’t realize is how strong the conference is behind Butler. Yes, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the conference, going 18-0 and paving their way to the title game in dominant fashion, but they had victories against the seventh and eighth place teams by a combined three points. It’s a deep league through the top seven programs, and even UIC, who finished ninth last year, looks to be strong this season. The Detroit Titans were seventh place despite posting a 20-win season, one of five Horizon League programs to do so.
It is a guard-oriented league, but post players like MattHoward, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.
The Horizon League finished its regular season on Saturday. The first round matchups for the tournament are all set. Of course the favorite to win the conference tournament is Butler. The Bulldogs went a perfect 18-0 in conference. The Bulldogs played without star forward Gordon Hayward – the assumed Horizon League Player of the Year – and still managed to defeat Valparaiso on the road on Friday. Butler will be playing at home and receives a double-bye into the semifinals. The team joining Butler with the double-bye on the other side of the bracket? Wright State. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. Much more on the Horizon League Tournament, the season that was, and everything else.
How did they/I do? Here is the media’s preseason poll compared with what actually happened this season in the Horizon League. For fun, I’ve also included what I said in preseason.
2/2. Wright State
3/4. Cleveland State
5/5. Green Bay
7/9. Youngstown State
Everyone knew who the top two teams were going to be coming into the season. Wright State returned a veteran team and Butler is a monster with its talent. After that it gets murky. Apparently both the media and I overrated Cleveland State just a smidge. I’m happy though that I had every school within two places of where the actually finished. Green Bay outperformed expectations a bit and since the Phoenix get Youngstown State at home to start, expect to see them in Indianapolis.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
Butler (#17/18) 6-0 15-1
Milwaukee 6-1 11-6
Green Bay 5-1 12-5
Cleveland State 4-3 13-6
Wright State 3-3 9-8
UIC 2-4 9-7
Loyola 2-4 10-8
Youngstown St. 2-5 5-11
Valparaiso 2-5 5-13
Detroit 0-6 4-11
Much to my surprise, there seems to be as much attention on the Horizon League this year, as any year I can remember. Maybe some of that has to do with the often-mentioned “reload” at Butler, or maybe it’s the HL’s tendency to impress when the lights are at their brightest.
Those are only a few examples of what’s going on this year in the Horizon League. The level of play is as good as I’ve seen it many years, but that may not translate into multiple NCAA bids. Unfortunately, as you can probably see by the current standings (shown above), There aren’t 2 or 3 teams separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Yes, I see the 2-game gap between Green Bay and Cleveland State, but looks can be deceiving. There are 3 teams in the HL who have yet to play Butler. Wanna guess who they are? Yep…Milwaukee, Green Bay (Butler hosts both next week), and UIC (hosting Butler on Saturday afternoon). It’s still early, but this thing is trending more and more toward one-bid with each passing road loss by Cleveland State and UIC.
Now that we’re in the heart of league play, my position with the Horizon League Network allows for a fair amount of travel to see a lot of these teams in person. With that in mind, my thoughts on specific teams will hopefully be a bit more concise from here on out, as I no longer have to speculate solely on what “seems” to be true by reading game recaps and looking over box scores. Remember folks…games aren’t played on paper.