Ethan Back is the Horizon League correspondent for RTC.
The Departure of Butler: It’s pretty crazy to think that the Horizon League has produced two of the last three runners-up in the NCAA Tournament, but Butler did indeed reach the final game of the season in both 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs have been the reason why the conference receives the national attention that it does, but they are now members of the A-10. What does this mean for the conference? Wright State head coach Billy Donlon and Cleveland State head coach Gary Watersdon’t seem to think much of the departure, as the former noted that Butler finished fifth in the conference a season ago, and the latter speculated that the Bulldogs would not have been the favorites this season. Despite this, Butler’s departure has been covered extensively by the national media, and we will be able to see its effects in the seasons to come.
Will Valparaiso Dominate Conference Play? Results from the Media Day polls would seem to indicate that Valparaiso will indeed dominate the Horizon League, as the Crusaders received 40 of the possible 44 first-place votes this preseason. Valpo went 14-4 in conference last year, and returns reigning Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff and first team all-Horizon League forward Kevin Van Wijk. Reaching the NCAA Tournament will be the goal for the Crusaders, as this was a feat they were unable to accomplish one season ago.
Will The McCallums And Detroit Step Up To Fill The Void Left By Butler? (AP)
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Cincinnati plays its first game since the Xavier brawl as Dead Week continues around the country. You should also keep an eye on the Iona/Richmond game at 3 PM but that one won’t be found on television.
Cincinnati at Wright State – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (**)
Cincinnati will only have six key contributors available when it heads to Wright State tonight. The Bearcats will be without Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, Ge’Lawn Guyn, and Octavius Ellis due to their suspensions stemming from the fight with Xavier on Saturday. Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon will have to step up in a big way for Cincinnati in order to win this game on the road. Wright State is not a good team, but the Bearcats have only one player taller than 6’5” available tonigt. For a team that can’t afford to speed up the game, that’s not a good combination for Cincinnati. Kilpatrick, Dixon, and point guard Cashmere Wright all can score, but the other Bearcats are all unproven. With Gates and company out, Cincinnati is missing a combined 22.2 PPG and 14.6 RPG in this game.
Wright State’s biggest advantages in this game are home court and height. Cincinnati’s players may be rattled playing a road game after the suspensions while the Raiders have three players 6’7” or taller, including 6’10” A.J. Pacher. He’s been plagued by foul trouble all season but if he manages to stay on the court for any extended period of time, Pacher will cause problems for Cincinnati in the paint. Billy Donlon’s top scorer is point guard Julius Mays, who is averaging 10.2 PPG. Wright State doesn’t score a lot of points due to its brutal offense but Mays does hit on 39.4% of his treys. Ordinarily, Wright State wouldn’t have much of a chance to beat Cincinnati. Given the Bearcats’ personnel issues, the Raiders have a solid chance this time.
Mick Cronin Will Need To Find A Way To Win Without His Best Players Tonight
Expect this game to be played at an incredibly slow pace. Both teams struggle to put the ball in the basket so this has the makings of a close game played in the 40s or 50s. For Wright State to win, it must assert itself inside from the start, limit Kilpatrick, and force some turnovers. The Raiders rank #35 in defensive turnover percentage, certainly a respectable number. Should this game come down to the wire, Cincinnati is actually a better free throw shooting team without the suspended players on the court. Kilpatrick, Wright and Dixon all shoot over 70% from the stripe. With all of the uncertainty around Cincinnati, we’re not sure how this game will play out. If forced to pick, we would give the slightest of edges to the home squad.
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.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Horizon League correspondent, Jimmy Lemke.
End of an Era – Homer Drew may have done his best work in the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), but that doesn’t bar the Horizon League community from recognizing the tremendous stature of the now-retired Valparaiso coach. He’s done it before – briefly retiring earlier in the decade to pave the way for son Scott Drew and promptly retaking the reins after Scott took the very difficult job at Baylor – but this time you could tell it was final. His ability to recruit overseas is second to none, and we will always remember the feel-good story of his1998 team. Speaking of that year, the coach to now replace him? None other than his other son, all-time Crusader great Bryce Drew.
Dickie V. Rules In Motor City – The Detroit Titans made a big splash this summer by deciding to name their court for former Titans coach and renowned broadcaster, Dick Vitale. While he spent only four years as head of the Titans before taking over as coach of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Dickie V’s exploits on behalf of college basketball are immeasurable. Dick Vitale IS college basketball, regardless of how you feel about him. As a longtime follower of the Milwaukee program, I see the court naming as a disappointment for Perry Watson, who coached the Titans for a considerably longer stretch and was very successful in that time, but there’s no doubting the decision from the future point of view. This season, St. John’s will play at Detroit on ESPN following a ceremony celebrating the honor, and I’d be willing to bet the Titans are banking on any Dick Vitale anniversaries falling on Detroit’s home schedule with a visit from ESPN.
Big Names Depart – Brandon Wood took a highly-publicized transfer to Michigan State and will be able to play immediately because he finished his degree at Valparaiso where his graduate program isn’t offered. Shelvin Mack declared for the draft and stayed put, going early in the second round to the Washington Wizards. But the biggest move in the conference is from the graduating senior class. Nearly every big team lost multiple big time competitors. Butler, of course, lost Mack, but they also lost Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant and, most importantly, Matt Howard. Milwaukee loses Anthony Hill and streaky-but-dangerous shooter Tone Boyle. Wright State, already on the downturn, lost Cooper Land, Troy Tabler, Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans. Cleveland State waved a heartfelt goodbye to perhaps the most talented of them all, Norris Cole, now with the Miami Heat. Put simply, eight of the ten 2010-11 all-Horizon League team members have exited the conference, with only two remaining: Ray McCallum, Jr. and Eli Holman, both of Detroit.
Brad Stevens Led The Bulldogs To Another Title Game Appearance, But He Faces Life Without Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack in the 2011-12 Season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Today is a huge day for recruiting, as the first day of the spring signing period begins. Of particular note are the announcements of the top remaining player in the Class of 2010, Brandon Knight, and the top player in the Class of 2011, Michael Gilchrist, both planning to announce their college choices at 4pm on ESPNU. Kentucky is rumored to be the leader for both. Door, revolveth.
The NCAA Legislative Councilrelaxed a recruiting rule that will now allow coaches to have “recruiting discussions” while players are attending summer camps and clinics on their campuses. This rule was nearly impossible to enforce in its previous iteration, so this is a natural consequence of what amounted to a worthless measure. There are still limitations to what coaches can do, but this just validates the conversations that were already happening.
John Wall is joining the Lebron James-backed LRMR Marketing Firm to help build his brand at the next level of basketball. Considering that James himself is on the fast track to Ali/MJ/Tiger-dom, this is probably a good idea for Wall’s future marketability. It says here that he’s got the chops (and game) to make himself into quite a conglomerate himself.
This is sick, but totally justifies why police cameras are installed to watch the cops as much as the citizenry. Dating back to Maryland’s win over Duke in late February, video was released yesterday that supports a student’s claim that he was attacked and beaten by several Prince George’s County police officers for simply skipping down the street in celebration. This evidence directly contradicts the involved officers’ formal statements about the incident. No sympathy here. Strip these animals of their badges, lock them up and throw away the key. There’s no place for this behavior from those who are supposed to be protecting us.