ATB: Tennessee Dominates Pitt Behind Scotty Hopson

Posted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2010

The Lede.  It was a relatively quiet weekend in college basketball, as most schools scheduled lightly because they are either already taking or heading into exams.  There was only one matchup between ranked teams, and most everybody else in the Top 25 rolled (17-2 this weekend).  In the two losses — UNLV and Washington — both squads played good teams in their own right in Louisville and Texas A&M on the road.  As we head into the holiday season, the next three weeks will be hit-and-miss (mostly miss) in terms of quality games, with the majority of the pre-conference tournaments finished and schools preferring to not kill themselves immediately before conference play.  Keep this in mind over the next few weeks, though.  With the onset of winter break, teams will have a couple of things going for them.  First, if they’re waiting on a key player who might have been a transfer or academically ineligible, guys such as New Mexico’s Drew Gordon or USC’s Jio Fontan or even Missouri’s Tony Mitchell, there’s a good chance that player will be back and ready to help his team soon.  Second, with classes over and NCAA hours restrictions lifted during the break, coaches can practice as much as they want.  It shouldn’t surprise you in the least if some teams that looked shaky during the first month of the season come back much more polished and stronger after the break.

The UT Defense Outdid Pitt's on Saturday (P-S/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentTennessee Throttles Pitt on the Road.  You have to give it to Bruce Pearl.  When he perceives that his back is against the wall, he comes out with guns blazing, repeatedly doing things considered nearly impossible by those of us who remember how the Vols collapse when the burden of expectations is placed upon them.  Who can forget, for example, the victories over #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky last season; or, the win at #1 Memphis in 2008; or, the victories over the back-to-back Florida teams in 2006 and 2007?  The man gets it done when he’s playing the role of woebegone underdog, and Saturday’s 83-76 victory over Pitt in their own backyard is just the latest example of this trend.  With Pearl set to miss the first eight games of the SEC season and still-untold penalties looming from the NCAA masters, he has his team believing in one another and they’re once again shocking the basketball world in the process.  So how are the Vols doing it this year?  Try defense and a junior who has finally reached his potential.  Pitt learned quickly on Saturday that this Tennessee team wasn’t just another soft SEC squad more interested in scoring than getting back and moving their feet on the other end — these Vols actually play defense.  With athletic size and length across the front line in the form of Brian Williams, Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, the Pitt bigs had trouble finding openings, but it was the specific work that Melvin Goins put in on Pitt’s star Ashton Gibbs that made the biggest difference, holding the guard to 4-13 shooting.  On the other side, no Panther seemed to have a clue as to how to defend the lithe Hopson, who for the first time in his career on a national stage looked like the top ten recruit in the Class of 2008 he once was.  He was 10-13 from the field, hitting all three of his bombs and slicing and dunking his way to a 27-point performance befitting a significantly improved and more efficient player this season.  Sometimes it just takes certain players longer to figure out how to play this game at a high level, and Hopson’s better understanding of what a great shot is has been one of the primary reasons that UT sits at 7-0 and presumably in the top five at this point in the season.  With a light home-heavy schedule until the SEC season starts, Pearl has his team poised to remain unbeaten and near the top of the rankings when he goes on hiatus.

Quit Calling It a Court Storm!!!! Hehe, regardless of the chosen nomenclature, we had another RTC over the weekend as Fordham came back from 21 down in the second half to beat crosstown rival St. John’s.  The Johnnies suffered not one, but two separate 16-0 runs by Fordham (who, remember, only won five games the last two seasons) before succumbing down the stretch.  It was Fordham’s first win over a Big East team since the first Reagan administration (1982) and clearly a massive win for Tom Pecora’s program looking for some traction in a crowded NYC sports market.  Somewhere on the left coast, UCLA fans knowingly nodded in quiet unison…  (h/t to The East Coast Bias for sending along the clip)

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The Other 26: Week Four

Posted by rtmsf on December 10th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  For an introduction to this series, please click here.

Introduction

As every week of the college basketball season evaporates right before our eyes—like a double-digit lead is whittled down to a single possession in a matter of minutes—more and more stories subsequently develop. To draw a comparison to mathematics for you brainiacs out there, this is the classic inverse relationship. As “X”—the number of weeks in the season—decreases, “Y”—the amount of stories—increases. Think about it, when are there the most stories surrounding college basketball? At the end of the year during the NCAA Tournament, of course. From the moment Selection Sunday rolls around all the way to that final, depressing buzzer in the NCAA Championship game rings signaling an end to another season, it seems as if college hoops are being discussed 24/7. Just this past week, there were several major developments in the world of the Other 26:

  • The top three teams in the Mountain West—SDSU, BYU, and UNLV—are a combined 27-0.
  • Butler and Gonzaga have identical, albeit very mediocre, records: 4-4.
  • Temple defeated Maryland and Georgetown, and in the process Fran Dunphy picked up his 400th win.
  • Cleveland State has the most victories in the country with 11.
  • One of the biggest recruits in the nation—Adjehi Baru—signed with the College of Charleston over a couple of ACC schools. Bobby Cremins really has something brewing down there in South Carolina. Could Charleston be the next Davidson? Both schools, after all, hail from the Southern Conference.
  • Illinois and Oakland were getting in touch with their feminine side by using a women’s basketball for the first seven minutes of the first half of their game.

The inverse relationship will not fail as the season progresses. I promise.

Tidbits from the Rankings:

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ATB: ACC Takes Early Lead 1-0

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

We’re Back.  These After the Buzzers dropped off a little bit over the long holiday weekend, and for that we apologize.  Still, we’re working through some ideas as to how we want to set them up, so if you have any suggestions for improvement or additions/deletions, we’re all ears.  So long as it doesn’t take us all night to do and it sounds reasonably interesting, we’ll consider it.  Hit us up in the comments.

The Minnesota Defense Wasn't Tight Tonight (MST/R. Tsong-Taatarii)

Your Watercooler MomentACC 1, Big Ten 0.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that Minnesota was without defensive stalwart Al Nolen tonight — the Gophers still came into this home game as a fifteen-point Vegas favorite, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia team hadn’t exactly shown any signs of breaking through after a 1-2 trip to Maui last week.  A 39-18 second-half run by the Wahoos fueled by 77% three-point shooting  (10-13) erased a ten-point halftime deficit and had Tubby Smith fuming after the game about his team’s shoddy defense.  So what is the teachable moment here?  Perhaps that Minny wasn’t quite as good as their 6-0 record with wins over a UNC team in disarray and a West Virginia team still finding itself would have led us to believe?  Or that ACC teams just find ways to win these ACC/Big Ten Challenge games year after dastardly year?  Well, that’s certainly true, and the Big Ten now finds itself in a serious hole going into Day Two of the event considering that this game was a supposed lock for the midwestern league.  In looking at the remaining ten games, Ohio State on the road (@ FSU) and Illinois/Northwestern at home (vs. UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively) become must-wins, with the hope that Iowa and/or Michigan can break through versus Wake Forest or Clemson on the road.  If we were laying odds at this point as to which league will win this challenge, we’d go heavily on the ACC — that’s how important the Minnesota loss tonight at home was.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Jacob Pullen’s 241st Trey.  With Pullen’s second three of the evening tonight in an easy win against D2 Emporia State, Pullen became the all-time leader in made threes at the school.  He already has 1,618 points in his career and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at the school (he needs to average 17.8 PPG the rest of the way, assuming 28 more games).  Here’s the question, though — is Pullen the greatest player in program history?  The greatest guard?  Mitch Richmond and Rolando Blackman were awfully good players at K-State, but Pullen could eclipse both of them with a first-team all-American type of a season and a deep Tournament run.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s Return.  In two games back from suspension against admittedly weak competition, LD has averaged 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, and 4 SPG while shooting 10-19 from deep.  We know that Dunn can bomb away, but only seven of his shots have been from within the circle; he may want to mix it up a little more as we get into the heart of the season.
  • Blake Hoffarber’s Jumper.  He shoots them in volume like JJ Redick once did down on Tobacco Road, but every time he puts one up, we think it’s going in.  He’s been somewhat “off” so far this year, but after a 5-11 performance tonight, he’s still at 38.7% on the season.  Of course, this is down from last year’s nearly-automatic 46.7% from deep, but we figure he’ll catch fire soon enough.
  • 8-0 Before December.  There are only thirty D1 teams remaining with a flawless record, but did you know that Cleveland State has already racked up eight wins before November is out?  The Vikings have mostly feasted on a steady diet of mid-level teams, but with a win already against Iona (who beat Richmond), CSU may be looking at a strong season in the Horizon League.
  • Wichita State’s Balance.  One of the most effective shooting teams that you’ll find, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers utilize a cadre of ten players who average between 14-25 minutes per game, nine of whom tally at least four points per contest.  Even though WSU came out of Maui with a 2-1 record, it was the Shockers who arguably played tournament champion UConn the toughest among their three wins.

… and Misses.

  • Those Ridiculous-Looking McDonald’s Stairs at The Barn.  Minnesota’s Williams Arena is a grand old barn, the fourth oldest building currently in use in Division 1 basketball.  And we certainly understand that sponsorships will happen and must happen, even at grand old barns.  But those McDonald’s stairs in the camera view on each side of the scoring table look ridiculous and are embarrassing for a program of this stature.  Maybe it would be ok if the “M”  used was the same configuration as the Gophers’ “M,” but it’s not.  Please, please get rid of this travesty.
  • USC Basketball.  With four losses to the likes of Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU already under its belt, Kevin O’Neill’s team is already in serious trouble this season.  The Trojans have games coming against #20 Texas, #4 Kansas and #15 Tennessee in the next three weeks, and even with Jio Fontan returning on Dec. 18 for the KU game, we’re not sure that this dysfunctional unit will recover.

Tweet of the Night.  Yeah, this is more or less what we thought too when told that TCU was becoming the seventeenth Big East basketball school.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Lower Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL)

  • Shelvin Mack – Jr, G – Butler. There were times during Butler’s superb run to the national championship game last season where you’d be excused if you thought Shelvin Mack, a 6’3 guard with icewater in his veins, was the best player on the floor.  In BU’s first round NCAA game against  UTEP, his explosive 18-point second half where he drained five threes in the first eleven minutes fueled a 22-4 blitz that awakened his sleepwalking team and drove the Bulldogs into the second round (and beyond).  He also added four boards, four assists and a couple of steals in that one just for kicks, but it was seemingly like that all season long.  While Horizon League POYs Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2009) garnered most of the publicity, Mack quietly went about his business of doing whatever was needed to win games — 25 points against UW-Milwaukee; 7 rebounds against K-State; 8 assists against Northwestern and Green Bay; sticky defense every night out.  And win Butler did, to the tune of 25 victories in a row and an unprecedented march to play Duke for the title.  Neither the Bulldogs nor Mack will sneak up on anyone this year, especially after a summer with USA Basketball where the stocky junior opened the eyes of NBA scouts and his peers by earning a spot on the USA Select team ahead of such notable guards as Jimmer Fredette, Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn, Scoop Jardine, William Buford and Scotty Hopson.  Go ahead — check any preseason all-american list and you’re likely to see quite a few of those names on it.  If anyone actually believes that Butler was a one-year flash in the pan, they haven’t been paying attention.  It’s very difficult for any school to make the Final Four in a given year, but the Bulldogs with Mack leading the way along with Howard and a cast of other returning players, will once again be in that conversation.  Sometimes you just know  when a player is a winner — he has that little extra something that doesn’t always show up in the box score yet you know he’ll find a way to get it done?  That’s Mack, a true example of the “Butler Way” if ever there was one.  All-American forward Gordon Hayward will be missed, but  we have absolutely no doubt that Butler will again be a top ten caliber program in 2010-11 in large part due to the heretofore overlooked glue player whose time has come to take the spotlight.

Butler's Heart & Soul Returns to Indy (AP/P. Sakuma)

  • E’Twaun Moore – Sr, G – Purdue. Less than a week ago Purdue was one of the three favorites along with Duke and Michigan State to win the national title this coming April, but a Robbie Hummel ACL injury later and everyone has been talking about another lost season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. However there is still some hope in West Lafayette that comes in the form of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson were part of a loaded Boilermaker recruiting class in 2007). As talented as Johnson is it will be Moore and his all-around brilliance that will have to be driving force behind the Boilermakers if they are to make a push for the Final Four, of which they are still capable even with the loss of Hummel (to injury) and Chris Kramer (to graduation). Coming off a season where he was first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention AP All-American and an off-season where both he and Johnson briefly flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to come back for their senior year, Moore will be expected to increase his scoring load and pick up some of the defensive slack created by the departure of Kramer. On the offensive end, Moore averaged 16.6 points per game providing the Boilermakers with their most explosive offensive threat since the days of Glenn Robinson while adding 2.7 assists per game, a figure that may not need to increase as the Boilermakers should be bolstered by the full-time return of Lewis Jackson. However it is the other side of the ball where Moore will really have to step up. Although he averaged a respectable 1.5 steals per game Moore was not expected to exert himself significantly on the defensive end as he had Kramer taking on the tougher defensive assignments and being an all-around Steve Wojciechowski-like pest to help create opportunities and cover up for the mistakes of others on the defensive end. To get the Boileramakers back to the Sweet 16, which they got to last year without Hummel, and beyond Moore will have to step around his all-around game while still maintaining his scoring even as teams continue to put an increased focus on him during their game-planning.

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Horizon League Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

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

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.

Preseason (Media/John)

  • 1/1. Butler
  • 2/2. Wright State
  • 3/4. Cleveland State
  • 4/3. Milwaukee
  • 5/5. Green Bay
  • 6/8. Detroit
  • 7/9. Youngstown State
  • 8/7. Valparaiso
  • 9/10. UIC
  • 10/6. Loyola

Actual

  1. Butler
  2. Wright State
  3. Green Bay
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Cleveland State
  6. Valparaiso
  7. Detroit
  8. Loyola
  9. UIC
  10. 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.

More about the HL Tournament

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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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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

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

Standings

  1. Butler 15-0
  2. Cleveland State 9-4
  3. Green Bay 9-5
  4. Wright State 9-5
  5. Valparaiso 8-7
  6. Detroit 7-7
  7. Milwaukee 5-8
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-10
  9. Youngstown State 2-12
  10. UIC 2-12

Top Storylines

Going for perfection: Butler is 15-0 and has officially clinched the Horizon League regular season. This comes with two benefits. 1) The tournament will be played in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and 2) The Bulldogs will be one of two top seeds that receive a double-bye. The Bulldogs have a 66.5% chance of finishing the regular conference season undefeated. A game at home against Siena in the Bracket Busters could be fun.

Streaking Vikings: Cleveland State is the Horizon League’s second hottest team. The Vikings have won their last six Horizon League games. Now of course they have to play Butler on Saturday, but it’s been a very good run.

Chicago showdown: UIC and Loyola are near the bottom of the league standings, but it won’t stop their rivalry game on Saturday night from being a heated affair. The Ramblers went to the Pavilion and took down the Flames in the last match-up. Now they get a return game in Rogers Park.

The race for #2:  As you can see there are now 6 teams that are holding out hope of making the #2 spot in the conference standings and earning a double-bye opposite Butler. Here’s my best guess at their chances from what I’ve seen this season:

Team: Remaining Games, Predicted Record

  • Wright State: Green Bay, Detroit, @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State; 12-6
  • Cleveland State: Butler, @Green Bay, @Milwaukee, Detroit, Wright State; 11-7
  • Green Bay: @Wright State, Cleveland, @UIC, @Loyola; 11-7 (would lose tie-breaker to Cleveland State)
  • Valparaiso: @Youngstown State, Loyola, Butler; 10-8
  • Detroit: Milwaukee, @Wright State, @Cleveland State, @Youngstown State; 9-9

Of course the Horizon League is almost impossible to predict, so who knows if this is actually how it would play out. But if it did the first round would be:

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

The other race in the conference, besides that race for second place, is the race for fifth. Avoiding that 6-7 game would be a good idea for any team that wants to keep playing past the first round. It is going to be a very difficult game combining two teams that will be frustrated to be in that position. After Detroit’s home loss to Green Bay on Thursday, the Titans appeared to be headed towards that game.

Why Can’t Detroit Win the Close Ones?: Detroit is now 7-7 in the Horizon League. The Titans’ seven losses are by a combined 21 points. Yes, they’re losing their games by an average of three points per game in conference (and that includes both Butler games). Detroit also has close losses to Tennessee State and DePaul out of conference. Why can’t the Titans break out and win a close one? They survived against UIC at home on January 30th for their only victory by five points or fewer this season.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to haunt Detroit down the stretch and ultimately doom their chances of making some noise in the conference tournament. The ironic thing is that Detroit might be the team best equipped to knock Butler off. The Titans have a big frontline that has resulted in a 2-point overtime loss at home and a 5-point road loss to the Bulldogs this season.

Player of the Year Race:  It’s Gordon Hayward of Butler and no one else is particularly close. He’s fourth in the league in scoring and rebounding, but that doesn’t begin to describe his value to the Bulldogs. He just seems to have a knack for making the big play exactly when Butler needs it. It’s worth noting though that he’s scored fewer than 10 points in four conference games. Of course he also scored 22 points and grabbed 17 boards as the Bulldogs officially captured the league regular season title against Youngstown State on Thursday.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Standings

  1. Butler 12-0
  2. Wright State 8-4
  3. Cleveland State 7-4
  4. Green Bay 7-5
  5. Detroit 7-5
  6. Valparaiso 6-6
  7. Milwaukee 5-6
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-8
  9. Youngstown State 2-10
  10. UIC 1-11

Top Storylines

  • A difference of opinion: Butler might be the 18th team in the nation (according to the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll) or they might be the 23rd team (according to the AP poll), but the Bulldogs have really confused people this season. Pomeroy thinks they’re only 28th. The rest of the Horizon League schedule isn’t going to provide us with any answers either.
  • Light Bracket Busters schedule: the Horizon League got some good matchups when the Bracket Buster lineup was announced. There is a made-for-TV game between Butler and Siena, but after that there are a bunch of winnable games. One tough one might be Loyola (IL) at Creighton.
  • Last chance?: Saturday might be UIC’s final chance to get a win during regular season Horizon League play. The Flames have four road games and two tough home games against the Wisconsin schools remaining on the schedule after they play Youngstown State at the Pavilion. If the Flames fall to the Penguins then a winless 2010 is a possibility.

Team Breakdowns

  • Green Bay. The two Wisconsin schools had off on Thursday because they’re gearing up for a rematch of the 71-51 beatdown the Panthers handed the Phoenix on Saturday, January 9. Green Bay has slipped lately. The Phoenix lost two home games last weekend against Butler and Valparaiso. The game against the Crusaders was particularly painful as Valparaiso is climbing up the Horizon League standings. How Rahmon Fletcher goes determines how the Phoenix go in general. He scored just seven points on 2-10 shooting against Valparaiso. The junior guard still ranks third in the conference in scoring.
  • Milwaukee.  The Panthers are also preparing for their local rival. Squeaking out a narrow victory over Valparaiso last weekend kept Milwaukee in the hunt for a middle of the standings spot. The Panthers are still a little behind at 5-6, but they still have a game versus Youngstown and a weekend in Chicago to make up ground. The big game will be February 18th against Cleveland State. Ricky Franklin is another lead guard excelling in conference play. The senior is sixth in the league in scoring and fourth in assists.
  • Butler.  The Bulldogs are two-thirds of the way to an undefeated regular season in the Horizon League. But winning the regular season hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs in the past. It’s been taking care of business in the conference tournament, which is played on Butler’s home court. With a weakening bubble the Bulldogs probably could get in without the automatic bid, but to be sure they’ll have to take care of business in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are led by Gordon Hayward, a sophomore who ranks fourth in points, third in rebounds and fifth in FG% in the conference. He is currently #30 in the 2011 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net but Chad Ford has him as a mid-to-late first rounder this season. Butler’s march through the Horizon League continues on Saturday when Wright State comes to town.
  • Valparaiso.  At .500 in conference Valparaiso has been one of the surprises of the season in the Horizon League. They’ve steadily improved as the season has gone on. A loss on Thursday at home to Wright State put some damper on the party, but there’s still a lot of potential here. Their leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the Horizon League, is Brandon Wood. He is just a sophomore. He’s complemented by junior forward Cory Johnson who ranks fifth in points per game and second in field goal percentage in the conference. Valparaiso’s slow start hurt their Bracket Buster match-up as they were given a game at Bowling Green.
  • Youngstown State.  The Penguins are a veteran team that just hasn’t figured things out this season. Part of the problem is the lack of a dominant talent. Seniors DeAndre Mays – 11th in points, 11th in assists, and Sirlester Martin – 11th in rebounding, are very good complementary parts, but there is no superstar to drive the engine. Vytas Sulskis comes off the bench to give the Penguins some more scoring power, but it hasn’t been enough. Youngstown had Loyola on the ropes on Thursday before falling in overtime. Their Bracket Buster game will take them all the way to Riverside, California, to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.
  • UIC.  UIC’s game against Youngstown on Saturday is going to be one of the more interesting game of the Horizon League season. These two teams are essentially playing for last place in the conference. The Flames have lost some heartbreakers lately, including a 3-point loss to Detroit and a 5-point loss to crosstown rival Loyola, but that’s not cutting it. The Flames haven’t won in 2010 and might finish the new year without a victory if something doesn’t change soon. Their Bracket Buster game in Evansville will be a tough but winnable game. A scary thought – UIC could be worse next season after Horizon League assist leader Spencer Stewart graduates.
  • Loyola (IL).  The Ramblers used to be one of the deepest teams in the Horizon League, but injuries have destroyed that depth. Talented sophomore swingman Jordan Hicks is out for the season with a broken foot and Aric Van Weelden has missed the last six games. Without them the Ramblers have really had to tighten up their rotation. After Terrance Hill was ejected early from the game against Youngstown State guards Courtney Stanley and Geoff McCammon both played almost the entire game. Stanley ranks second in the Horizon League in assists and when he’s on Loyola shoots much better from the field. Also, senior Andy Polka is first in the conference in rebounding. He should be back next season too after receiving a medical redshirt for his junior year.
  • Cleveland State.  After playing a killer non-conference schedule the Vikings have slowly started to get on track in the Horizon League. They’ve won their last five games and have a three-guard attack that is really humming along. Still, they’re at 11-12 overall, so the Vikings need to keep piling up wins. The leader of the charge has been junior guard Norris Cole. He ranks second in the conference in scoring. Jereme Montgomery and Trevon Harmon also average double-figures. Cleveland State drew a terrible Toledo team from the MAC as their Bracket Buster game, and it’s not really going to help them at all.
  • Detroit.  The Titans have proven they can beat the bottom tier of the conference, but they’ve really struggled against the top teams. They lost two close games to Butler, lost a home game against Wright State and lost at Green Bay. In order to keep their place in the top half of the conference the Titans have to win at Valparaiso on Saturday, which will be no easy task. Detroit is going to play Eastern Michigan in the Bracket Busters. This might be a good time to point out that while the Horizon League is down this season, it’s not the MAC. Central Michigan, which sits in second in the MAC, lost to both Wright State and Detroit on the road earlier this season. Sophomore forward Eli Holman is second in rebounding and 1st in field goal percentage in the conference.
  • Wright State.  The Raiders don’t have anyone that really wows you statistically, but they work great as a team. Junior guard Vaughn Duggins has returned from injury to become one the of the top guards in the Horizon League. He’s currently ninth in the conference in scoring. Other than him Wright State gets it done with good defense and a balanced attack. They’ve won their last four games and might be the toughest test Butler has remaining in conference. Their game on Saturday should be a good one. If anyone has a right to be angry about the Bracket Buster game it’s Wright State. The Raiders needed a good opponent in order to bolster than NIT credentials, but were given Ohio (12-10, 3-5 in MAC). Close losses at Washington and Nebraska really sting right now, as well as an inexplicable loss to Miami (OH). Change those results and Brad Brownell’s team might be looking at the bubble.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 15th, 2010

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

Standings

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

Top Storylines

  • Local rivalries impacting the standings. Milwaukee handed Green Bay its second conference loss with a victory last Saturday. Tonight Loyola (IL) and UIC play a cross-town game in Chicago that will be televised on ESPNU.
  • Close calls. The evenly matched talent in the Horizon League is making for some emotional games and tough decisions for referees and coaches alike. Even Butler isn’t immune as the Bulldogs had to escape Detroit in overtime last week.
  • Looking like things will go through Hinkle. Butler has now opened up a two-game lead on the rest of the conference and has played the toughest road stretch in the league by going to Detroit and Wright State. A trip to Green Bay in two weeks looms, but other than that first place looks like a lock for the Bulldogs. That means the conference tournament will once again finish in Indianapolis.

Team Breakdowns

  • Butler: Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack are both in the Top 6 in the conference in points per game. If Matt Howard ever breaks out of his season-long slump then Butler is going to be super dangerous. Hayward is also second in the conference in rebounds per game. Bulldogs play at Youngstown State on Saturday. Even on the road it should be a blowout.
  • Green Bay: The Phoenix lost to the Panthers in an emotional game. The most impressive player on the court was Rahmon Fletcher. He is second in the conference in scoring. The other big names for Green Bay are Bryguis Perine and Troy Cotton. They’re also in the Top 15 in scoring. The Phoenix got a big win over Wright State at home on Thursday and now have a huge game against Detroit on January 16. The Phoenix will also pad their stats with a home game against 2-15 Houston Baptist on Tuesday.
  • Detroit: The Titans are made up of balanced scoring. No one ranks in the Top 10. Eli Holman is tied for second in the conference in rebounding. He only played 20 minutes against Butler due to foul trouble. His absence was the difference in the game. The big game against the Phoenix is the only game the Titans play this week. They take a week off after Green Bay to prepare for Wright State.
  • Wright State: A tough loss to Green Bay on the road dropped Wright State out of the upper tier of the conference. The Raiders are a good basketball team. Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins are a great 1-2 punch that really put the ball in the basket, but this team makes it impact on the defensive end.
  • Cleveland State: Norris Cole is the 3rd leading scorer in the conference. He’s really benefited from the Vikings opening things up over the past few weeks. Cleveland State led Butler at the half on the road before dropping a 64-55 decision. The Vikings play at Valparaiso on Saturday.
  • Loyola: The Ramblers have come back to like a bit in conference play. The three-point shots aren’t dropping quite as often and the magic that carried them during close games in non-conference play is gone. Loyola has lost 3 straight games coming into the big inter-city match-up with UIC. The Ramblers also have the leading rebounder in the conference in Andy Polka. After the game against UIC it’s time to prepare for Butler which comes to the Gentile Center on Thursday.
  • Valparaiso: Brandon Wood sure knows how to fill up a basket. He’s the leading scorer in the Horizon League this season. His teammate Cory Johnson can put points on the board in a hurry as well. Johnson is also the seventh leading rebounder in the conference. Valparaiso had lost three straight games of their own before squeaking past Youngstown State on Thursday. Next up is Cleveland State before a road game at UIC.
  • Milwaukee: The Panthers have gotten off to a surprisingly slow start in conference. It looked like they had begun to turn things around with a 20-point victory over their rivals from Green Bay, but a 16-point loss to Detroit really screws up the momentum. James Eayrs is a big dude at 6’7 and 310 pounds, but he can play basketball. He’s seventh in the conference in rebounding and 16th in scoring. Milwaukee tries to get back on track against Wright State on Saturday.
  • Youngstown State: DeAndre Mays is the type of player that can carry a team, and sometimes the Penguins have asked him to do just that. He’s eighth in the conference in scoring, but when he gets on a roll Youngstown has a much better chance. The Penguins held home court against the two Chicago schools before losing a tough game to Valparaiso on Thursday, so it’s obvious that they are going to be competitive going forward in league play. This might be a team that could surprise someone down the stretch.
  • UIC: The Flames completely changed their identity over the weekend as they switched from a team dominated by guard play to one that relied more on points in the paint. Forward Jeremy Buttell ranks fifth in the conference in rebounding. UIC needed to do something as the Flames have dropped 3 straight since a surprising victory over Detroit on New Year’s Eve. The cross-town game against Loyola will be a big one as will a gome game against Valparaiso on the 21st.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

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

Standings

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

Top Storylines

  • Into conference play to stay. Besides the Bracket Busters event everyone is locked in and focused on conference play in the Horizon League.
  • Butler is still the team to beat. The Bulldogs haven’t been challenged yet in the Horizon League, but every team is gunning for them. There’s a huge game coming up at Wright State on Friday and another at Detroit on Saturday.
  • Parity reigns in league play. Besides the Butler bully at the top the conference nobody can get away with playing anything less than their “A” game. That’s especially true on the road.

Team Breakdowns

Butler: The Bulldogs are an excellent offensive team, but the trip to Wright State is going to be a huge game. Pomeroy projects the Bulldogs to lose in a tight game on the road. The Bulldogs might’ve slipped up one too many times to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but now all that matters is the conference tournament in March. Gordon Hayward is ridiculous. If you haven’t seen Butler play this season you’re missing out on a treat. He’s got an excellent game and he rebounds. He’s 46th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.

Green Bay: One of the two annual rivalry games between the two Wisconsin schools in the Horizon League takes place on Saturday. The game is in Milwaukee so the Phoenix are slight underdogs. Green Bay won’t have played in a week since its last game was a 6-point win at Valparaiso. Here the player to watch is Rahmon Fletcher. He dominates the ball for the Phoenix, taking the 16th highest percentage of shots in the nation. Fletcher has to be on the court for Green Bay to play well. The Phoenix lost by an average of 23.5 points per game to Butler and Oakland when he was out.

Detroit: Probably the tallest team in the Horizon League, the aptly named Titans are using it to their advantage. Detroit suffered an upset loss to UIC at the Pavilion last Thursday, but came back to beat Loyola on the road to get a split in Chicago. A game against Valparaiso could be a trap game before Butler on Sunday. (Valparaiso is Butler’s “travel partner” and could be a trap game for many opponents this season.) Eli Holman is one of the tall people on the frontline. He’s 6’9″ but plays bigger and is 28th in the country in block percentage.

Wright State: The “other” Top 50 Pomeroy team in the Horizon League, the Raiders already have a tough loss in Horizon League play – 53-52 to Loyola on New Year’s Eve. Now they get Butler on their home court. Wright State forces a lot of turnovers, plays at a slow pace and generally grinds through a game. They don’t have any particularly good non-conference wins – Belmont is the best – so it’s Horizon League title or bust for the Raiders. Senior guard Todd Brown and junior guard Vaughn Duggins lead a very balanced attack. No player uses more than 21.8% of the team’s possessions while on the court.

Cleveland State: The Vikings are 6-10, but don’t let the record fool you, this team is a competitor in the Horizon League. After a four-game losing streak (albeit against some talented teams) head coach Gary Waters switched to a four-guard starting lineup and it’s paid off in two wins over Youngstown State and Loyola. The Vikings have to finish off the Chicago pair when UIC comes to town and then prepare for Butler. (Everyone prepares for Butler.) Norris Cole is the guy for Cleveland State. He does a little bit of everything from his guard position. Also, the four-guard rotation has given Jeremy Montgomery a more prominent role in which he could also flourish.

Loyola: A little bit of luck went a long way, but the Ramblers are coming back to reality during conference play. Then again, being sixth is still a surprising position for a team that was picked 10th in the preseason poll. Loyola lost a close game to Cleveland State in Cleveland on Thursday. The bench continues to outscore the starters and every game is going to be close. The loss to the Vikings was Loyola’s first close loss of the season. Now they have to go to Youngstown State to finish up the Ohio swing before playing crosstown rival UIC next Friday. Sophomore Walt Gibler is emerging as an effective scoring threat that goes to the line often. He’s seventh in the nation in fouls drawn.

Valparaiso: A New Year’s Eve victory over Milwaukee was a good way to end 2009, but 2010 hasn’t been as kind to the Crusaders. They have a sieve for a defense, probably because they gamble too often. (Valparaiso does rank 69th in steal percentage as a team.) Like I noted above, the Crusaders are Butler’s travel partner, so they might benefit from that, though it didn’t help last time as Green Bay won a tight game 64-58. Look out for sophomore guard Brandon Wood. He takes a lot of shots and makes them, a lethal combination. He also draws some fouls, making him a very effective scorer.

Milwaukee: Nothing like playing SIU-Edwardsville to make a Horizon League team feel better about itself. That’s exactly what the Panthers did on Tuesday to improve their record to 9-7. The game against Green Bay should be a big one and according to Pomeroy the Panthers are a slight favorite. If I had to handicap it though I’d give the edge to the Phoenix, even on the road. The Panthers don’t like giving up offensive rebounds, they rank 7th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. The guy here is James Eayrs, but the senior is having a bit of a problem with his three-point shot thus far this season.

Youngstown State: The reason the Penguins are ninth in the standings is because they got a home game against the tenth team. Youngstown State became the final Horizon League team to win a league game when it defeated UIC 76-67. Now maybe the Penguins can start a two-game winning streak when Loyola comes to town on Saturday. DeAndre Mays is the go-to-guy for the Youngstown.

UIC: An upset victory over Detroit on New Year’s gave the Flames their first conference victory, but two losses have followed. Jeremy Buttell absolutely went off with 31 points and 12 rebounds against Youngstown State, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Flames to victory. Now they’ll take on Cleveland State before the crosstown game versus Loyola on their home floor at the Pavilion on January 15. (A game that will be televised on ESPNU.) Robo Kreps is the go-to-guy most nights for UIC and when he’s on he can carry the team, but nights when he shoots 4-14, like he did against Youngstown State, make it difficult to win.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Horizon League Standings

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

Top Storylines

  • The Phoenix are rising. Green Bay has turned into one of the best teams in the Horizon League and is set to challenge Butler. In fact, it can be argued that Green Bay’s victory over Wisconsin is the biggest non-conference win for the league thus far this season.
  • Howard if off track. Reigning Player of the Year Butler’s Matt Howard has struggled in the post during the non-conference schedule. He hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm and has more fouls this season than field goals made (36 to 24).
  • Detroit suffers a bad loss at home. A lot of people think the Titans have the talent to compete with early leaders Green Bay, Butler and Wright State. Detroit may be up there now in the standings, but the Titans still have a long way to go. It showed in a home loss to Tennessee State this week.
  • Final chance to pull some big upsets. The Horizon League has a number of chances this week to improve its overall profile by pulling upsets at major conference venues. The best chances seem to be Detroit at Michigan and Wright State at Mississippi State.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #11 – Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Butler (17-1)
  2. Wright State (14-4)
  3. Milwaukee (12-6)
  4. Cleveland State (11-7)
  5. Green Bay (10-8)
  6. Loyola (8-10)
  7. Valparaiso (7-11)
  8. Detroit (5-13)
  9. Youngstown State (4-14)
  10. UIC (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • Vaughn Duggins (G), Wright State – 13.8 ppg, 2.7 apg in 2008-09 season.
  • Troy Cotton (G), Green Bay – 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
  • Norris Cole (G), Cleveland State – 13.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg
  • Gordon Hayward (F), Butler – 13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg
  • Matt Howard (F/C), Butler – 14.8, 6.8 rpg (last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year)

6th Man. Jordan Hicks (G/F), Loyola-Chicago

Impact Newcomer. Milos Milosevic (F), Valparaiso. The 6’7″ Croatian junior college transfer should give the Crusaders a paint presence.

HL logo

What You Need to Know.

  • There’s more to the Horizon League than just Butler. Whether it’s Cleveland State – which upset Syracuse and Wake Forest last season – or Green Bay and Milwaukee, the Horizon League has quality teams throughout. Someone in the top half of the league is going to rise up and not only challenge the Bulldogs, but compete for an NCAA at-large berth.
  • This is only the beginning for the Bulldogs. Butler is going to be good for a long time. Young talent like Gordon Hayward (soph.), Matt Howard (jr.), Shelvin Mack (soph.) and incoming center recruit Andrew Smith mean the Bulldogs will be strong for many seasons to come, not just 2009-10.
  • UIC was expected to be a pretty good team in 2009-10, even with the losses of Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer, but the team was gutted when two frontcourt starters – Rob Eppinger and Tori Boyd – decided not to return along with the indefinite suspension of guard Spencer Stewart. Now the roster seems to contain more questions than answers. The Flames will rely heavily on guard Robo Kreps.
  • Is he healthy again? That’s the question Wright State fans are asking about guard Vaughn Duggins. He missed all but four games with finger and ankle injuries and his return will be a key for the Raiders. Duggins averaged 13.3 points per game two seasons ago.
  • They start real early. The Horizon League is one of the few conferences that plays league games in early December. December 3rd and 5th feature full slates of league games before it goes back to it’s non-conference business.

Predicted ChampionButler (NCAA Seed #5). The Bulldogs start the season ranked in the Top 20 and are a great collection of talent. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but it didn’t end until the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a heartbreaker to LSU. This season the non-conference schedule is even tougher and the Bulldogs will be trying to advance even farther.

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