Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2011

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

A Look Back

The Horizon League had a lot of jockeying at the top last week as Valparaiso and Cleveland State both suffered losses, pulling the top five teams within two losses of first place with only five games to go for most teams.  Cleveland State avoided the season sweep from Valpo, defeating them to take over sole possession of first place.  Time in the top spot was limited, as the Vikings were dispatched by Butler and Detroit in succession.  The Titans had probably the best week of all, going 3-0 in a short stretch and moving into sixth place, which would net them a home game in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament.

Power Rankings

Before we get started, I’d like to let you know that the Power Rankings will be expanded to discuss jockeying for the conference tournament in March.

1. Valparaiso (17-7, 9-3) – The Crusaders may have lost to CSU in Ohio, but Homer Drew finds himself in the top spot following a squeaker victory over surprising Youngstown State. The Crusaders will host Detroit and Wright State this weekend at the ARC.  Beating the Raiders is very important, as it knocks the 2nd place team back to the pack. Valparaiso has one of the toughest remaining schedules.  All they need to do is win, and then the conference tournament will run through Valpo.  Remaining conference games: Detroit, Wright State, at Milwaukee, at Green Bay, Loyola, UIC.

2. Wright State (17-9, 10-4) – Since taking a loss at Milwaukee a week ago, the Raiders took care of business with a 3-0 week.  Sure, the victories came against the dregs of the Horizon League, but the conference has no easy outs, as Loyola and Youngstown State have proven this season.  They stand one loss behind Valparaiso, but if they can topple the Crusaders, they’ve got a real opportunity to steal the conference with Troy Tabler and Cooper Land hobbled.  To win the conference, they need to beat Valparaiso and keep winning. Remaining: at Butler, at Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Detroit.

3. Cleveland State (21-5, 10-4) – The week started off great; a victory over top-seeded Valparaiso put them in the driver’s seat.  Then losses to Butler and Detroit really nipped the Vikings, who now are looking up at the Crusaders and have some very tough dates left on their schedule. If they’re going to win the conference, they need someone to pull Valparaiso down to four losses. Remaining: Youngstown State, at Wright State, Milwaukee, Green Bay.

4. Milwaukee (13-11, 8-5) – The switch has come on at just the right time.  Since a blowout loss at Valparaiso, the Panthers have run through a veritable Horizon Murderer’s Row with flying colors, dispatching Butler, Detroit, Wright State and Green Bay to put themselves right in the thick of things.  The Panthers can’t afford another loss or their chances at a League title are all but gone, but they also can make things rough for Valparaiso and Cleveland State. They need to go 5-0 the rest of the season, as well as see Valparaiso and Wright State suffer a loss at the hands of someone else.  Remaining: at Loyola, at UIC, Valparaiso, at Cleveland State, at Youngstown State.

5. Butler (16-9, 8-5) – The Dawgs did themselves a mitzvah by dispatching Cleveland State and keeping themselves in the running.  The sweep by Milwaukee prevents the Bulldogs to beat them in almost any tiebreaker scenario.  Luckily for Butler, the Panthers have a difficult road schedule remaining and they should be able to win most if not all their remaining games.  They need Milwaukee, Valpo, Cleveland State, and Wright State to lose as well, Valpo twice. Too bad for them, they only have the ability to beat Wright State, tonight. Remaining: Wright State, Detroit, at Green Bay, at UIC, Loyola.

6. Detroit (14-12, 8-6) – Detroit will not win the conference, and their opportunities to get the #2 seed are almost nil.  The good news is that their victories last week have put them over the top of Green Bay for the six seed, which is almost as important as jumping into the two seed.  If the season were to end today, the Titans would host Green Bay in the tournament.  Remaining: at Valparaiso, at Butler, Youngstown State, at Wright State.

7. Green Bay (12-12, 6-6) – Missing out on the opportunity to sweep Milwaukee and put themselves in a tie for fourth has given the Phoenix a lot of problems.  They have games against three of the top five teams in the conference, but if they finish the season with a good record, they can sneak back into the top six. Remaining: at UIC, at Loyola, Butler, Valparaiso, at Youngstown State, at Cleveland State.

8. Loyola (13-11, 4-9) – For what seems to be the fourth season in a row, Jim Whitesell’s weak non-conference scheduling has led to the team being unprepared for the conference season.  This season’s 9-2 non-conference record has given way to a bad 4-9 record, guaranteeing a losing conference season.  The Ramblers are on the outside looking in for a conference tournament home game, because they would need to win their last five games as well as have Detroit lose all four remaining games and Green Bay to drop at least three of their final six.  Remaining: Milwaukee, Green Bay, at UIC, at Valparaiso, at Butler.

9. Youngstown State (8-16, 2-12) – I took a lot of flack last week for proclaiming that YSU does not belong in the Horizon League, then having the Penguins beat Butler and very nearly take down Valparaiso.  My stance toward the Penguins hasn’t changed, and neither will most people when they realize this: should the Penguins sweep their final four games and end at 6-12, it will be their third best victory total in conference games since they joined the conference ten years ago. Remaining: at Cleveland State, at Detroit, Green Bay, Milwaukee.

10. UIC (6-19. 1-12) – Blowing out Youngstown State was the bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Flames.  The first year of Howard Moore was considered a wash since day one, since he only had a couple months with the team before the start of the season.  Next season will be a better indication of the direction Moore is taking the Flames.  They will open the conference tournament on the road, where they haven’t won in the H-League this season.

A Look Ahead

Tonight’s showdown at Hinkle between Wright State and Butler will be a good indication of what the conference picture is looking like.  Beat Butler, and the Raiders have a trump card over the other two teams in the top three and the opportunity to pull Valparaiso into a three-way tie on Saturday. Lose, and they’re at best the #5-seed going into Saturday.  Valparaiso hosts red-hot Detroit at 7 p.m. tonight.

  • 2.10 – Wright State at Butler, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 2.10 – Detroit at Valparaiso, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 2.10 – Milwaukee at Loyola, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 2.12 – Wright State at Valparaiso, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 2.12 – Detroit at Butler, 8 p.m. HLN
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2008-09 Season Primers: #14 – Horizon

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2008

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.  

Predicted Order of Finish.

  1. Wright State  (24-6, 15-3)
  2. Cleveland State  (21-10, 13-5)
  3. Green Bay  (19-12, 11-7)
  4. Butler  (16-13, 11-7)
  5. Loyola  (20-11, 10-8)
  6. UIC  (13-16, 8-10)
  7. Milwaukee  (13-16, 7-11)
  8. Valparaiso  (12-18, 7-11)
  9. Youngstown State  (10-19, 4-14)
  10. Detroit  (7-22, 4-14)

What You Need to Know.  It’s been a slow and steady climb for the Horizon League, but the midwestern ten-member league has built itself into a force to be reckoned with on the mid-major college basketball scene.  The buzz word among Horizon League coaches last season was depth, referring to the overall strength of the league from top to bottom.  Nowhere was that more evident than in the fact that four teams (Butler, Cleveland State, Wright State, Valparaiso) topped the 20-win plateau.  Having four 20-win squads was a first for the Horizon League, and led to three of those four competing in postseason play (Butler – NCAA, Cleveland State – NIT, Valpo – CBI).  While having multiple teams competing in the postseason is nothing new in this league, having multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament isn’t yet the “norm,” but it isn’t completely foreign either (3 times in the last 11 years).  What’s the point, you ask?  This league may be even deeper this season, as seven teams return three or more starters from last season, including front-runners Wright State, Cleveland State, and Green Bay.  Butler, by most accounts, is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes the Horizon League has ever seen to go along with reigning Newcomer of the Year, Matt Howard (12.3ppg, 5.5rpg).  Meanwhile, UIC has a favorite for league POY honors in sharpshooter Josh Mayo (17.1ppg, 47% 3fg%), and one of the few true “bigs” in the entire league in 7-footer, Scott VanderMeer (9.3ppg, 7.5rpg).  This could be another year where the Horizon receives multiple NCAA bids, but for the first time in awhile, that at-large bid isn’t likely to have Butler’s name on it (Butler advanced to the S16 as an at-large NCAA bid in 2003 and 2007).  

Predicted Champion.    Wright State  (#11 seed NCAA).  The Raiders have plenty of talent, and trust me, we’ll get to that in a moment.  But the green-and-gold have the ultimate ace in the hole: head coach Brad Brownell.  Brownell, if he really tried, could probably turn the Oakland Raiders into a winner, all while keeping Al Davis satisfied in the process.  Seriously.  Alright, kidding aside, all Brownell has done is win wherever he’s been (including two NCAA appearances in four seasons at UNC-Wilmington).  He won the Horizon League in his inaugural season two years ago, and followed that up with 21 wins and a 3rd-place regular season finish last year.  Admittedly, his team was lacking athleticism and a go-to scorer, but the “other” school in Dayton got it done with grit and commitment on the defensive end, giving up just 60.4 ppg and notching 13 wins in games decided by 5 points or less.  In a guard-dominated league, Wright State returns its entire backcourt.  Vaughn Duggins (HL 1st Team, 13.8 ppg), Todd Brown (12.7 ppg), and 5th-year senior Will Graham (5.9 ppg, 3.5 apg), will lead the way with a three-headed-monster of Ronnie Thomas, Cooper Land, and Gavin Horne battling for time down low.  Two newcomers are expected to see significant minutes from the start.  Scott Grote, a transfer from Duquesne, (9.9 ppg in 29 games as a freshman) and Cory Cooperwood (two-time JUCO All-American at Wallace State CC, 15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), will undoubtedly inject energy, electricity, and most importantly, more points into the Wright State attack.  The schedule is solid for a mid-major, but not impressive enough to warrant a single-digit NCAA seed unless the Raiders were to, say, run the table.  

Others Considered.   Cleveland State.  Most prognosticators will likely choose the Vikings as the team to beat this year in the Horizon League, and they may very well be right.  Gary Waters has no doubt turned this program around in just two seasons at the helm, and while his programs have a history of taking major leaps forward in year number three (Kent State, Rutgers), a major leap forward this year will be hard to achieve given the depth in the Horizon League and the Vikings brutal non-conference schedule.  The two unknowns about this squad are: 1) How will they respond to having a target on their back?  And, 2) How will they respond to losses?  After all, they came out of nowhere last year to score 21 wins and finish 2nd in the Horizon League.  But, in late January the Vikes held a two-game lead over Butler in the league standings, only to lose five straight and fall back to the pack.  One thing is for sure, however, J’Nathan Bullock (HL 1st Team, 14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Cedric Jackson (HL 2nd Team, 13.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) make up the best inside-out combination in the league.  Waters readily admits his team struggled shooting from the perimeter last season (30.2% from 3) and combine that with a trend of using several bodies on the bench — nine players averaged at least 14 mpg and played in at least 33 of 34 games last year — and freshman bombers like Jeremy Montgomery, Josh McCoy, and Charlie Woods could find themselves in crucial roles.  All five starters return in Green Bay, along with coach Tod Kowalczyk’s top two reserves.  Mike Schachtner, Terry Evans, and Rahmon Fletcher each took home Horizon League postseason honors last year.  Senior forward Ryan Tillema is no slouch either.  Battered and bruised, this team struggled to a 15-15 mark last season.  If healthy, the Phoenix will be much improved.  Underachieving again would be a bittersweet way to go out for Schachtner, Evans, and Tillema.  The player to watch at Butler — aside from Matt Howard, whose exploits are well documented (check out #96) — is freshman combo guard, Shelvin Mack.  His maturation process will determine how successful the extremely young Bulldogs will be this season.  Loyola top gun J.R. Blount and the rest of the Ramblers should rebound from a rough season, thanks to a returning core of veterans (four starters).  Valparaiso may be in for a big slide after losing their top two scorers to graduation, and two more major scoring threats in the offseason — Bryan Bouchie and Samuel Haanpaa — who both left the program (Bouchie transfered to Evansville, Haanpaa returned overseas and signed a professional contract).  Here are Butler’s final seconds in last year’s Horizon League championship.

Key Games / RPI Booster Games. 

Cleveland St.:

  • @ Washington — 11.18.08 (…tough)
  • @ West Virginia — 12.6.08 (…tougher)
  • @ Syracuse — 12.15.08 (…toughest) 
  • vs. Kent State — 12.23.08 (…a rivalry game to boot!)

Butler: 

  • @ Ohio State — 12.13.08
  • @ Xavier — 12.23.08 (…a good measuring stick for the Bulldogs)

Green Bay: 

  • vs. UMass — 11.29.08
  • @ Wisconsin — 12.13.08 (…please re-name: “Dick Bennett Classic”)

Wright State: 

  • @ Wake Forest — 12.14.08 (…Wake is rumored to be “back”)
  • vs. Oral Roberts — 12.20.08 
  • vs. Cleveland State — 12.30.08 
  • @ Cleveland State — 1.31.09 

 Loyola: 

  • Pre-Season NIT vs. Georgia — 11.17.08 (…guaranteed 4 decent games)
  • @ UIC — 12.6.08 
  • vs. UIC — 2.27.09 

Valparaiso: 

  • vs. North Carolina — 12.20.08 (…in Chicago @ United Center)
  • @ Purdue — 12.28.08 

*A complete list of Horizon League contests set to be broadcast by the ESPN family of networks can be found here.  All league contests can be viewed online, for free, on the Horizon League Network. 

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  If Cleveland State can get to their  first showdown at Wright State, (12.30.08) sporting a record of 11-3 or better, then the chances of the Horizon League being a two-bid league are very solid.  Only the Vikings boast a non-conference schedule strong enough that, if they can win a couple of the big games, would compensate for a couple of extra losses in league play.  Of course, if Wright State runs away with the regular season title (or anyone for that matter), an upset in the championship game could also result in multiple bids for this league.  

Did You Know.  Following the 1992-1993 season, University of Michigan assistant coach Perry Watson left Ann Arbor to take over as the head coach at Detroit-Mercy.  The spot vacated by Watson at Michigan was initially filled by Ray McCallum, but McCallum never coached a game at Michigan.  Instead, he returned to his alma mater, Ball State, and became the head coach of the Cardinals.  After a successful run in Muncie, IN, McCallum moved on to lead the University of Houston, followed by assistant coaching jobs at Oklahoma and Indiana.  This past spring, McCallum was hired as the head coach at Detroit, once again filling a void left by Watson, who resigned after 15 seasons with the Titans.  Watson guided Detroit to the NCAA second round in 1998 and 1999, and the NIT in 2001 and 2002.  

65 Team Era.   Let’s get this out of the way right now – over the last decade the Horizon has been the most successful mid-major conference in the NCAA Tournament (defining mid-major as normally a one-bid league).  In six of the last eight tournaments, a Horizon team has won at least one game (with an average seed of #11.1).  Three of those years, a Horizon team played itself into the Sweet Sixteen (Butler – 2003, 2007; Milwaukee – 2005).  Additionally, you wanna talk about a tough out – consider the teams that are knocking out these Horizon squads – three #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, two #3 seeds, including both Florida national champions.  Not bad, not bad at all.  The Horizon’s record of 20-32 (.385) over this era matches up even or better than every one of its peers, and there’s no reason to believe it will end soon. 

Final Thoughts.   It’s hard to imagine a program like Valparaiso finishing 8th, but someone has to end up there in this deep, talented league.  Heck, we haven’t even mentioned Milwaukee yet, as scoring machines Ricky Franklin, Avery Smith, and Deonte Roberts are all back.  While programs like Detroit and Youngstown State seem to be a step behind the rest of the league right now, you can bet they’ll be competitive night in and night out.  If you catch a Horizon League game on television, you won’t be “wowed” by superb athletic ability, but what you will find, for the most part, is team-oriented basketball with disciplined student-athletes who are just as comfortable grinding out a 54-52 victory as they are pushing their team’s point total into the 80s.  The players are skilled, the action is rough, and the future is bright.

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