Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
Predicted Order of Finish
G: ShelvinMack, Butler
G: NorrisCole, Cleveland State
F: CoryJohnson, Valparaiso
F: MattHoward, Butler
C: EliHolman, Detroit
G: BrandonWood, Valparaiso
PaulCarter (F), UIC
What does Brad Stevens and Butler have in mind for an encore after their run to the title game?
What You Need To Know
All Horizon League games and most non-conference home games will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.org, the conference’s website. All games are free and the feed is television quality in most arenas. It’s a service that has been around since 2007, and has expanded every year to be an all-encompassing athletics powerhouse for information, features and interviews on Horizon League basketball. By now, if you haven’t heard about Butler‘s run through the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably still counting your hours of free America Online.
What most people don’t realize is how strong the conference is behind Butler. Yes, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the conference, going 18-0 and paving their way to the title game in dominant fashion, but they had victories against the seventh and eighth place teams by a combined three points. It’s a deep league through the top seven programs, and even UIC, who finished ninth last year, looks to be strong this season. The Detroit Titans were seventh place despite posting a 20-win season, one of five Horizon League programs to do so.
It is a guard-oriented league, but post players like MattHoward, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.
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.
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.
Big Stars Missing Big Time: Two of the top teams in the Horizon League, Green Bay and Detroit, were hampered by the loss of star players. Rahmon Fletcher hasn’t played for the Phoenix since injuring himself against Wisconsin on December 9 and Eli Holman missed three games for the Titans between November 28 and December 13.
A Different Point of View:Basketball State has a different way of seeing the Horizon League. It thinks Butler is #1, but has surprising Loyola at #4 and 0-2 Youngstown State at #5. Both are in front of Detroit, which is 2-0 in the league.
Rise of Chicago: The two Chicago programs in the Horizon League, UIC and Loyola, have been down for a while now, but the Ramblers are off to a 7-2 start. A win at Bradley really cemented their status as a darkhorse in the conference. UIC might be struggling, but the Flames rose up to defeat Pac-10 foe Oregon State on Wednesday at home.
Very busy Saturday: Saturday, December 19 is one of the busiest days of the season for the Horizon League as nine of the 10 teams will be in action. The only team not playing is Loyola (Ill). Big games include Xavier at Butler, West Virginia at Cleveland State, and Youngstown State at Green Bay in a conference tilt.
More Places to See the Horizon: The Horizon League is one of the best mid-major conferences out there in getting its games out to the world for free. If you live in Indianapolis, Youngstown, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Dayton or Chicago you can now get even more Horizon League games on television with the Horizon League Network’s Game of the Week. This is another great development for the league to complement HLN’s excellent online broadcasts.
Butler — The Bulldogs got the win they had to have over Ohio State at home last Saturday. Now comes another weekend test on national television as they take on Xavier on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. There was a time when the UAB game on Tuesday might’ve been an easy game, but not this season. The Blazers are 9-1 and just beat Cincinnati. UAB already took out Green Bay in its first game of the season.
Detroit — Holman’s return against Michigan was nice. Otherwise it was a light week for the Titans. They hung tough for a while against the Wolverines but eventually lost, 75-64. Two MAC schools come to Detroit this week as the Titans take on Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
Loyola — The Ramblers are for real. Or at least that’s what fans are beginning to think after Courtney Stanley’sbuzzer beater against Bradley on Wednesday. The incredible half-court shot by Stanley gave Loyola a 68-65 victory over the toughest team remaining on their non-conference schedule. The Ramblers have to avoid giving all back this week when they play at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and host Albany on Tuesday.
Wright State — It was a tough week on the road for the Raiders as they lost a heartbreaker to Miami (OH) on Sunday and then followed it up with an 11-point loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday. With home games against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Arkansas-Little Rock on the slate for this week things are going to be much easier, to say the least.
Green Bay — The euphoria over the Phoenix victory over Wisconsin didn’t last long as Green Bay got a tough dose of reality while playing without Fletcher at Oakland. The Grizzlies blew out Green Bay, 76-52. It is possible that Fletcher could return for the important conference game against Youngstown State, but no matter what, the Phoenix are notoriously tough to beat at home.
Milwaukee — Ricky Franklin led the team in both points and rebounds as the Panthers defeated North Dakota State in their only game of the week. Milwaukee then took a week off for exams and heads back to work for the continuation of Miami (OH)’s Horizon League series. The Panthers take on a Wisconsin team already familiar to Horizon League fans on Wednesday in Madison.
Youngstown State — Youngstown State has a big game against Green Bay on Saturday in conference. Then High Point comes to town, and since the team is ranked 311th in the Basketball State rankings they shouldn’t be too worrisome for the Penguins. I’m not nearly as bullish as some people are about Youngstown State, as they really haven’t proven anything against good competition yet this season.
Cleveland State — The Vikings hung 113 points on NAIA Wilberforce and then lost at home to Robert Morris by 8 points. Cleveland State has three very difficult non-conference games remaining and while Gary Waters should be commended for taking on the challenge of West Virginia and road games at Ohio State and Kansas State he might’ve overscheduled a bit. The Vikings haven’t found any continuity yet and besides Norris Cole nobody has consistently put the ball in the basket. Cleveland State has zero seniors, so this might be a one-year blip.
Valparaiso — An easy win at home against Toledo will beget more easy games against Concordia (Wisc.) and at IUPU-Fort Wayne over the next few games for the Crusaders. Valparaiso is near the bottom of the Horizon League so no game should be taken lightly.
UIC – The return of Spencer Stewart has energized the Flames and made them into a better team. While the game against Oregon State wasn’t pretty, the result — thanks to Robo Kreps‘ lay-up with 5.3 seconds remaining and two stolen inbounds passes — was. UIC tries to continue the momentum this weekend when it takes on Northern Illinois, a game many people thought might be the Flames first Division I win of the season. With that monkey already off their back, UIC can just concentrate on improving. The Flames also head to Akron on Tuesday this week.
From 850 the Buzz, apparently the usage of the word “unanimous” is a little ambiguous at the ACC offices in Greensboro these days, depending on who the player is they’re trying to promote (FSU’s Toney Douglas vs. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough).
Now… on to the three dance tickets punched tonight.
# 10 – North Dakota St. (26-6, 16-2). NDSU is going to get a lot of national attention in the next week by virtue of the fact that this was their first eligible year in D1, and several players including star guard Ben Woodside redshirted their freshmen seasons to have the shot at the NCAAs they’re enjoying tonight, but remember that our very own John Stevens was all over this story before anybody – way back in mid-December when Woodside ripped the nets apart for 60 big ones. Tonight it looked as if their long-sought-after dream was dead, as the Summit League regular season champs found themselves down ten points with nine minutes remaining in the title game. Slow and steady, the Bison worked itself back into the game, and after Oakland’s Keith Benson tied the game with a dunk with 0:12 remaining, the ball was put into Woodside’s hands and the rest is history, 66-64.
Projected Seed: #13
Something to Remember: NDSU has the fifth most efficient offense in the country, and it’s predicated on great shooting and ballhandling. The Bison are #5 in three-point shooting at 41% and they are #11 in fewest turnovers per game. Whichever #4 or #5 seed gets this team had best bring their defense.
#11 – Cleveland St. (25-10, 12-6). Bubble teams all over America were cursing Gary Waters’ Cleveland St. Vikings tonight, as their Horizon League automatic bid earned over at-large lock Butler took one of the 34 available spots away from some hopeful team. Was it Creighton? Florida? St. Mary’s? We’ll never know for sure, but CSU held Butler stars Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward to a combined 21/12, and in so doing was able to make just enough plays on the defensive end down the stretch to get the upset win over Butler, 57-54 in their house. RTC Live had the liveblog coverage here, but if you were lucky enough to see the television coverage, you saw a team in Cleveland St. that wanted this game just a smidge more than their HL counterparts. The Vikings’ NCAA bid is their first since 1986.
Projected Seed: #14
STR: Cleveland St. played Kansas St. and West Virginia tough in losses earlier this year, and of course they beat Syracuse on the ridiculous 75-footer, so this is a team that won’t be intimidated as an underdog in the first round of the NCAAs.
#12 – Western Kentucky (24-8, 15-3). WKU started this Sun Belt title game on an 11-0 run, but South Alabama wasn’t going to just give the Hilltoppers the game so easily, as the Jags fought back to tie and even briefly take the lead in this one for a period in the mid-second half. But WKU, led by AJ Slaughter’s 18 pts and Stephffon Pettigrew’s 15/7, was not going to be denied, and Ken McDonald should be commended for the excellent job he’s done with a team that lost its star backcourt of Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton (not to mention head coach Darrin Horn). Western Kentucky earned its 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament and its second in a row tonight.
Projected Seed: #11
STR: This is an unpredictable team. Although they finished the season winning eleven of their last twelve games, earlier in the season the Toppers lost by 28 to Murray St., 32 to Evansville and 28 to Mississippi St. They also defeated Louisville by 12. This is probably why WKU ranks #265 in Pomeroy’s consistency statistic.
QnD Conf Tourney Updates.
Big East. Did you hear that the sixteen-team Big East Tourney started today? Georgetown and Cincinnati must not have gotten that memo, because neither team showed up for its own funeral, losing first-round games to the dregs – St. John’s and Depaul, respectively. Yes, Depaul, the same team that was 0-18 in the regular season. At least Seton Hall managed to beat S. Florida and Notre Dame kept its disappointing season alive for another day.
MAC. The MAC first round was today, and there were no major upsets. CMU, Kent, Ohio and Akron all advanced.
MEAC. The MEAC also began today, and the two higher seeds Hampton and FAMU advanced.
WAC. Another opening round, where Fresno St. “upset” the higher seeded Hawaii.
For Tomorrow’s Viewing Pleasure. We’re starting to get serious now. The Big Sky and NEC hold its title games Wednesday, and the A10, Big 12, Big West, CUSA, Mountain West, Pac-10 and SWAC get it started. We’re rapidly approaching bracket nirvana.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
FINAL STANDINGS 1. Butler 15-3 25-4
2. Green Bay 13-5 22-9
3. Cleveland State 12-6 21-10
4. Wright State 12-6 18-12
5. Milwaukee 11-7 16-13
6. Youngstown State 7-11 11-18
7. UIC 7-11 15-14
8. Loyola 6-12 14-17
9. Valparaiso 5-13 9-21
10. Detroit 2-16 7-22
First things first…the Horizon League announced it’s all-league teams and award winners on Monday. A complete list can be found here, but we have the 1st-teamers:
ALL-HORIZON LEAGUE 1st TEAM Matt Howard – Sophomore – Butler (Player of the Year) Gordon Hayward – Freshman – Butler Ryan Tillema – Senior – Green Bay J’Nathan Bullock – Senior – Cleveland State Josh Mayo – Senior – UIC
Study this list closely, and you’ll have an idea why Butler should continue to dominate the Horizon League for the foreseeable future. Zoiks, Scoob.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
I’m going to keep it simple this time around…using a symbol so recognizable, that sometimes teams use this gesture as a way to call their plays on the floor. It’s either “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as we spotlight the latest and greatest happenings in the Horizon League.
THREE THUMBS UP (If we had that many): UIC – (4-2, 0-0)
The Flames knocked off Vanderbilt on Wednesday at the home of the Commodores, 74-55. “Vanderbilt,” UIC head coach Jimmy Collins told me before the season started, “is the most difficult place on the planet to play.” Well, Collins’ club made it look easy, shooting 12-of-19 from the 3-point arc (63%), outrebounding Vandy, while also tallying more assists and less turnovers than their SEC opponent. We all know Josh Mayo can play (30 points on 8-of-10 shooting from 3-point line), but the key to this firestorm was sophomore, Robert “Robo” Kreps (23 points on 10-of-15 shooting). If Kreps can continue to support Mayo on the perimeter, all while 7-footer Scott VanderMeer controls the glass, UIC could make a push for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003-04.
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.
Wright State (24-6, 15-3)
Cleveland State (21-10, 13-5)
Green Bay (19-12, 11-7)
Butler (16-13, 11-7)
Loyola (20-11, 10-8)
UIC (13-16, 8-10)
Milwaukee (13-16, 7-11)
Valparaiso (12-18, 7-11)
Youngstown State (10-19, 4-14)
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.
@ 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!)
@ Ohio State — 12.13.08
@ Xavier — 12.23.08 (…a good measuring stick for the Bulldogs)
@ 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
Pre-Season NIT vs. Georgia — 11.17.08 (…guaranteed 4 decent games)
@ UIC — 12.6.08
vs. UIC — 2.27.09
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.
Ok, we’ve got the Midnight Madness nonsense past us, and now we’re officially two weeks away from the first game…
Somewhat surprising turn of events in Tucson in the wake of Lute Olson’s retirement. The presumptive next coach, Mike Dunlap, reportedly turned down the interim coaching offer, and instead Russ Pennell (a longtime assistant at Arizona St., of all places) will take over the (interim) reins at Arizona.
Injury Update. Cincy’s frosh PG, Cashmere Mafia Wright, tore his ACL in practice and will be out for the season. He was expected to play a big role for the Bearcats this season. Marshall’s starting PF, Tyler Wilkerson, broke his hand and will miss about three weeks.
Central Michigan’s top rebounder, Marcus Van, was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.