Wisconsin played its first game in eight days last night, and its first after Bo Ryan announced his retirement. Interim head coach Greg Gard earned a win in his coaching debut as the Badgers edged Green Bay, 84-79. It wasn’t pretty, as Wisconsin was outscored 52-36 in the second half and turned the ball over 26 times. Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Hill, who hadn’t scored and played just 27 minutes all season, received 22 minutes and scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Nigel Hayes scored his 1,000th career point in the win as well. Wednesday’s game was also the first for newly-named assistant Howard Moore, whom Gard hired Tuesday for the rest of the season. The former UIC coach was an assistant under Ryan from 2005-10.
Minnesota will enter Big Ten play with a 6-6 record after a disappointing Wednesday home loss to Milwaukee. The Gophers played just seven scholarship players and were without freshman point guard Kevin Dorsey, who is dealing with a foot injury. Fellow freshman Dupree McBrayer, primarily a shooting guard, saw time at point guard — playing him there showed Minnesota’s lack of depth at the position with Dorsey out.
Ohio State freshman wing Mickey Mitchell was ruled eligible on Saturday, just two days after Austin Grandstaff decided to transfer. Mitchell didn’t play in the Buckeyes’ upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky, but he debuted in Tuesday’s 64-44 win over Mercer. He played nine minutes and had three rebounds, but didn’t make his one field goal attempt. Mitchell will team up with sophomore Kam Williams to add depth on the wing behind starters Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving.
The legend of Nicholas Baer continues to grow. The Iowa redshirt freshman walk-on scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 threes, in Tuesday’s 85-63 win over Tennessee Tech. On Monday, Baer earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his 13-point game against Drake on Saturday. He’s shooting 46 percent (11-of-24) from three so far this season.
Spike Albrecht may not be done with college basketball just yet. Albrecht’s dad, Charles, told Mike Hutton of the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune that he believes his son will play next season if he is able to completely rehabilitate his surgically repaired hips, complications from which forced him to step aside for the rest of the season. Since the senior played in less than 30 percent of Michigan’s games this season, he is still eligible for a medical redshirt. Should he come back, it may not be at Michigan, though, due to the Wolverines’ scholarship crunch. They already have four players signed for next season, which puts them at 14 scholarships for next year as of today.
The automatic bids are starting to fill up. In the past two days, automatic bids have gone to Northeastern (Colonial), Manhattan (Metro Atlantic), Wofford (Southern), Valparaiso (Horizon), Robert Morris (Northeast), North Dakota State (Summit), and Gonzaga (West Coast). There are obviously some big story lines from Monday night that Tommy Lemoine covered in his Bracket Prep for Wofford, Northeastern, and Wofford. We will cover last night’s story lines a little more later today, but the things that jumped out at us were St Francis-Brooklyn remaining one of only five original Division I programs to never make the NCAA Tournament (Army, Citadel, Northwestern, and William & Mary are the others) and the questions surrounding whether or not BYU will receive an at-large bid.
The coaching carousel is starting to heat up as three new positions opened up with SIU-Edwardsvillefiring Lennox Forrester, Illinois-Chicagofiring Howard Moore, and Citadelfiring Chuck Driesell. Forrester had been the coach at SIU-Edwardsville for eight seasons going 83-149 with losing seasons in each of his final seven seasons after going 17-11 in his first season, which also happened to be the school’s last year in Division II. Moore went 49-111 in five seasons with his only winning season happening in 2012-13 when he went 18-16. Driesell, the son of the legendary Lefty Driesell, had his best season in the last of his five seasons. Unfortunately, that was only 11-19 and he finished 42-113. Like the other positions we mentioned before, none of these would be what we consider big-time jobs, but the Illinois-Chicago position offers the appeal of being in one of the best basketball areas in the country and a decent conference (Horizon) to play in, which could entice a high-major assistant who might feel that he has waited long enough.
The coaching carousel might generate most of the attention in terms of movement, but be sure to keep an eye for some potentially significant transfers now that many players are having their seasons end. One of the first big ones to hit the transfer market is Evan Payne, who announced on Instagram that he would be transferring from Loyola Marymount. Payne, who averaged 18 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past season, will probably end up at a high-major school especially since he has two more years of eligibility remaining even if he has to sit out a year as we have not heard anything about him looking for a hardship waiver.
If you thought there were grey areas with social media, just wait until we get into the crowdfunding. According to a report from Darren Rovell, FanAngel is proposing to allow fans to contribute money towards an athlete who returns to school instead of leaving to play professionally. The company would take 9% off the top as its commission. Of the remaining 91%, when the athlete completes his or her eligibility, the athlete would get 80%, the athlete’s teammates would get 10%, and the remaining 10% would put into a scholarship fund. Although this has generated quite a bit of buzz based on it being featured on ESPN.com, we have a hard time believing this will ever be approved as even the company’s founder admits that the NCAA has not signed off on it and expressed reservations about it. There are also issues with how the money gets distributed to the athlete since neither the athlete nor anybody representing him or her is supposed to contact the company before the athlete’s eligibility is complete. Given all of these issues, we have a hard time seeing how this will hold up to NCAA scrutiny.
With the start of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week away (don’t get us started on the ridiculous event in Dayton) you are going to start seeing a lot of lists talking about the best games, players, shots, etc. We doubt that you are going to see many lists like Ken Pomeroy’s most tense NCAA Tournament games since 2010. Like many things that Pomeroy does, some of these are obvious and are easily remembered by even the most casual fan while others are things you would not have remembered without his work. Now, you can question his methodology here, which is admittedly not as rigorous as his usual statistical analysis, but it is a fun trip down memory lane.
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.
The Week That Was
Cream of the Crop Rises: It’s only mid-December, but don’t let the overall records fool you: The conference cream of the crop has already risen to the top. There is a clear division between the upper and lower halves of the Horizon League in 2011-12. Some teams (Milwaukee, Detroit, Butler, and Valparaiso) chose to test themselves before conference play begins. With Butler having a down season, a conference crown is there for the taking and each of these schools is hoping that their tough-minded scheduling philosophy pays off late in the season.
UW-Milwaukee Pushes Wisconsin: Playing in front of the largest regular season home crowd in school history at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, the Panthers went on a 16-1 run in the second half to cut 17-point deficit to two. But Wisconsin hit a few big shots down the stretch to hold on for a 60-54 win. UWM – who were without injured starters Kyle Kelm and Ja’Rob McCallum – dug themselves a hole in the first half after they shot just 30% from the field and made seven of 17 free throws for the game. Tony Meijer scored all of his team-high 15 points in a seven-minute stretch in the middle of the second half.
Return of the Titan: 6’10’’ center Eli Holman returned from an indefinite suspension and played in his first two games this past week. Though he didn’t start either game, Holman dunked his way to 21 points and snagged seven rebounds in his season-opener against Western Michigan and then went for nine and nine (points and boards) in the Titans’ loss to Alabama. Coach Ray McCallum Sr. seems to be making Holman earn his way back into the starting lineup, which is probably smart for the sake of team chemistry. Detroit survived a tough non-conference schedule without him including a nice win over St. John’s, but a low-post force like Holman is a rarity in the Horizon League. With him, the Titans should challenge Milwaukee and Cleveland State for conference supremacy.
Brad Stevens May Have Scheduled A Bit Too Aggressively With Significant Graduation Losses Giving Way To A Young Team
Cleveland State(10-1, 2-0) –The two best non-conference wins of the season thus far belong to the Vikings (road wins over Vanderbilt and Mid-American Conference favorite Kent State). Senior D’Aundray Brown has bounced back nicely from an injured hand to lead the team in scoring (12.7 PPG) and is second in rebounding (4.5 RPG). Guard Trevon Harmon was named conference Player of the Week after averaging 20 points in victories over Robert Morris and at Akron. The key to CSU’s early-season success, however, has been tough defense. With former star Norris Cole now in the NBA, the Vikings have used a quick, smaller lineup and their trademark pressure defense to hold opponents to just 57.5 points per game while swiping ten steals per game, both conference-bests. Read the rest of this entry »
Last season, the Horizon League put four teams in the postseason — can it do it again?
Eli Holman’s Leave of Absence: The Detroit big man is easily the best returning post player in the H-League, but whether or not he will return is a big question. Holman was placed on “indefinite leave” from the team at the end of September to handle some legal issues drawn from an incident at a fraternity house earlier in the month. Big Ten fans will remember Holman as the player who left Indiana after getting into a confrontation with then new coach Tom Crean. Without Holman, the Titans have a big hole in the post and would have to rely more heavily on Nick Minnerath and LeMarcus Lowe to pick up the pieces of a broken inside game. They still have some of the best talent in the league, but without that dominant force, who knows what they’ll get.
Kaylon Williams In Trouble: Milwaukee got some bad news as well, with starting point guard Kaylon Williams getting pulled over in Iowa and blowing a .228 BAC. What makes matters worse for Williams is that he fled the scene on foot, although he was picked up shortly afterward. No official word has come down from the university on punishment besides a short statement from head coach Rob Jeter. “We are aware of the situation involving Kaylon Williams. We are disappointed and will take appropriate action as we gather more information and the legal process runs its course.” This is Williams’ first offense and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss. Last season, Milwaukee had difficulty with Williams off the floor, but prepared for further uncertainty by recruiting junior college player Paris Gulley and high school point guard Shaquille Boga.
It Says Here That Matt Howard Was the Difference Maker at Butler
Butler’s Back Again: Obviously, the college basketball world is familiar with the recent NCAA Tournament dominance of Butler. “Familiar” might not be the word; “obsessed” may be closer. In any case, Butler came a 50-footer from the title in 2010 when no one thought they would make it. They suffered a poor shooting night in 2011 to keep the Bulldogs from that elusive title when no one thought they’d be back. Is it so crazy to say that they could make another run to the Final Four? The answer is yes. While losing Gordon Hayward and some key players from the previous year’s team didn’t spell the end for them in 2010-11, 2011-12 will be a different story. Forget Shelvin Mack, Hayward, and even Brad Stevens. To me, the one person that deserves the most credit for both of these runs is Matt Howard. We all knew from day one that he was a special player, and what lack of NBA athleticism (he’s still athletic) he had was made up big time in his skill, determination, and intelligence. To me, he’s the best leader-by-example in basketball that I have ever seen, and his graduation means someone else at Butler will have to try and pick up that torch. You can replace Shelvin Mack’s scoring and Zach Hahn’s knack for the timely three-pointer, but you can’t replace Matt Howard’s… Matt Howard.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Horizon League correspondent, Jimmy Lemke.
End of an Era – Homer Drew may have done his best work in the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), but that doesn’t bar the Horizon League community from recognizing the tremendous stature of the now-retired Valparaiso coach. He’s done it before – briefly retiring earlier in the decade to pave the way for son Scott Drew and promptly retaking the reins after Scott took the very difficult job at Baylor – but this time you could tell it was final. His ability to recruit overseas is second to none, and we will always remember the feel-good story of his1998 team. Speaking of that year, the coach to now replace him? None other than his other son, all-time Crusader great Bryce Drew.
Dickie V. Rules In Motor City – The Detroit Titans made a big splash this summer by deciding to name their court for former Titans coach and renowned broadcaster, Dick Vitale. While he spent only four years as head of the Titans before taking over as coach of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Dickie V’s exploits on behalf of college basketball are immeasurable. Dick Vitale IS college basketball, regardless of how you feel about him. As a longtime follower of the Milwaukee program, I see the court naming as a disappointment for Perry Watson, who coached the Titans for a considerably longer stretch and was very successful in that time, but there’s no doubting the decision from the future point of view. This season, St. John’s will play at Detroit on ESPN following a ceremony celebrating the honor, and I’d be willing to bet the Titans are banking on any Dick Vitale anniversaries falling on Detroit’s home schedule with a visit from ESPN.
Big Names Depart – Brandon Wood took a highly-publicized transfer to Michigan State and will be able to play immediately because he finished his degree at Valparaiso where his graduate program isn’t offered. Shelvin Mack declared for the draft and stayed put, going early in the second round to the Washington Wizards. But the biggest move in the conference is from the graduating senior class. Nearly every big team lost multiple big time competitors. Butler, of course, lost Mack, but they also lost Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant and, most importantly, Matt Howard. Milwaukee loses Anthony Hill and streaky-but-dangerous shooter Tone Boyle. Wright State, already on the downturn, lost Cooper Land, Troy Tabler, Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans. Cleveland State waved a heartfelt goodbye to perhaps the most talented of them all, Norris Cole, now with the Miami Heat. Put simply, eight of the ten 2010-11 all-Horizon League team members have exited the conference, with only two remaining: Ray McCallum, Jr. and Eli Holman, both of Detroit.
Brad Stevens Led The Bulldogs To Another Title Game Appearance, But He Faces Life Without Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack in the 2011-12 Season.
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League Correspondent for RTC. With the conference tournament set to tip tonight, get a leg up on all things Horizon in this week’s recap and postseason preview.
To be perfectly honest, the Horizon League Tournament is stacked to allow the top two seeds the ability to get into the tournament, and it’s hard to argue with the success – each of the co-champions has won in the NCAA Tournament since the current format began. The funny thing is, hot teams really should be able to win the thing, and this year is no different. Except the hottest teams, Milwaukee (nine conference wins in a row) and Butler (seven) are the two best programs running into the Horizon League Tournament. The way those teams played, against the top teams all the way down to the bottom of the conference, was good enough to warrant the double-bye.
Butler’s side of the bracket features some really tough teams. Cleveland State is a co-champion, the first such team to have to go four games to win it. Wright State split with Butler, and both Green Bay and UIC played Butler tough during the conference season.
The Milwaukee side of the invitational features Youngstown State, who very nearly beat everyone ahead of them at the Beeghly Center; Loyola, who actually won in the U.S. Cellular Arena against the hosts; Valparaiso, who had the #1 seed until eight days ago; and Detroit, who has all the talent in the world and fought their way into the #5 seed on the last day of the regular season.
Butler will have to play Cleveland State or someone else on their side of the bracket just to get to the conference championship, but make no mistake, they’ve got someone that they’re looking forward to playing. Fast forward to the 4:35 mark.
Jimmy Lemke 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.
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 NorrisCole, 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 Land. Vaughn Duggins and N’GaiEvans, 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 McCallumJr. 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) JohnGac, 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 JimmyCollins was still coach. The season was further doomed for every month Collins remained, staying long enough to make things especially tough on incoming coach HowardMoore. 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:
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
Fans are still getting used to Butler being out of the top spot, but the past couple weeks have led the Bulldogs to losses at WrightState and (most recently) Valparaiso, and the biggest shot to the stomach may have been an overtime loss at Hinkle against Milwaukee that completed a very impressive sweep by the Panthers. The Crusaders and Cleveland State Vikings kept on trucking, putting distance between themselves and the rest of the Horizon League by going undefeated in the last week. CSU had an easy week, going on the road in Chicago and getting two victories. Valparaiso, on the other hand, got everything Butler could give them and won in front of a packed house at the ARC before they were taken down by the Vikings Thursday night.
1. Cleveland State (21-3, 10-2) – Since their difficult trip in Indiana, the Vikings have gone 6-0 and have been generally strong in doing so, even though their three road wins came at the dregs of the Horizon League. A victory at home against Valparaiso put them in the driver’s seat for the time being. Any H-League fans fancy spending early March in Cleveland?
2. Valparaiso (16-7, 8-3) – The Crusaders have definitely had a more difficult schedule than the Vikings since their victory on January 9, but a hiccup at home against Green Bay separates them for now. Thursday’s game was a huge letdown, and now the Crusaders are looking up; luckily they still have the inside track on the two seed and its double-bye.
3. Wright State (15-9, 8-4) – The Raiders only had losses to the top two teams before dropping a decision at Milwaukee, adding on to the impressive streak of losing at the Panthers (the last time Wright State won at Milwaukee was in 1997). The Raiders have, along with Detroit, the most difficult schedule remaining. A victory at the ARC next Saturday is essential for the Raiders to have a decent shot at overtaking Valpo.
4. Milwaukee (12-11, 7-5) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Panthers finally subsided with Milwaukee taking games at Butler and at home against Detroit and Wright State. The last (and only) time the Panthers won or lost three games in a row was between November 14th through the 20th. Beat Green Bay on Saturday, and they keep the pace with the top. Lose, and it’s back to the pack.
5. Butler (14-9, 6-5) – Since blowing out Cleveland State, the Dawgs and Vikings have gone two separate directions. Butler has gone 3-4 since then, dropping a game at home against Milwaukee to complete the sweep and road games at Wright State, Valpo and Youngstown State (seriously). With five conference losses, they have a very outside shot at the all-important two seed, but it is essential that they defeat Cleveland State and Wright State to keep their hopes alive.
6. Green Bay (12-11, 6-5) – The Phoenix answered a loss at Detroit with an emphatic victory at Green Bay on Sunday. Guard Rahmon Fletcher has scored in double figures in eight straight games, including a 24-point performance against the Titans. Saturday’s game at Milwaukee is the only game of the week for the Phoenix, and is a huge rivalry for two teams knotted at five losses in the conference.
7. Detroit (12-12, 6-6) – Ray McCallum Sr.’s Titans have been on a downward spiral, going 2-5 over their last seven with victories over UIC and Youngstown State. The depth of the Titans has been an issue this season, and an extremely talented starting five has had to play a ton. When they get in foul trouble, McCallum is forced to play guys like Evan Bruinsma in important situations, as he did down the stretch Friday against Milwaukee.
8. Loyola (13-10, 4-8) – Luckily for the Ramblers, they have separated themselves from the Flames and Penguins. Unfortunately, that still leaves them at 4-8m looking up at the pack in terms of a home game in the conference tournament. With three more losses than the sixth-place team, the Ramblers have all but lost an opportunity to host a Horizon League tournament game. They can be dangerous in the tourney with GeoffMcCammon, so look for him to get some rest once their seed is pretty much set.
9. Youngstown State (8-14, 2-10) – Wow, what a victory for Youngstown State over Butler on Thursday night. This game will go down as one of the 2-3 best victories in program history, or at least for the decade it has been in the Horizon League. But you see, that’s the problem. The victory over the Bulldogs is no easy feat, but when the team tied for fifth place in the conference is one of your best victories of the decade, you’ve had a pretty awful decade. The time is ripe for the Penguins to move on from Jerry Slocum and truly invest in their program. Don’t be surprised if the Horizon League has meetings to consider contraction of Youngstown State if Slocum is still the coach in April, or the replacement is not paid at a comparable level of other conference schools.
10. UIC (6-17, 1-10) – This was a lost season once April 2010 passed and Jimmy Collins was still the head coach. The fact that it took until August to install a replacement for Collins, who retired over the summer, made the 2010-11 season pointless from a competitive standpoint. Poor Paul Carter shouldn’t have applied to play immediately and instead should have sat out the season as a regular transfer. Now, the team looks to be out of luck in the future as well, with Carter, Robo Kreps, DipanjotSingh, Brad Birton, and potentially Zavion Neely (due to academic issues) on their way out. Of course, a blank slate to go along with a full season of recruiting may be just what Howard Moore needs.
A Look Ahead
The two teams off on Thursday, Milwaukee and Green Bay, square off in a huge rivalry game at the U.S. Cellular Arena on Saturday afternoon. The winner is still in the mix for a potential bye (albeit barely), but the loser will be fending off Detroit to hold onto the #6 spot and a conference home game. Following the loss at YSU, Butler is gasping for air. The worst time for this to happen is now, as they are headed into Valhalla to take on the Vikings of Cleveland State. CSU is fresh off a decisive victory at Valparaiso and split the season series. It would be a huge step for the Vikings if they could bury Butler with a sixth loss in conference. Not exactly the 1-2 matchup that ESPN was hoping for, but Butler can still make the conference race very interesting by sweeping the league leaders.
2.5.2011 – Green Bay at Milwaukee, 3 p.m. ESPNU
2.5.2011 – Butler at Cleveland State, noon ESPN or ESPN2
2.5.2011 – Loyola at Detroit, 2 p.m. HLN
2.7.2011 – Cleveland State at Detroit, 7 p.m. HLN
Expanding on Contraction
In the power rankings, I hinted that the Horizon League may want to consider contraction should Youngstown State move forward with Jerry Slocum as their head coach or replace him with a similarly shortchanged coaching staff. Besides Valparaiso, the Penguins are the only program that has been added since the 1994-95 season, and unlike Valpo, Youngstown has never been truly competitive in the conference. In their tenth season in the conference, YSU has never been better than fifth place, and that was in 2006-07. They are 2-9 in the Horizon League Tournament, with their best victory a four-pointer over #6 Green Bay in the 2002-03 tourney. Their coaching salaries are remarkably poor, only matched by the Phoenix.
But there are two things that separate Green Bay from Youngstown. For one, the Phoenix have been successful in the past ten years (and wildly successful during the nineties), scoring two #2 seeds in the past decade. The Penguins have never been anything more than marginal; how can the conference trump up a program who hangs its hat on a 14-7, 7-9 season as their best in a decade? The other thing that separates the similarly penny-pinching programs at Green Bay and Youngstown State? At UWGB, the Green Bay Phoenix are the show. Their nationally-ranked women’s basketball program is great, but men’s basketball, like it is at eight other schools in the conference, is the meal ticket. At YSU, football will always trump men’s basketball. Whenever money is being allocated at the Ohio school, it goes directly into the football program. Slocum is a good coach with over 600 victories, but never had a chance at Youngstown State because of the serious lack of resources, a very poor campus neighborhood and city at large.
At the very least, the conference members should consider setting certain restrictions to force Youngstown State to bring their program up with the rest of the League. However, they’ve had ten years and have played the anchor, dragging down everyone’s RPI in almost every season. What would the conference look like this year if YSU were in the Summit or NEC, two conferences that may be better fits for them? UIC would be the anchor, but even their RPI (#277 as of today) would be higher because they’d be lifted from the two games (and one loss) to the Penguins.
Were it my call, I would cut Youngstown State; is it heartless? Probably. Shouldn’t I give them time to pick themselves up? No, because they’ve had a decade to do so and haven’t shown any interest in becoming a better program. I don’t see any Slocum replacement changing that unless he and his staff are compensated more to the tune of other conference schools and their recruiting budget is picked up.
It’s not Youngstown State’s fault. They are married to football, as they should be – the program is the lifeblood of the city. But the lack of money for other sports points to the fact that the Penguins should be playing in a different conference; perhaps it’s a move to the Summit League, where they used to play, or maybe it’s the NEC. In either case, they’d be matching up with similar budgets and have a much better opportunity to win some games.
As for the Horizon League, I wouldn’t go forward with extending an invitation to anyone just yet, but Saint Louis and/or Oakland should, at the very least, be approached. SLU would likely turn the Horizon League down, as their situation in the A-10 isn’t bad enough travel-wise to make the move to the far better geographical fit of the H-League (or MVC for that matter). Oakland, on the other hand, would be a great fit, evening out the travel partner situation (dropping one Ohio school and adding one in Michigan makes it two from each state: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan).
In any case, I’m just spitballing, but the fact remains it’s plainly clear that the Horizon League and Youngstown State simply aren’t meant for each other.
Video of the Week: By now, you’ve probably seen Green Bay scrub Eric Valentin setting the Guinness record for half court shots in one minute. If you haven’t, indulge your eyes for a moment:
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
After a couple months of beating good teams but never getting over the hump and beating a great team, the Horizon League finally got that signature Top-15 program win. The only surprising part was that it wasn’t Cleveland State at West Virginia, with the Vikings rolling into town and playing respectably before bowing out in the final five minutes. Instead, the victory came from the hands of the UIC Flames against Illinois, who was stunned in a “home” game at the United Center (not the UIC Pavilion, their normal home). Big East cellar-dweller DePaul ripped the hearts out of Milwaukee and Loyola, and Butler absolutely went off on Stanford.
Our Tip of the Cap goes to freshman Ray McCallum Jr. of Detroit, who won the battle of the Michigan coaches’ kids against Trey Zeigler and Central Michigan. The Titans point guard had 23 points and 11 rebounds, marking the first double-double of his career.
Cleveland State (12-1, 2-0) – Sooner or later, Gary Waters‘ crew had to lose a game. The good news is a loss in Morgantown does nothing to hurt the Vikings’ NCAA Tournament resume, even though a victory would have practically ensured a ticket to the Big Dance. South Florida visits on Wednesday before the Vikings take a break for the holiday.
Butler (6-4, 1-0) – With losses to Xavier and Evansville and a fairly ho-hum record thus far, the Bulldogs needed a statement. Mission accomplished. The Dawgs blasted Stanford to get themselves set for the Diamond Head Classic this week, a huge deal for the Horizon League as it jockeys for RPI position.
Valparaiso (8-4, 2-0) – The Crusaders are on a winning track heading into Tuesday night’s big matchup at Oakland. Homer Drew‘s team dispatched IPFW and Eastern Michigan, the latter securing a Horizon League season victory over the MAC.
Loyola (8-4, 0-2) – Jim Whitesell had a difficult time last week, dropping a game at intra-city rival DePaul. After the near-win against Kansas State, the loss in town really took the wind out of the Ramblers’ sails. The Ramblers wrap up the non-conference season against Texas Pan-American, a team they obliterated early in the season at home.
Detroit (7-5, 1-0) – The Titans destroyed Central Michigan in a rare nationally-televised game. The McCallum father-son team celebrated a victory against the Zeigler father-son team in a long-awaited battle, and play at Bradley on Wednesday, a difficult place for anyone to win.
Wright State (7-5, 0-1) – Billy Donlon‘s Raiders are on their biggest roll of the year, winning four in a row heading into a semester-ending battle at Charlotte, a dangerous A-10 team that is coming off an upset of Tennessee. Should they win in North Carolina, the Raiders will ride a five-game winning streak into the conference season.
UIC (5-7, 0-1) – Maybe beating a Big Ten team will get the Flames on a roll. Oregon State of the Pac-10 welcomes UIC out west on Wednesday, the return game of a Flames win last season. If Howard Moore‘s team can take out the Beavers and win against Youngstown State on the 30th, they’ll present a formidable opponent for Cleveland State on New Years’ Day.
Milwaukee (5-7, 1-1) – It seems that the top five of the conference have separated themselves from the bottom five, and while Wright State may be making a move up the ladder, the Panthers definitely seem to be on a downturn. A close victory over lowly Bowling Green did nothing to boost confidence among the fan base following another bad loss Tuesday at DePaul. The Panthers have a lengthy break before playing at Wright State to open the H-League season.
Green Bay (5-7, 1-1) – The Phoenix escaped with a 72-68 victory over provisional D-I North Dakota on Monday. Freshmen Daniel Turner (5 RPG) and Alec Brown (5 RPG) are the only Green Bay players of any consequence on the boards, and while they’ve never been a big-time rebounding team, the Phoenix are shooting worse than most programs. They’re missing Troy Cotton more than they think.
Youngstown State (5-5, 0-2) – Jerry Slocum‘s team is ranking at or near the bottom in many statistical categories in the conference. The Penguins are 0-2, with both losses in conference coming to sub-.500 teams. Their lone win in December came in a victory over Malone. The good feelings of the early season are long gone, replaced by the all-too-familiar poor team. All signs point toward another awful conference season for the Penguins.
A Look Ahead
Except for a couple games in January and the Bracket Buster event (only UIC and Butler aren’t participating), the Horizon League wraps up its non-league slate this week. Valparaiso’s game at Oakland is a very important matchup for the conference and would look good following Oakland’s victory over Tennessee. Cleveland State can solidify its at-large resume by beating up on Big East opponent USF at home, while perhaps the biggest opportunity this week belongs to Butler. Beat Utah, most likely Florida State and hopefully Baylor, and the Dawgs can go a long way to filling out its dance card for March. This is important because it has now been twelve years since the Horizon League has sent three teams to the Big Dance. With CSU all but locking up a spot and Butler on the verge of a huge opportunity in Hawaii, the Horizon League Tournament opens up the possibility of a third team stealing the automatic bid and the Horizon League sending three teams to the Big Dance. It should make sense for the selection committee, as the conference has a very good record in the NCAA Tournament even without last year’s runner-up finish for Butler. They’ll be playing for the NIT, however, if they flop this weekend at the Diamond Head Classic.
12/21 – Valparaiso at Oakland, 7:30 p.m.
12/21 – South Florida at Cleveland State, 7 p.m. (HLN)
12/22 – Detroit at Bradley, 8 p.m.
12/23-25 – Butler in the Diamond Head Classic. (ESPNU)
Youtube Video of the Week
Oh no…the bad side of UIC beating Illinois is we all must stomach this video:
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
How They Fared: It was a week that had mixed results for the Horizon League. The torch-bearer for the conference, Butler, won a difficult MAAC road game by double-digits against Siena before dropping an overtime decision in Hinkle Fieldhouse against state foe Evansville. Detroit picked up three solid victories over Albany, Bowling Green and Niagara after dropping an early-week decision at Missisippi State. Milwaukee‘s upset bid over Marquette just failed at the end, with a missed front end of a one-and-one giving Marquette just enough breathing room to win in the dangerous U.S. Cellular Arena. Wright State showed signs of life by defeating a good Summit League program in Oakland, weathering the storm of 25 points and seven rebounds from Keith Benson. They then lost two games they were expected to lose against Richmond and Southern Illinois in Chicago.
Dropped Out: After the gut-wrenching loss to Evansville, Butler dropped out of the rankings for the first time since January. The Horizon League is no longer represented in the Top 25 despite getting off to an excellent 42-21 record as a conference,its best in years.
Owning The Paint: Detroit’s 3-1 record largely comes from the play of Eli Holman, who averaged 14 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2 blocks over the four games. Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill recorded a double-double in the loss to Western Michigan and 18 points and eight rebounds against Marquette on Saturday.
Tip Of The Cap: Youngstown State’sVytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.
Cleveland State (8-0) – The Vikings’ perfect early season continued with decisive double-digit victories over Akron and St. Bonaventure. In a time when Butler seems to be fallible, Gary Waters’ team hasn’t shown a chink in the armor yet. Norris Cole paces the conference with 20.4 points per game.
Butler (3-2) – Brad Stevens is still fumbling around with his lineup, with eight different players getting starts for the Bulldogs. Saturday’s loss to Evansville doesn’t defuse the question surrounding the search for Gordon Hayward, but it’s not every day you have to replace an NBA lottery pick. A rematch of last year’s final with Duke awaits this weekend.
Detroit (4-3) – The Titans were close to taking down the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, and the rest of the week they took care of business. Eli Holman is playing at his best right now, which is very important as the Titans get ready for Wright State on Saturday.
Loyola (7-0) – It can no longer be ignored: Loyola is just as perfect as Cleveland State. Why do the Ramblers not get as much love here? Their one-point victory at WCC doormat San Francisco would be their best victory of the year if they didn’t whoop Western Michigan on the road.
Valparaiso (4-2) – The Crusaders were mostly predictable this week, losing a close one at MAC champ Ohio before beating Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Valpo has a great road trip to open conference season; their fans only have 30 miles or so to Chicago.
Youngstown State (4-1) – They may be playing nobody now, but if they weren’t robbed at Akron, they’d be undefeated heading into Milwaukee on Thursday. The Penguins were awful in conference play in 2009-10, let’s see if Jerry Slocum‘s new roster is up to the challenge.
Milwaukee (3-4) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde Panthers continued their ways, but it ended the week 0-2. A dumb loss before Thanksgiving to Western Michigan was mirrored by a spirited and winning-worthy performance in a three-point loss to Marquette, the toughest Horizon League opponent all week.
Wright State (3-3) – The Raiders got the nod over UIC and Green Bay by posting a great victory over Oakland, a team many think will win the Summit. N’Gai Evans has made a big difference since returning to the lineup, and the Raiders need him with huge games at Cincinnati and Detroit looming this week.
UIC (3-3) – Howard Moore‘s UIC Flames suffered a loss to Ernie Zeigler’s Central Michigan Chippewas the night before Thanksgiving. They escaped an awful Toledo team on Sunday to complete the season sweep of Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets.
Green Bay (3-3) – Rahmon Fletcher and the Phoenix were lucky to escape Saturday with a home victory over North Dakota State, a team that has fallen since their tourney appearance in 2009. A Monday loss to IUPUI, whose only other win came against IU-Northwest, means that Green Bay has work to do.
A Look Ahead
Unlike most conferences that start play in January or late December, the Horizon League has “Opening Weekend,” the first set of games (tell me the conference shouldn’t market that). The Wisconsin schools open up at home against Ohio, while the Indiana schools travel to Chicago, although Butler will play at UIC later in the season (they’ve got a big non-conference game Saturday night). Detroit and Wright State’s “Rivalry” game will take place on Saturday. (all times eastern)
12/1 – Butler at Loyola, 8 p.m. Horizon League Network
12/1 – Detroit vs. Akron, 7 p.m. HLN
12/1 – Wright State at Cincinnati, No TV
12/2 – Youngstown State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
12/2 – Cleveland State at Green Bay, 8 p.m. HLN
12/2 – Valparaiso at UIC, 8 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Cleveland State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Wright State at Detroit, noon HLN
12/4 – Youngstown State at Green Bay, 2 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Valparaiso at Loyola, 4 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Butler vs. Duke at IZOD Center, 3:30 p.m. ESPN