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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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Butler (15-3)
  2. Cleveland State (12-6)
  3. Detroit (12-6)
  4. Milwaukee (11-7)
  5. Valparaiso (9-9)
  6. Wright State (9-9)
  7. Green Bay (8-10)
  8. UIC (7-11)
  9. Loyola (5-13)
  10. Youngstown State (2-16)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Shelvin Mack, Butler
  • G: Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • F: Cory Johnson, Valparaiso
  • F: Matt Howard, Butler
  • C: Eli Holman, Detroit

6th Man

G: Brandon Wood, Valparaiso

Impact Newcomer

Paul Carter (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 Matt Howard, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.

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Morning Five: 09.15.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 15th, 2010

  1. If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin‘ is a quote that’s tossed around a lot in the NCAA, but it may have come to an offseason head yesterday as no fewer than three separate reports came out in the world of college basketball that has us wondering… is anybody clean anymore?  Anybody at all?  Or has the sport been so dirty for so long that now that the NCAA actually has an investigative arm with some sharp teeth and halogen flashlight, we’re finally seeing all the roaches scurrying around underneath the mat?
  2. The biggest news was that another allegation came to light with respect to Tennesssee’s Bruce Pearl, merely four days after he begged forgiveness in front of the world for misleading NCAA investigators in their investigation into his recruiting practices.  CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday that Pearl initially told the NCAA that he never hosted recruits Josh Selby (currently at Kansas) and Aaron Craft (currently at Ohio State) at his home during their junior-year visits to Knoxville, but apparently the NCAA had in its possession a rather probative piece of evidence — a photo of Craft standing with Pearl in the coach’s living room.  If that’s not a smoking firearm from hypocrisyville, we’re not sure what is.  Pearl owned up to it in a second interview with investigators, but if this is the misleading piece of information that he was referring to last week, but we openly wonder why he wouldn’t have been more forthright about it then.  The final question on everyone’s minds, though — how did Jimmy Collins sneak inside the Pearl household sight unseen with a digital camera?
  3. Moving down a state to Alabama, another report that came out on Tuesday from the Birmingham News revealed that there may have been tomfoolery going on with respect to former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe’s high school transcript.  We already know that the NYT’s Pete Thamel unearthed suspicious circumstances back in May in Bledsoe’s academic career, but yesterday’s news suggests that the suspicious circumstances may have risen to the level of grade-fixing so that Bledsoe would be eligible to play college ball.  If the NCAA finds that Bledsoe was never eligible and Kentucky is held to the same standard of strict liability that it held Memphis to in the Derrick Rose scandal, then UK’s 35 wins in 2009-10 could be completely erased from the record books.  Thamel anonymously spoke to three compliance officers in light of this latest information, and all three thought that was a realistic possibility.
  4. And next, we move out west to Oregon, where new head coach Dana Altman may have walked into a situation in Eugene quite a bit more complicated than he bargained for.  According to OregonLive.com, recently-departed center Michael Dunigan and at least four other former players may have been involved in receiving improper benefits over the last two seasons at the school.  This is especially hilarious considering just how bad the Ducks have been during that period, but we’re sure that the NCAA is already involved and has the 2-0 and rather dominant-looking football program feeling a little nervous.
  5. Whew.  What a Tuesday.  Well, we may disagree with incoming NCAA president Mark Emmert in other ways, but at least he’s already talking tough about levying harsh penalties on cheaters.  And finally, we’re actually talking about big-time schools in big-time conferences with slaughterhouses full of cash cows at their disposal.  The game is only at its greatest when the playing field is level, and there’s no way to approximate that when the moneyed schools can do whatever they want with reckless abandon.  This could be Emmert’s greatest accomplishment if he has the will and buy-in to do so.
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Morning Five: 09.13.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 13th, 2010

  1. We can’t prove it statistically, but anecdotally it seems like every year at the start of the fall semester players just can’t help themselves from getting into all kinds of trouble.  Wake Forest’s Tony Woods is the latest knucklehead, as the 6’11, 250-lb. center was arrested late last week on charges of assault inflicting serious injury, assault on a female and assault with a minor present (his 1-year old child).  According to the official statement from his girlfriend/victim, he allegedly pushed and kicked her on Labor Day, resulting in a fractured spine and a probable loss of his freedom if these claims are substantiated.  Woods was once a highly-regarded (top 25) recruit of whom great things were expected, but he’s been relatively slow on the uptake, averaging only 5/3 in thirteen minutes per game last (sophomore) season.  If these allegations are true, he’s slow in more ways than one, and we hope he doesn’t see a junior or senior campaign at Wake or anywhere else.
  2. St. Mary’s is set to add a key transfer piece to its backcourt, as sources tell us that SMU transfer Paul McCoy is enrolled and already taking classes at the tiny school in Moraga, California.  The 5’11 guard from Portland was an all-CUSA freshman two seasons ago, averaging 13/4/3 APG as a full-time starter, but tore his ACL in February last season and missed the remainder of his sophomore year.  McCoy will be eligible to play in 2011-12, conveniently exactly when SMC will need a seasoned point guard to take over for the departing starter, Mickey McConnell.
  3. According to Commissioner Larry Scott, the Pac-10 does not expect Colorado to join Utah in its new twelve-team configuration for the 2011-12 academic year due to financial considerations.  He gave the possibility a less than 50/50 chance, but said that if the league has eleven teams next year, they will retain the name Pac-10 until the twelfth team, CU, shows up in 2012-13.  One other interesting note from this article: much like the Big Ten, the league does not anticipate a split into two divisions in sports other than football.
  4. As we wrote about on Friday night when the news hit, Tennessee announced self-imposed sanctions on its basketball program, including specific restrictions on Bruce Pearl and his top assistants leaving campus to recruit and sizable givebacks (~$2M) from their salaries.  The issue, of course, wasn’t as much the illegality of numerous phone calls to recruits as much as the fact that Pearl  lied to NCAA investigators about something during the investigation.  As Michael Rosenberg discusses in his article, that’s a serious transgression that could have gotten many less successful coaches fired.  Pearl appears that he will survive, and two players in his 2011 recruiting class — Chris Jones and Kevin Ware — have already re-affirmed their commitments. This is understandable given they’re already sold on the program; the concern for UT fans will be what impact having Pearl out-of-sight/out-of-mind on the recruiting trail during the next year might bring.  And then there’s the question of whether these sanctions could satisfy the NCAA — according to Gary Parrish, it could actually get worse.
  5. For what it’s worth, at least one head coach (and undoubtedly many others) has no sympathy for Pearl’s current plight, especially given that he dropped dime on Illinois twenty years ago over the recruitment of hotshot high schooler Deon Thomas.  In the late 1980s, recently retired Illinois-Chicago head coach Jimmy Collins was an assistant for Lou Henson’s Illini, and it was he who bore the brunt of Pearl’s allegations with the NCAA.  Even though Collins was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, he remained stigmatized by the incident, and he felt that Pearl’s holier-than-thou attitude was irresponsible and baseless.  We’re certain that Collins watched Pearl’s mea culpa (below) with a certain amount of satisfaction.

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=e71e3e3c-fce5-40e8-985a-ea8c8be4ec01" target="_new" title="">Fire alarm doesn&#8217;t faze Pearl</a>

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Morning Five: 07.21.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 21st, 2010

  1. The biggest news in the world of college athletics came out of South Central today as USC announced that its longtime athletic director Mike Garrett will step down in the wake of probation for both the football and men’s basketball programs on his watch.  Pat Haden, another former USC quarterback, will take over for Garrett in that capacity.  New USC president Max Nikias, still weeks away from formally taking over, also decreed that the school will remove all athletic references (photos, murals and the like) to Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo prior to the arrival of incoming students next month.  They’re even sending Bush’s Heisman Trophy back!  Former head coach Tim Floyd, currently whiling his time away in El Paso, had little to say about the matter.
  2. Notre Dame’s Mike Brey to his irresponsible players Tim Abromaitis and Eric Atkins:  “A lot of sweating will be involved.”  Here’s hoping that they have to run a mile for every beer imbibed.  Y’know, because of the extra calories.
  3. Some coaching news from yesterday.  UIC’s Jimmy Collins announced his retirement effective at the end of August after fourteen seasons at the school — including three NCAA Tournament appearances and six other winning campaigns.  As Goodman reports, the timing of this is odd given that it’s currently the height of recruiting season, but Collins has had medical issues in the past.  We hope he’s ok.
  4. One piece of player news that slipped past us over the weekend — Gonzaga (ok, RTC) fan favorite Bol Kong is leaving Spokane for personal reasons.  Kong averaged 4.5 PPG in his only season for the Zags, but showed promise with a solid three-point stroke (43%) and a nose for the ball.  We hope to see him re-surface somewhere soon.
  5. Jeff Goodman and Matt Norlander did a cool thing to get ready for this weekend’s recruiting extravaganza in Vegas.  They polled the top recruits to see whom they would choose as the best in several categories, and the results were interesting.  Austin Rivers was named the top player, Michael Gilchrist the best defender and hardest worker, Brad Beal the best shooter, Marquis Teague the best shooter, and Anthony Davis the best rebounder.  Oh, and best trash-talker: Quincy Miller (no surprise if you read his tweets).  It should be a fun weekend sorting through all of these players out in the desert.
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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2009

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

  1. Butler (#13/13)        9-0    18-1
  2. Green Bay            8-2    16-6
  3. Milwaukee            8-3    13-8
  4. Wright State            7-3    13-8
  5. Cleveland State        5-5    14-8
  6. Loyola                4-6    12-10
  7. UIC                3-7    10-10
  8. Youngstown State        3-7    6-14
  9. Valparaiso            3-7    6-15
  10. Detroit                0-10    5-15

I’ve used up the majority of this space over the last several weeks explaining why and/or how the Horizon League would be a two-bid league in the NCAA Tournament this year.  Actually, it was more like “explaining why” early in the season because the hopes were so high, then “explaining how” as of late, as the chances became slimmer and slimmer.  That said, let me make something very clear…

The Horizon League will ONLY send 2 teams to the NCAA Tournament if Butler stumbles in the Horizon League Tournament.  Period.

I’m really, really disappointed about this.  The fact that the HL will likely be a one-bid league once again this season isn’t a knock on the overall level of basketball.  It’s simply evidence that, right now, there’s really only one elite team/program in the Horizon League.  That program, of course, is Butler.  Having seen nearly every team play in person (and all of them via TV or Internet), I have a lot of confidence in saying that there truly isn’t much difference between team #2 and team #10.  There may be a wide margin in the wins and losses, but talent-wise and coaching-wise, the gap is much tighter.  To me, the differences between teams 2-thru-5 and teams 6-thru-10 are things like experience, lack of injuries, or mental toughness.  Some teams have better results in these areas, and because of that they’ve risen slightly higher in the league standings.  It’s not because of a disparity in talent.  The only disparity in talent I see is at Butler.  Along with doing the little things right, they have the most talent, and it shows.

No need to go on, and on, about teams that are irrelevant right now, unless I feel like poking a little fun (which I will).  There have been some impressive performances since the last time we checked in, which has prompted a lot of chatter in Horizon League circles about who this season’s “HL Player of the Year” will be, “All-HL 1st Team,” etc.  We’ll dive into that, among other things, right about…now.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2008

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.

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