Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
This is a very light night of hoops but you may want to check out two games between bottom-tier Big East teams and a pair of Midwestern mid-majors.
St. John’s @ Detroit – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (**)
Godsgift Achiuwa and Friends Have Faced a Tough Early Schedule
St. John’s has been in an early-season slide, having lost four of its last five games. The Red Storm play only seven men and the tired legs are already starting to catch up. St. John’s is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country at 26.2% and averages only 35 rebounds per game. This will likely be an up-tempo game because the Red Storm has athletes that like to run and Detroit loves to maximize the number of possessions in a game. One thing St. John’s does very well is to keep opponents off the foul line and it will have to do just that against a Titans team that shoots 78.4% from the charity stripe. Moe Harkless and God’s Gift Achiuwa played well at Kentucky last week and more progress against a severely depleted Detroit front court is something the Johnnies should count on tonight.
As mentioned, Detroit’s roster has been decimated. Head coach Ray McCallum, Sr., has only eight scholarship players available after Eli Holman’s legal troubles, Nick Minnerath’s torn ACL and a host of other issues including academics and other personnel departures. Chase Simon and Ray McCallum, Jr.,have to lead the Titans and score points in transition against the turnover-prone Nurideen Lindsey (3.9 turnovers per game) and company. Unfortunately for Detroit, Simon and McCallum are just as prone to giveaways.
This game will be a war of attrition with foul trouble and fatigue playing a major role. St. John’s is the better team but not by much. With Detroit playing at home against a Big East team while honoring former head coach Dick Vitale with a special ceremony, there will be some buzz in the arena. We have no idea who will win this one and the Vegas line agrees, calling this game a pick’em.
Milwaukee @ DePaul – 9:00 PM EST on SNY, Sports 32, ESPN3.com (**)
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.
One of the lessons that most people learn fairly early in life is that sometimes it is just better to take your punishment rather than trying to run from it. It appears that Kaylon Williams, the starting point guard at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has not learned that yet (at least not as of this morning). Williams, a transfer from Evansville, who averaged 8.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 5.4 APG (1st in the conference) in his first season in Milwaukee while leading the Panthers to a three-way split of the Horizon League regular season title and a runner-up appearance in the conference tournament to Butler, was arrested on a drunken driving charge at 1:40 AM in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Unfortunately, the UWM administration wishes it was that simple.
Lesson: You can't run from the law
After initially being stopped for not having a front license plate, Williams reportedly drove off swerving in and out of the grass before getting out of the car, which was not put in park, and then tried to run away. Williams was initially able to lose the police, but a K-9 unit dog was able to find Williams and tackle him. Williams, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.228 (nearly three times the legal limit in Iowa), was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, attempting to elude and interfere with official acts (running from the cops), driving without a valid driver’s license, violating his driver’s permit regulations, and driving without insurance. After he was finally apprehended, Williams was taken to a county jail (no word on what the bail situation is). While Williams has not released a statement, his coach, Rob Jeter, has. In a statement from UWM, Jeter said, “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.”
We have seen enough athletes get in trouble with the law to know that this is the standard response from school officials (you could probably find the exact wording in several other recent press releases), but you have to assume that Jeter and the school’s administration will come down pretty hard on Williams. Outside of the obvious embarrassment of the DUI arrest, the way that Williams handled it will make him and the program a joke around basketball circles for at least the next few weeks. Jeter probably will not throw Williams off the team, but at the very least Williams should be looking at a very long suspension along with whatever community service and jail time he has coming.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)
Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win
The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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.
With the non-conference portion of many schedules coming to an end, it is time for schools that comprise some of the smaller Other 26 conferences to retreat to their small gyms and compete against teams on their own level. In a sense, for many of these smaller conference teams, the non-conference schedule is a mere preamble for league play. The leagues I am referring to—NEC, America East, MEAC, Patriot, etc.—are all destined for just one bid to the NCAA Tournament. In most years, there are usually about a dozen conferences that receive multiple bids, thus leaving 20 conferences with just the auto.
Being a keen fan, follower, and observer of Patriot League basketball, I have come to the unfortunate realization that this league—like many others—is destined for one bid to the Dance every year. What irks me more than anything, however, is when I hear the phrase: “Three games in March.” This expression may vary depending upon the league, but it is the one that is used when describing the Patriot League tournament. Because the PL is comprised of eight teams, in order to win the championship and attain the automatic bid a team must win those “three games in March.”
I do not necessarily disagree with this expression—it is the reality of the Patriot League and many other leagues alike—but it is very bothersome when this becomes a mentality for the fanbases of the teams. It becomes acceptable to lose a non-conference game or a regular season game within the league because these games “don’t matter.” Of course, this is not a universal belief, but it is something I have observed within Patriot League fan circles. I will always recall Herman Edwards’ press conference as the head coach of the New York Jets when he repeatedly said in a stern voice: “You play, to win, the GAME!” It is Herm’s mentality, not the “three games in March” business, that I am a fan of.
Happy New Year everyone! TWTW hopes that you all had a great and safe NYE and then had a better time recovering on your couch over the following couple of days with some college hoops on the flat screen. And TWTW won’t judge if your condition forced you to watch said games on mute — that’s just a casualty of the season.
What We Learned
Harrellson Is Most Valuable As a Glass Cleaner, But Has a Solid Stroke As Well
It looks like Kentucky is headed toward another 14-2 type run through the SEC this season, and a perfect 16-0 record in conference play isn’t out of the question. That statement isn’t as much based off of how the Wildcats are playing (though TWTW was very impressed with how UK dismantled Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on New Year’s Eve) but it’s a reflection of just how putrid the rest of the conference seems at this point. The Wildcats are the only SEC team ranked in the AP Top 25. Tennessee’s reputation has dropped faster than Goldman Sachs’, going from a chic dark horse Final Four pick to a team on the bubble. Losses to Oakland, Charlotte and College of Charleston coupled with unimpressive wins over Belmont and Tennessee-Martin will do that to you. Now the Vols face Memphis in their last game before Bruce Pearl’s eight-game suspension. Cross Tennessee off your list of possible teams that could challenge Kentucky. That leaves us with Florida and Vanderbilt as Kentucky’s top competition. TWTW is not a fan of Florida, who recently lost to Jacksonville, so if we were to circle a possible first conference loss for Kentucky we’d have to choose Feb. 12 at Vanderbilt. That game is the last of a three-game stretch in which the Wildcats travel to Florida and host Tennessee. Vandy took Missouri down to the wire in an overtime loss on Dec. 4 and the Commodores beat North Carolina during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Don’t be shocked if Vanderbilt hands Kentucky its first conference loss that night.
The Lede. There were a good number of games around the college basketball landscape this evening, but few held any real interest. There was a Big East matchup in Madison Square Garden, though, that was more than interesting; in fact, it was arguably more compelling than the other 49 games tonight combined.
All of NYC is Jumping With Hardy (AP)
Your Watercooler Moment. We’ll have more on this topic later this morning, but tonight’s watercooler moment came courtesy of Justin Brownlee’s putback of Dwight Hardy’s missed layup attempt that gave St. John’s the final lead over Georgetown in a game that they typically would have lost in recent years. Much will be made of the shifting zones that the Johnnies employed to stifle the long-range threats of the Hoya guards (4-17), but the overall inspiration and confidence that Steve Lavin has enabled in this group of (mostly) seniors to make a run at the NCAA Tournament in their final season is remarkable. Already at 3-0 in Big East play with three tough games under their belt, SJU has an opportunity to all but seal a postseason berth with a .500 record through the rest of January. Their upcoming schedule is a bear, but with their current momentum and some newfound confidence, we’re starting to believe in those cats from Queens. Can we just make the Big East Tournament the East Region and let the other regions handle the rest?
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
The Binary Triple-Double. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a perfect triple-double of 10/10/10, but that’s what Milwaukee guard Kaylon Williams gave us tonight in the Panthers’ blowout win over Butler. Williams is a guy that seems to do everything well, but nothing great. His season averages in this, his transfer sophomore year, are 8/5/4 APG, but he’s had a handful of double-figure assist games in his career and has come close in rebounds a few times. Kudos to the young fella on a big night for his school.
Maybe Florida Should Join the A-10. Two of the Gators’ four best wins of the season have come in the last week against Atlantic 10 teams, with Florida defeating Rhode Island at home tonight and Xavier in Cincinnati last week. The key to tonight’s blowout win over URI is that the multifaceted Chandler Parsons finally got his offensive game back on track, going for 18/12/5 assts for his first double-figure scoring performance in a month. With so many poor shooters on this team, the Gators must have the usually-efficient Parsons higher than fourth on the team in scoring average (9.9 PPG) for Billy Donovan’s team to come anywhere near its SEC and national goals this season.
Return of the Beard. Jacob Pullen returned from his three-game suspension tonight and put in a business-like 24/5 assts on 9-11 shooting in an easy win over Savannah State. Most everyone has written off Kansas State so far this year as an overrated fraud, but there’s a lot of season left and perhaps a re-focused Pullen coming out of the time off is exactly the medicine that Frank Martin’s team needed. His teammate Curtis Kelly will not be back for another couple of weeks.
… and Misses.
Dear NCAA: Never Trust Florida State. And this is why — Auburn 65, FSU 60. Yes, the same Auburn team who has found a way to beat only a single team higher than #300 in KenPom’s ratings (Middle Tennessee at #210), picked apart the Seminoles tonight for without question one of the most shocking scores of the season. FSU might be the second or third best team on paper in the ACC, and they couldn’t beat a historically awful Auburn team? Please, NCAA Selection Committee, take note of this when Leonard Hamilton’s squad is on the bubble in March and the ACC offices are lobbying for their inclusion into the Dance.
Game #45. It’s a crosstown rivalry between Brew City schools and RTC Live is happy to visit Milwaukee for the first time.
This Saturday night, Marquette and Milwaukee will meet for the 38th time for an 8 p.m. showdown at U.S. Cellular Arena. And in all 37 previous encounters between these city-sharing rivals, Marquette has emerged victorious. This year’s edition comes with a new wrinkle, though: for the first time in the series, Milwaukee is the home team. With a large blue and gold contingent expected at the Cell, a raucous atmosphere is certainly expected. It’s been a rocky start to the season for Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers. They embarked on a wild road swing to begin the campaign, salvaging a 1-2 record in a four-team event in Portland. A convincing road win over Niagara and a gutty 65-63 triumph over Northern Iowa followed, but the Panthers fell to 3-3 with a disappointing home defeat the hands of Western Michigan on Tuesday. Milwaukee relies primarily on talented big man Anthony Hill and sharpshooting wing Tone Boyle for their scoring, but the efficiency of junior college transfer Kaylon Williams at the point is vital to an upset tonight. With MU missing big men Joe Fulce and Davonte Gardner, Hill could have an easier time operating in the post. Marquette began their season with four home wins before heading to Kansas City for the CBE Classic. The Golden Eagles hung with mighty #1 Duke before falling short to the Blue Devils and followed that up with a 66-63 loss to #18 Gonzaga. Marquette is led by versatile forward Jimmy Butler (22/6 vs. Duke and Gonzaga), but it’s the three-point shooting of Darius Johnson-Odom (20% this year) that must heat up for Buzz Williams’ squad. Keep an eye on whether Milwaukee employs a zone to stop Marquette’s dribble penetration, the strategy Gonzaga employed to slow down the Golden Eagles guards on Tuesday. Join us tonight for RTC Live from Marquette at Milwaukee to see if the Golden Eagles can claim their 38th straight win over the Panthers.
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC Horizon League correspondent. You can find his ramblings daily at PantherU.com.
A Look Back
The biggest news out of the Horizon League has been a dearth of dumb losses. Things that have hampered the conference in the past such as losses to low-majors and D-II schools, or blowouts to evenly matched opponents just haven’t been the case as much as in recent years. Despite a couple of puzzling losses — such as Milwaukee to Florida Atlantic and UIC to Charleston — the conference has been very strong out of the gate. In fact, those two schools have turned it on as well. Milwaukee is now on a three-game winning streak culminating in a victory over Northern Iowa, and UIC dumped Rhode Island on a neutral court Sunday.
On The Trail
Recruiting is the big news everywhere this past week with the end of the fall signing period. All in all, the Horizon League picked up some very decent commitments for the 2011 season. Wright State beat out East Carolina and Duquesne in landing Tavares Sledge, a 6’8′ power forward from the Crimson Tide’s backyard in Tuscaloosa. Milwaukee sweated it out for the last week, but point guard Shaquille Boga finally signed his LOI. Boga picked the Panthers over confirmed offers from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and a slew of Missouri Valley schools such as Creighton, Southern Illinois, Missouri State and Bradley. Boga got to see his future team defeat another of his suitors, the Northern Iowa Panthers, Saturday night along with fellow signee J.J. Panoske. Butler got their point guard of the future with a signature from Australia’s Jackson Aldridge(you can find an interview with him at PantherU here). ClevelandState inked AntonGrady, a slim 6’7 power forward out of Central Catholic High in Cleveland. Alvin Boutte of Indianapolis picked RayMcCallum‘s DetroitTitans over offers from Akron, Wright State and IUPUI. The point guard figures to step in behind Ray McCallum, Jr., as a freshman.
New Green Bay coach Brian Wardle is from Illinois, attended Marquette (a private school in Wisconsin with a heavy Illinois fan base), and now he’s bringing that Chicago deep dish style up with him to the land of Lambeau. Aaron Armstead, Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes, all Illinois prospects, will join the Phoenix in 2011. As for those teams that stay in Chicago, UIC landed three in-state recruits and two out-of-state players for 2011. Will Simonton is a 6’11 center out of Fishburne Military Prep in Virginia, and Marc Brown is a sweet-shooting guard out of Texas, but new coach Howard Moore has shown he isn’t against recruiting the Chicago Public League to get his talent. On the northside of Chicago, Loyola inked juco standout Colin Beatty from Barton CC in Kansas. The ValparaisoCrusaders, looking to bolster their frontcourt depth, are bringing in Richie Edwards, a 6’8 power forward. Youngstown State grabbed 6’9 small forward Cale Zuiker out of the Wisconsin boondocks of Marshfield.
One look at Wright State’s box scores and you’ll notice a void. N’Gai Evans, the Raiders’ point guard and one of their biggest contributors, has been out with a strained knee ligament. While the Raiders are now 2-1 after dropping lowly Southern, they were blown out by Indiana and are seriously struggling in different ways. WSU needs him back, and yesterday. Without Evans and the graduated Todd Brown, guards Vaughn Duggins and Troy Tabler have struggled shooting this season. If the Raiders are to challenge, Evans needs to be back in the lineup. Jarvis Williams of Green Bay injured his ankle in a blowout loss at Marquette and missed the San Diego State game.
Butler (2-1) – It’s too early for me to go out and crown a new champ. While Butler’s blowout loss to open Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center was anything but good, they did take care of business at home against in-state foe Ball State and hung up a Final Four banner before the season-opening victory over D-II Marian.
Cleveland State (5-0) – Believe me, I racked my brain on whether or not to put CSU or Detroit over Butler in the first power ranking. I give the nod to Cleveland State over Detroit for one simple reason: they win. They haven’t blown out anybody (discounting non-D-I Urbana), but the Vikings haven’t lost a single game. While UL-Lafayette and Kent State made them sweat, the Vikings have pulled it out in the end every time out.
Detroit (1-2) – Should a sub-.500 team be in third place of a top 10 conference? Not in January, but just a week and a half into the season, we’ll give Detroit a break. Their drubbing of Indiana Tech aside, the two road losses to New Mexico (by nine) and Syracuse (by 11) were impressive, with the Titans in it until the last couple minutes each time. Ray McCallum, Jr. is already prospering, Eli Holman is dominant and the Titans are meshing well despite suspect depth.
Loyola (5-0) – Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing, and Loyola is making it happen. The Ramblers have squashed low-majors (Eastern Kentucky by 16, Texas-Pan Am by 22) and handily beaten mid-majors. The one thing the Ramblers hadn’t done until Saturday was win on the road, but they took care of that with an 18-point schellacking at Western Michigan. The Ramblers are getting big help from AndyPolka and his veteran supporting cast.
Milwaukee (3-2) – The Panthers started bad…real bad. Portland may be a third-place WCC team, but 20-point losses are tough to swallow. A nine-point loss to Florida Atlantic was even tougher to swallow. But Milwaukee is getting better every game, and significantly so. Dropping UC Davis was expected, but a beatdown in Niagara’s death trap, the “Taps” Gallagher Center, was gravy. Top that off with a solid home victory over Northern Iowa, and the Panthers have arguably the best victory of the Horizon League’s young season.
UIC (3-2) – The Flames get the upper hand over the bottom four for one simple reason: they beat Rhode Island out of nowhere Sunday afternoon. A season-opening blowout at Pitt was disheartening, but the Flames only have one hiccup since, a home loss to College of Charleston.
YoungstownState (2-1) – Coach Jerry Slocum has never been one to beat decent teams out of the gate. Heck, he’s lost some pretty bad games in the early parts of his six years at Youngstown State. But the Penguins are taking no prisoners this season. Their three-point victory over Samford may seem so-so to some, but the Penguins of past years would lose that game. Couple that with an eleven-point victory over Buffalo, and the Penguins were rolling until Akron got lucky Saturday night. The guess here is they enter conference play 4-1 with games against lowly Toledo and St. Francis (PA).
Green Bay (2-2) – Through four games, coach Brian Wardle is in dire need of help down in the block. Freshmen Alec Brown and Clayton Heuer have been overmatched early, and Heuer only played four minutes against San Diego State, which seemed to work in a surprisingly close nine-point loss. Troy Snyder, a 6’7 forward, may help them, but the Phoenix real strength is the guards; Bryquis Perine and Rahmon Fletcher are great upperclassmen who carry the team on their shoulders.
Valparaiso (2-1) – The Crusaders have only been party to blowouts. It may seem odd to have a team with two beatdown victories under its belt, but the VUCru haven’t played anyone of any consequence outside of Kansas, who murdered them by 35 at the Phog. Winning by 47 and 54 doesn’t seem as nice when the games are against IU-Northwest and Purdue North Central. We’ll find out much more about the Crusaders in the next two games against D-I opponents closer to their level in Ohio and Northern Colorado.
Wright State (2-1) – N’Gai Evans has been out with a strained knee ligament, and the Raiders have seriously missed his scoring and passing ability. Just the return of Evans may spark a rise in the power rankings, but be wary of the total lack of an inside game; Cole Darling and Johann Mpondo have been the best of a weak frontcourt.
A Look Ahead
Thanksgiving week is a time for us to all think about what we’re thankful for. The Horizon League will hopefully be thankful for victories in the following games: Detroit at Mississippi State, Valparaiso at Ohio, Oakland at Wright State, Wright State vs. Richmond, Central Michigan at UIC, and Marquette at Milwaukee. RPI Boosters will be big for the conference heading into in-house play just a week away.
Signature victories over Northern Iowa and Rhode Island are good for the conference, but the Horizon League as a whole needs more of them for the conference to get recognition beyond Butler come March.
Traveling teams in the Horizon League go in pairs: the University of Wisconsin’s Green Bay Phoenix and Milwaukee Panthers; Chicago’s UIC and Loyola; Indiana’s Valparaiso and Butler; Ohio’s Cleveland State and Youngstown State; and Wright State and Detroit, the odd couple. The Chicago teams host the Indiana teams, the Ohio teams go to Wisconsin, and Wright State faces Detroit at Calihan Hall on December 4th.
One For The Calendar
Marquette at Milwaukee – Sunday, November 27: The Panthers play host for the first time in history to Marquette, their cross-town foe from the Big East. If you’ve caught any of the recent Marquette blowouts on television, you might have seen a graphic detailing the current 37-0 series lead by Marquette as the second-most without a victory by the other team. Digging deeper, however, and you’ll find that Milwaukee’s media guide lists three victories over teams named Marquette dating back to 1902. Marquette claims these games do not count because the private school didn’t field a team until the late 1910′s. Their first year of recorded history is just two seasons after Milwaukee claims two victories over Marquette in 1914-15. While the Milwaukee media guide lists the series at 37-0, it says that the series started in 1902, where the Milwaukee Normal School defeated a team named Marquette, 35-16. Very interesting to a Panther who is annoyed. You know what I say? Throw out any games where either team is not D-I, and you get 9-0 Marquette. A little closer to the truth.
As for the game itself, the Golden Eagles’ thin front court has taken a beating in the early season. Forward Joe Fulce will miss 2-4 weeks with a left knee injury, and freshman behemoth Davante Gardner is questionable against Duke Monday night. Without them, Marquette has a significant size disadvantage in the block; players on the Golden Eagles that do have height (Erik Williams, Jimmy Butler) are outside scorers. Jae Crowder may be the Golden Eagles’ best option to stack up against Milwaukee senior Anthony Hill, junior Tony Meier, and freshman Kyle Kelm.
One thing the Panthers can’t do against Marquette is try to go guard on guard. While Kaylon Williams, Tone Boyle and RyanAllen are up to the task, they’d be playing right into Marquette’s wheelhouse of Vander Blue, Darius Johnson-Odom, Dwight Buycks, and a host of other capable guards. Get spooked and start jacking up threes and the game could be over like it was for Green Bay last Wednesday. Play hard, keep pounding the block and control the tempo, and Marquette may be on its heels in the waning moments. Marquette has never lost to a D-I Milwaukee team. But then again, Milwaukee has never played the game at home. We’ll see how the intra-city showdown goes down on Saturday.
Macking on the MAC
Following Green Bay’s victory over Miami (OH), the Horizon League has improved to 7-1 over their fellow midwest mid-major, the Mid-American Conference. While the MAC gets a load more attention due to fielding a football conference, the Horizon League has quietly built a dominating presence. The lone loss this season is Youngstown State (picked 10th in the Horizon) to Akron (picked 2nd in MAC East), and that only happened because Akron hit a shot to send the game to overtime.
Caught On Film
Northern Iowa gets a taste of its own clutch medicine, as Milwaukee wins a hard-fought game with a Tone Boyle jumper in the closing seconds.
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.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Northern Iowa 24-3 (14-2) (1)
Wichita State 22-7 (11-5) (2)
Illinois State 20-8 (10-6) (3)
Creighton 14-14 (8-8) (4)
Bradley 14-13 (8-8) (5)
Indiana State 16-12 (8-8) (6)
Missouri State 18-10 (7-9) (7)
Drake 13-16 (7-9) (8)
Southern Illinois 15-12 (6-10) (9)
Evansville 7-20 (1-15) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Bracketbusters Dominance—The Missouri Valley Conference had a nice showing in Bracketbusters this past weekend, going 7-3 against the competition and 2-1 in televised games. Northern Iowa had all eyes watching them Friday night to kick off Bracketbusters as they dominated Old Dominion from the Colonial. On Saturday, Missouri State came from behind to knock off Nevada, however in the nightcap, Wichita State got down early and was not able to make up the difference in the loss to Utah State.
More Suspensions in Valley- First it was Nick Evans from Southern Illinois (who eventually left school), P’Allen Stinnett from Creighton, and Jordan Eglseder from Northern Iowa with suspensions. Now for the third time this season, Taylor Brown from Bradley is serving a suspension from the Braves. This time it is over some Tweets he made that did not fit into the standards required by head coach Jim Less with respect to social networking.
Last Week of Regular Season—This will be the last week of regular season games in the Valley. But surprisingly enough, there are still several seeding implications that could occur. There are enough scenarios that could put Indiana State as high as a #3 seed and Illinois State as low as a #6 seed. A resident Valley expert has all the likely scenarios laid out for this week.
SEEDING THINGS OUT
As we go into the final week of the MVC regular season, teams are still trying to seed themselves for the conference tourney in St. Louis the first week of March. Let’s see where everyone stands right now.
Northern Iowa (2-0 this week)—Northern Iowa still appears to be the class of the Valley this season. With their wins over Creighton and Old Dominion this week, they actually appeared to play better without the suspended Jordan Eglseder. Lucas O’Rear has taken over the starting spot during the suspension and his toughness has been enough to help carry the Panthers. Here is life as a Panther fan. They finish out the season this week against Evansville and Illinois State.
Wichita State (1-1 this week)—The Shockers are starting to falter down the stretch. After almost losing against Evansville for the second time in a week and some questionable columns by the local beat writers, Wichita State fell to Utah State on the road in Bracketbusters. Any chance of an at-large look is pretty much out the window for them with their non-conference schedule coming back to haunt them. They need to finish strong against Bradley and Southern Illinois to hold on to their second place position.
Illinois State (2-0 this week, won 6 of last 7)—Breathing down the neck of the Shockers is Illinois State. The Redbirds are on a roll this week after defeating Missouri State and Morehead State. Their current winning streak is at five and they are finding ways to win games. One interesting stat to note— Osiris Eldridge and Dinma Odiakosa are trying to become the first players from the same team to win the league’s scoring and rebounding titles since 1992. This could be a big week for Illinois State as they close out the regular season against conference champs Northern Iowa. It could be a preview of the MVC tournament finals.
Creighton (1-1 this week) – Between the game against Northern Iowa at the beginning of the week and against Loyola-Chicago in the Bracketbusters, the Bluejays looked like two totally different teams. They were torched in Cedar Falls against Northern Iowa before returning home to pull away from Loyola-Chicago. Center Kenny Lawson has now hit 2 of 3 three-point attempts in the last two games, his first three pointers in his career. Creighton tries to stay above .500 as they finish against rival Southern Illinois and have senior day against Bradley.
Bradley (1-1 this week)—The Braves started the week with a loss at Indiana State before defeating Drexel for their Bracketbuster matchup. Without Taylor Brown, the Braves went with a zone defense for the whole game. Again the Braves will not finish in the top three in the conference. The question is, will Jim Les ever take them to the top of the league much less take them back to the NCAA Tourney?
Indiana State (1-1 this week)—The Sycamores have been up and down lately. They have no problems winning at home, but like the rest of the Valley, have a hard time winning on the road. But they are keeping their head afloat with eight active players on the roster and could get a good matchup in the MVC tourney if they can beat Illinois State and Missouri State this week.
Missouri State (1-1 this week)—Missouri State ran out of gas against Illinois State this week but then in front of a nationally televised audience came back from being five points down late to beat Nevada in Bracketbusters. Head Coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t mind the WAC referee crew that came in for that game. Heck, they might be better than the referees that normally do Valley games in my mind. Drake and Indiana State are on the menu this week for the Bears and are both very winnable games. Really with how this team ended up doing this season, it is too bad Cuonzo Martin probably won’t win Valley Coach of the Year honors.
Drake (2-0 this week)—Mark Phelps is working to get the Bulldogs to finish strong. They win the time-zone award this week as they went out to Cal State-Northridge for their Bracketbusters game and walked away with a win. Missouri State and Evansville are on the slate this week. How they finish the season here could go a long way for next season.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week)— The Salukis are about to end their season with a losing record for the second consecutive season. Many are wondering if there will be a any shakeups during the offseason and whether the recruiting class that was so hyped up two seasons ago is now a bust. Southern Illinois is a shell of its former self and I see that there needs to be some type of change during this offseason if Chris Lowery expects to get another pass. Or he may take off for another coaching opportunity. Firing Lowery probably won’t solve many problems. A lot of questions without many answers. They will try to feel a little better about themselves if they can get a win against Creighton this week before heading to Wichita State to finish the regular season.
Evansville (0-2 this week)—The Purple Aces are building themselves up to prepare for next season. They almost pulled off another stunning upset against Wichita State and just missed out on Illinois-Chicago. Games like this will probably prepare them for next season when they can start over. Speaking of starting over, Kaylon Williams, who transferred from Evansville after last season is now opening up the recruiting race as he finishes up junior college. After losing 17 of their last 18 games, Evansville has two more chances for another win this week against Northern Iowa and Drake.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
Catch the Valley during the last week of the regular season as the top teams in the Valley get one more showcase to the nation.
2/23, Creighton @ Southern Illinois (Fox Sports Net)—Both with down seasons, but still rivals. SIU tries to avenge being destroyed at home a year ago by the Bluejays.
2/24, Wichita State @ Bradley (Local TV)—Bradley is trying to get a different seed. Wichita State tries to keep theirs.
2/27, Illinois State @ Northern Iowa (ESPN2)—This game was chosen as the “Wildcard” game by ESPN. Northern Iowa hopes they don’t meet the Redibirds in the MVC Tournament.
2/27, Wichita State @ Southern Illinois (Fox Sports Net)—A telling sign of the way the MVC has been gradually been flipped over. Wichita sitting in the top part of the league while the Salukis head for their second consecutive losing season.
2/28, Bradley @ Creighton (Local TV)—This is always an entertaining game. Two seasons ago Cavel Witter went off for 42 points in a crazy game. It is his Senior day, how does he finish his career at Creighton?