Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Jimmy Lemke of 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 Wright State 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.

Power Rankings

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 Geoff McCammon, 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, Dipanjot Singh, 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:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2010

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

A Look Back

It was a sobering week for Horizon League schools as the conference went 8-9 over the week and plummeted from seventh in the conference RPI to twelfth.  Upset bids against high majors were either blowouts or close, but at the end of the day, they all ended in losses.  Cleveland State owned the week’s most impressive victory yet again with a 12-point road victory at Sam Houston State, but perhaps the biggest news was the emergence of Ray McCallum, Jr.  Across the country, pundits have picked the highly-touted recruit to come in and dominate the conference, but McCallum took a little bit of time to get up to the speed he’s accustomed to.  Ray Jr. lit up Eastern Michigan with 31 points to average 25.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game in the week’s two games.

Video of the Week

When you’re rolling, you’re rolling, and Gary Waters of Cleveland State gives some insight as to how the Vikings stay perfect following his team’s victory at Sam Houston State:

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (12-0, 2-0) – The Vikings continued to roll.  Gary Waters‘ undefeated crew pummeled non-D-I West Virginia Tech before taking down Sam Houston State, their sixth victory in the RPI Top 100.  Their reward?  A matchup with 7-2 West Virginia (not Tech) in Morgantown Saturday for what figures to be their biggest test yet.
  2. Butler (5-4, 1-0) – Brad Stevens‘ Dawgs missed out on sweeping the home-and-home with Xavier with a close loss in Cincinnati early last week.  They took out their frustrations on a poor Mississippi Valley State team.  HadV they lost to Loyola in the conference opener, they would be much lower on this list.
  3. Loyola (8-3, 0-2) – It’s hard to argue that a loss improves your standing, but that’s what we’ll do.  The Ramblers’ narrow loss to Kansas State (which was much closer than the eight-point difference) and blitz of SIU-Edwardsville puts them on somewhat of a roll after getting swept by the Indiana schools at home in the opening week.
  4. Valparaiso (6-4, 2-0) – If it weren’t for the lack of signature victories this week, Valpo’s loss to Toledo would have sunk them.  This is a team that has played well thus far this season, and while a top three finish isn’t out of the question, dropping a home game to Purdue by 18 didn’t help their cause.  Toledo might win five games this season in conference play.
  5. Detroit (6-5, 1-0) – The emergence of Ray McCallum Jr. couldn’t have come at a better time for the Titans; Western Michigan confounded their second Horizon League team by defeating Detroit, and they were reeling heading into the game against Eastern Michigan.  Luckily, the coach’s son took care of business.
  6. Milwaukee (5-6, 1-1) – The loss at Wisconsin is something of an annual ritual for the Panthers.  Indeed, even Bruce Pearl’s Sweet 16 Panthers lost in Madison by more than 20.  But the Panthers gathered themselves and notched arguably the second-best victory of the week at red hot South Dakota State.  Keep shooting like they did Saturday and Milwaukee will be moving up.
  7. Wright State (5-5, 0-1) – Beating Air Force by 15 at the Nutter Center was definitely a feather in the cap of rookie coach Billy Donlon.  A 13-point home win over D-II Tusculum wasn’t a blowout, but winning is winning and the Raiders, apart from Cleveland State, were the only team to finish the week unscathed.
  8. Green Bay (4-7, 1-1) – It was encouraging to see archrival Milwaukee get blown out at Wisconsin and then lose a respectable 14-point game just a few days later, but the Phoenix are now riding a three-game losing streak and have only won one road game.  The Phoenix don’t play again until Monday.
  9. UIC (4-6, 0-1) – The Flames entered the week with just three victories against D-I teams, and two of them at the hands of lowly Toledo.  Senior Paul Carter looked good in a loss to Illinois State on Saturday, but he didn’t have much help, scoring 16 of UIC’s 43 points.
  10. Youngstown State (5-4, 0-2) – The good feelings of the early season have all but evaporated in Youngstown.  After taking their customary sweep in Wisconsin to open the conference, the Penguins were demolished by Robert Morris, 90-60.  A victory over Malone College on Monday wasn’t much consolation since Malone is still a few years away from fully reclassifying to D-II.

A Look Ahead

The week is filled with opportunities for the conference to get some notable victories.  Big East doormat DePaul hosts Milwaukee, Youngstown State visits NC State, and Stanford heads to Hinkle to take on Butler in three very winnable games for the Horizon League.  Cleveland State will be out to avenge a two-point home loss last season to the West Virginia Mountaineers, except this game is in Morgantown.  Illinois visits UIC, but the game will be played at the United Center in Chicago instead of at the Flames’ home, the UIC Pavilion.  In what may be the most interesting match-up of mid-majors, Detroit and Central Michigan square off in the battle of friends and highly-touted recruits Ray McCallum Jr. and Trey Zeigler.

  • 12/14 – Milwaukee at DePaul, 9 p.m. (ESPN Full Court)
  • 12/18 – Stanford at Butler, 2 p.m. (CBS)
  • 12/18 – Detroit at Central Michigan, ESPNU
  • 12/16 – Youngstown State at NC State, 7 p.m.
  • 12/18 – Cleveland State at West Virginia, 2 p.m. (, ESPN Full Court)
  • 12/18 – UIC vs. Illinois at United Center, 2 p.m. (BTN)
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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, 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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