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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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

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 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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Set Your Tivo: 12.13.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 13th, 2010

***** – 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.

Tonight begins a week of almost nothing of significance in the college basketball world. Many schools have finals this week resulting in the annual light schedule for this week.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Florida Atlantic @ Siena – 7:30 pm on Time Warner Cable Sports (*)

Siena enters the game at 2-6 coming off three straight losses. The Saints were expected to contend at the top of the MAAC but they’ve looked ordinary so far. It would be foolish to write them off however as they have quality talent for a mid-major league, talent that’s experienced for the most part. Surprisingly, Siena is 0-4 at home under the direction of first year head coach Mitch Buonaguro. He does have two star players though as Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson are back for their senior seasons in upstate New York. Rossiter has been outstanding, averaging 20/13. Those 13 rebounds are good enough for second in the country behind Kenneth Faried of Morehead State. A key matchup in this game will be Rossiter against FAU’s Kore White who had 18/8 in a win at Mississippi State and was 5-8 from the floor in a victory over South Florida. At 6’8/245, White possesses the height and strength to bang with the 6’9/235 Rossiter. The Owls are 5-4 against D1 competition and have won three straight, including the wins against MSU and USF. They’re led by former St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis who is trying to work his way back up the coaching ladder. Florida Atlantic takes good care of the ball, ranked eighth in offensive turnover percentage. They should win the turnover battle against a Siena team that averages 16 turnovers a game. Siena may be shorthanded as Owen Wignot missed their last game against Fairfield with a head injury. Wignot has been a valuable weapon, hitting 13 of his 21 three point attempts this season. Jarvis has a shooter of his own in leading scorer Gregg Gantt, averaging 15 PPG and 40% from three. The senior duo of Rossiter and Jackson should do most of the scoring for Siena and Rossiter should especially look to take advantage inside. FAU gives up 51% shooting from inside the arc on average but White should be able to contain him somewhat, at least you’d think so. This should be a pretty good game between two decent mid-major teams, despite Siena’s record.

Green Bay @ Wisconsin – 8 pm on Big Ten Network (*)

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League correspondent for Rush The Court

A Look Back

  • How They Fared: The Horizon League, unlike most conferences, begins its conference season the first week of December; most teams play two games, with a couple playing only one game and competing non-conference the rest of the week.  Easily the most impressive team of the week was Cleveland State, who rolled through Wisconsin and preserved their undefeated record.  Norris Cole has the inside track on Player of the Year, and coach Gary Waters has assembled a dominant team behind him.
  • Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25.  They’d be wrong.  Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners.  The Vikings absolutely dominated a Milwaukee team at the U.S. Cellular Arena, where the Panthers are almost unbeatable.
  • Tip Of The Cap: This week’s TOTC goes to Matt Howard of Butler, who tied Bobby Plump (you might know him better by his fictional likeness, Jimmy Chitwood of Hoosiers) for 11th on the Butler University all-time scoring list.  Our friends at Victory Firelight were happy to see that.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0 Horizon) – For the past decade, the Vikings were 1-19 in the state of Wisconsin – 1-9 in Green Bay and 0-10 in Milwaukee.  In the week leading up to the games, coach Gary Waters called it “Revenge Week.”  Mission accomplished.  The other mission accomplished? Putting Norris Cole in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year.
  2. Valparaiso (6-2, 2-0) – Coach Homer Drew‘s Crusaders made the short trip to Chicago and calmly walked out 2-0 with a nail-biting victory at UIC and a commanding performance at Loyola.  Winning the latter pushes Valpo past Butler in our conference power rankings for the week.
  3. Butler (4-3, 1-0) – Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs sweated out a victory on Chicago’s near north side, beating Loyola 65-63.  A strong showing against Duke should have kept them at the #2 spot, but for the uncertainty surrounding Mack’s cramps and Ronald Nored‘s concussion.  Both players should be on the court this week, but the Dawgs are much thinner than last season and need both on the court even more than before.
  4. Detroit (5-4, 1-0) – The Titans split two games last week, losing at home to Akron before dumping Horizon League foe Wright State.  Ray McCallum Sr.‘s Titans could be winning even more if they had some bodies to spell their stellar starting five; four Titans are in the top ten in the conference in total minutes and minutes per game.
  5. Loyola (7-2, 0-2) – It was a sobering week for the Ramblers, who have to be thinking about 2009-10, when they began 11-2 before flopping all the way down to 14-16 for the season.  For the second straight year, the Ramblers put a scare into Butler, but the excitement at the Joe collapsed following a double-digit home loss to Valpo.
  6. Green Bay (4-4, 1-1) – Brian Wardle‘s crew came into the week favored to win a game and lose a game.  They did just that, dropping a home loss to Cleveland State before wiping the floor with Jerry Slocum’s Youngstown State Penguins.  Rahmon Fletcher continues to be a boon for the Phoenix, placing third in the conference in scoring at 16.6 PPG.
  7. Milwaukee (4-5, 1-1) – It’s hard to put the Panthers lower since they did win convincingly over Youngstown State on Thursday.  It’s impossible to put the Panthers any higher given the absolute garbage showing against Cleveland State on Saturday night.  Last week, we talked about their Jekyll and Hyde ways.  That continued this past week, but at least they came out with a W.
  8. Wright State (3-5, 0-1) – Had the Raiders pulled out a victory against middling Big East team Cincinnati or Detroit, they’d find themselves much higher on the list.  Bobby Donlon‘s crew is much different than they were under Brad Brownell, whose defensive mindset has lost its way.  The Raiders are giving up 78 points per game this season, and they won’t be seeing a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament unless that changes.
  9. UIC (4-5, 0-1) – Akron pulled out the close victory at UIC, the second near-victory for the Flames of the week.  If UIC had been killing teams heading into the conference season, they might find themselves higher.  However, that signature win over Rhode Island seems further in the rear-view mirror every day.
  10. Youngstown State (4-3, 0-2) – The Penguins’ 4-1 start got the fans in Youngstown paying attention, but a quick 0-2 start in conference against struggling clubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee puts YSU at the bottom of the barrel.  Along with Wright State and Loyola, the Penguins are one of the only teams to go winless; unlike Wright State or Loyola, they weren’t playing significantly better competition.

A Look Ahead

Week one of conference play is in the books, and the standings will remain the same until after Christmas.  Three games against high-major foes dot the lineup this week, with Purdue visiting Valpo’s ARC and Milwaukee taking a trip west to Madison.  Loyola hopes to pull off a stunning upset at Kansas State.  Let’s hope the timekeeper knows what they’re doing at the Cintas Center this year as Butler takes its turn as the away team in a home-and-home with Xavier.

  • 12/7 - Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m. ESPNU
  • 12/8 – Milwaukee at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
  • 12/8 – Wright State vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 12/9 – Butler at Xavier, 9 p.m. ESPN
  • 12/11 – Milwaukee at South Dakota State, 8 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Loyola vs. #3 Kansas State, 4 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Cleveland State at Sam Houston State, 4:30 p.m.

Remember When… they screwed up the clock at Hinkle last season?  Take a look back:

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

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’s Vytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
  • 12/4 - UIC vs. Akron, 4 p.m. HLN

If you didn’t catch the HLN, ten games this week are featured on the Horizon League’s free streaming service, the Horizon League Network (http://horizonleaguenetwork.tv or http://horizonleague.org).

Caught On Film: If you’re like me, you were disappointed when Gordon Hayward’s Too Big Yo rap was taken offline.  We’re disappointed no more!

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

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The RTC Big Four State Tournament: First Round (day 2)

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

Yesterday we introduced our 2010 RTC Big Four State Tournament, and it was great to see some of the responses and feedback on it.  We’re convinced this is going to be a fun series.  Today we’re back for the second day of First Round games (the right side of the below bracket), including our analysis and projected winner, but we encourage you guys to make your picks for each game in the accompanying polls.

In case you missed yesterday’s post explaining what we’re talking about, here’s our selection criteria:

  1. Similar to the Fanhouse post, we picked the top four programs in each of the 33 states (including DC) with at least that many D1 universities.
  2. We then chose the top sixteen states based on the current status and power of those four programs within each state.
  3. Next, we chose a starting lineup ”dream team” of players from those programs in each state, thinking about how to best integrate them by position (three guards & two bigs; or vice versa).
  4. We also chose two subs — one guard and one big man — as well as a head coach.
  5. We limited each school to two starters and one bench player for a maximum of three per team (sorry, Duke).  We also made sure to include at least one player from each of the four chosen programs (hi, Seattle).
  6. Finally, we seeded the sixteen teams into our bracket and analyzed the matchups.  We encourage you to use the polls below to do likewise.

#2 North Carolina vs. #15 California

The first thought we had when analyzing this matchup is… that’s all you got, Cali?  Good grief — the nation’s most populous state by far can only muster a lineup of players that includes Jorge Gutierrez as a starter?   No offense to the ponytailed energizer bunny from Cal, but this game is a mismatch from start to finish.  Sadly, even if we had included every single one of California’s 24 D1 schools and added some studs like Stanford’s Jeremy Green, LMU’s Drew Viney and Vernon Teel, Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver and the St. Mary’s backcourt of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavadova, the Tar Heel Staters still wipe the floor with this team.  Maybe California could draft Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry to their squad?  There’s simply too much talent on Coach K’s team from top to bottom (sound familiar?) for his team to sweat this one too terribly much.  The only area that North Carolina has a problem with California is in the post, where SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard can take advantage of the slighter frames of the NC bigs to put in some work.  But the speed, athleticism and scoring punch of the #2 seed is far too powerful here.  North Carolina rolls in a blowout.

RTC Choice: North Carolina 82, California 59.

#7 Washington vs. #10 Tennessee

 

The matchups at the two guard spots and the wing are tantalizing in this game. The fatal flaw with the boys from the Volunteer State is their lack of a true point guard. Adding Melvin Goins or Brad Tinsley to the roster would have meant sacrificing one of Wesley Witherspoon, Scotty Hopson, Jeffery Taylor or bench ace John Jenkins, and it’s hard to blame coach Pearl for not making that move. Luckily for him, his team is loaded with intriguing first round talent, albeit at times inconsistent and frustrating talent. It also helps that Washington’s point man, Isaiah Thomas, isn’t much of a distributor either. Although Elias Harris may be limited by the length of Taylor, it’s his Zag teammate Robert Sacre that’s primed for a monster performance being guarded by Brian Williams at 2-3 inches shorter and the inexperienced Tobias Harris. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned Klay Thompson, a popular choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year.  It’ll be a well-played back-and-forth game, but we have the Washingtonians moving on.

RTC Choice: Washington 81, Tennessee 77.

#3 Pennsylvania vs. #14 Wisconsin

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 12-0
  2. Wright State 8-4
  3. Cleveland State 7-4
  4. Green Bay 7-5
  5. Detroit 7-5
  6. Valparaiso 6-6
  7. Milwaukee 5-6
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-8
  9. Youngstown State 2-10
  10. UIC 1-11

Top Storylines

  • A difference of opinion: Butler might be the 18th team in the nation (according to the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll) or they might be the 23rd team (according to the AP poll), but the Bulldogs have really confused people this season. Pomeroy thinks they’re only 28th. The rest of the Horizon League schedule isn’t going to provide us with any answers either.
  • Light Bracket Busters schedule: the Horizon League got some good matchups when the Bracket Buster lineup was announced. There is a made-for-TV game between Butler and Siena, but after that there are a bunch of winnable games. One tough one might be Loyola (IL) at Creighton.
  • Last chance?: Saturday might be UIC’s final chance to get a win during regular season Horizon League play. The Flames have four road games and two tough home games against the Wisconsin schools remaining on the schedule after they play Youngstown State at the Pavilion. If the Flames fall to the Penguins then a winless 2010 is a possibility.

Team Breakdowns

  • Green Bay. The two Wisconsin schools had off on Thursday because they’re gearing up for a rematch of the 71-51 beatdown the Panthers handed the Phoenix on Saturday, January 9. Green Bay has slipped lately. The Phoenix lost two home games last weekend against Butler and Valparaiso. The game against the Crusaders was particularly painful as Valparaiso is climbing up the Horizon League standings. How Rahmon Fletcher goes determines how the Phoenix go in general. He scored just seven points on 2-10 shooting against Valparaiso. The junior guard still ranks third in the conference in scoring.
  • Milwaukee.  The Panthers are also preparing for their local rival. Squeaking out a narrow victory over Valparaiso last weekend kept Milwaukee in the hunt for a middle of the standings spot. The Panthers are still a little behind at 5-6, but they still have a game versus Youngstown and a weekend in Chicago to make up ground. The big game will be February 18th against Cleveland State. Ricky Franklin is another lead guard excelling in conference play. The senior is sixth in the league in scoring and fourth in assists.
  • Butler.  The Bulldogs are two-thirds of the way to an undefeated regular season in the Horizon League. But winning the regular season hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs in the past. It’s been taking care of business in the conference tournament, which is played on Butler’s home court. With a weakening bubble the Bulldogs probably could get in without the automatic bid, but to be sure they’ll have to take care of business in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are led by Gordon Hayward, a sophomore who ranks fourth in points, third in rebounds and fifth in FG% in the conference. He is currently #30 in the 2011 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net but Chad Ford has him as a mid-to-late first rounder this season. Butler’s march through the Horizon League continues on Saturday when Wright State comes to town.
  • Valparaiso.  At .500 in conference Valparaiso has been one of the surprises of the season in the Horizon League. They’ve steadily improved as the season has gone on. A loss on Thursday at home to Wright State put some damper on the party, but there’s still a lot of potential here. Their leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the Horizon League, is Brandon Wood. He is just a sophomore. He’s complemented by junior forward Cory Johnson who ranks fifth in points per game and second in field goal percentage in the conference. Valparaiso’s slow start hurt their Bracket Buster match-up as they were given a game at Bowling Green.
  • Youngstown State.  The Penguins are a veteran team that just hasn’t figured things out this season. Part of the problem is the lack of a dominant talent. Seniors DeAndre Mays – 11th in points, 11th in assists, and Sirlester Martin – 11th in rebounding, are very good complementary parts, but there is no superstar to drive the engine. Vytas Sulskis comes off the bench to give the Penguins some more scoring power, but it hasn’t been enough. Youngstown had Loyola on the ropes on Thursday before falling in overtime. Their Bracket Buster game will take them all the way to Riverside, California, to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.
  • UIC.  UIC’s game against Youngstown on Saturday is going to be one of the more interesting game of the Horizon League season. These two teams are essentially playing for last place in the conference. The Flames have lost some heartbreakers lately, including a 3-point loss to Detroit and a 5-point loss to crosstown rival Loyola, but that’s not cutting it. The Flames haven’t won in 2010 and might finish the new year without a victory if something doesn’t change soon. Their Bracket Buster game in Evansville will be a tough but winnable game. A scary thought – UIC could be worse next season after Horizon League assist leader Spencer Stewart graduates.
  • Loyola (IL).  The Ramblers used to be one of the deepest teams in the Horizon League, but injuries have destroyed that depth. Talented sophomore swingman Jordan Hicks is out for the season with a broken foot and Aric Van Weelden has missed the last six games. Without them the Ramblers have really had to tighten up their rotation. After Terrance Hill was ejected early from the game against Youngstown State guards Courtney Stanley and Geoff McCammon both played almost the entire game. Stanley ranks second in the Horizon League in assists and when he’s on Loyola shoots much better from the field. Also, senior Andy Polka is first in the conference in rebounding. He should be back next season too after receiving a medical redshirt for his junior year.
  • Cleveland State.  After playing a killer non-conference schedule the Vikings have slowly started to get on track in the Horizon League. They’ve won their last five games and have a three-guard attack that is really humming along. Still, they’re at 11-12 overall, so the Vikings need to keep piling up wins. The leader of the charge has been junior guard Norris Cole. He ranks second in the conference in scoring. Jereme Montgomery and Trevon Harmon also average double-figures. Cleveland State drew a terrible Toledo team from the MAC as their Bracket Buster game, and it’s not really going to help them at all.
  • Detroit.  The Titans have proven they can beat the bottom tier of the conference, but they’ve really struggled against the top teams. They lost two close games to Butler, lost a home game against Wright State and lost at Green Bay. In order to keep their place in the top half of the conference the Titans have to win at Valparaiso on Saturday, which will be no easy task. Detroit is going to play Eastern Michigan in the Bracket Busters. This might be a good time to point out that while the Horizon League is down this season, it’s not the MAC. Central Michigan, which sits in second in the MAC, lost to both Wright State and Detroit on the road earlier this season. Sophomore forward Eli Holman is second in rebounding and 1st in field goal percentage in the conference.
  • Wright State.  The Raiders don’t have anyone that really wows you statistically, but they work great as a team. Junior guard Vaughn Duggins has returned from injury to become one the of the top guards in the Horizon League. He’s currently ninth in the conference in scoring. Other than him Wright State gets it done with good defense and a balanced attack. They’ve won their last four games and might be the toughest test Butler has remaining in conference. Their game on Saturday should be a good one. If anyone has a right to be angry about the Bracket Buster game it’s Wright State. The Raiders needed a good opponent in order to bolster than NIT credentials, but were given Ohio (12-10, 3-5 in MAC). Close losses at Washington and Nebraska really sting right now, as well as an inexplicable loss to Miami (OH). Change those results and Brad Brownell’s team might be looking at the bubble.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings:

  1. Butler 8-0
  2. Green Bay 6-2
  3. Detroit 5-3
  4. Wright State 4-4
  5. Valparaiso 4-4
  6. Milwaukee 3-4
  7. Cleveland State 3-4
  8. Loyola (IL) 3-5
  9. Youngstown State 2-6
  10. UIC 1-7

Top Storylines:

  • Home team domination. It is tough to win on the road in the Horizon League. Home teams are 29-8 in league play this season. That’s why you see so many teams bunched up right around .500. The only teams that seem to be bucking this trend are Butler and UIC. The Flames are having problems winning anywhere (though their one victory did come over Detroit at the Pavilion) and the Bulldogs play well anywhere. Even Butler’s two closest games have come on the road at Loyola and Detroit.
  • Hot button tournament. The Horizon League Tournament format is raising some ire lately. The tournament features double-byes for the Top 2 seeds and forces everyone except those two teams to play on back-to-back nights at some point. This can be troubling for a team trying to win its way into the NCAA Tournament (especially considering the tournament is played on the home court of the highest seed). A real premium is placed on the 18-game regular season conference schedule which uses a true home-away series.

Team Breakdowns:

I’m going to do things a little differently this week. This will probably be an every-other-week sort of thing. I keep detailed “per possessions” results of all the teams in the Horizon League during conference play and I wanted to share some insights about the conference that come from those numbers.

  • The Luckiest: In conference play, that award goes to Green Bay. This is a function of the fact that the Phoenix suffered a bad loss to their rivals at Milwaukee. Green Bay plays much better at home than they do on the road and five of their eight games have been at the Resch Center.
  • The Unluckiest: Detroit is the winner here. The Titans are the second best team in the Horizon League according to the numbers, but they managed to lose an unbelievably close game to Butler at home and lost squeakers to UIC and Green Bay on the road. There is no more margin for error for Ray McCallum’s team if they want to be in the top two. Wright State comes to Detroit on Saturday for another key game.
  • Burning up the nets: Of course, Butler leads the league in points per possession. The Bulldogs have a ton of offensive talent. Also, Green Bay with Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Perine are second. What might surprise people is that Valparaiso ranks third. The Crusaders are led by the Horizon League’s leading scorer, Brandon Wood. The sophomore scores more than 18 PPG. Of course Valparaiso also makes every Horizon League team look like the Bulldogs on offense, which explains the Crusaders’ 4-4 conference record.
  • Making life difficult for opponents: Detroit has the best defense in the league. It is even better than Butler’s on a per possession basis during conference play (the Bulldogs rank second).  The Titans have a huge front line that is forcing opponents to shoot a lot of contested shots. Milwaukee is in the middle of the conference pack regarding defense, as well. The Panthers have tons of trouble scoring, but a tight defense has kept them in games all season.
  • The frontrunner: Oh yes, you know this is Butler. The Bulldogs have the best offense (by far) and the second best defense in the league. Their efficiency margin per possession is twice as good as any other team. This is a team that could run the table. Now, there will be hiccups along the way, like Thursday’s near-miss against Loyola. Detroit is a solid second, but Green Bay currently holds the edge by a game in conference record. The race for second, which might also include Wright State, is going to be exciting to watch. Typically, that’s the team that gets the chance to knock off Butler in the championship game, so I’m sure everyone in the conference will be paying close attention.


Saturday’s Games (times Eastern):

  • Wright State @ Detroit – Saturday at 2 p.m.
  • Valparaiso @ Loyola – Saturday at 4 p.m.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 15th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 6-0
  2. Green Bay 5-2
  3. Detroit 5-2
  4. Wright State 4-3
  5. Cleveland State 3-3
  6. Loyola (IL) 2-4
  7. Valparaiso 2-4
  8. Milwaukee 2-4
  9. Youngstown State 2-5
  10. UIC 1-5

Top Storylines

  • Local rivalries impacting the standings. Milwaukee handed Green Bay its second conference loss with a victory last Saturday. Tonight Loyola (IL) and UIC play a cross-town game in Chicago that will be televised on ESPNU.
  • Close calls. The evenly matched talent in the Horizon League is making for some emotional games and tough decisions for referees and coaches alike. Even Butler isn’t immune as the Bulldogs had to escape Detroit in overtime last week.
  • Looking like things will go through Hinkle. Butler has now opened up a two-game lead on the rest of the conference and has played the toughest road stretch in the league by going to Detroit and Wright State. A trip to Green Bay in two weeks looms, but other than that first place looks like a lock for the Bulldogs. That means the conference tournament will once again finish in Indianapolis.

Team Breakdowns

  • Butler: Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack are both in the Top 6 in the conference in points per game. If Matt Howard ever breaks out of his season-long slump then Butler is going to be super dangerous. Hayward is also second in the conference in rebounds per game. Bulldogs play at Youngstown State on Saturday. Even on the road it should be a blowout.
  • Green Bay: The Phoenix lost to the Panthers in an emotional game. The most impressive player on the court was Rahmon Fletcher. He is second in the conference in scoring. The other big names for Green Bay are Bryguis Perine and Troy Cotton. They’re also in the Top 15 in scoring. The Phoenix got a big win over Wright State at home on Thursday and now have a huge game against Detroit on January 16. The Phoenix will also pad their stats with a home game against 2-15 Houston Baptist on Tuesday.
  • Detroit: The Titans are made up of balanced scoring. No one ranks in the Top 10. Eli Holman is tied for second in the conference in rebounding. He only played 20 minutes against Butler due to foul trouble. His absence was the difference in the game. The big game against the Phoenix is the only game the Titans play this week. They take a week off after Green Bay to prepare for Wright State.
  • Wright State: A tough loss to Green Bay on the road dropped Wright State out of the upper tier of the conference. The Raiders are a good basketball team. Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins are a great 1-2 punch that really put the ball in the basket, but this team makes it impact on the defensive end.
  • Cleveland State: Norris Cole is the 3rd leading scorer in the conference. He’s really benefited from the Vikings opening things up over the past few weeks. Cleveland State led Butler at the half on the road before dropping a 64-55 decision. The Vikings play at Valparaiso on Saturday.
  • Loyola: The Ramblers have come back to like a bit in conference play. The three-point shots aren’t dropping quite as often and the magic that carried them during close games in non-conference play is gone. Loyola has lost 3 straight games coming into the big inter-city match-up with UIC. The Ramblers also have the leading rebounder in the conference in Andy Polka. After the game against UIC it’s time to prepare for Butler which comes to the Gentile Center on Thursday.
  • Valparaiso: Brandon Wood sure knows how to fill up a basket. He’s the leading scorer in the Horizon League this season. His teammate Cory Johnson can put points on the board in a hurry as well. Johnson is also the seventh leading rebounder in the conference. Valparaiso had lost three straight games of their own before squeaking past Youngstown State on Thursday. Next up is Cleveland State before a road game at UIC.
  • Milwaukee: The Panthers have gotten off to a surprisingly slow start in conference. It looked like they had begun to turn things around with a 20-point victory over their rivals from Green Bay, but a 16-point loss to Detroit really screws up the momentum. James Eayrs is a big dude at 6’7 and 310 pounds, but he can play basketball. He’s seventh in the conference in rebounding and 16th in scoring. Milwaukee tries to get back on track against Wright State on Saturday.
  • Youngstown State: DeAndre Mays is the type of player that can carry a team, and sometimes the Penguins have asked him to do just that. He’s eighth in the conference in scoring, but when he gets on a roll Youngstown has a much better chance. The Penguins held home court against the two Chicago schools before losing a tough game to Valparaiso on Thursday, so it’s obvious that they are going to be competitive going forward in league play. This might be a team that could surprise someone down the stretch.
  • UIC: The Flames completely changed their identity over the weekend as they switched from a team dominated by guard play to one that relied more on points in the paint. Forward Jeremy Buttell ranks fifth in the conference in rebounding. UIC needed to do something as the Flames have dropped 3 straight since a surprising victory over Detroit on New Year’s Eve. The cross-town game against Loyola will be a big one as will a gome game against Valparaiso on the 21st.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 3-0
  2. Green Bay 4-1
  3. Detroit 3-1
  4. Wright State 3-1
  5. Cleveland State 2-2
  6. Loyola (IL) 2-3
  7. Valparaiso 1-2
  8. Milwaukee 1-3
  9. Youngstown State 1-4
  10. UIC 1-4

Top Storylines

  • Into conference play to stay. Besides the Bracket Busters event everyone is locked in and focused on conference play in the Horizon League.
  • Butler is still the team to beat. The Bulldogs haven’t been challenged yet in the Horizon League, but every team is gunning for them. There’s a huge game coming up at Wright State on Friday and another at Detroit on Saturday.
  • Parity reigns in league play. Besides the Butler bully at the top the conference nobody can get away with playing anything less than their “A” game. That’s especially true on the road.

Team Breakdowns

Butler: The Bulldogs are an excellent offensive team, but the trip to Wright State is going to be a huge game. Pomeroy projects the Bulldogs to lose in a tight game on the road. The Bulldogs might’ve slipped up one too many times to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but now all that matters is the conference tournament in March. Gordon Hayward is ridiculous. If you haven’t seen Butler play this season you’re missing out on a treat. He’s got an excellent game and he rebounds. He’s 46th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.

Green Bay: One of the two annual rivalry games between the two Wisconsin schools in the Horizon League takes place on Saturday. The game is in Milwaukee so the Phoenix are slight underdogs. Green Bay won’t have played in a week since its last game was a 6-point win at Valparaiso. Here the player to watch is Rahmon Fletcher. He dominates the ball for the Phoenix, taking the 16th highest percentage of shots in the nation. Fletcher has to be on the court for Green Bay to play well. The Phoenix lost by an average of 23.5 points per game to Butler and Oakland when he was out.

Detroit: Probably the tallest team in the Horizon League, the aptly named Titans are using it to their advantage. Detroit suffered an upset loss to UIC at the Pavilion last Thursday, but came back to beat Loyola on the road to get a split in Chicago. A game against Valparaiso could be a trap game before Butler on Sunday. (Valparaiso is Butler’s “travel partner” and could be a trap game for many opponents this season.) Eli Holman is one of the tall people on the frontline. He’s 6’9″ but plays bigger and is 28th in the country in block percentage.

Wright State: The “other” Top 50 Pomeroy team in the Horizon League, the Raiders already have a tough loss in Horizon League play – 53-52 to Loyola on New Year’s Eve. Now they get Butler on their home court. Wright State forces a lot of turnovers, plays at a slow pace and generally grinds through a game. They don’t have any particularly good non-conference wins – Belmont is the best – so it’s Horizon League title or bust for the Raiders. Senior guard Todd Brown and junior guard Vaughn Duggins lead a very balanced attack. No player uses more than 21.8% of the team’s possessions while on the court.

Cleveland State: The Vikings are 6-10, but don’t let the record fool you, this team is a competitor in the Horizon League. After a four-game losing streak (albeit against some talented teams) head coach Gary Waters switched to a four-guard starting lineup and it’s paid off in two wins over Youngstown State and Loyola. The Vikings have to finish off the Chicago pair when UIC comes to town and then prepare for Butler. (Everyone prepares for Butler.) Norris Cole is the guy for Cleveland State. He does a little bit of everything from his guard position. Also, the four-guard rotation has given Jeremy Montgomery a more prominent role in which he could also flourish.

Loyola: A little bit of luck went a long way, but the Ramblers are coming back to reality during conference play. Then again, being sixth is still a surprising position for a team that was picked 10th in the preseason poll. Loyola lost a close game to Cleveland State in Cleveland on Thursday. The bench continues to outscore the starters and every game is going to be close. The loss to the Vikings was Loyola’s first close loss of the season. Now they have to go to Youngstown State to finish up the Ohio swing before playing crosstown rival UIC next Friday. Sophomore Walt Gibler is emerging as an effective scoring threat that goes to the line often. He’s seventh in the nation in fouls drawn.

Valparaiso: A New Year’s Eve victory over Milwaukee was a good way to end 2009, but 2010 hasn’t been as kind to the Crusaders. They have a sieve for a defense, probably because they gamble too often. (Valparaiso does rank 69th in steal percentage as a team.) Like I noted above, the Crusaders are Butler’s travel partner, so they might benefit from that, though it didn’t help last time as Green Bay won a tight game 64-58. Look out for sophomore guard Brandon Wood. He takes a lot of shots and makes them, a lethal combination. He also draws some fouls, making him a very effective scorer.

Milwaukee: Nothing like playing SIU-Edwardsville to make a Horizon League team feel better about itself. That’s exactly what the Panthers did on Tuesday to improve their record to 9-7. The game against Green Bay should be a big one and according to Pomeroy the Panthers are a slight favorite. If I had to handicap it though I’d give the edge to the Phoenix, even on the road. The Panthers don’t like giving up offensive rebounds, they rank 7th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. The guy here is James Eayrs, but the senior is having a bit of a problem with his three-point shot thus far this season.

Youngstown State: The reason the Penguins are ninth in the standings is because they got a home game against the tenth team. Youngstown State became the final Horizon League team to win a league game when it defeated UIC 76-67. Now maybe the Penguins can start a two-game winning streak when Loyola comes to town on Saturday. DeAndre Mays is the go-to-guy for the Youngstown.

UIC: An upset victory over Detroit on New Year’s gave the Flames their first conference victory, but two losses have followed. Jeremy Buttell absolutely went off with 31 points and 12 rebounds against Youngstown State, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Flames to victory. Now they’ll take on Cleveland State before the crosstown game versus Loyola on their home floor at the Pavilion on January 15. (A game that will be televised on ESPNU.) Robo Kreps is the go-to-guy most nights for UIC and when he’s on he can carry the team, but nights when he shoots 4-14, like he did against Youngstown State, make it difficult to win.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by jstevrtc on December 18th, 2009

checkinginon

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings:

  1. Green Bay 2-0 (9-3)
  2. Wright State 1-0 (6-4)
  3. Detroit 2-0 (6-4)
  4. Butler 1-0 (7-3)
  5. Loyola-Chicago 1-1 (7-2)
  6. Milwaukee 1-1 (7-4)
  7. Valparaiso 0-1 (4-6)
  8. Youngstown State 0-2 (4-5)
  9. Cleveland State 0-2 (4-7)
  10. UIC 0-2 (2-6)

Top Stories:

  • Big Stars Missing Big Time: Two of the top teams in the Horizon League, Green Bay and Detroit, were hampered by the loss of star players.  Rahmon Fletcher hasn’t played for the Phoenix since injuring himself against Wisconsin on December 9 and Eli Holman missed three games for the Titans between November 28 and December 13.
  • A Different Point of View: Basketball State has a different way of seeing the Horizon League.  It thinks Butler is #1, but has surprising Loyola at #4 and 0-2 Youngstown State at #5.  Both are in front of Detroit, which is 2-0 in the league.
  • Rise of Chicago: The two Chicago programs in the Horizon League, UIC and Loyola, have been down for a while now, but the Ramblers are off to a 7-2 start.  A win at Bradley really cemented their status as a darkhorse in the conference. UIC might be struggling, but the Flames rose up to defeat Pac-10 foe Oregon State on Wednesday at home.
  • Very busy Saturday: Saturday, December 19 is one of the busiest days of the season for the Horizon League as nine of the 10 teams will be in action.  The only team not playing is Loyola (Ill).  Big games include Xavier at Butler, West Virginia at Cleveland State, and Youngstown State at Green Bay in a conference tilt.
  • More Places to See the Horizon: The Horizon League is one of the best mid-major conferences out there in getting its games out to the world for free.  If you live in Indianapolis, Youngstown, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Dayton or Chicago you can now get even more Horizon League games on television with the Horizon League Network’s Game of the Week. This is another great development for the league to complement HLN’s excellent online broadcasts.

Team Breakdowns:

  • Butler — The Bulldogs got the win they had to have over Ohio State at home last Saturday.  Now comes another weekend test on national television as they take on Xavier on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.  There was a time when the UAB game on Tuesday might’ve been an easy game, but not this season.  The Blazers are 9-1 and just beat Cincinnati.  UAB already took out Green Bay in its first game of the season.
  • Detroit — Holman’s return against Michigan was nice.  Otherwise it was a light week for the Titans.  They hung tough for a while against the Wolverines but eventually lost, 75-64.  Two MAC schools come to Detroit this week as the Titans take on Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
  • Loyola — The Ramblers are for real.  Or at least that’s what fans are beginning to think after Courtney Stanley’s buzzer beater against Bradley on Wednesday.  The incredible half-court shot by Stanley gave Loyola a 68-65 victory over the toughest team remaining on their non-conference schedule.  The Ramblers have to avoid giving all back this week when they play at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and host Albany on Tuesday.
  • Wright State — It was a tough week on the road for the Raiders as they lost a heartbreaker to Miami (OH) on Sunday and then followed it up with an 11-point loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday.  With home games against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Arkansas-Little Rock on the slate for this week things are going to be much easier, to say the least.
  • Green Bay — The euphoria over the Phoenix victory over Wisconsin didn’t last long as Green Bay got a tough dose of reality while playing without Fletcher at Oakland.  The Grizzlies blew out Green Bay, 76-52.  It is possible that Fletcher could return for the important conference game against Youngstown State, but no matter what, the Phoenix are notoriously tough to beat at home.
  • Milwaukee — Ricky Franklin led the team in both points and rebounds as the Panthers defeated North Dakota State in their only game of the week.  Milwaukee then took a week off for exams and heads back to work for the continuation of Miami (OH)’s Horizon League series.  The Panthers take on a Wisconsin team already familiar to Horizon League fans on Wednesday in Madison.
  • Youngstown State — Youngstown State has a big game against Green Bay on Saturday in conference.  Then High Point comes to town, and since the team is ranked 311th in the Basketball State rankings they shouldn’t be too worrisome for the Penguins.  I’m not nearly as bullish as some people are about Youngstown State, as they really haven’t proven anything against good competition yet this season.
  • Cleveland State — The Vikings hung 113 points on NAIA Wilberforce and then lost at home to Robert Morris by 8 points.  Cleveland State has three very difficult non-conference games remaining and while Gary Waters should be commended for taking on the challenge of West Virginia and road games at Ohio State and Kansas State he might’ve overscheduled a bit.  The Vikings haven’t found any continuity yet and besides Norris Cole nobody has consistently put the ball in the basket.  Cleveland State has zero seniors, so this might be a one-year blip.
  • Valparaiso — An easy win at home against Toledo will beget more easy games against Concordia (Wisc.) and at IUPU-Fort Wayne over the next few games for the Crusaders.  Valparaiso is near the bottom of the Horizon League so no game should be taken lightly.
  • UIC – The return of Spencer Stewart has energized the Flames and made them into a better team.  While the game against Oregon State wasn’t pretty, the result — thanks to Robo Kreps‘ lay-up with 5.3 seconds remaining and two stolen inbounds passes — was.  UIC tries to continue the momentum this weekend when it takes on Northern Illinois, a game many people thought might be the Flames first Division I win of the season.  With that monkey already off their back, UIC can just concentrate on improving.  The Flames also head to Akron on Tuesday this week.

 

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