Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
For each college basketball fan, there’s one moment in the weeks that lead up to the season opener when it hits you: the season is coming. To some, it’s when the players are introduced to blaring music and flashing lights during Midnight Madness. For others, it’s the release of the first poll or perusing the airport newsstand and seeing Lindy’s preview issue.
As far as I’m concerned, the release of the Wooden Award watch list is the striking epiphany that in short time I’ll be watching meaningful college basketball once again. The list outlines who will dominate the headlines all season long, providing a rundown of the top candidates to be this year’s Jimmer Fredette or J.J. Redick or Kevin Durant and dominate the discussion from November to March. Among the list of 50 players, some candidates are superior to others, some are primed to disappear from the list once the competition heightens, some star for mid-major upstarts and some are head-scratching choices in place of glaring snubs. But one factor unites all 50 inclusions: they’re going to make an impact on the upcoming season.
Let’s take a magnifying glass to this year’s list that was released yesterday to get a closer look:
Jared Sullinger is our preseason favorite for the Wooden Award
Odds-On Favorite: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. Sullinger is the player who has the best chance to win this award for a multitude of reasons. One, he plays on a team expected to contend all season long, keeping his name in the headlines and on a national stage. Two, the entire Buckeyes offense will revolve around his play in the post, boosting his statistical profile more than a fellow contender like Kentucky’s Terrence Jones who has a surplus of talented teammates that will need their reps. Three, he’s sure to receive the ball in opportune spots for easy points with such an intelligent point guard like Aaron Craft on his side. Most importantly, Sullinger should be incredibly motivated to not only prove that returning to Columbus was a worthwhile decision, but to avenge last season’s stunning Sweet 16 exit.
Runner Up: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin. Joining his Big Ten adversary atop the contenders is Taylor, a point guard so incredibly potent that Bo Ryan scrapped his preferred swing offense to keep the ball in Taylor’s hands last season. Expect more of the same philosophy in 2011-12, especially with Jon Leuer moving on to the NBA and a dramatic drop-off in proven offensive commodities on the roster. Taylor played nearly 91% of available minutes for Wisconsin and utilized 27.4% of their possessions; I fully anticipate those numbers to climb even more this upcoming season. Not only is Taylor an immensely talented scorer capable of exploding for 35 points on any given night, but his staggering lack of turnovers has earned the unshakeable trust of his coach.
On Monday we mentioned that the SEC would be looking for a 14th member to round out its new conference in the very near future. Yesterday, SEC commissioner Mike Silve came out and said they did not have any current plans to add a 14th team and did not have any other institutions currently under consideration to be the 14th team in the conference. We aren’t sure what to say about this other than to say we don’t believe it for a second unless Silve is trying to argue semantics. We can’t imagine that anybody actually believes that the SEC plans on having one of its football team playing a non-conference game each Saturday because they cannot find another SEC team play.
One of the more interesting aspects of the NBA work stoppage in our opinion has been the presence of NBA players around college campuses to continue working on their games. One of those players is former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, who has spent much of his summer in Chapel Hill living with Bobby Frasor (hopefully not jumping off roofs again). Jeff Goodman caught up with Hansbrough and got his thoughts on some of the current Tar Heels. Normally we just ignore commentary from former players talking about players from their school, but in this case Hansbrough actually critiques the players and points out some of their weakness. We already knew about many of these weaknesses, but it is interesting to see someone with a connection to the program call the players out on those weaknesses publicly.
Detroit may have been dealt a major blow with the announcement that Eli Holman would be taking an indefinite leave of absence while he deals with “personal matters”. Obviously, the impact this has on the Titans will depend a great deal on how long “indefinite” ends up being. They start off the season with a fairly difficult schedule so missing Holman during that period would probably cost them any shot at an at-large bid, which is pretty slim to begin with. Still, if he returns and can continue to add a solid post presence to go along with the potentially spectacular backcourt of Ray McCallum Jr. and Chase Simon the Titans still could pick up the Horizon League’s automatic bid.
Harvard has had a very solid stretch the past few days and we aren’t talking about their growing endowment. In addition to a previous commitment from Evan Cummins, Tommy Amaker picked up commitments from Mike Hall and Siyani Chambers, two highly-touted recruits who many say are the type of players that the Crimson has been unable to land in the past. Like many other members of the media, we are impressed by Amaker’s work in getting highly coveted recruits to come to a program without much basketball tradition even though the promise of an essentially free Harvard education does not sound like a bad deal for players who probably will never be NBA material [Ed. Note: Please don't start with the NCPA arguments.]. That said we aren’t drinking the Crimson Kool-Aid yet like some individuals who are already talking about an Elite 8 run as we are still waiting for Harvard to make the NCAA Tournament at some point after 1946.
We are a little over two weeks away from Midnight Madness and it appears that some schools may have a significant dilemma on their hands. With this year’s Midnight Madness occurring on a Friday night several major recruits are facing a difficult choice–not play in their school’s Friday night football game or miss an event that has become a ritual in the recruiting process. At least one school, Indiana, has already changed its event from midnight on a Friday to 7:30 PM on Saturday to “meet families who come to a game or this event with their children and expose them to IU basketball for the first time”. However, as Terry Hutchens points out, “Only a cynic would suggest the change would allow top recruit Gary Harris of Hamilton Southeastern to attend the event. Harris, who also plays football at HSE, is busy on Friday nights.” We guess that makes us a bunch of cynics.
Coming into this season Detroit was thought by many to be a potential mid-major sleeper. After a 17-16 record last season, the Titans were expected to be one of the top teams in the Horizon League. Led by Ray McCallum Jr., who averaged 13.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 4.9 APG in a spectacular freshman campaign playing for his father Ray Sr., and Chase Simon, who also averaged 13.5 PPG last season, the Titans had one of the top backcourts in the country and they had an established inside presence in Eli Holman, who averaged 11.8 PPG (on 61% FG shooting) and 9.6 RPG in his first season after transferring from Indiana. Now, it looks like those aspirations at a conference championship may have to be put on hold as Detroit has announced that Holman will be out on an indefinite leave of absence while he tends to personal matters.
Holman's Absence Leaves A Big Hole In The Middle For The Titans (Credit: HorizonLeague.org)
In a statement, athletic director Keri Gaither said, “We have been working with Eli Holman for some time to assist him in addressing his personal matters. At this time, we feel it is in Eli’s best interest to step away from basketball to allow him to concentrate on these matters. He has been excused from all team-related activity for an indefinite period while actively addressing these issues. We continue to support Eli during this time and we are asking everyone’s cooperation in respecting his privacy.” Like the school, we won’t speculate on the subject as nearly anything (family, health, academic, legal, etc.) could be classified as “personal matters” and we will respect Holman’s privacy. As for the Titans, this is a major blow unless Holman comes back relatively quickly because they have very little depth inside and Holman gives them a dimension–a major inside presence–that few teams in the Horizon League have.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC Pac-12 and Mountain West correspondent and a frequent columnist.
It’s that time of year again. Off in the distance, it could be a mirage, or it could be the start of college basketball season. It’s probably a mirage, but the Great Sports Desert (you know, that time of year between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of college football when normal American males actually have time to get stuff done) ends Thursday, as college football kicks off its 142nd season. And given the offseason that college football has had, it couldn’t come any sooner. Unfortunately, given all the scandals and arrests and the like, according to my source at the NCAA, it appears that literally every college football player will be ineligible for the coming year (at least I assume that is true – it’s not a very good source). As a result, football programs across this great nation have been scrambling for some last minute replacements. And, since we here at RTC are nothing if not diligent, we’ve spent the last few weeks scouring college football camps across the country while other lesser outlets have been reporting on things like a little scuffle in Baton Rouge and something-or-other about Miami (I’ll admit, I never got through that whole article, but I think I got the gist of it – Miami is a nice place to go to school, right?). Anyway, since we’re the only ones who seem to be on top of this sea change in college football, we’ll let you all in on some of our wisdom as we preview college basketball’s richer, more-spoiled sibling, with RTC’s official 2011 College Football All-American team.
High School Star Aaron Craft Will Fill In Nicely for Terrelle Pryor at OSU
QB:Aaron Craft (6’2″, 190 lbs), Ohio State: In light of the Buckeye football program’s recent troubles, new head coach Luke Stickell turns the reins over to the sophomore Craft. He’s not the quickest or fleetest of foot, but he is accurate, he’s tough and he’s a leader. There has been plenty of talk about the Heisman Trophy campaign of North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, but until he takes better care of the ball (last year, he turned the ball over on almost 30% of all possessions), we’ll give the nod to Craft, who at least has the advantage of having played QB for three years in high school.
RB:Jordan Taylor (6’1″, 195 lbs), Wisconsin: The newest Badger tailback may not have the size of former greats like Ron Dayne and John Clay, but Taylor is a tough and smart runner who excels at finding a crease and finishing through contact.
If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to email@example.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.
U of L basketball earns top academic honor: “The University of Louisville men’s basketball team has earned the 2010-11 BIG EAST Conference Team Academic Excellence Award, which recognizes the highest collective grade-point averages in each of the conference’s 26 sports.” (Card Chronicle)
Basketball Prospectus ranks Draymond Green the 14th best returning player in the country: The senior is expected to step up this year as the lone Spartan in the top 100. (The Only Colors)
Miller To Try Out For World University Games Team: “Kentucky forward Darius Miller is going to give international competition another try as the former U19 gold medalist will begin camp with Team USA Friday in hopes of making the World University Games roster. Miller is one of 22 players who accepted the invitations to the camp, which will be held in Colorado Springs and trimmed to the final playing roster August 8. The team will compete in China August 12-23 and will be coached by Purdue’s Matt Painter.” (Kentucky Sports Radio)
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
Everyone thought that Cleveland State had asserted its dominance on the conference; their first four victories yielded four blowouts. We should have known, by looking at the Power Rankings, that the teams CSU smashed into the ground were the teams that sit in the bottom half of the rankings. It should have been no surprise, then, that the Vikings were blown out at Butler and then dropped a close one against Valparaiso at the ARC in their trip through Indiana, never an easy trip for any Horizon League team. Butler destroyed the Vikings in the battle of the top teams in the Horizon League, and they’re back to their customary #1 spot in the Power Rankings. In one of the conference’s biggest rivalries, Milwaukee shot poorly and couldn’t go over the top of seven-footer Alec Brown in the post, dropping a 69-64 decision in Green Bay.
1. Butler (12-5, 4-1) – The Bulldogs took a licking at Milwaukee last Monday, ending their 22-game conference winning streak, a Horizon League record. They responded just as a Brad Stevens-coached team is expected to — by destroying first-place Cleveland State in front of a crowd of 7,071. The Bulldogs changed their lot with that victory; had they lost, they’d stand at 2-2 headed into the game against Youngstown State that was too close for comfort.
2. Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2) – Any dominance the Vikings had asserted over the conference was dashed this past week. Gary Waters‘ crew learned, as every team does, that it’s extremely difficult to win on the road at a Horizon League school. The Vikings were blown out at Butler before dropping a decision at Valpo. They get an easy week to recharge before their rivalry game at Youngstown State on Saturday.
3. Valparaiso (12-5, 4-1) – If the Crusaders dominated Cleveland State, they may have even overtaken second. But the Crusaders have six road games left in the conference, a tall order in the H-League. Should they get back to scoring in the high sixties and beyond on a consistent basis, they’ll be a tough out the rest of the way.
4. Detroit (10-7, 4-1) – Tommy Titan has got to be a happy camper. His Detroit squad went to Chicago and came back unscathed, although the UIC Flames definitely put a scare into Ray McCallum‘s crew. The Titans have a showdown with Butler on Friday night.
5. Wright State (11-6, 4-1) – To date, the only blotch on the Wright State resume in conference is a road loss at Detroit, one they suffered at the beginning of December. Since then, the Raiders have gone on an absolute tear through the Horizon, with only one truly close game (Green Bay, decided on a buzzer beater by Vaughn Duggins). Still, Wright State’s four wins have come against four of the bottom five teams in the conference. We’ll have a better idea of where they’re at when they welcome Valparaiso and Butler to the Nutter Center this weekend.
6. Milwaukee (8-9, 3-3) – It’s hard to figure out the Panthers, who have excellent wins against Butler, Northern Iowa and Detroit but also quizzical losses to Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and a blowout at Wright State. The Panthers will continue to be a middling Horizon League team until they can figure out how to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball.
7. Green Bay (8-9, 2-3) – Until Saturday, the Phoenix did not have a notable victory. Once again, though, Green Bay defended the home court against a well-traveled Milwaukee program, separating themselves (for now) from the bottom of the pack. A pair of games against Loyola and UIC should give an idea as to whether or not they’re truly above the cellar.
8. Loyola (10-7, 1-5) – An excellent non-conference record has been buoyed once again by the poor level of talent. Jim Whitesell‘s team scheduled as though they were hoping to get to 15 victories. Their lone conference win is a blowout 30-point schellacking at Youngstown State.
9. Youngstown State (6-9, 1-5) – Boy, did they come close. A Penguins squad that’s been blown out by nearly every team they played in the conference season came to Hinkle Fieldhouse and nearly stole one from the Bulldogs. It’s unlikely that YSU will replicate that effort for every game the rest of the season, so look for Cleveland State to clean up in the rivalry game.
10. UIC (5-12, 0-5) – The honest truth is that the UIC faithful were expecting a season like this. You don’t have the turnover the Chicago school has weathered without going through some transition, and this season hasn’t been much of a surprise. The Flames have an opportunity to win in Wisconsin this weekend, but a road victory is a difficult thing to obtain in the conference.
A Look Ahead
The Horizon League has been ridiculously unpredictable in the beginning of the conference season; only two teams, Detroit and Wright State (not Cleveland State and Butler) have avoided blowout losses. From December 30th through January 5th, no game was decided by less than 16 points and more than 3. This week has it all; Big time teams go on the road (Butler to Detroit and Wright State, CSU to Youngstown State), rivals jockey for position (UIC and Loyola invade Wisconsin), and big offense runs into big defense (Valpo heads to Dayton to take on Wright State).
1/14 – Butler at Detroit, 7 p.m. ESPNU
1/15 – Cleveland State at Youngstown State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/15 – Loyola at Milwaukee, 2 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/16 - Valparaiso at Detroit, 1 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/16 – Butler at Wright State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network (WNDY 23 in Indianapolis)
YouTube Clip of the Week
The fact is, it’s tough for ANYONE to travel in the Horizon League. Just ask Butler, who lost for the seventh time in their last ten trips to Milwaukee:
It wasn’t the best of weeks for TWTW. Notre Dame and Kentucky failed to live up to TWTW’s lofty praise heaped upon them. Notre Dame’s defense allowed Marquette to shoot 53.1% from the field and 70.6% from three in a 22-point loss, and the Wildcats lost their SEC opener after TWTW proclaimed them a sure-thing to come close to running the table in conference.
What will TWTW say this week that in seven-days will seem ridiculous? Let’s find out…
What We Learned
Walker Is Still Your Leader In the POY Race. (P. Raycraft/Hartford Courant)
Connecticut probably wasn’t quite in panic mode yet, but no team scored a bigger win than the Huskies with their road win at Texas on Saturday. After a 12-0 start to the regular season, the Huskies stumbled to a 1-2 start in the Big East. UConn barely beat USF at home on Dec. 32, and that game was sandwiched between road losses at Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Considering how young the Huskies are (they play six freshmen) and their dependence on Kemba Walker, the slump definitely cast doubts on the Huskies’ bona fides as a national contender. UConn seems to have its mojo back now, as other players proved they can step up in big games. The Huskies received a tremendous effort from Alex Oriakhi (11 points, 21 rebounds), while Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier contributed 13 and 15 points, respectively. UConn even survived one of the most mind-boggling shots in recent history: Smith’s full-court heave with more than 10 seconds left in regulation. If you can win in spite of a play like that, you have to think you’re destined for big things this season.
The Lede. As we head into the first weekend where almost every conference will be in action — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC finally kick it into high gear — tonight was a pretty interesting night of hoops with the Crosstown Shootout turning into a blowout, the Pac-10 providing us with a couple of good games, and Northwestern showing everyone once again why you should never count on them to man up and make the NCAA Tournament. Let’s dive in.
Cincy Had a Lot to Celebrate in This Year's Crosstown Shootout (cincinnati.com)
Your Watercooler Moment. Does the Crosstown Blowout Legitimize Cincinnati? Let’s be honest: this was an undefeated Cincinnati team playing at home against a beat-up Xavier squad. On paper, if you covered the names of the teams and players and looked at the stats and what each team had done so far, this wouldn’t have appeared as much of a contest. But this is the Crosstown Shootout. The schools’ names are what matter the most, not the least. Everything else can be thrown out the window of your nearest chili joint. Forget analysis. Forget what it means in terms of the rest of the year. To ask those questions implies that you don’t quite get the depth of this rivalry.
But there was no romanticism tonight. 66-46, Bearcats, and that’s no surprise. Cincinnati’s deeper bench, confidence, and enjoyment of the home atmosphere were too much for the Musketeers, and, even though the game wasn’t truly out of reach until late, you knew at about the 8:00 mark of the first half that there wasn’t much of a fightback coming from XU. When you realize that 6’9/265 pound Yancy Gates (22/14), who looks 7’2 with 35 more pounds of arm when you get up close to him, is hitting outside fade-aways off one foot, and that Tu Holloway (5 pts on 2-13) — he of the 21.4 PPG average — will probably not get to double-figures, well…you know the outcome well ahead of time. Holloway was the most glaring casualty of UC’s intense defensive effort, but he wasn’t the only frustrated Musketeer. On eighteen field goals, XU had only four assists, and they were flummoxed from three-point land, shooting 1-10.
Now that it’s over, we can ask that question: what does this mean? Should a 15-0 Cincinnati team be considered a national championship contender? It would be unwise to let the magnitude of this rivalry make this victory appear bigger than it is. In fact, the Bearcats were warned of this before the game. According to both Gates and reserve guard Larry Davis in their post-game comments, the team adopted an “all-business” approach at the behest of head coach Mick Cronin. His thinking on this is a product of how tough life is in the Big East. “You can’t just be ‘rivalry-tough,'” Cronin said. “We still have to play five teams on the road who are ranked in the top 14 in the country.” In other words, he got across to his team that there is life outside of the Crosstown Shootout. That said, this will probably be filed as yet another win over a mediocre team and won’t do much to persuade UC’s detractors. Does Cincinnati belong in the Top 25? Certainly. Are they a championship contender? Hey, this is a very good team. After a 15-0 start, they definitely deserve a little more attention than they’re getting, but whether they’re 15-0 or 8-7, with a Big East schedule looming, whom could you say that about with any assurance? That record will boost their confidence, and in terms of wins and losses, they’ve given themselves some wiggle room. They deserve credit for possessing more maturity than recent Bearcat squads, and it appears that this group has bought in to what Coach Cronin is teaching them. Cronin has his players’ trust. He’s gotten through to them early. That means a lot, to be sure. But it’s the only definite thing you can take away from their season so far, because what’s to come is so much more meaningful for their season than what’s already happened. Cronin doesn’t mind if you underestimate his team, of course. He knows the value of that, and he said so after the game: “Nobody thinks we’re any good, still, and that’s a good thing. So I’m just going to keep telling them that. As long as I can keep playing that card.”
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
St. Mary’s as the Class of the WCC. With the Gaels’ easy 98-75 win at LMU tonight, a team that was expected to push St. Mary’s and Gonzaga from the third-place spot, we’re becoming more and more convinced that Randy Bennett’s team is the class of the WCC this year. From our viewpoint, they simply have more offensive weapons and a more diverse attack than the Zags, and in a league that isn’t known for sticky defense, that should be the difference. With one of the toughest road venues already out of the way after this evening and a supreme home court advantage at the McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, we’re looking at a 13-1 record for SMC, good enough for the Gaels to knock Gonzaga out of first place for the first time in a decade.
The Other Terrence: Terrence Ross. Washington’s Ross was the much-less-heralded recruit named Terrence out of Portland last year, but in his introductory few games of Pac-10 play, he’s making himself known very quickly. The 6’6 wing torched his home state Oregon Ducks tonight for 25/4/4 stls, and in his last three games, he’s pouring in 17/3 on 57% shooting. With Abdul Gaddy done for the season with an ACL injury, Ross and the other backcourt Huskies will be asked to pick up his slack — this rising freshman is showing himself capable of the job.
Corey Stokes & Dominic Cheeks En Fuego. Nine treys fired, nine threes entered into the score books tonight against South Florida. The two Villanova guards have gunner Corey Fisher to blame for the team’s only three misses from outside the arc tonight (9-12). Not bad for a squad that came into tonight’s game shooting a rather weak 32.8% from deep this season. The Wildcats have generally played one of the weaker schedules in the Top 25 to date, but that will change soon with unbeaten Cincinnati arriving over the weekend and games against Louisville, Maryland, UConn and Syracuse in successive contests.
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
After a couple months of beating good teams but never getting over the hump and beating a great team, the Horizon League finally got that signature Top-15 program win. The only surprising part was that it wasn’t Cleveland State at West Virginia, with the Vikings rolling into town and playing respectably before bowing out in the final five minutes. Instead, the victory came from the hands of the UIC Flames against Illinois, who was stunned in a “home” game at the United Center (not the UIC Pavilion, their normal home). Big East cellar-dweller DePaul ripped the hearts out of Milwaukee and Loyola, and Butler absolutely went off on Stanford.
Our Tip of the Cap goes to freshman Ray McCallum Jr. of Detroit, who won the battle of the Michigan coaches’ kids against Trey Zeigler and Central Michigan. The Titans point guard had 23 points and 11 rebounds, marking the first double-double of his career.
Cleveland State (12-1, 2-0) – Sooner or later, Gary Waters‘ crew had to lose a game. The good news is a loss in Morgantown does nothing to hurt the Vikings’ NCAA Tournament resume, even though a victory would have practically ensured a ticket to the Big Dance. South Florida visits on Wednesday before the Vikings take a break for the holiday.
Butler (6-4, 1-0) – With losses to Xavier and Evansville and a fairly ho-hum record thus far, the Bulldogs needed a statement. Mission accomplished. The Dawgs blasted Stanford to get themselves set for the Diamond Head Classic this week, a huge deal for the Horizon League as it jockeys for RPI position.
Valparaiso (8-4, 2-0) – The Crusaders are on a winning track heading into Tuesday night’s big matchup at Oakland. Homer Drew‘s team dispatched IPFW and Eastern Michigan, the latter securing a Horizon League season victory over the MAC.
Loyola (8-4, 0-2) – Jim Whitesell had a difficult time last week, dropping a game at intra-city rival DePaul. After the near-win against Kansas State, the loss in town really took the wind out of the Ramblers’ sails. The Ramblers wrap up the non-conference season against Texas Pan-American, a team they obliterated early in the season at home.
Detroit (7-5, 1-0) – The Titans destroyed Central Michigan in a rare nationally-televised game. The McCallum father-son team celebrated a victory against the Zeigler father-son team in a long-awaited battle, and play at Bradley on Wednesday, a difficult place for anyone to win.
Wright State (7-5, 0-1) – Billy Donlon‘s Raiders are on their biggest roll of the year, winning four in a row heading into a semester-ending battle at Charlotte, a dangerous A-10 team that is coming off an upset of Tennessee. Should they win in North Carolina, the Raiders will ride a five-game winning streak into the conference season.
UIC (5-7, 0-1) – Maybe beating a Big Ten team will get the Flames on a roll. Oregon State of the Pac-10 welcomes UIC out west on Wednesday, the return game of a Flames win last season. If Howard Moore‘s team can take out the Beavers and win against Youngstown State on the 30th, they’ll present a formidable opponent for Cleveland State on New Years’ Day.
Milwaukee (5-7, 1-1) – It seems that the top five of the conference have separated themselves from the bottom five, and while Wright State may be making a move up the ladder, the Panthers definitely seem to be on a downturn. A close victory over lowly Bowling Green did nothing to boost confidence among the fan base following another bad loss Tuesday at DePaul. The Panthers have a lengthy break before playing at Wright State to open the H-League season.
Green Bay (5-7, 1-1) – The Phoenix escaped with a 72-68 victory over provisional D-I North Dakota on Monday. Freshmen Daniel Turner (5 RPG) and Alec Brown (5 RPG) are the only Green Bay players of any consequence on the boards, and while they’ve never been a big-time rebounding team, the Phoenix are shooting worse than most programs. They’re missing Troy Cotton more than they think.
Youngstown State (5-5, 0-2) – Jerry Slocum‘s team is ranking at or near the bottom in many statistical categories in the conference. The Penguins are 0-2, with both losses in conference coming to sub-.500 teams. Their lone win in December came in a victory over Malone. The good feelings of the early season are long gone, replaced by the all-too-familiar poor team. All signs point toward another awful conference season for the Penguins.
A Look Ahead
Except for a couple games in January and the Bracket Buster event (only UIC and Butler aren’t participating), the Horizon League wraps up its non-league slate this week. Valparaiso’s game at Oakland is a very important matchup for the conference and would look good following Oakland’s victory over Tennessee. Cleveland State can solidify its at-large resume by beating up on Big East opponent USF at home, while perhaps the biggest opportunity this week belongs to Butler. Beat Utah, most likely Florida State and hopefully Baylor, and the Dawgs can go a long way to filling out its dance card for March. This is important because it has now been twelve years since the Horizon League has sent three teams to the Big Dance. With CSU all but locking up a spot and Butler on the verge of a huge opportunity in Hawaii, the Horizon League Tournament opens up the possibility of a third team stealing the automatic bid and the Horizon League sending three teams to the Big Dance. It should make sense for the selection committee, as the conference has a very good record in the NCAA Tournament even without last year’s runner-up finish for Butler. They’ll be playing for the NIT, however, if they flop this weekend at the Diamond Head Classic.
12/21 – Valparaiso at Oakland, 7:30 p.m.
12/21 – South Florida at Cleveland State, 7 p.m. (HLN)
12/22 – Detroit at Bradley, 8 p.m.
12/23-25 – Butler in the Diamond Head Classic. (ESPNU)
Youtube Video of the Week
Oh no…the bad side of UIC beating Illinois is we all must stomach this video:
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor. For an introduction to this series, please click here.
As every week of the college basketball season evaporates right before our eyes—like a double-digit lead is whittled down to a single possession in a matter of minutes—more and more stories subsequently develop. To draw a comparison to mathematics for you brainiacs out there, this is the classic inverse relationship. As “X”—the number of weeks in the season—decreases, “Y”—the amount of stories—increases. Think about it, when are there the most stories surrounding college basketball? At the end of the year during the NCAA Tournament, of course. From the moment Selection Sunday rolls around all the way to that final, depressing buzzer in the NCAA Championship game rings signaling an end to another season, it seems as if college hoops are being discussed 24/7. Just this past week, there were several major developments in the world of the Other 26:
The top three teams in the Mountain West—SDSU, BYU, and UNLV—are a combined 27-0.
Butler and Gonzaga have identical, albeit very mediocre, records: 4-4.
Temple defeated Maryland and Georgetown, and in the process Fran Dunphy picked up his 400th win.
Cleveland State has the most victories in the country with 11.
One of the biggest recruits in the nation—Adjehi Baru—signed with the College of Charleston over a couple of ACC schools. Bobby Cremins really has something brewing down there in South Carolina. Could Charleston be the next Davidson? Both schools, after all, hail from the Southern Conference.
Illinois and Oakland were getting in touch with their feminine side by using a women’s basketball for the first seven minutes of the first half of their game.
The inverse relationship will not fail as the season progresses. I promise.
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC Horizon League correspondent. You can find his ramblings daily at PantherU.com.
A Look Back
The biggest news out of the Horizon League has been a dearth of dumb losses. Things that have hampered the conference in the past such as losses to low-majors and D-II schools, or blowouts to evenly matched opponents just haven’t been the case as much as in recent years. Despite a couple of puzzling losses — such as Milwaukee to Florida Atlantic and UIC to Charleston — the conference has been very strong out of the gate. In fact, those two schools have turned it on as well. Milwaukee is now on a three-game winning streak culminating in a victory over Northern Iowa, and UIC dumped Rhode Island on a neutral court Sunday.
On The Trail
Recruiting is the big news everywhere this past week with the end of the fall signing period. All in all, the Horizon League picked up some very decent commitments for the 2011 season. Wright State beat out East Carolina and Duquesne in landing Tavares Sledge, a 6’8′ power forward from the Crimson Tide’s backyard in Tuscaloosa. Milwaukee sweated it out for the last week, but point guard Shaquille Boga finally signed his LOI. Boga picked the Panthers over confirmed offers from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and a slew of Missouri Valley schools such as Creighton, Southern Illinois, Missouri State and Bradley. Boga got to see his future team defeat another of his suitors, the Northern Iowa Panthers, Saturday night along with fellow signee J.J. Panoske. Butler got their point guard of the future with a signature from Australia’s Jackson Aldridge(you can find an interview with him at PantherU here). ClevelandState inked AntonGrady, a slim 6’7 power forward out of Central Catholic High in Cleveland. Alvin Boutte of Indianapolis picked RayMcCallum‘s DetroitTitans over offers from Akron, Wright State and IUPUI. The point guard figures to step in behind Ray McCallum, Jr., as a freshman.
New Green Bay coach Brian Wardle is from Illinois, attended Marquette (a private school in Wisconsin with a heavy Illinois fan base), and now he’s bringing that Chicago deep dish style up with him to the land of Lambeau. Aaron Armstead, Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes, all Illinois prospects, will join the Phoenix in 2011. As for those teams that stay in Chicago, UIC landed three in-state recruits and two out-of-state players for 2011. Will Simonton is a 6’11 center out of Fishburne Military Prep in Virginia, and Marc Brown is a sweet-shooting guard out of Texas, but new coach Howard Moore has shown he isn’t against recruiting the Chicago Public League to get his talent. On the northside of Chicago, Loyola inked juco standout Colin Beatty from Barton CC in Kansas. The ValparaisoCrusaders, looking to bolster their frontcourt depth, are bringing in Richie Edwards, a 6’8 power forward. Youngstown State grabbed 6’9 small forward Cale Zuiker out of the Wisconsin boondocks of Marshfield.
One look at Wright State’s box scores and you’ll notice a void. N’Gai Evans, the Raiders’ point guard and one of their biggest contributors, has been out with a strained knee ligament. While the Raiders are now 2-1 after dropping lowly Southern, they were blown out by Indiana and are seriously struggling in different ways. WSU needs him back, and yesterday. Without Evans and the graduated Todd Brown, guards Vaughn Duggins and Troy Tabler have struggled shooting this season. If the Raiders are to challenge, Evans needs to be back in the lineup. Jarvis Williams of Green Bay injured his ankle in a blowout loss at Marquette and missed the San Diego State game.
Butler (2-1) – It’s too early for me to go out and crown a new champ. While Butler’s blowout loss to open Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center was anything but good, they did take care of business at home against in-state foe Ball State and hung up a Final Four banner before the season-opening victory over D-II Marian.
Cleveland State (5-0) – Believe me, I racked my brain on whether or not to put CSU or Detroit over Butler in the first power ranking. I give the nod to Cleveland State over Detroit for one simple reason: they win. They haven’t blown out anybody (discounting non-D-I Urbana), but the Vikings haven’t lost a single game. While UL-Lafayette and Kent State made them sweat, the Vikings have pulled it out in the end every time out.
Detroit (1-2) – Should a sub-.500 team be in third place of a top 10 conference? Not in January, but just a week and a half into the season, we’ll give Detroit a break. Their drubbing of Indiana Tech aside, the two road losses to New Mexico (by nine) and Syracuse (by 11) were impressive, with the Titans in it until the last couple minutes each time. Ray McCallum, Jr. is already prospering, Eli Holman is dominant and the Titans are meshing well despite suspect depth.
Loyola (5-0) – Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing, and Loyola is making it happen. The Ramblers have squashed low-majors (Eastern Kentucky by 16, Texas-Pan Am by 22) and handily beaten mid-majors. The one thing the Ramblers hadn’t done until Saturday was win on the road, but they took care of that with an 18-point schellacking at Western Michigan. The Ramblers are getting big help from AndyPolka and his veteran supporting cast.
Milwaukee (3-2) – The Panthers started bad…real bad. Portland may be a third-place WCC team, but 20-point losses are tough to swallow. A nine-point loss to Florida Atlantic was even tougher to swallow. But Milwaukee is getting better every game, and significantly so. Dropping UC Davis was expected, but a beatdown in Niagara’s death trap, the “Taps” Gallagher Center, was gravy. Top that off with a solid home victory over Northern Iowa, and the Panthers have arguably the best victory of the Horizon League’s young season.
UIC (3-2) – The Flames get the upper hand over the bottom four for one simple reason: they beat Rhode Island out of nowhere Sunday afternoon. A season-opening blowout at Pitt was disheartening, but the Flames only have one hiccup since, a home loss to College of Charleston.
YoungstownState (2-1) – Coach Jerry Slocum has never been one to beat decent teams out of the gate. Heck, he’s lost some pretty bad games in the early parts of his six years at Youngstown State. But the Penguins are taking no prisoners this season. Their three-point victory over Samford may seem so-so to some, but the Penguins of past years would lose that game. Couple that with an eleven-point victory over Buffalo, and the Penguins were rolling until Akron got lucky Saturday night. The guess here is they enter conference play 4-1 with games against lowly Toledo and St. Francis (PA).
Green Bay (2-2) – Through four games, coach Brian Wardle is in dire need of help down in the block. Freshmen Alec Brown and Clayton Heuer have been overmatched early, and Heuer only played four minutes against San Diego State, which seemed to work in a surprisingly close nine-point loss. Troy Snyder, a 6’7 forward, may help them, but the Phoenix real strength is the guards; Bryquis Perine and Rahmon Fletcher are great upperclassmen who carry the team on their shoulders.
Valparaiso (2-1) – The Crusaders have only been party to blowouts. It may seem odd to have a team with two beatdown victories under its belt, but the VUCru haven’t played anyone of any consequence outside of Kansas, who murdered them by 35 at the Phog. Winning by 47 and 54 doesn’t seem as nice when the games are against IU-Northwest and Purdue North Central. We’ll find out much more about the Crusaders in the next two games against D-I opponents closer to their level in Ohio and Northern Colorado.
Wright State (2-1) – N’Gai Evans has been out with a strained knee ligament, and the Raiders have seriously missed his scoring and passing ability. Just the return of Evans may spark a rise in the power rankings, but be wary of the total lack of an inside game; Cole Darling and Johann Mpondo have been the best of a weak frontcourt.
A Look Ahead
Thanksgiving week is a time for us to all think about what we’re thankful for. The Horizon League will hopefully be thankful for victories in the following games: Detroit at Mississippi State, Valparaiso at Ohio, Oakland at Wright State, Wright State vs. Richmond, Central Michigan at UIC, and Marquette at Milwaukee. RPI Boosters will be big for the conference heading into in-house play just a week away.
Signature victories over Northern Iowa and Rhode Island are good for the conference, but the Horizon League as a whole needs more of them for the conference to get recognition beyond Butler come March.
Traveling teams in the Horizon League go in pairs: the University of Wisconsin’s Green Bay Phoenix and Milwaukee Panthers; Chicago’s UIC and Loyola; Indiana’s Valparaiso and Butler; Ohio’s Cleveland State and Youngstown State; and Wright State and Detroit, the odd couple. The Chicago teams host the Indiana teams, the Ohio teams go to Wisconsin, and Wright State faces Detroit at Calihan Hall on December 4th.
One For The Calendar
Marquette at Milwaukee – Sunday, November 27: The Panthers play host for the first time in history to Marquette, their cross-town foe from the Big East. If you’ve caught any of the recent Marquette blowouts on television, you might have seen a graphic detailing the current 37-0 series lead by Marquette as the second-most without a victory by the other team. Digging deeper, however, and you’ll find that Milwaukee’s media guide lists three victories over teams named Marquette dating back to 1902. Marquette claims these games do not count because the private school didn’t field a team until the late 1910’s. Their first year of recorded history is just two seasons after Milwaukee claims two victories over Marquette in 1914-15. While the Milwaukee media guide lists the series at 37-0, it says that the series started in 1902, where the Milwaukee Normal School defeated a team named Marquette, 35-16. Very interesting to a Panther who is annoyed. You know what I say? Throw out any games where either team is not D-I, and you get 9-0 Marquette. A little closer to the truth.
As for the game itself, the Golden Eagles’ thin front court has taken a beating in the early season. Forward Joe Fulce will miss 2-4 weeks with a left knee injury, and freshman behemoth Davante Gardner is questionable against Duke Monday night. Without them, Marquette has a significant size disadvantage in the block; players on the Golden Eagles that do have height (Erik Williams, Jimmy Butler) are outside scorers. Jae Crowder may be the Golden Eagles’ best option to stack up against Milwaukee senior Anthony Hill, junior Tony Meier, and freshman Kyle Kelm.
One thing the Panthers can’t do against Marquette is try to go guard on guard. While Kaylon Williams, Tone Boyle and RyanAllen are up to the task, they’d be playing right into Marquette’s wheelhouse of Vander Blue, Darius Johnson-Odom, Dwight Buycks, and a host of other capable guards. Get spooked and start jacking up threes and the game could be over like it was for Green Bay last Wednesday. Play hard, keep pounding the block and control the tempo, and Marquette may be on its heels in the waning moments. Marquette has never lost to a D-I Milwaukee team. But then again, Milwaukee has never played the game at home. We’ll see how the intra-city showdown goes down on Saturday.
Macking on the MAC
Following Green Bay’s victory over Miami (OH), the Horizon League has improved to 7-1 over their fellow midwest mid-major, the Mid-American Conference. While the MAC gets a load more attention due to fielding a football conference, the Horizon League has quietly built a dominating presence. The lone loss this season is Youngstown State (picked 10th in the Horizon) to Akron (picked 2nd in MAC East), and that only happened because Akron hit a shot to send the game to overtime.
Caught On Film
Northern Iowa gets a taste of its own clutch medicine, as Milwaukee wins a hard-fought game with a Tone Boyle jumper in the closing seconds.