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). Cleveland State inked Anton Grady, a slim 6’7 power forward out of Central Catholic High in Cleveland. Alvin Boutte of Indianapolis picked Ray McCallum‘s Detroit Titans 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 Valparaiso Crusaders, 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 Andy Polka 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.
- Youngstown State (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 Ryan Allen 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.