Set Your Tivo: 03.08.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 8th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win

The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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RTC Live: Marquette @ Milwaukee

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2010

Game #45.  It’s a crosstown rivalry between Brew City schools and RTC Live is happy to visit Milwaukee for the first time.

This Saturday night, Marquette and Milwaukee will meet for the 38th time for an 8 p.m. showdown at U.S. Cellular Arena. And in all 37 previous encounters between these city-sharing rivals, Marquette has emerged victorious. This year’s edition comes with a new wrinkle, though: for the first time in the series, Milwaukee is the home team. With a large blue and gold contingent expected at the Cell, a raucous atmosphere is certainly expected. It’s been a rocky start to the season for Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers. They embarked on a wild road swing to begin the campaign, salvaging a 1-2 record in a four-team event in Portland. A convincing road win over Niagara and a gutty 65-63 triumph over Northern Iowa followed, but the Panthers fell to 3-3 with a disappointing home defeat the hands of Western Michigan on Tuesday. Milwaukee relies primarily on talented big man Anthony Hill and sharpshooting wing Tone Boyle for their scoring, but the efficiency of junior college transfer Kaylon Williams at the point is vital to an upset tonight. With MU missing big men Joe Fulce and Davonte Gardner, Hill could have an easier time operating in the post. Marquette began their season with four home wins before heading to Kansas City for the CBE Classic. The Golden Eagles hung with mighty #1 Duke before falling short to the Blue Devils and followed that up with a 66-63 loss to #18 Gonzaga. Marquette is led by versatile forward Jimmy Butler (22/6 vs. Duke and Gonzaga), but it’s the three-point shooting of Darius Johnson-Odom (20% this year) that must heat up for Buzz Williams’ squad. Keep an eye on whether Milwaukee employs a zone to stop Marquette’s dribble penetration, the strategy Gonzaga employed to slow down the Golden Eagles guards on Tuesday. Join us tonight for RTC Live from Marquette at Milwaukee to see if the Golden Eagles can claim their 38th straight win over the Panthers.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2010

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. PanoskeButler 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.

The Infirmary

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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Butler (15-3)
  2. Cleveland State (12-6)
  3. Detroit (12-6)
  4. Milwaukee (11-7)
  5. Valparaiso (9-9)
  6. Wright State (9-9)
  7. Green Bay (8-10)
  8. UIC (7-11)
  9. Loyola (5-13)
  10. Youngstown State (2-16)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Shelvin Mack, Butler
  • G: Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • F: Cory Johnson, Valparaiso
  • F: Matt Howard, Butler
  • C: Eli Holman, Detroit

6th Man

G: Brandon Wood, Valparaiso

Impact Newcomer

Paul Carter (F), UIC

What does Brad Stevens and Butler have in mind for an encore after their run to the title game?

What You Need To Know

  • All Horizon League games and most non-conference home games will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.org, the conference’s website.  All games are free and the feed is television quality in most arenas.  It’s a service that has been around since 2007, and has expanded every year to be an all-encompassing athletics powerhouse for information, features and interviews on Horizon League basketball.  By now, if you haven’t heard about Butler‘s run through the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably still counting your hours of free America Online.
  • What most people don’t realize is how strong the conference is behind Butler. Yes, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the conference, going 18-0 and paving their way to the title game in dominant fashion, but they had victories against the seventh and eighth place teams by a combined three points.  It’s a deep league through the top seven programs, and even UIC, who finished ninth last year, looks to be strong this season.  The Detroit Titans were seventh place despite posting a 20-win season, one of five Horizon League programs to do so.
  • It is a guard-oriented league, but post players like Matt Howard, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.

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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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Horizon League Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2009

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

FINAL STANDINGS
1. Butler 15-3 25-4
2. Green Bay 13-5 22-9
3. Cleveland State 12-6 21-10
4. Wright State 12-6 18-12
5. Milwaukee 11-7 16-13
6. Youngstown State 7-11 11-18
7. UIC 7-11 15-14
8. Loyola 6-12 14-17
9. Valparaiso 5-13 9-21
10. Detroit 2-16 7-22

First things first…the Horizon League announced it’s all-league teams and award winners on Monday. A complete list can be found here, but we have the 1st-teamers:

ALL-HORIZON LEAGUE 1st TEAM
Matt Howard – Sophomore – Butler (Player of the Year)
Gordon Hayward – Freshman – Butler
Ryan Tillema – Senior – Green Bay
J’Nathan Bullock – Senior – Cleveland State
Josh Mayo – Senior – UIC

Study this list closely, and you’ll have an idea why Butler should continue to dominate the Horizon League for the foreseeable future. Zoiks, Scoob.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2009

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

  1. Butler (#13/13)        9-0    18-1
  2. Green Bay            8-2    16-6
  3. Milwaukee            8-3    13-8
  4. Wright State            7-3    13-8
  5. Cleveland State        5-5    14-8
  6. Loyola                4-6    12-10
  7. UIC                3-7    10-10
  8. Youngstown State        3-7    6-14
  9. Valparaiso            3-7    6-15
  10. Detroit                0-10    5-15

I’ve used up the majority of this space over the last several weeks explaining why and/or how the Horizon League would be a two-bid league in the NCAA Tournament this year.  Actually, it was more like “explaining why” early in the season because the hopes were so high, then “explaining how” as of late, as the chances became slimmer and slimmer.  That said, let me make something very clear…

The Horizon League will ONLY send 2 teams to the NCAA Tournament if Butler stumbles in the Horizon League Tournament.  Period.

I’m really, really disappointed about this.  The fact that the HL will likely be a one-bid league once again this season isn’t a knock on the overall level of basketball.  It’s simply evidence that, right now, there’s really only one elite team/program in the Horizon League.  That program, of course, is Butler.  Having seen nearly every team play in person (and all of them via TV or Internet), I have a lot of confidence in saying that there truly isn’t much difference between team #2 and team #10.  There may be a wide margin in the wins and losses, but talent-wise and coaching-wise, the gap is much tighter.  To me, the differences between teams 2-thru-5 and teams 6-thru-10 are things like experience, lack of injuries, or mental toughness.  Some teams have better results in these areas, and because of that they’ve risen slightly higher in the league standings.  It’s not because of a disparity in talent.  The only disparity in talent I see is at Butler.  Along with doing the little things right, they have the most talent, and it shows.

No need to go on, and on, about teams that are irrelevant right now, unless I feel like poking a little fun (which I will).  There have been some impressive performances since the last time we checked in, which has prompted a lot of chatter in Horizon League circles about who this season’s “HL Player of the Year” will be, “All-HL 1st Team,” etc.  We’ll dive into that, among other things, right about…now.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

  1. Butler (#17/18)          6-0    15-1
  2. Milwaukee                   6-1    11-6
  3. Green Bay                    5-1    12-5
  4. Cleveland State        4-3    13-6
  5. Wright State               3-3    9-8
  6. UIC                                    2-4    9-7
  7. Loyola                            2-4    10-8
  8. Youngstown St.       2-5    5-11
  9. Valparaiso                   2-5    5-13
  10. Detroit                           0-6    4-11

Much to my surprise, there seems to be as much attention on the Horizon League this year, as any year I can remember.  Maybe some of that has to do with the often-mentioned “reload” at Butler, or maybe it’s the HL’s tendency to impress when the lights are at their brightest.

In my RTC Horizon League season preview, I mentioned how tough HL teams have been once they make the NCAA Tournament.  During the regular season, the lights are brightest in the Horizon League when teams get the opportunity to play on national television, via the ESPN family of networks.  To date, Horizon League games on one of the WWL’s platforms have featured a buzzer-beating win by Butler over Cleveland State, a HUGE road win by Butler over Xavier, and an overtime win by Green Bay over Milwaukee.  Not to be forgotten, Cleveland State’s 70-foot buzzer-beating win over Syracuse was broadcast on the Big East Network (AKA – ESPN Regional).  Both buzzer-beaters were the “Top Play” on ESPN’s SportsCenter that night, and this play from Green Bay’s Terry Evans and Ryan Tillema also brought home “Top Play” honors on SportsCenter, in Green Bay’s 77-75 OT win last Friday night at the home of the Panthers.

Those are only a few examples of what’s going on this year in the Horizon League.  The level of play is as good as I’ve seen it many years, but that may not translate into multiple NCAA bids.  Unfortunately, as you can probably see by the current standings (shown above), There aren’t 2 or 3 teams separating themselves from the rest of the pack.  Yes, I see the 2-game gap between Green Bay and Cleveland State, but looks can be deceiving.  There are 3 teams in the HL who have yet to play Butler.  Wanna guess who they are?  Yep…Milwaukee, Green Bay (Butler hosts both next week), and UIC (hosting Butler on Saturday afternoon).  It’s still early, but this thing is trending more and more toward one-bid with each passing road loss by Cleveland State and UIC.

Now that we’re in the heart of league play, my position with the Horizon League Network allows for a fair amount of travel to see a lot of these teams in person.  With that in mind, my thoughts on specific teams will hopefully be a bit more concise from here on out, as I no longer have to speculate solely on what “seems” to be true by reading game recaps and looking over box scores.  Remember folks…games aren’t played on paper.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

check_in41

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

LET US EAT TURKEY, STUFFING, AND ALL THOSE OTHER THANKSGIVING-Y DELIGHTS

Can you smell it?  I can.  I could smell it a month ago.  No, no…not college basketball season.  I was inhaling that scent back in September after my rooting interest in college football decided to figuratively sit this season out.

The smell permeating my brain is, and has been, Thanksgiving dinner.  For me, it’s tough to top a holiday where I can catch a course of college basketball to help my ease my indigestion.  I suppose I bring it upon myself though, as eating my way into a state of near-coma has become less of a task brought on by my Grandmother…and more of a conscious decision that I warmly embrace (see also: making a “food baby”).

That being said, there are several correlations between what I can expect to see at my family’s dinner table on Thanksgiving and what I have already seen from my beloved Horizon League basketball squads.  Yeah, it’s early, but let’s eat.

MIXED NUTS:  MILWAUKEE  (3-1)

It’s what you eat while you’re waiting for the feast to be served.  Milwaukee’s wins against Loyola-Marymount, UC Davis, and Upper Iowa were to be expected… beating Iowa State in Ames would have been like finding a cashew.  For now, Milwaukee fans should be thankful for newcomers Tone Boyle and Tony Meier to the starting lineup.  Avery Smith is also back in Panther black after a year in exile, which isn’t hurting anything.  How they perform on Saturday against city rival Marquette should tell us a little more.

HOUSE SALAD: WRIGHT STATE  (0-1)
Most dinner tables feature some type of leafy green salad.  You know what you’re getting with this dish… few surprises here.  Wright State’s home loss to Illinois State has me wondering if some of the romaine has gone bad, but I’ll dig in anyway.  Winning Saturday at Central Michigan is key for the Raiders.

TURKEY AND STUFFING:  CLEVELAND STATE  (1-1)
Unfortunately, this time around, the bird appears overdone and tastes a little dry.  Just about everyone sees Cleveland State as the team to beat in the Horizon League this year, but their early performances have me asking for more Kool-aid.  The Vikings barely got past Oakland at home in their season opener… then lost at Washington by 15.  Yes, the same Washington Huskies that lost at Portland just three days earlier.  J’Nathan Bullock and Cedric Jackson are shooting a combined 26% (15 of 57) from the field thus far.  That needs to change on Saturday when they host Kansas State.

MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY:  BUTLER  (2-0)
Done right, they can easily steal the show at any Thanksgiving meal.  Butler, at this point, is on the verge of proving that this batch of Bulldogs is more than just a bag of spuds.  Butler opened the season by leading 39 of 40 minutes in a 10-point victory at defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, and handled a much improved Ball State squad by 9 in their home opener.  Of the three freshmen in Butler’s starting lineup, Gordon Hayward has been the most offensive-minded (10ppg), while Ronald Nored is giving opposing guards fits defensively.  Teams are focusing on how to shut down All-Horizon League forward Matt Howard, but he continues to be a force in the middle (13.5ppg, 6.5rpg).  Head coach Brad Stevens definitely has something cooking with his new rotation of players.

CRANBERRY RELISH:  LOYOLA  (1-2)

Despite how pristine they may look, one taste of the cranberries is a swift reminder that they are little more than a bitter fruit.  J.R. Blount had a beautiful point total (42) in the Ramblers’ season opener against Division II Rockhurst, but Loyola lost by 7.  Determined, Loyola strolled into their NIT Season Tip-off matchup with Georgia and promptly dispatched the Bulldogs by 21.  One day later, the Ramblers were run out of Mackey Arena at the hands of Purdue, by 32.  The berries are upsetting my stomach.

ASSORTED PIES:  VALPO  (2-0), UIC  (1-1), GREEN BAY  (0-1)
It’s really hard to go wrong here.  Whether it’s pumpkin or apple, most pies generally live up to expectations.  Valparaiso has done so by winning its first two games against lesser competition (Marian College and Central Florida).  UIC has done so by faltering on the road against one Missouri Valley opponent (Bradley), then turning around and beating another on their home floor (Northern Iowa).  Green Bay, thus far, is more like a lemon meringue pie.  I once had a bad experience with lemon meringue pie, and that’s why I’m concerned for the Phoenix.  Their loss at Utah doesn’t bother me, but the fact that injuries are already taking a toll on this veteran squad isn’t the way head coach Tod Kowalczyk wanted to start a season with what he calls his “most talented” and “deepest team.”

LEFTOVERS:  DETROIT (0-2), YOUNGSTOWN STATE (0-2)
We love them, but we know the food isn’t quite as tasty after a night in the refrigerator.  Anything noteworthy that Detroit and Youngstown State provide this year will likely pale in comparison to what the rest of the teams in the Horizon League provide.

Now for some Horizon League games to look forward to over the next couple weeks:

11.22.08

  • Cleveland State vs. Kansas State
  • UIC vs. Depaul  (HLN – 8pm ET)
  • Milwaukee @ Marquette

11.24.08

  • Wright State vs. Miami (OH)  (HLN – 7pm ET)

11.26.08

  • Butler vs. Northwestern (HLN – 7pm ET)

11.29.08

  • Milwaukee @ Wisconsin
  • Green Bay vs. UMass  (HLN – 8pm ET)

12.03.08

  • UIC @ Vanderbilt

12.04.08

  • Butler @ Cleveland State (ESPNU – 8pm ET)

*HLN refers to the Horizon League Network, the Horizon League’s broadband initiative, which is set to webcast 130 men’s basketball games this season, including out-of-conference “home” contests and ALL in-league matchups.  The Horizon League offers the service for FREE, and signing up takes about 30 seconds.  The site also offers on-demand content, team-specific features, and a weekly update featuring the “goings-on” around the league.  Cool site – check it out.

I’m stuffed…time for a nap.

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