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:
- Cleveland State vs. Kansas State
- UIC vs. Depaul (HLN – 8pm ET)
- Milwaukee @ Marquette
- Wright State vs. Miami (OH) (HLN – 7pm ET)
- Butler vs. Northwestern (HLN – 7pm ET)
- Milwaukee @ Wisconsin
- Green Bay vs. UMass (HLN – 8pm ET)
- 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.