This was a banner week for the Other 26 teams in terms of wins against the BCS. It is for this reason that I am pleading with you not to jump all over me if I have omitted several victories for Other 26 schools over the BCS in my “Beating the BCS” section. There were probably 25 games that featured the little guy winning, but it would not be feasible to list every one of these games. It should be known, however, that on any given night most teams from BCS conferences are capable of losing to an Other 26 team with high energy and unwavering confidence. Predictably, I love watching smaller conference teams play and beat the BCS schools, so having this problem of not being able to list all the important victories comes as an enjoyable issue for me. To give you an idea of just how impressive the Other 26 was this week, here are the wins for the Other 26 ranging from December 17-26:
Presbyterian Has Two Power League Scalps This Year
December 17: Charlotte 49 Tennessee 48
December 18: Central Florida 84 Miami (FL) 78, Illinois-Chicago 57 Illinois 54, Butler 83 Stanford 50, James Madison 66 South Florida 61, George Washington 87 Oregon State 79, Wichita State 70 LSU 69, Presbyterian 62 Auburn 59, UTEP 82 Texas Tech 71
December 20: Jacksonville 71 Florida 68 (OT)
December 21: Maine 74 Penn State 64, Presbyterian 66 Wake Forest 64, Idaho 69 Oregon 65, UNLV 63 Kansas State 59
December 22: Seattle 59 Virginia 53, Siena 62 Georgia Tech 57, Furman 91 South Carolina 75, Dayton 69 Seton Hall 65, Cleveland State 69 South Florida 62, Northern Iowa 67 Indiana 61, North Texas 75 LSU 55, New Mexico 89 Colorado 76
December 23: Butler 67 Florida State 64, Colorado State 68 Mississippi 61
December 25: Butler 84 Washington State 68
December 26: Richmond 69 Seton Hall 61
By my count, that is 26 wins for the Other 26 over the BCS.
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:
We’re back with another weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. Keep in mind that we’re trying out a new format this year, so please let us know in the comments if you think it’s working, not working or we should tie bricks to our feet and go jump in the freezing lake. We’re open to whatever feedback you have. The idea behind it is that we’ll update after each three-hour (or so) block of games with some instant analysis on what we’ve seen so far today. So here goes…
64 Nearly No More. Great game in Lawrence this early afternoon, as Josh Selby made his college basketball debut and in so doing saved a home court winning streak that began at Allen Fieldhouse when he was a mere freshman in a Baltimore high school. More on Selby’s first appearance of the season below, but for the second time this season, the Jayhawks survived by the skin of their teeth against an inferior Pac-10 team on their home floor. In an ugly, defensive-minded game favored by USC’s Kevin O’Neill and KU’s Bill Self, it was the inability for Southern Cal to secure two late defensive rebounds on scrambles that led to its loss here today. On both misses, Kansas didn’t panic and instead rotated the ball to the reverse side of the floor (this made Bob Knight very happy) where an open three-point shooter named Josh Selby was waiting. On both occasions Kansas was already down two and had taken a poor shot — had USC gotten the rebound, especially with 26 seconds remaining, you’d have to figure the Trojans were in the driver’s seat to steal this one. Didn’t happen, and perhaps that’s a reasonable explanation as to why Kansas has won a billion games at home and USC is 0-3 on the road this year. The Trojans had one more chance down one with five seconds to go but point guard Jio Fontan stepped on the sideline as he made his move. With the victory, KU has won 65 in a row at AFH, which is just over halfway to the all-time record of 129 that Kentucky put together in the 40s and 50s. KU should easily get to the brink of #70 and the top ten all-time between now and January 22 and January 29, when Texas and Kansas State come to town on consecutive Saturdays.
Josh Selby’s Long-Awaited Debut. In the most highly anticipated opener in the Sunflower State since Dorothy clicked her heels and found out you can go home again, freshman Josh Selby debuted in a Kansas uniform in Lawrence this afternoon. And he looked like the Jayhawks’ best player, going for 21 points on 5-11 shooting, including two gigantic threes down the stretch that saved KU’s 65-game home court winning streak. His five made field goals, in fact, were all threes, and he added five rebounds to go along with four turnovers. The one area that concerned us was this little factoid: one assist. Clearly Selby is a scoring point guard, and nobody is confused about that, but with the talent available to him on his team he’s going to have to make sure to pass the ball enough to keep the upperclassmen happy with their touches. This has been a concern with KU in terms of successfully integrating the talented guard, and after seeing him today, we understand why. He’s much more Jacob Pullen than Kyrie Irving. One aside for Maeshon Witherspoon, Selby’s mom… KU’s colors are crimson and blue with white trim and lettering — not orange. You might want to hit the student store on the way off campus this afternoon.
Mister Fontan Makes USC Better. USC has really struggled this season with early losses to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska, TCU and now Kansas already. The problem has been clearly a lack of offense, and that issue is directly attributable to the lack of a serviceable point guard. Fontan is beyond serviceable — he could be the second-best lead guard in the entire Pac-10 behind Washington’s Isaiah Thomas. Considering that the Trojans are among the worst teams in America in terms of assists, the addition of Fontan (who only had two assists today, nevertheless) should help Kevin O’Neill’s team greatly with running his team. With Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson inside, there is enough talent here for the Trojans to make some waves in the mediocre tidepools of the Pac-10, so it’ll be interesting to see how they develop together in the next few weeks. He certainly felt that his team should have won the game today, as he tweeted after the game:
Oakland Hangover. Just a few days after winning the biggest game in program history, Oakland played badly in Ann Arbor today and never seriously threatened Michigan in a 69-51 loss. Keith Benson was alright, going for 11/7/4 blks in 37 minutes of action, but his supporting cast who were so impressive earlier this week didn’t show up today. Ledrick Eackles and Larry Wright combined for 31 crucial points in Knoxville, but they only came up with four today (on 1-15 FG). Greg Kampe’s team has played a lot of good major conference opponents this season, but the Golden Grizzlies coach would have loved to have notched a win over a Big Ten on his resume as well — they’ll have one more chance against Jared Sullinger and Ohio State on Thursday. Beating Michigan would have been easier.
Afternoon Games to Keep an Eye On... Some interesting mid-game scores to keep an eye on the rest of the afternoon: UCF leads Miami (FL) in an effort to keep their unbeaten record intact; UIC is challenging Illinois in Chicago; and Long Beach State is leading St. Mary’s at the Wooden Classic (RTC Live coverage there).
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
It was a sobering week for Horizon League schools as the conference went 8-9 over the week and plummeted from seventh in the conference RPI to twelfth. Upset bids against high majors were either blowouts or close, but at the end of the day, they all ended in losses. Cleveland State owned the week’s most impressive victory yet again with a 12-point road victory at Sam Houston State, but perhaps the biggest news was the emergence of Ray McCallum, Jr. Across the country, pundits have picked the highly-touted recruit to come in and dominate the conference, but McCallum took a little bit of time to get up to the speed he’s accustomed to. Ray Jr. lit up Eastern Michigan with 31 points to average 25.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game in the week’s two games.
Video of the Week
When you’re rolling, you’re rolling, and Gary Waters of Cleveland State gives some insight as to how the Vikings stay perfect following his team’s victory at Sam Houston State:
Cleveland State (12-0, 2-0) – The Vikings continued to roll. Gary Waters‘ undefeated crew pummeled non-D-I West Virginia Tech before taking down Sam Houston State, their sixth victory in the RPI Top 100. Their reward? A matchup with 7-2 West Virginia (not Tech) in Morgantown Saturday for what figures to be their biggest test yet.
Butler (5-4, 1-0) – Brad Stevens‘ Dawgs missed out on sweeping the home-and-home with Xavier with a close loss in Cincinnati early last week. They took out their frustrations on a poor Mississippi Valley State team. HadV they lost to Loyola in the conference opener, they would be much lower on this list.
Loyola (8-3, 0-2) – It’s hard to argue that a loss improves your standing, but that’s what we’ll do. The Ramblers’ narrow loss to Kansas State (which was much closer than the eight-point difference) and blitz of SIU-Edwardsville puts them on somewhat of a roll after getting swept by the Indiana schools at home in the opening week.
Valparaiso (6-4, 2-0) – If it weren’t for the lack of signature victories this week, Valpo’s loss to Toledo would have sunk them. This is a team that has played well thus far this season, and while a top three finish isn’t out of the question, dropping a home game to Purdue by 18 didn’t help their cause. Toledo might win five games this season in conference play.
Detroit (6-5, 1-0) – The emergence of Ray McCallum Jr. couldn’t have come at a better time for the Titans; Western Michigan confounded their second Horizon League team by defeating Detroit, and they were reeling heading into the game against Eastern Michigan. Luckily, the coach’s son took care of business.
Milwaukee (5-6, 1-1) – The loss at Wisconsin is something of an annual ritual for the Panthers. Indeed, even Bruce Pearl’s Sweet 16 Panthers lost in Madison by more than 20. But the Panthers gathered themselves and notched arguably the second-best victory of the week at red hot South Dakota State. Keep shooting like they did Saturday and Milwaukee will be moving up.
Wright State (5-5, 0-1) – Beating Air Force by 15 at the Nutter Center was definitely a feather in the cap of rookie coach Billy Donlon. A 13-point home win over D-II Tusculum wasn’t a blowout, but winning is winning and the Raiders, apart from Cleveland State, were the only team to finish the week unscathed.
Green Bay (4-7, 1-1) – It was encouraging to see archrival Milwaukee get blown out at Wisconsin and then lose a respectable 14-point game just a few days later, but the Phoenix are now riding a three-game losing streak and have only won one road game. The Phoenix don’t play again until Monday.
UIC (4-6, 0-1) – The Flames entered the week with just three victories against D-I teams, and two of them at the hands of lowly Toledo. Senior Paul Carter looked good in a loss to Illinois State on Saturday, but he didn’t have much help, scoring 16 of UIC’s 43 points.
Youngstown State (5-4, 0-2) – The good feelings of the early season have all but evaporated in Youngstown. After taking their customary sweep in Wisconsin to open the conference, the Penguins were demolished by Robert Morris, 90-60. A victory over Malone College on Monday wasn’t much consolation since Malone is still a few years away from fully reclassifying to D-II.
A Look Ahead
The week is filled with opportunities for the conference to get some notable victories. Big East doormat DePaul hosts Milwaukee,Youngstown State visits NC State, and Stanford heads to Hinkle to take on Butler in three very winnable games for the Horizon League. Cleveland State will be out to avenge a two-point home loss last season to the West Virginia Mountaineers, except this game is in Morgantown. Illinois visits UIC, but the game will be played at the United Center in Chicago instead of at the Flames’ home, the UIC Pavilion. In what may be the most interesting match-up of mid-majors, Detroit and Central Michigan square off in the battle of friends and highly-touted recruits Ray McCallum Jr. and Trey Zeigler.
12/14 – Milwaukee at DePaul, 9 p.m. (ESPN Full Court)
12/18 – Stanford at Butler, 2 p.m. (CBS)
12/18 – Detroit at Central Michigan, ESPNU
12/16 – Youngstown State at NC State, 7 p.m.
12/18 – Cleveland State at West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPN360.com, ESPN Full Court)
12/18 – UIC vs. Illinois at United Center, 2 p.m. (BTN)
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League correspondent for Rush The Court
A Look Back
How They Fared: The Horizon League, unlike most conferences, begins its conference season the first week of December; most teams play two games, with a couple playing only one game and competing non-conference the rest of the week. Easily the most impressive team of the week was Cleveland State, who rolled through Wisconsin and preserved their undefeated record. Norris Cole has the inside track on Player of the Year, and coach Gary Waters has assembled a dominant team behind him.
Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25. They’d be wrong. Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners. The Vikings absolutely dominated a Milwaukee team at the U.S. Cellular Arena, where the Panthers are almost unbeatable.
Tip Of The Cap: This week’s TOTC goes to Matt Howard of Butler, who tied Bobby Plump (you might know him better by his fictional likeness, Jimmy Chitwood of Hoosiers) for 11th on the Butler University all-time scoring list. Our friends at Victory Firelight were happy to see that.
Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0 Horizon) – For the past decade, the Vikings were 1-19 in the state of Wisconsin – 1-9 in Green Bay and 0-10 in Milwaukee. In the week leading up to the games, coach Gary Waters called it “Revenge Week.” Mission accomplished. The other mission accomplished? Putting Norris Cole in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year.
Valparaiso (6-2, 2-0) – Coach Homer Drew‘s Crusaders made the short trip to Chicago and calmly walked out 2-0 with a nail-biting victory at UIC and a commanding performance at Loyola. Winning the latter pushes Valpo past Butler in our conference power rankings for the week.
Butler (4-3, 1-0) – Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs sweated out a victory on Chicago’s near north side, beating Loyola 65-63. A strong showing against Duke should have kept them at the #2 spot, but for the uncertainty surrounding Mack’s cramps and RonaldNored‘s concussion. Both players should be on the court this week, but the Dawgs are much thinner than last season and need both on the court even more than before.
Detroit (5-4, 1-0) – The Titans split two games last week, losing at home to Akron before dumping Horizon League foe Wright State. Ray McCallum Sr.‘s Titans could be winning even more if they had some bodies to spell their stellar starting five; four Titans are in the top ten in the conference in total minutes and minutes per game.
Loyola (7-2, 0-2) – It was a sobering week for the Ramblers, who have to be thinking about 2009-10, when they began 11-2 before flopping all the way down to 14-16 for the season. For the second straight year, the Ramblers put a scare into Butler, but the excitement at the Joe collapsed following a double-digit home loss to Valpo.
Green Bay (4-4, 1-1) – Brian Wardle‘s crew came into the week favored to win a game and lose a game. They did just that, dropping a home loss to Cleveland State before wiping the floor with Jerry Slocum’s Youngstown State Penguins. RahmonFletcher continues to be a boon for the Phoenix, placing third in the conference in scoring at 16.6 PPG.
Milwaukee (4-5, 1-1) – It’s hard to put the Panthers lower since they did win convincingly over Youngstown State on Thursday. It’s impossible to put the Panthers any higher given the absolute garbage showing against Cleveland State on Saturday night. Last week, we talked about their Jekyll and Hyde ways. That continued this past week, but at least they came out with a W.
Wright State (3-5, 0-1) – Had the Raiders pulled out a victory against middling Big East team Cincinnati or Detroit, they’d find themselves much higher on the list. Bobby Donlon‘s crew is much different than they were under Brad Brownell, whose defensive mindset has lost its way. The Raiders are giving up 78 points per game this season, and they won’t be seeing a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament unless that changes.
UIC (4-5, 0-1) – Akron pulled out the close victory at UIC, the second near-victory for the Flames of the week. If UIC had been killing teams heading into the conference season, they might find themselves higher. However, that signature win over Rhode Island seems further in the rear-view mirror every day.
Youngstown State (4-3, 0-2) – The Penguins’ 4-1 start got the fans in Youngstown paying attention, but a quick 0-2 start in conference against struggling clubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee puts YSU at the bottom of the barrel. Along with Wright State and Loyola, the Penguins are one of the only teams to go winless; unlike Wright State or Loyola, they weren’t playing significantly better competition.
A Look Ahead
Week one of conference play is in the books, and the standings will remain the same until after Christmas. Three games against high-major foes dot the lineup this week, with Purdue visiting Valpo’s ARC and Milwaukee taking a trip west to Madison. Loyola hopes to pull off a stunning upset at Kansas State. Let’s hope the timekeeper knows what they’re doing at the Cintas Center this year as Butler takes its turn as the away team in a home-and-home with Xavier.
12/7 - Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m. ESPNU
12/8 – Milwaukee at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
12/8 – Wright State vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. HLN
12/9 – Butler at Xavier, 9 p.m. ESPN
12/11 – Milwaukee at South Dakota State, 8 p.m.
12/11 – Loyola vs. #3 Kansas State, 4 p.m.
12/11 – Cleveland State at Sam Houston State, 4:30 p.m.
Remember When… they screwed up the clock at Hinkle last season? Take a look back:
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
How They Fared: It was a week that had mixed results for the Horizon League. The torch-bearer for the conference, Butler, won a difficult MAAC road game by double-digits against Siena before dropping an overtime decision in Hinkle Fieldhouse against state foe Evansville. Detroit picked up three solid victories over Albany, Bowling Green and Niagara after dropping an early-week decision at Missisippi State. Milwaukee‘s upset bid over Marquette just failed at the end, with a missed front end of a one-and-one giving Marquette just enough breathing room to win in the dangerous U.S. Cellular Arena. Wright State showed signs of life by defeating a good Summit League program in Oakland, weathering the storm of 25 points and seven rebounds from Keith Benson. They then lost two games they were expected to lose against Richmond and Southern Illinois in Chicago.
Dropped Out: After the gut-wrenching loss to Evansville, Butler dropped out of the rankings for the first time since January. The Horizon League is no longer represented in the Top 25 despite getting off to an excellent 42-21 record as a conference,its best in years.
Owning The Paint: Detroit’s 3-1 record largely comes from the play of Eli Holman, who averaged 14 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2 blocks over the four games. Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill recorded a double-double in the loss to Western Michigan and 18 points and eight rebounds against Marquette on Saturday.
Tip Of The Cap: Youngstown State’sVytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.
Cleveland State (8-0) – The Vikings’ perfect early season continued with decisive double-digit victories over Akron and St. Bonaventure. In a time when Butler seems to be fallible, Gary Waters’ team hasn’t shown a chink in the armor yet. Norris Cole paces the conference with 20.4 points per game.
Butler (3-2) – Brad Stevens is still fumbling around with his lineup, with eight different players getting starts for the Bulldogs. Saturday’s loss to Evansville doesn’t defuse the question surrounding the search for Gordon Hayward, but it’s not every day you have to replace an NBA lottery pick. A rematch of last year’s final with Duke awaits this weekend.
Detroit (4-3) – The Titans were close to taking down the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, and the rest of the week they took care of business. Eli Holman is playing at his best right now, which is very important as the Titans get ready for Wright State on Saturday.
Loyola (7-0) – It can no longer be ignored: Loyola is just as perfect as Cleveland State. Why do the Ramblers not get as much love here? Their one-point victory at WCC doormat San Francisco would be their best victory of the year if they didn’t whoop Western Michigan on the road.
Valparaiso (4-2) – The Crusaders were mostly predictable this week, losing a close one at MAC champ Ohio before beating Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Valpo has a great road trip to open conference season; their fans only have 30 miles or so to Chicago.
Youngstown State (4-1) – They may be playing nobody now, but if they weren’t robbed at Akron, they’d be undefeated heading into Milwaukee on Thursday. The Penguins were awful in conference play in 2009-10, let’s see if Jerry Slocum‘s new roster is up to the challenge.
Milwaukee (3-4) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde Panthers continued their ways, but it ended the week 0-2. A dumb loss before Thanksgiving to Western Michigan was mirrored by a spirited and winning-worthy performance in a three-point loss to Marquette, the toughest Horizon League opponent all week.
Wright State (3-3) – The Raiders got the nod over UIC and Green Bay by posting a great victory over Oakland, a team many think will win the Summit. N’Gai Evans has made a big difference since returning to the lineup, and the Raiders need him with huge games at Cincinnati and Detroit looming this week.
UIC (3-3) – Howard Moore‘s UIC Flames suffered a loss to Ernie Zeigler’s Central Michigan Chippewas the night before Thanksgiving. They escaped an awful Toledo team on Sunday to complete the season sweep of Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets.
Green Bay (3-3) – Rahmon Fletcher and the Phoenix were lucky to escape Saturday with a home victory over North Dakota State, a team that has fallen since their tourney appearance in 2009. A Monday loss to IUPUI, whose only other win came against IU-Northwest, means that Green Bay has work to do.
A Look Ahead
Unlike most conferences that start play in January or late December, the Horizon League has “Opening Weekend,” the first set of games (tell me the conference shouldn’t market that). The Wisconsin schools open up at home against Ohio, while the Indiana schools travel to Chicago, although Butler will play at UIC later in the season (they’ve got a big non-conference game Saturday night). Detroit and Wright State’s “Rivalry” game will take place on Saturday. (all times eastern)
12/1 – Butler at Loyola, 8 p.m. Horizon League Network
12/1 – Detroit vs. Akron, 7 p.m. HLN
12/1 – Wright State at Cincinnati, No TV
12/2 – Youngstown State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
12/2 – Cleveland State at Green Bay, 8 p.m. HLN
12/2 – Valparaiso at UIC, 8 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Cleveland State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
12/4 – Wright State at Detroit, noon HLN
12/4 – Youngstown State at Green Bay, 2 p.m. HLN
12/4 - Valparaiso at Loyola, 4 p.m. HLN
12/4 - Butler vs. Duke at IZOD Center, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
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.
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
Predicted Order of Finish
G: ShelvinMack, Butler
G: NorrisCole, Cleveland State
F: CoryJohnson, Valparaiso
F: MattHoward, Butler
C: EliHolman, Detroit
G: BrandonWood, Valparaiso
PaulCarter (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 MattHoward, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.
The biggest news in the world of college athletics came out of South Central today as USC announced that its longtime athletic director Mike Garrett will step down in the wake of probation for both the football and men’s basketball programs on his watch. Pat Haden, another former USC quarterback, will take over for Garrett in that capacity. New USC president Max Nikias, still weeks away from formally taking over, also decreed that the school will remove all athletic references (photos, murals and the like) to Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo prior to the arrival of incoming students next month. They’re even sending Bush’s Heisman Trophy back! Former head coach Tim Floyd, currently whiling his time away in El Paso, had little to say about the matter.
Notre Dame’s Mike Brey to his irresponsible players Tim Abromaitis and Eric Atkins: “A lot of sweating will be involved.” Here’s hoping that they have to run a mile for every beer imbibed. Y’know, because of the extra calories.
Some coaching news from yesterday. UIC’s Jimmy Collinsannounced his retirement effective at the end of August after fourteen seasons at the school — including three NCAA Tournament appearances and six other winning campaigns. As Goodman reports, the timing of this is odd given that it’s currently the height of recruiting season, but Collins has had medical issues in the past. We hope he’s ok.
One piece of player news that slipped past us over the weekend — Gonzaga (ok, RTC) fan favorite Bol Kong is leaving Spokane for personal reasons. Kong averaged 4.5 PPG in his only season for the Zags, but showed promise with a solid three-point stroke (43%) and a nose for the ball. We hope to see him re-surface somewhere soon.
Jeff Goodman and Matt Norlander did a cool thing to get ready for this weekend’s recruiting extravaganza in Vegas. They polled the top recruits to see whom they would choose as the best in several categories, and the results were interesting. Austin Rivers was named the top player, Michael Gilchrist the best defender and hardest worker, Brad Beal the best shooter, Marquis Teague the best shooter, and Anthony Davis the best rebounder. Oh, and best trash-talker: Quincy Miller (no surprise if you read his tweets). It should be a fun weekend sorting through all of these players out in the desert.
Going for perfection: Butler is 15-0 and has officially clinched the Horizon League regular season. This comes with two benefits. 1) The tournament will be played in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and 2) The Bulldogs will be one of two top seeds that receive a double-bye. The Bulldogs have a 66.5% chance of finishing the regular conference season undefeated. A game at home against Siena in the Bracket Busters could be fun.
Streaking Vikings: Cleveland State is the Horizon League’s second hottest team. The Vikings have won their last six Horizon League games. Now of course they have to play Butler on Saturday, but it’s been a very good run.
Chicago showdown: UIC and Loyola are near the bottom of the league standings, but it won’t stop their rivalry game on Saturday night from being a heated affair. The Ramblers went to the Pavilion and took down the Flames in the last match-up. Now they get a return game in Rogers Park.
The race for #2: As you can see there are now 6 teams that are holding out hope of making the #2 spot in the conference standings and earning a double-bye opposite Butler. Here’s my best guess at their chances from what I’ve seen this season:
Team: Remaining Games, Predicted Record
Wright State: Green Bay, Detroit, @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State; 12-6
Cleveland State: Butler, @Green Bay, @Milwaukee, Detroit, Wright State; 11-7
Green Bay: @Wright State, Cleveland, @UIC, @Loyola; 11-7 (would lose tie-breaker to Cleveland State)
Of course the Horizon League is almost impossible to predict, so who knows if this is actually how it would play out. But if it did the first round would be:
#10 UIC @ #3 Cleveland State
#7 Milwaukee @ #6 Detroit
#9 Youngstown State @ #4 Green Bay
#8 Loyola @ #5 Valparaiso
The other race in the conference, besides that race for second place, is the race for fifth. Avoiding that 6-7 game would be a good idea for any team that wants to keep playing past the first round. It is going to be a very difficult game combining two teams that will be frustrated to be in that position. After Detroit’s home loss to Green Bay on Thursday, the Titans appeared to be headed towards that game.
Why Can’t Detroit Win the Close Ones?: Detroit is now 7-7 in the Horizon League. The Titans’ seven losses are by a combined 21 points. Yes, they’re losing their games by an average of three points per game in conference (and that includes both Butler games). Detroit also has close losses to Tennessee State and DePaul out of conference. Why can’t the Titans break out and win a close one? They survived against UIC at home on January 30th for their only victory by five points or fewer this season. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to haunt Detroit down the stretch and ultimately doom their chances of making some noise in the conference tournament. The ironic thing is that Detroit might be the team best equipped to knock Butler off. The Titans have a big frontline that has resulted in a 2-point overtime loss at home and a 5-point road loss to the Bulldogs this season.
Player of the Year Race: It’s Gordon Hayward of Butler and no one else is particularly close. He’s fourth in the league in scoring and rebounding, but that doesn’t begin to describe his value to the Bulldogs. He just seems to have a knack for making the big play exactly when Butler needs it. It’s worth noting though that he’s scored fewer than 10 points in four conference games. Of course he also scored 22 points and grabbed 17 boards as the Bulldogs officially captured the league regular season title against Youngstown State on Thursday.
A difference of opinion: Butler might be the 18th team in the nation (according to the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll) or they might be the 23rd team (according to the AP poll), but the Bulldogs have really confused people this season. Pomeroy thinks they’re only 28th. The rest of the Horizon League schedule isn’t going to provide us with any answers either.
Light Bracket Busters schedule: the Horizon League got some good matchups when the Bracket Buster lineup was announced. There is a made-for-TV game between Butler and Siena, but after that there are a bunch of winnable games. One tough one might be Loyola (IL) at Creighton.
Last chance?: Saturday might be UIC’s final chance to get a win during regular season Horizon League play. The Flames have four road games and two tough home games against the Wisconsin schools remaining on the schedule after they play Youngstown State at the Pavilion. If the Flames fall to the Penguins then a winless 2010 is a possibility.
Green Bay. The two Wisconsin schools had off on Thursday because they’re gearing up for a rematch of the 71-51 beatdown the Panthers handed the Phoenix on Saturday, January 9. Green Bay has slipped lately. The Phoenix lost two home games last weekend against Butler and Valparaiso. The game against the Crusaders was particularly painful as Valparaiso is climbing up the Horizon League standings. How Rahmon Fletcher goes determines how the Phoenix go in general. He scored just seven points on 2-10 shooting against Valparaiso. The junior guard still ranks third in the conference in scoring.
Milwaukee. The Panthers are also preparing for their local rival. Squeaking out a narrow victory over Valparaiso last weekend kept Milwaukee in the hunt for a middle of the standings spot. The Panthers are still a little behind at 5-6, but they still have a game versus Youngstown and a weekend in Chicago to make up ground. The big game will be February 18th against Cleveland State. Ricky Franklin is another lead guard excelling in conference play. The senior is sixth in the league in scoring and fourth in assists.
Butler. The Bulldogs are two-thirds of the way to an undefeated regular season in the Horizon League. But winning the regular season hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs in the past. It’s been taking care of business in the conference tournament, which is played on Butler’s home court. With a weakening bubble the Bulldogs probably could get in without the automatic bid, but to be sure they’ll have to take care of business in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are led by Gordon Hayward, a sophomore who ranks fourth in points, third in rebounds and fifth in FG% in the conference. He is currently #30 in the 2011 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net but Chad Ford has him as a mid-to-late first rounder this season. Butler’s march through the Horizon League continues on Saturday when Wright State comes to town.
Valparaiso. At .500 in conference Valparaiso has been one of the surprises of the season in the Horizon League. They’ve steadily improved as the season has gone on. A loss on Thursday at home to Wright State put some damper on the party, but there’s still a lot of potential here. Their leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the Horizon League, is Brandon Wood. He is just a sophomore. He’s complemented by junior forward Cory Johnson who ranks fifth in points per game and second in field goal percentage in the conference. Valparaiso’s slow start hurt their Bracket Buster match-up as they were given a game at Bowling Green.
Youngstown State. The Penguins are a veteran team that just hasn’t figured things out this season. Part of the problem is the lack of a dominant talent. Seniors DeAndre Mays – 11th in points, 11th in assists, and Sirlester Martin – 11th in rebounding, are very good complementary parts, but there is no superstar to drive the engine. Vytas Sulskis comes off the bench to give the Penguins some more scoring power, but it hasn’t been enough. Youngstown had Loyola on the ropes on Thursday before falling in overtime. Their Bracket Buster game will take them all the way to Riverside, California, to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders.
UIC. UIC’s game against Youngstown on Saturday is going to be one of the more interesting game of the Horizon League season. These two teams are essentially playing for last place in the conference. The Flames have lost some heartbreakers lately, including a 3-point loss to Detroit and a 5-point loss to crosstown rival Loyola, but that’s not cutting it. The Flames haven’t won in 2010 and might finish the new year without a victory if something doesn’t change soon. Their Bracket Buster game in Evansville will be a tough but winnable game. A scary thought – UIC could be worse next season after Horizon League assist leader Spencer Stewart graduates.
Loyola (IL). The Ramblers used to be one of the deepest teams in the Horizon League, but injuries have destroyed that depth. Talented sophomore swingman Jordan Hicks is out for the season with a broken foot and Aric Van Weelden has missed the last six games. Without them the Ramblers have really had to tighten up their rotation. After Terrance Hill was ejected early from the game against Youngstown State guards Courtney Stanley and Geoff McCammon both played almost the entire game. Stanley ranks second in the Horizon League in assists and when he’s on Loyola shoots much better from the field. Also, senior Andy Polka is first in the conference in rebounding. He should be back next season too after receiving a medical redshirt for his junior year.
Cleveland State. After playing a killer non-conference schedule the Vikings have slowly started to get on track in the Horizon League. They’ve won their last five games and have a three-guard attack that is really humming along. Still, they’re at 11-12 overall, so the Vikings need to keep piling up wins. The leader of the charge has been junior guard Norris Cole. He ranks second in the conference in scoring. Jereme Montgomery and Trevon Harmon also average double-figures. Cleveland State drew a terrible Toledo team from the MAC as their Bracket Buster game, and it’s not really going to help them at all.
Detroit. The Titans have proven they can beat the bottom tier of the conference, but they’ve really struggled against the top teams. They lost two close games to Butler, lost a home game against Wright State and lost at Green Bay. In order to keep their place in the top half of the conference the Titans have to win at Valparaiso on Saturday, which will be no easy task. Detroit is going to play Eastern Michigan in the Bracket Busters. This might be a good time to point out that while the Horizon League is down this season, it’s not the MAC. Central Michigan, which sits in second in the MAC, lost to both Wright State and Detroit on the road earlier this season. Sophomore forward Eli Holman is second in rebounding and 1st in field goal percentage in the conference.
Wright State. The Raiders don’t have anyone that really wows you statistically, but they work great as a team. Junior guard Vaughn Duggins has returned from injury to become one the of the top guards in the Horizon League. He’s currently ninth in the conference in scoring. Other than him Wright State gets it done with good defense and a balanced attack. They’ve won their last four games and might be the toughest test Butler has remaining in conference. Their game on Saturday should be a good one. If anyone has a right to be angry about the Bracket Buster game it’s Wright State. The Raiders needed a good opponent in order to bolster than NIT credentials, but were given Ohio (12-10, 3-5 in MAC). Close losses at Washington and Nebraska really sting right now, as well as an inexplicable loss to Miami (OH). Change those results and Brad Brownell’s team might be looking at the bubble.
Local rivalries impacting the standings. Milwaukee handed Green Bay its second conference loss with a victory last Saturday. Tonight Loyola (IL) and UIC play a cross-town game in Chicago that will be televised on ESPNU.
Close calls. The evenly matched talent in the Horizon League is making for some emotional games and tough decisions for referees and coaches alike. Even Butler isn’t immune as the Bulldogs had to escape Detroit in overtime last week.
Looking like things will go through Hinkle. Butler has now opened up a two-game lead on the rest of the conference and has played the toughest road stretch in the league by going to Detroit and Wright State. A trip to Green Bay in two weeks looms, but other than that first place looks like a lock for the Bulldogs. That means the conference tournament will once again finish in Indianapolis.
Butler: Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack are both in the Top 6 in the conference in points per game. If Matt Howard ever breaks out of his season-long slump then Butler is going to be super dangerous. Hayward is also second in the conference in rebounds per game. Bulldogs play at Youngstown State on Saturday. Even on the road it should be a blowout.
Green Bay: The Phoenix lost to the Panthers in an emotional game. The most impressive player on the court was Rahmon Fletcher. He is second in the conference in scoring. The other big names for Green Bay are Bryguis Perine and Troy Cotton. They’re also in the Top 15 in scoring. The Phoenix got a big win over Wright State at home on Thursday and now have a huge game against Detroit on January 16. The Phoenix will also pad their stats with a home game against 2-15 Houston Baptist on Tuesday.
Detroit: The Titans are made up of balanced scoring. No one ranks in the Top 10. Eli Holman is tied for second in the conference in rebounding. He only played 20 minutes against Butler due to foul trouble. His absence was the difference in the game. The big game against the Phoenix is the only game the Titans play this week. They take a week off after Green Bay to prepare for Wright State.
Wright State: A tough loss to Green Bay on the road dropped Wright State out of the upper tier of the conference. The Raiders are a good basketball team. Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins are a great 1-2 punch that really put the ball in the basket, but this team makes it impact on the defensive end.
Cleveland State: Norris Cole is the 3rd leading scorer in the conference. He’s really benefited from the Vikings opening things up over the past few weeks. Cleveland State led Butler at the half on the road before dropping a 64-55 decision. The Vikings play at Valparaiso on Saturday.
Loyola: The Ramblers have come back to like a bit in conference play. The three-point shots aren’t dropping quite as often and the magic that carried them during close games in non-conference play is gone. Loyola has lost 3 straight games coming into the big inter-city match-up with UIC. The Ramblers also have the leading rebounder in the conference in Andy Polka. After the game against UIC it’s time to prepare for Butler which comes to the Gentile Center on Thursday.
Valparaiso: Brandon Wood sure knows how to fill up a basket. He’s the leading scorer in the Horizon League this season. His teammate Cory Johnson can put points on the board in a hurry as well. Johnson is also the seventh leading rebounder in the conference. Valparaiso had lost three straight games of their own before squeaking past Youngstown State on Thursday. Next up is Cleveland State before a road game at UIC.
Milwaukee: The Panthers have gotten off to a surprisingly slow start in conference. It looked like they had begun to turn things around with a 20-point victory over their rivals from Green Bay, but a 16-point loss to Detroit really screws up the momentum. James Eayrs is a big dude at 6’7 and 310 pounds, but he can play basketball. He’s seventh in the conference in rebounding and 16th in scoring. Milwaukee tries to get back on track against Wright State on Saturday.
Youngstown State: DeAndre Mays is the type of player that can carry a team, and sometimes the Penguins have asked him to do just that. He’s eighth in the conference in scoring, but when he gets on a roll Youngstown has a much better chance. The Penguins held home court against the two Chicago schools before losing a tough game to Valparaiso on Thursday, so it’s obvious that they are going to be competitive going forward in league play. This might be a team that could surprise someone down the stretch.
UIC: The Flames completely changed their identity over the weekend as they switched from a team dominated by guard play to one that relied more on points in the paint. Forward Jeremy Buttell ranks fifth in the conference in rebounding. UIC needed to do something as the Flames have dropped 3 straight since a surprising victory over Detroit on New Year’s Eve. The cross-town game against Loyola will be a big one as will a gome game against Valparaiso on the 21st.