John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
- Butler 3-0
- Green Bay 4-1
- Detroit 3-1
- Wright State 3-1
- Cleveland State 2-2
- Loyola (IL) 2-3
- Valparaiso 1-2
- Milwaukee 1-3
- Youngstown State 1-4
- UIC 1-4
- Into conference play to stay. Besides the Bracket Busters event everyone is locked in and focused on conference play in the Horizon League.
- Butler is still the team to beat. The Bulldogs haven’t been challenged yet in the Horizon League, but every team is gunning for them. There’s a huge game coming up at Wright State on Friday and another at Detroit on Saturday.
- Parity reigns in league play. Besides the Butler bully at the top the conference nobody can get away with playing anything less than their “A” game. That’s especially true on the road.
Butler: The Bulldogs are an excellent offensive team, but the trip to Wright State is going to be a huge game. Pomeroy projects the Bulldogs to lose in a tight game on the road. The Bulldogs might’ve slipped up one too many times to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but now all that matters is the conference tournament in March. Gordon Hayward is ridiculous. If you haven’t seen Butler play this season you’re missing out on a treat. He’s got an excellent game and he rebounds. He’s 46th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.
Green Bay: One of the two annual rivalry games between the two Wisconsin schools in the Horizon League takes place on Saturday. The game is in Milwaukee so the Phoenix are slight underdogs. Green Bay won’t have played in a week since its last game was a 6-point win at Valparaiso. Here the player to watch is Rahmon Fletcher. He dominates the ball for the Phoenix, taking the 16th highest percentage of shots in the nation. Fletcher has to be on the court for Green Bay to play well. The Phoenix lost by an average of 23.5 points per game to Butler and Oakland when he was out.
Detroit: Probably the tallest team in the Horizon League, the aptly named Titans are using it to their advantage. Detroit suffered an upset loss to UIC at the Pavilion last Thursday, but came back to beat Loyola on the road to get a split in Chicago. A game against Valparaiso could be a trap game before Butler on Sunday. (Valparaiso is Butler’s “travel partner” and could be a trap game for many opponents this season.) Eli Holman is one of the tall people on the frontline. He’s 6’9″ but plays bigger and is 28th in the country in block percentage.
Wright State: The “other” Top 50 Pomeroy team in the Horizon League, the Raiders already have a tough loss in Horizon League play – 53-52 to Loyola on New Year’s Eve. Now they get Butler on their home court. Wright State forces a lot of turnovers, plays at a slow pace and generally grinds through a game. They don’t have any particularly good non-conference wins – Belmont is the best – so it’s Horizon League title or bust for the Raiders. Senior guard Todd Brown and junior guard Vaughn Duggins lead a very balanced attack. No player uses more than 21.8% of the team’s possessions while on the court.
Cleveland State: The Vikings are 6-10, but don’t let the record fool you, this team is a competitor in the Horizon League. After a four-game losing streak (albeit against some talented teams) head coach Gary Waters switched to a four-guard starting lineup and it’s paid off in two wins over Youngstown State and Loyola. The Vikings have to finish off the Chicago pair when UIC comes to town and then prepare for Butler. (Everyone prepares for Butler.) Norris Cole is the guy for Cleveland State. He does a little bit of everything from his guard position. Also, the four-guard rotation has given Jeremy Montgomery a more prominent role in which he could also flourish.
Loyola: A little bit of luck went a long way, but the Ramblers are coming back to reality during conference play. Then again, being sixth is still a surprising position for a team that was picked 10th in the preseason poll. Loyola lost a close game to Cleveland State in Cleveland on Thursday. The bench continues to outscore the starters and every game is going to be close. The loss to the Vikings was Loyola’s first close loss of the season. Now they have to go to Youngstown State to finish up the Ohio swing before playing crosstown rival UIC next Friday. Sophomore Walt Gibler is emerging as an effective scoring threat that goes to the line often. He’s seventh in the nation in fouls drawn.
Valparaiso: A New Year’s Eve victory over Milwaukee was a good way to end 2009, but 2010 hasn’t been as kind to the Crusaders. They have a sieve for a defense, probably because they gamble too often. (Valparaiso does rank 69th in steal percentage as a team.) Like I noted above, the Crusaders are Butler’s travel partner, so they might benefit from that, though it didn’t help last time as Green Bay won a tight game 64-58. Look out for sophomore guard Brandon Wood. He takes a lot of shots and makes them, a lethal combination. He also draws some fouls, making him a very effective scorer.
Milwaukee: Nothing like playing SIU-Edwardsville to make a Horizon League team feel better about itself. That’s exactly what the Panthers did on Tuesday to improve their record to 9-7. The game against Green Bay should be a big one and according to Pomeroy the Panthers are a slight favorite. If I had to handicap it though I’d give the edge to the Phoenix, even on the road. The Panthers don’t like giving up offensive rebounds, they rank 7th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. The guy here is James Eayrs, but the senior is having a bit of a problem with his three-point shot thus far this season.
Youngstown State: The reason the Penguins are ninth in the standings is because they got a home game against the tenth team. Youngstown State became the final Horizon League team to win a league game when it defeated UIC 76-67. Now maybe the Penguins can start a two-game winning streak when Loyola comes to town on Saturday. DeAndre Mays is the go-to-guy for the Youngstown.
UIC: An upset victory over Detroit on New Year’s gave the Flames their first conference victory, but two losses have followed. Jeremy Buttell absolutely went off with 31 points and 12 rebounds against Youngstown State, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Flames to victory. Now they’ll take on Cleveland State before the crosstown game versus Loyola on their home floor at the Pavilion on January 15. (A game that will be televised on ESPNU.) Robo Kreps is the go-to-guy most nights for UIC and when he’s on he can carry the team, but nights when he shoots 4-14, like he did against Youngstown State, make it difficult to win.