Horizon League Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

The Horizon League finished its regular season on Saturday. The first round matchups for the tournament are all set. Of course the favorite to win the conference tournament is Butler. The Bulldogs went a perfect 18-0 in conference. The Bulldogs played without star forward Gordon Hayward – the assumed Horizon League Player of the Year – and still managed to defeat Valparaiso on the road on Friday. Butler will be playing at home and receives a double-bye into the semifinals.  The team joining Butler with the double-bye on the other side of the bracket? Wright State. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. Much more on the Horizon League Tournament, the season that was, and everything else.

How did they/I do? Here is the media’s preseason poll compared with what actually happened this season in the Horizon League. For fun, I’ve also included what I said in preseason.

Preseason (Media/John)

  • 1/1. Butler
  • 2/2. Wright State
  • 3/4. Cleveland State
  • 4/3. Milwaukee
  • 5/5. Green Bay
  • 6/8. Detroit
  • 7/9. Youngstown State
  • 8/7. Valparaiso
  • 9/10. UIC
  • 10/6. Loyola

Actual

  1. Butler
  2. Wright State
  3. Green Bay
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Cleveland State
  6. Valparaiso
  7. Detroit
  8. Loyola
  9. UIC
  10. Youngstown State

Everyone knew who the top two teams were going to be coming into the season. Wright State returned a veteran team and Butler is a monster with its talent. After that it gets murky. Apparently both the media and I overrated Cleveland State just a smidge. I’m happy though that I had every school within two places of where the actually finished. Green Bay outperformed expectations a bit and since the Phoenix get Youngstown State at home to start, expect to see them in Indianapolis.

More about the HL Tournament

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 17-0
  2. Wright State 11-5
  3. Green Bay 10-6
  4. Valparaiso 10-7
  5. Cleveland State 9-7
  6. Milwaukee 8-8
  7. Detroit 7-9
  8. Loyola (IL) 5-11
  9. UIC 2-14
  10. Youngstown State 2-14

Top Storylines

  • The quest for perfection: Butler is now one game away from perfection during the regular season in the Horizon League. The final game is at Valparaiso next Friday. Before that, though, Siena will test the Bulldogs in the BracketBuster game on Saturday. It is the first nationally televised game at 11:00 AM EST.
  • The hot team: Now the hot teams are Wright State and Milwaukee. The Raiders have moved into a convincing second place in conference, but they still have two road games remaining. Milwaukee has climbed into the sixth seed in conference and has two games in Chicago after it’s BracketBuster game to improve its seeding. The Panthers lost to Loyola at home earlier this season, so they’ll be looking for revenge at the Gentile Center.
  • The most exciting team: Valparaiso is probably a season away from being a top contender in the Horizon League, but the Crusaders sure do play an entertaining style of basketball. They’ve haven’t played a game in the 60s points-wise since going to UIC on January 21.
  • The race for #2:  Technically four teams can get to 11-7 in conference still and capture the double-bye in the Horizon League tournament opposite of Butler. Here are the four teams still trying to capture that spot. If Wright State wins out they’ll obviously take the top spot, but that might be more difficult than it seems. The game at Cleveland State is a big pothole.

Team: Remaining League Games, Predicted Record

  • Wright State: @Youngstown State, @Cleveland State, 12-6
  • Green Bay: @UIC, @Loyola, 11-7
  • Cleveland State: Detroit, Wright State, 10-8
  • Valparaiso: Butler, 10-8

And a projected first round:

  • #10 Youngstown @ #3 Green Bay
  • #7 Detroit @ #6 Milwaukee
  • #9 UIC @ #4 Cleveland State
  • #8 Loyola @ #5 Valparaiso

The 5-8 and 6-7 games in this scenario would be excellent. Valparaiso just held off a furious late-game charge from Loyola to force the Ramblers onto the road for the first playoff game. Also, because of Detroit’s fall from grace they’d now have to play at Milwaukee in the first round. That’s a big switch.

A Possession-Free World

I keep possession-free statistics for the entire Horizon League. Here are some superlatives at this moment in conference.

  • Best Offense: Butler (#2 is Valparaiso)
  • Worst Offense: UIC
  • Best Defense: Butler (#2 is Detroit)
  • Worst Defense: Valparaiso
  • Luckiest: Green Bay
  • Unluckiest: Detroit

Another fun possession-free fact is that there are four teams bunched together now in the middle of the league. While Butler is the clear top dog, Wright State is number two, Detroit is number three (contrary to what their record says) and then there is a bunch. Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cleveland State and Valparaiso all get it done in different ways, but they’re essentially the same in terms of play in conference. Milwaukee plays a little more defense than the others, Valparaiso has a bit more explosive offense — but when you get down to it they all score about 0.1 points per possession more than their opponents in the league.

Finally, Bracket Busters is this weekend. My predictions for the 10 games.

  1. Siena vs. Butler – Bulldogs squeak out a close one
  2. Wright State at Ohio – Raiders should win, even on the road
  3. Indiana State vs. Green Bay – Phoenix are tough to beat at home
  4. Toledo vs. Cleveland State – Vikings should crush Rockets at home
  5. Valparaiso at Bowling Green – A tough game on the road, Crusaders might fall
  6. Niagara vs. Milwaukee – Panthers with a tough game against a MAAC foe, but at home
  7. Eastern Michigan vs. Detroit – The Titans can get back on track with a win
  8. Loyola at Creighton – A very tough match-up, Ramblers should fall in Omaha
  9. Youngstown State at UC Riverside – Tough trip west for the Penguins
  10. UIC at Evansville – Flames struggle on the road, might lose this bottom feeder battle

Overall it looks like the Horizon League could go 7-3 in BracketBusters this weekend. It will be a lot of fun to watch – well at least what few games are available on tv. Butler is the only Horizon League team on national television this season.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

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

Top Storylines

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)
  • Valparaiso: @Youngstown State, Loyola, Butler; 10-8
  • Detroit: Milwaukee, @Wright State, @Cleveland State, @Youngstown State; 9-9

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.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 12-0
  2. Wright State 8-4
  3. Cleveland State 7-4
  4. Green Bay 7-5
  5. Detroit 7-5
  6. Valparaiso 6-6
  7. Milwaukee 5-6
  8. Loyola (IL) 4-8
  9. Youngstown State 2-10
  10. UIC 1-11

Top Storylines

  • 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.

Team Breakdowns

  • 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.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 15th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 6-0
  2. Green Bay 5-2
  3. Detroit 5-2
  4. Wright State 4-3
  5. Cleveland State 3-3
  6. Loyola (IL) 2-4
  7. Valparaiso 2-4
  8. Milwaukee 2-4
  9. Youngstown State 2-5
  10. UIC 1-5

Top Storylines

  • 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.

Team Breakdowns

  • 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.
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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Standings

  1. Butler 3-0
  2. Green Bay 4-1
  3. Detroit 3-1
  4. Wright State 3-1
  5. Cleveland State 2-2
  6. Loyola (IL) 2-3
  7. Valparaiso 1-2
  8. Milwaukee 1-3
  9. Youngstown State 1-4
  10. UIC 1-4

Top Storylines

  • 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.

Team Breakdowns

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.

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League

Horizon League Standings

  1. Green Bay 2-0 (9-2)
  2. Wright State 1-0 (4-2)
  3. Detroit 2-0 (6-3)
  4. Butler 1-0 (6-3)
  5. Loyola-Chicago 1-1 (5-2)
  6. Milwaukee 1-1 (6-4)
  7. Valparaiso 0-1 (3-6)
  8. Youngstown State 0-2 (3-5)
  9. Cleveland State 0-2 (3-6)
  10. UIC 0-2 (1-5)

Top Storylines

  • The Phoenix are rising. Green Bay has turned into one of the best teams in the Horizon League and is set to challenge Butler. In fact, it can be argued that Green Bay’s victory over Wisconsin is the biggest non-conference win for the league thus far this season.
  • Howard if off track. Reigning Player of the Year Butler’s Matt Howard has struggled in the post during the non-conference schedule. He hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm and has more fouls this season than field goals made (36 to 24).
  • Detroit suffers a bad loss at home. A lot of people think the Titans have the talent to compete with early leaders Green Bay, Butler and Wright State. Detroit may be up there now in the standings, but the Titans still have a long way to go. It showed in a home loss to Tennessee State this week.
  • Final chance to pull some big upsets. The Horizon League has a number of chances this week to improve its overall profile by pulling upsets at major conference venues. The best chances seem to be Detroit at Michigan and Wright State at Mississippi State.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #11 – Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2009

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John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Butler (17-1)
  2. Wright State (14-4)
  3. Milwaukee (12-6)
  4. Cleveland State (11-7)
  5. Green Bay (10-8)
  6. Loyola (8-10)
  7. Valparaiso (7-11)
  8. Detroit (5-13)
  9. Youngstown State (4-14)
  10. UIC (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • Vaughn Duggins (G), Wright State – 13.8 ppg, 2.7 apg in 2008-09 season.
  • Troy Cotton (G), Green Bay – 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
  • Norris Cole (G), Cleveland State – 13.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg
  • Gordon Hayward (F), Butler – 13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg
  • Matt Howard (F/C), Butler – 14.8, 6.8 rpg (last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year)

6th Man. Jordan Hicks (G/F), Loyola-Chicago

Impact Newcomer. Milos Milosevic (F), Valparaiso. The 6’7″ Croatian junior college transfer should give the Crusaders a paint presence.

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What You Need to Know.

  • There’s more to the Horizon League than just Butler. Whether it’s Cleveland State – which upset Syracuse and Wake Forest last season – or Green Bay and Milwaukee, the Horizon League has quality teams throughout. Someone in the top half of the league is going to rise up and not only challenge the Bulldogs, but compete for an NCAA at-large berth.
  • This is only the beginning for the Bulldogs. Butler is going to be good for a long time. Young talent like Gordon Hayward (soph.), Matt Howard (jr.), Shelvin Mack (soph.) and incoming center recruit Andrew Smith mean the Bulldogs will be strong for many seasons to come, not just 2009-10.
  • UIC was expected to be a pretty good team in 2009-10, even with the losses of Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer, but the team was gutted when two frontcourt starters – Rob Eppinger and Tori Boyd – decided not to return along with the indefinite suspension of guard Spencer Stewart. Now the roster seems to contain more questions than answers. The Flames will rely heavily on guard Robo Kreps.
  • Is he healthy again? That’s the question Wright State fans are asking about guard Vaughn Duggins. He missed all but four games with finger and ankle injuries and his return will be a key for the Raiders. Duggins averaged 13.3 points per game two seasons ago.
  • They start real early. The Horizon League is one of the few conferences that plays league games in early December. December 3rd and 5th feature full slates of league games before it goes back to it’s non-conference business.

Predicted ChampionButler (NCAA Seed #5). The Bulldogs start the season ranked in the Top 20 and are a great collection of talent. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but it didn’t end until the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a heartbreaker to LSU. This season the non-conference schedule is even tougher and the Bulldogs will be trying to advance even farther.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2009

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

  1. Butler (#15/15)  12-1, 21-2
  2. Green Bay   11-3, 19-7
  3. Cleveland State  9-5, 18-8
  4. Wright State   9-5, 15-10
  5. Milwaukee   9-5, 14-10
  6. Youngstown State  6-8, 9-15
  7. Loyola    4-10, 12-14
  8. UIC    4-10, 11-13
  9. Valparaiso   3-10, 6-18
  10. Detroit    2-12, 7-17

This edition of the HL “check in” comes smack dab in the middle of a whirlwind tour of the Horizon League.  Loyola to Cleveland State to Butler to Valparaiso…four games in six days, all in an effort to sew up my notes on as many teams as possible heading into the Horizon League Championship, which begins on March 3rd.  Some things are already crystal clear while others remain murky, much like the weather we deal with here in the Midwest this time of year.  Two weeks ago it was snow measured in feet and this week it’s been unseasonable warmth, followed by wind and rain.  It’s a nice sign that March is right around the corner, but for now the return of the winter chill is a reminder that this time of year features “Mock Selection Thursday” and not “Selection Sunday.”

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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 January 1st, 2009

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

  1. Milwaukee  (3-0,  7-5)
  2. Butler  (2-0, 11-1)
  3. Green Bay  (2-0, 9-4)
  4. UIC  ( 1-1,  8-4)
  5. Valparaiso  (1-1,  4-9)
  6. Cleveland State  (1-2, 10-5)
  7. Wright State (1-2, 7-7)
  8. Youngstown State  (1-2, 4-8)
  9. Loyola  (0-1, 8-5)
  10. Detroit  (0-3, 4-8)

I’m feeling a little prophetic since the last time we checked in on the Horizon League.  All I’ll say is that the developments don’t bode well for the Horizon League’s two-bid aspirations.  But, it does speak to the level of competition that teams face night in and night out in the Horizon League.  Before we get into some team-by-team breakdowns, lets take a quick look at the league as a whole, which has enjoyed a successful non-conference season.

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