Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.
O26 Team of the Week
Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.
Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)
Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”
But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Detroit and Wright State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
While Detroit represented the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament last season, prior to this season Butler had long maintained a virtual stronghold on the top position in the conference. Luckily for the current members of the Horizon League, Butler is no longer around as the Bulldogs bolted after the 2011-12 season to join the Atlantic 10. With the Bulldogs’ departure, teams who had long played second fiddle to Brad Stevens’ program were now given the opportunity to make themselves known as serious contenders. The following is a breakdown of the four teams who currently possess the best chance of taking home the conference crown this year and represent the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament.
Broekhoff Leads A Dangerous Valparaiso Team
1. Valparaiso – 16-6 overall (6-2 in Horizon League) – Bryce Drew’s Crusaders are not only in first place in the conference, but they are also one of the hottest teams in the league. After dropping their conference opener, a home match-up with Loyola, the Crusaders have notched wins in six of their last seven games. Valpo is led by a duo of foreign-born front line standouts. Australian senior forward Ryan Broekhoff – last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year – leads the team in scoring (17.2 PPG) and rebounding (8.5 RPG), while fellow senior forward Kevin Van Wijk, a native of the Netherlands, trails only Broekhoff for the team lead in scoring (13.5 PPG) and rebounding (5.2 RPG). While the Crusaders dropped their most recent contest – a road setback to Youngstown State on Wednesday – the remainder of their schedule is manageable enough for the team to remain the favorite to earn the regular season crown and the top seed in the league tournament.
Three thoughts on the Pac-12’s 3-1 Tuesday, where we’ll focus on USC and UCLA’s tight consolation wins in their respective tournaments on opposite sides of the country.
KO ball prevails in Lahaina. With athletic, talented players that didn’t suit up for SC last season like J.T. Terrell, Jio Fontan, and Eric Wise, Kevin O’Neill will eventually turn to a more aggressive tempo from the deliberate style he’s been known for. But early in the year, classic KO ball did the trick for the Trojans in their 59-53 overtime win against Texas. O’Neill’s guys plodded along in the second half, with both teams going to overtime after scoring just 21 points each in the final 20 minutes. Obviously, this one wasn’t for lovers of offense (maybe those of you should check out this box score); each team hit just two three-pointers a piece in the 45 minutes of action.
There’s Been Many Cringe-Worthy Moments For Howland Early On In 2012-13 (credit: Jamie Squires)
The Bruins are still working things out, and that’s alright. Often times, teams with as much talent as UCLA has, especially new talent, will struggle early on to play together and find lineups and rotations that fit well together. Take freshman guard Jordan Adams, for instance. Adams had one of the best first 11 days of anyone in the conference, newcomer or vet, but shot an ice-cold one-for-six from the field once Shabazz Muhammad entered the starting lineup this afternoon. So, for the hoops fans up and down the west coast that may be concerned with this four-point victory over a team that has already lost home games to the likes of Youngstown State and Southern Miss, know that the important thing here is the W. UCLA now has 11 days to shore up their lazy defensive play and find rotations that maximize its potential before its showdown with San Diego State in Anaheim. If Ben Howland can’t figure it out by then, worry away. Read the rest of this entry »
Ethan Back is the Horizon League correspondent for RTC.
The Departure of Butler: It’s pretty crazy to think that the Horizon League has produced two of the last three runners-up in the NCAA Tournament, but Butler did indeed reach the final game of the season in both 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs have been the reason why the conference receives the national attention that it does, but they are now members of the A-10. What does this mean for the conference? Wright State head coach Billy Donlon and Cleveland State head coach Gary Watersdon’t seem to think much of the departure, as the former noted that Butler finished fifth in the conference a season ago, and the latter speculated that the Bulldogs would not have been the favorites this season. Despite this, Butler’s departure has been covered extensively by the national media, and we will be able to see its effects in the seasons to come.
Will Valparaiso Dominate Conference Play? Results from the Media Day polls would seem to indicate that Valparaiso will indeed dominate the Horizon League, as the Crusaders received 40 of the possible 44 first-place votes this preseason. Valpo went 14-4 in conference last year, and returns reigning Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff and first team all-Horizon League forward Kevin Van Wijk. Reaching the NCAA Tournament will be the goal for the Crusaders, as this was a feat they were unable to accomplish one season ago.
Will The McCallums And Detroit Step Up To Fill The Void Left By Butler? (AP)
Deepak Jayanti is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. Follow him on Twitter (@10thYearSeniors) for his thoughts on college basketball.
Don’t Bet On It: Parity has been a common term used to describe certain conference races such as the Big Ten, CAA or Pac-12 so far this season. Add the Horizon League to that list after the games this past weekend. Cleveland State and a surprising Valparaiso team sit on top of the standings at the halfway point of conference play. Fans of this league with a gambling itch might want to stay away because there are three teams (Butler, Milwaukee and Youngstown State) right up there, only a game behind the leaders in the standings. Milwaukee and Cleveland State were expected to be the front-runners but few expected Valpo and Youngstown to challenge them for the title. There is only one aspect of this conference that is certain at the halfway point – unpredictability.
International Love: No, this is not a reference to the Pitbull/Chris Brown song that is overplayed on the radio nowadays. But Bryce Drew has two great foreign-born players that form an efficient inside-outside tandem. One of the lingering questions about the Crusaders before the season started was around a reliable second scoring option outside of Ryan Broekhoff (Australia). Kevin Van Wijk (Netherlands) is averaging 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as he compliments Broekhoff’s outside game by patrolling the paint without attempting a single three-point shot all season. Drew must be paying close attention to the shooting form of his players because the Crusaders are shooting a league best 58% inside the arc. They aren’t stacked with three-point gunners but their offensive sets are designed to maximize the player’s strengths, hence less reliant on the long-range shot.
Senior Backcourt Leads the Way: Cleveland State is fortunate to have three seniors controlling the game during key stretches. The three Vikings – Trevon Harmon (12.1 PPG), D’Aundray Brown (11.6 PPG) and Jeremy Montgomery (10.7 PPG) provide a great foundation along with a balanced scoring attack. Gary Waters’ guards have already proved that they can win at tough venues on the road – Vanderbilt, Kent State and Butler. Their experience and composure might just be enough to win pivotal games such as the one this past weekend when they steamrolled through Milwaukee at home, 83-57. They do more than just score – the Three Amigos also limited each of Milwaukee’s guards to single digit scoring on Sunday.
The Talented Trevon Harmon Headlines A Tremendous Backcourt
D in Detroit doesn’t stand for Defense: All of the offensive talent means nothing if you can’t (or won’t) defend. Sure, everybody around the league is well aware of the potential NBA players on the Titans’ squad – Ray McCallum Jr. (15.2 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Eli Holman (11 PPG, 6.6 RPG). Without a consistent defensive effort, though, they have no chance at contending for the conference title. Detroit ranks last in defensive field goal percentage across the Horizon and are giving up about one point per possession* to their opponents during conference action. They will continue to lose key games against the top squads with their lackadaisical defense – for example, they gave up 84 points to Milwaukee, which is a team that only averages about 63.6 points per game. (*All tempo free statistics are courtesy of kenpom.com)
Disney on ice: Huh? That’s not a typo. This event could impact where the conference tournament is held. If the teams continue to beat up on each other, the overall record of the top teams won’t be enticing enough for the NCAA committee to consider selecting two teams for the Big Dance. So despite the regular season outcome, the conference tournament’s result might easily drive the decision on Selection Sunday. If Milwaukee ends up winning the regular season (only one game behind first place), they will not be able to host the first two rounds of the conference tournament because Disney On Ice has already booked the U.S. Cellular arena from March 1-4. Now, this will only impact Milwaukee negatively IF they win the regular season title because in such a case, the tournament will be held on the home court of the second place team from the regular season. Based on the parity of the league so far, a home court advantage might be extremely crucial during the conference tourney so the Panthers fans won’t be too happy come early March if they are forced to play on the road.
Cleveland State (7-2, 17-4) – In addition to an experienced backcourt, the Vikings can pull their weight in the paint. They lead the league in grabbing offensive rebounds. They clean the offensive glass at a league best 36.6%. Most of this is due to the upcoming freshman Anton Grady who grabs about 5.4 rebounds per game. Another senior forward, Aaron Pogue adds to the mix as he averages 4.1 boards per game. A balanced scoring attack combined with experience means that the Vikings are well positioned to take the conference title.
Valparaiso (7-2, 14-7) – Well-coached players know their strengths. The Crusaders’ shot selection during their recent stretch exemplifies Drew’s coaching abilities. This team won’t shoot lights out like their former coach but have been running most of the plays through the paint. Capitalizing on Van Wijk’s post game is the best strategy because it opens up the outside shot for Broekhoff towards the end of the games. Van Wijk is very savvy with his moves in the paint and has a fairly high free throw rate of 83.6 this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.
The Week That Was
Cream of the Crop Rises: It’s only mid-December, but don’t let the overall records fool you: The conference cream of the crop has already risen to the top. There is a clear division between the upper and lower halves of the Horizon League in 2011-12. Some teams (Milwaukee, Detroit, Butler, and Valparaiso) chose to test themselves before conference play begins. With Butler having a down season, a conference crown is there for the taking and each of these schools is hoping that their tough-minded scheduling philosophy pays off late in the season.
UW-Milwaukee Pushes Wisconsin: Playing in front of the largest regular season home crowd in school history at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, the Panthers went on a 16-1 run in the second half to cut 17-point deficit to two. But Wisconsin hit a few big shots down the stretch to hold on for a 60-54 win. UWM – who were without injured starters Kyle Kelm and Ja’Rob McCallum – dug themselves a hole in the first half after they shot just 30% from the field and made seven of 17 free throws for the game. Tony Meijer scored all of his team-high 15 points in a seven-minute stretch in the middle of the second half.
Return of the Titan: 6’10’’ center Eli Holman returned from an indefinite suspension and played in his first two games this past week. Though he didn’t start either game, Holman dunked his way to 21 points and snagged seven rebounds in his season-opener against Western Michigan and then went for nine and nine (points and boards) in the Titans’ loss to Alabama. Coach Ray McCallum Sr. seems to be making Holman earn his way back into the starting lineup, which is probably smart for the sake of team chemistry. Detroit survived a tough non-conference schedule without him including a nice win over St. John’s, but a low-post force like Holman is a rarity in the Horizon League. With him, the Titans should challenge Milwaukee and Cleveland State for conference supremacy.
Brad Stevens May Have Scheduled A Bit Too Aggressively With Significant Graduation Losses Giving Way To A Young Team
Cleveland State(10-1, 2-0) –The two best non-conference wins of the season thus far belong to the Vikings (road wins over Vanderbilt and Mid-American Conference favorite Kent State). Senior D’Aundray Brown has bounced back nicely from an injured hand to lead the team in scoring (12.7 PPG) and is second in rebounding (4.5 RPG). Guard Trevon Harmon was named conference Player of the Week after averaging 20 points in victories over Robert Morris and at Akron. The key to CSU’s early-season success, however, has been tough defense. With former star Norris Cole now in the NBA, the Vikings have used a quick, smaller lineup and their trademark pressure defense to hold opponents to just 57.5 points per game while swiping ten steals per game, both conference-bests. Read the rest of this entry »
Last season, the Horizon League put four teams in the postseason — can it do it again?
Eli Holman’s Leave of Absence: The Detroit big man is easily the best returning post player in the H-League, but whether or not he will return is a big question. Holman was placed on “indefinite leave” from the team at the end of September to handle some legal issues drawn from an incident at a fraternity house earlier in the month. Big Ten fans will remember Holman as the player who left Indiana after getting into a confrontation with then new coach Tom Crean. Without Holman, the Titans have a big hole in the post and would have to rely more heavily on Nick Minnerath and LeMarcus Lowe to pick up the pieces of a broken inside game. They still have some of the best talent in the league, but without that dominant force, who knows what they’ll get.
Kaylon Williams In Trouble: Milwaukee got some bad news as well, with starting point guard Kaylon Williams getting pulled over in Iowa and blowing a .228 BAC. What makes matters worse for Williams is that he fled the scene on foot, although he was picked up shortly afterward. No official word has come down from the university on punishment besides a short statement from head coach Rob Jeter. “We are aware of the situation involving Kaylon Williams. We are disappointed and will take appropriate action as we gather more information and the legal process runs its course.” This is Williams’ first offense and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss. Last season, Milwaukee had difficulty with Williams off the floor, but prepared for further uncertainty by recruiting junior college player Paris Gulley and high school point guard Shaquille Boga.
It Says Here That Matt Howard Was the Difference Maker at Butler
Butler’s Back Again: Obviously, the college basketball world is familiar with the recent NCAA Tournament dominance of Butler. “Familiar” might not be the word; “obsessed” may be closer. In any case, Butler came a 50-footer from the title in 2010 when no one thought they would make it. They suffered a poor shooting night in 2011 to keep the Bulldogs from that elusive title when no one thought they’d be back. Is it so crazy to say that they could make another run to the Final Four? The answer is yes. While losing Gordon Hayward and some key players from the previous year’s team didn’t spell the end for them in 2010-11, 2011-12 will be a different story. Forget Shelvin Mack, Hayward, and even Brad Stevens. To me, the one person that deserves the most credit for both of these runs is Matt Howard. We all knew from day one that he was a special player, and what lack of NBA athleticism (he’s still athletic) he had was made up big time in his skill, determination, and intelligence. To me, he’s the best leader-by-example in basketball that I have ever seen, and his graduation means someone else at Butler will have to try and pick up that torch. You can replace Shelvin Mack’s scoring and Zach Hahn’s knack for the timely three-pointer, but you can’t replace Matt Howard’s… Matt Howard.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Horizon League correspondent, Jimmy Lemke.
End of an Era - Homer Drew may have done his best work in the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), but that doesn’t bar the Horizon League community from recognizing the tremendous stature of the now-retired Valparaiso coach. He’s done it before – briefly retiring earlier in the decade to pave the way for son Scott Drew and promptly retaking the reins after Scott took the very difficult job at Baylor – but this time you could tell it was final. His ability to recruit overseas is second to none, and we will always remember the feel-good story of his1998 team. Speaking of that year, the coach to now replace him? None other than his other son, all-time Crusader great Bryce Drew.
Dickie V. Rules In Motor City - The Detroit Titans made a big splash this summer by deciding to name their court for former Titans coach and renowned broadcaster, Dick Vitale. While he spent only four years as head of the Titans before taking over as coach of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Dickie V’s exploits on behalf of college basketball are immeasurable. Dick Vitale IS college basketball, regardless of how you feel about him. As a longtime follower of the Milwaukee program, I see the court naming as a disappointment for Perry Watson, who coached the Titans for a considerably longer stretch and was very successful in that time, but there’s no doubting the decision from the future point of view. This season, St. John’s will play at Detroit on ESPN following a ceremony celebrating the honor, and I’d be willing to bet the Titans are banking on any Dick Vitale anniversaries falling on Detroit’s home schedule with a visit from ESPN.
Big Names Depart – Brandon Wood took a highly-publicized transfer to Michigan State and will be able to play immediately because he finished his degree at Valparaiso where his graduate program isn’t offered. Shelvin Mack declared for the draft and stayed put, going early in the second round to the Washington Wizards. But the biggest move in the conference is from the graduating senior class. Nearly every big team lost multiple big time competitors. Butler, of course, lost Mack, but they also lost Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant and, most importantly, Matt Howard. Milwaukee loses Anthony Hill and streaky-but-dangerous shooter Tone Boyle. Wright State, already on the downturn, lost Cooper Land, Troy Tabler, Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans. Cleveland State waved a heartfelt goodbye to perhaps the most talented of them all, Norris Cole, now with the Miami Heat. Put simply, eight of the ten 2010-11 all-Horizon League team members have exited the conference, with only two remaining: Ray McCallum, Jr. and Eli Holman, both of Detroit.
Brad Stevens Led The Bulldogs To Another Title Game Appearance, But He Faces Life Without Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack in the 2011-12 Season.
After missing their son’s games last weekend in New Orleans, Matt Howard‘s parents will be attending the Final Four in Houston. This was made possible by the people of their hometown, Connersville, Indiana, who graciously pitched in to help pay for the trip.
Senior captain Zach Hahntook charge when things were not going well for the Bulldogs early in the conference season. Since then, Hahn’s leadership has led Butler both on and off the court.
Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.
Last night’s Big South and Horizon League losers knocked eight teams from the ranks of national title contenders. That leaves a total of 310 teams vying for the crown this season. Liberty, Winthrop, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Illinois-Chicago, Green Bay, Loyola (Ill) and Youngstown State — we’ll see you again next year!
Coming next: eight more teams eliminated from the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot Leagues tonight.
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League Correspondent for RTC. With the conference tournament set to tip tonight, get a leg up on all things Horizon in this week’s recap and postseason preview.
To be perfectly honest, the Horizon League Tournament is stacked to allow the top two seeds the ability to get into the tournament, and it’s hard to argue with the success – each of the co-champions has won in the NCAA Tournament since the current format began. The funny thing is, hot teams really should be able to win the thing, and this year is no different. Except the hottest teams, Milwaukee (nine conference wins in a row) and Butler (seven) are the two best programs running into the Horizon League Tournament. The way those teams played, against the top teams all the way down to the bottom of the conference, was good enough to warrant the double-bye.
Butler’s side of the bracket features some really tough teams. Cleveland State is a co-champion, the first such team to have to go four games to win it. Wright State split with Butler, and both Green Bay and UIC played Butler tough during the conference season.
The Milwaukee side of the invitational features Youngstown State, who very nearly beat everyone ahead of them at the Beeghly Center; Loyola, who actually won in the U.S. Cellular Arena against the hosts; Valparaiso, who had the #1 seed until eight days ago; and Detroit, who has all the talent in the world and fought their way into the #5 seed on the last day of the regular season.
Butler will have to play Cleveland State or someone else on their side of the bracket just to get to the conference championship, but make no mistake, they’ve got someone that they’re looking forward to playing. Fast forward to the 4:35 mark.
Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
The big picture of the Horizon League got further muddled when Valparaiso, who owned first place not one week ago, lost two successive games in Wisconsin (sandwiched around an excellent Bracketbusters victory over Missouri State) and dropped back to the pack. Cleveland State is in first for the time being after defeating Wright State last week. Their loss at Old Dominion all but ensured the Vikings need to win the conference tournament to make their way into the Big Dance, but it’s not over yet. The big winners were Milwaukee and Butler, who moved up to second place (five losses) with Valpo’s loss at Green Bay on Monday night. Both have hopes of hosting the Horizon League Tournament next weekend, but only two schools – Cleveland State and Milwaukee – are in control of their own destiny.
1. Cleveland State (21-6, 12-4) – Gary Waters and his program missed a great opportunity to get the marquee victory they needed to get into the Dance. Like Utah State, their resume needed a big Bracketbuster victory to set them up for an at-large berth. Unlike USU, they didn’t deliver, and now are faced with winning the conference title to go dancing. Fortunately for Cleveland State, all they need to do is win. Two home victories over Milwaukee and Green Bay mean Cleveland State is the sole regular season champion, and the Horizon League Tournament goes through Cleveland. Lose, however, and the Vikings are almost guaranteed to drop out of the top two spots (and the double-bye that comes with them) due to being swept by Butler.
2. Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5) – I’ve spent the whole season putting the Panthers lower on the Power Rankings because I didn’t want to be accused of homerism, but the fact is Milwaukee deserves to be in this spot. Beating Valparaiso at home was huge, avenging yet another early season loss and putting the Panthers’ goal of winning a conference championship directly in sight. CSU and Milwaukee are the only teams that control their own destiny, with either team winning out being crowned conference champs. However, the Panthers would share the regular season crown with any combination of Cleveland State, Butler and Valparaiso. Should Milwaukee win out, they have the trump card, a sweep over Butler that no other team has. The loss on the road in the Bracketbuster is deceiving; Milwaukee held out their defensive stopper, Ryan Allen, after he took a hard fall on Wednesday. He will be tasked with guarding NorrisCole, who still riding a season-long high after his national coming-out party against Youngstown State when he went off for 41 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and three steals.
3. Butler (19-9, 12-5) – The Dawgs most likely will dispatch Loyola on Senior Night, and let me just say that nobody deserves to be applauded more than Matt Howard. Talk about a career, this guy has put everything he has into starting at power forward for the Butler Bulldogs since his freshman year, and I’d be astonished if his last regular-season home game was a loss. Loyola has recent history of winning at Hinkle, but look for Butler to enter the Horizon League Tournament with yet another 20-win season. To win the conference and host the tournament, Butler needs the winner of Thursday’s Cleveland State-Milwaukee game to lose on Saturday. It’s a tall order, expecting the 7th place team to win on the road or the 9th place team to win at home, but both have done it this season – Green Bay won at Valpo and Butler fell on the sword at Youngstown State.
4. Valparaiso (18-9, 11-5) – You wanna talk about bad luck, look no further than Valpo. Heading into Milwaukee, Valpo sat at three losses and owned a tiebreaker with Cleveland State. Just six days later, they’re on the wrong end of tie-breakers with all three teams. At Milwaukee, the Crusaders missed two bunny layups in the final seconds, although they got help with the Panthers missing several free throws in the closing minutes. At Green Bay, Howard Little grabbed a rebound that would have all but sealed a victory for Valpo, but he fell to the ground and traveled, giving the ball back to Green Bay for the winning basket. Valpo will likely start the conference tournament at the ARC in the first round. The good news? They only have one home conference loss.
5. Wright State (16-2, 10-7) – The Raiders were still in it a couple weeks ago, but lost games to the contenders and find themselves out of the running. Wright State is still a very dangerous team, and has beaten almost everybody in the conference despite absences from Troy Tabler and Cooper Land. Vaughn Duggins and N’GaiEvans, when it comes down to it, are still one of the best backcourt tandems in the H-League. Depending on where they finish, the Raiders will play Green Bay or Loyola in the first round of the tournament, teams they should be able to beat.
6. Detroit (14-15, 9-8) – Remember the beginning of the season, when the national pundits kept putting Detroit in first or second place? Why was that? Of course, the answer is Ray McCallumJr. Guys like Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and Seth Davis couldn’t fathom how a top-20 recruit would go into the Horizon League and lose enough to finish out of the top two, especially when he’s got a 6’10 monster transfer from Indiana in the block. The truth is, none of those guys really know how good the Horizon League is. Detroit isn’t a bad team; they have a very talented starting five and will be a tough out in the Horizon League Tournament. Their problem is lack of bench depth and questionable coaching. How can Ray McCallum Sr. not want the ball in Eli Holman’s hands every time down the floor?
7. Green Bay (12-16, 7-9) – The victory over Valpo on Monday was their biggest of the season, on Senior Night no less. Brian Wardle has an outside chance at the six seed, but will likely open the conference tournament on the road at Detroit. He is looking at a tough year in 2011-12 without Bryquis Perine, Rahmon Fletcher and Greg LeSage, but Monday night showed that he’s got an excellent building block in seven-footer Alec Brown.
8. Loyola (15-13, 6-10) – It looks like this could be the swan song for Jim Whitesell. For the fourth season in a row, Jim Whitesell’s weak non-conference scheduling has led to the team being unprepared for the conference season. The Loyola Ramblers haven’t been above the eight seed in the conference tournament since 2006-07, and they have a large renovation to the basketball arena taking place after the season. This could be a situation like Missouri State, when new digs meant a new coach in Cuonzo Martin. Unlike the Bears, however, the Ramblers haven’t come truly close the tournament in a long time. Gone after the season are seniors Andy Polka, Terrance Hill and Geoff McCammon. The Ramblers have good pieces in Ben Averkamp, Denzel Brito and (potentially) JohnGac, but they won’t have the firepower to compete in 2011-12 and after that season will lose almost everybody else of consequence.
9. Youngstown State (7-18, 2-14) – It sure looked like Youngstown State was going to make me eat some crow there for a bit. The day my RTC post condemning the YSU program as unworthy of the Horizon League was released, they up and defeated Butler. Nearly taking out Valpo a couple days later would have been big for a program that hasn’t had a whole lot to root for. It’s likely the final go-round for Jerry Slocum, whose wild success in lower-division NCAA did not translate to the D-I Penguins. But the problem isn’t Slocum as much as it is the inherent problems the department has. Unless some money is taken from football and injected into the basketball program’s budget, the Penguins will be relegated to the bottom of the barrel for the time being. And even then it likely won’t be enough.
10. UIC (6-22, 2-15) – Unlike Youngstown State, UIC has the structure to be competitive in the Horizon League. This season was a lost year the second April 2010 came around and JimmyCollins was still coach. The season was further doomed for every month Collins remained, staying long enough to make things especially tough on incoming coach HowardMoore. The truncated recruiting timetable left the Flames with a couple good players remaining from Collins’ team and bunch of residents of the Island of Misfit Toys. UIC will be better in 2011-12, but it will be a few years before Howard Moore gets them up to speed. It seems funny that two of the conference’s best non-conference victories, over Illinois and Rhode Island, came from the Flames.
A Look Ahead
The season is almost over, with only one weekend remaining. Games on Thursday and Saturday will determine the championship and seeding for the Horizon League Tournament, and while no seeds are official, we do know this:
The top four seeds – Cleveland State, Butler, Milwaukee and Valparaiso - are untouchable. A fifth, Wright State, has guaranteed at least a home game in the conference tournament. Detroit has an outside chance of losing their home game to Green Bay, but all signs point to Green Bay at Detroit next Tuesday. Loyola is the safest team in their seed, with only a 0.6% chance they land in the seven seed. Youngstown State and UIC will fill out the final two spots, and YSU will likely be the nine seed.
The final thing we know is this: the winner of Thursday’s game between Milwaukee and Cleveland State all but locks up a conference championship going into the final game of the regular season. Both teams would need to sweep; each team going 1-1 and Butler beating Loyola would make Butler the conference champion. That scenario, however, is unlikely as Cleveland State hosts Green Bay and Milwaukee visits Youngstown State. A game this big deserves the viewership, and as long as you’re reading this, you can see it: HorizonLeague.org, Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern.
2.24.11 – Milwaukee at Cleveland State, 7 p.m., Time Warner Sports 32/HLN
2.25.11 – Detroit at Wright State, 7 p.m., HLN
2.26.11 – Milwaukee at Youngstown State, 1 p.m., HLN
2.26.11 – Green Bay at Cleveland State, 2 p.m., HLN
2.26.11 – Loyola at Butler, 2 p.m., HLN
Video of the Week – With such a huge game on the Horizon for Thursday, we’ll take a look back to December, when Cleveland State went to Milwaukee and laid a drubbing on the Panthers: