Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
The Horizon League had a lot of jockeying at the top last week as Valparaiso and Cleveland State both suffered losses, pulling the top five teams within two losses of first place with only five games to go for most teams. Cleveland State avoided the season sweep from Valpo, defeating them to take over sole possession of first place. Time in the top spot was limited, as the Vikings were dispatched by Butler and Detroit in succession. The Titans had probably the best week of all, going 3-0 in a short stretch and moving into sixth place, which would net them a home game in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament.
Before we get started, I’d like to let you know that the Power Rankings will be expanded to discuss jockeying for the conference tournament in March.
1. Valparaiso (17-7, 9-3) – The Crusaders may have lost to CSU in Ohio, but Homer Drew finds himself in the top spot following a squeaker victory over surprising Youngstown State. The Crusaders will host Detroit and Wright State this weekend at the ARC. Beating the Raiders is very important, as it knocks the 2nd place team back to the pack. Valparaiso has one of the toughest remaining schedules. All they need to do is win, and then the conference tournament will run through Valpo. Remaining conference games: Detroit, Wright State, at Milwaukee, at Green Bay, Loyola, UIC.
2. Wright State (17-9, 10-4) – Since taking a loss at Milwaukee a week ago, the Raiders took care of business with a 3-0 week. Sure, the victories came against the dregs of the Horizon League, but the conference has no easy outs, as Loyola and Youngstown State have proven this season. They stand one loss behind Valparaiso, but if they can topple the Crusaders, they’ve got a real opportunity to steal the conference with Troy Tabler and Cooper Land hobbled. To win the conference, they need to beat Valparaiso and keep winning. Remaining: at Butler, at Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Detroit.
3. Cleveland State (21-5, 10-4) – The week started off great; a victory over top-seeded Valparaiso put them in the driver’s seat. Then losses to Butler and Detroit really nipped the Vikings, who now are looking up at the Crusaders and have some very tough dates left on their schedule. If they’re going to win the conference, they need someone to pull Valparaiso down to four losses. Remaining: Youngstown State, at Wright State, Milwaukee, Green Bay.
4. Milwaukee (13-11, 8-5) – The switch has come on at just the right time. Since a blowout loss at Valparaiso, the Panthers have run through a veritable Horizon Murderer’s Row with flying colors, dispatching Butler, Detroit, Wright State and Green Bay to put themselves right in the thick of things. The Panthers can’t afford another loss or their chances at a League title are all but gone, but they also can make things rough for Valparaiso and Cleveland State. They need to go 5-0 the rest of the season, as well as see Valparaiso and Wright State suffer a loss at the hands of someone else. Remaining: at Loyola, at UIC, Valparaiso, at Cleveland State, at Youngstown State.
5. Butler (16-9, 8-5) – The Dawgs did themselves a mitzvah by dispatching Cleveland State and keeping themselves in the running. The sweep by Milwaukee prevents the Bulldogs to beat them in almost any tiebreaker scenario. Luckily for Butler, the Panthers have a difficult road schedule remaining and they should be able to win most if not all their remaining games. They need Milwaukee, Valpo, Cleveland State, and Wright State to lose as well, Valpo twice. Too bad for them, they only have the ability to beat Wright State, tonight. Remaining: Wright State, Detroit, at Green Bay, at UIC, Loyola.
6. Detroit (14-12, 8-6) – Detroit will not win the conference, and their opportunities to get the #2 seed are almost nil. The good news is that their victories last week have put them over the top of Green Bay for the six seed, which is almost as important as jumping into the two seed. If the season were to end today, the Titans would host Green Bay in the tournament. Remaining: at Valparaiso, at Butler, Youngstown State, at Wright State.
7. Green Bay (12-12, 6-6) – Missing out on the opportunity to sweep Milwaukee and put themselves in a tie for fourth has given the Phoenix a lot of problems. They have games against three of the top five teams in the conference, but if they finish the season with a good record, they can sneak back into the top six. Remaining: at UIC, at Loyola, Butler, Valparaiso, at Youngstown State, at Cleveland State.
8. Loyola (13-11, 4-9) – For what seems to be the fourth season in a row, Jim Whitesell’s weak non-conference scheduling has led to the team being unprepared for the conference season. This season’s 9-2 non-conference record has given way to a bad 4-9 record, guaranteeing a losing conference season. The Ramblers are on the outside looking in for a conference tournament home game, because they would need to win their last five games as well as have Detroit lose all four remaining games and Green Bay to drop at least three of their final six. Remaining: Milwaukee, Green Bay, at UIC, at Valparaiso, at Butler.
9. Youngstown State (8-16, 2-12) – I took a lot of flack last week for proclaiming that YSU does not belong in the Horizon League, then having the Penguins beat Butler and very nearly take down Valparaiso. My stance toward the Penguins hasn’t changed, and neither will most people when they realize this: should the Penguins sweep their final four games and end at 6-12, it will be their third best victory total in conference games since they joined the conference ten years ago. Remaining: at Cleveland State, at Detroit, Green Bay, Milwaukee.
10. UIC (6-19. 1-12) – Blowing out Youngstown State was the bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Flames. The first year of Howard Moore was considered a wash since day one, since he only had a couple months with the team before the start of the season. Next season will be a better indication of the direction Moore is taking the Flames. They will open the conference tournament on the road, where they haven’t won in the H-League this season.
A Look Ahead
Tonight’s showdown at Hinkle between Wright State and Butler will be a good indication of what the conference picture is looking like. Beat Butler, and the Raiders have a trump card over the other two teams in the top three and the opportunity to pull Valparaiso into a three-way tie on Saturday. Lose, and they’re at best the #5-seed going into Saturday. Valparaiso hosts red-hot Detroit at 7 p.m. tonight.
- 2.10 – Wright State at Butler, 7 p.m. HLN
- 2.10 – Detroit at Valparaiso, 8 p.m. HLN
- 2.10 – Milwaukee at Loyola, 8 p.m. HLN
- 2.12 – Wright State at Valparaiso, 8 p.m. HLN
- 2.12 – Detroit at Butler, 8 p.m. HLN