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.
- 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 »