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
Fans are still getting used to Butler being out of the top spot, but the past couple weeks have led the Bulldogs to losses at WrightState and (most recently) Valparaiso, and the biggest shot to the stomach may have been an overtime loss at Hinkle against Milwaukee that completed a very impressive sweep by the Panthers. The Crusaders and Cleveland State Vikings kept on trucking, putting distance between themselves and the rest of the Horizon League by going undefeated in the last week. CSU had an easy week, going on the road in Chicago and getting two victories. Valparaiso, on the other hand, got everything Butler could give them and won in front of a packed house at the ARC before they were taken down by the Vikings Thursday night.
1. Cleveland State (21-3, 10-2) – Since their difficult trip in Indiana, the Vikings have gone 6-0 and have been generally strong in doing so, even though their three road wins came at the dregs of the Horizon League. A victory at home against Valparaiso put them in the driver’s seat for the time being. Any H-League fans fancy spending early March in Cleveland?
2. Valparaiso (16-7, 8-3) – The Crusaders have definitely had a more difficult schedule than the Vikings since their victory on January 9, but a hiccup at home against Green Bay separates them for now. Thursday’s game was a huge letdown, and now the Crusaders are looking up; luckily they still have the inside track on the two seed and its double-bye.
3. Wright State (15-9, 8-4) – The Raiders only had losses to the top two teams before dropping a decision at Milwaukee, adding on to the impressive streak of losing at the Panthers (the last time Wright State won at Milwaukee was in 1997). The Raiders have, along with Detroit, the most difficult schedule remaining. A victory at the ARC next Saturday is essential for the Raiders to have a decent shot at overtaking Valpo.
4. Milwaukee (12-11, 7-5) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Panthers finally subsided with Milwaukee taking games at Butler and at home against Detroit and Wright State. The last (and only) time the Panthers won or lost three games in a row was between November 14th through the 20th. Beat Green Bay on Saturday, and they keep the pace with the top. Lose, and it’s back to the pack.
5. Butler (14-9, 6-5) – Since blowing out Cleveland State, the Dawgs and Vikings have gone two separate directions. Butler has gone 3-4 since then, dropping a game at home against Milwaukee to complete the sweep and road games at Wright State, Valpo and Youngstown State (seriously). With five conference losses, they have a very outside shot at the all-important two seed, but it is essential that they defeat Cleveland State and Wright State to keep their hopes alive.
6. Green Bay (12-11, 6-5) – The Phoenix answered a loss at Detroit with an emphatic victory at Green Bay on Sunday. Guard Rahmon Fletcher has scored in double figures in eight straight games, including a 24-point performance against the Titans. Saturday’s game at Milwaukee is the only game of the week for the Phoenix, and is a huge rivalry for two teams knotted at five losses in the conference.
7. Detroit (12-12, 6-6) – Ray McCallum Sr.’s Titans have been on a downward spiral, going 2-5 over their last seven with victories over UIC and Youngstown State. The depth of the Titans has been an issue this season, and an extremely talented starting five has had to play a ton. When they get in foul trouble, McCallum is forced to play guys like Evan Bruinsma in important situations, as he did down the stretch Friday against Milwaukee.
8. Loyola (13-10, 4-8) – Luckily for the Ramblers, they have separated themselves from the Flames and Penguins. Unfortunately, that still leaves them at 4-8m looking up at the pack in terms of a home game in the conference tournament. With three more losses than the sixth-place team, the Ramblers have all but lost an opportunity to host a Horizon League tournament game. They can be dangerous in the tourney with GeoffMcCammon, so look for him to get some rest once their seed is pretty much set.
9. Youngstown State (8-14, 2-10) – Wow, what a victory for Youngstown State over Butler on Thursday night. This game will go down as one of the 2-3 best victories in program history, or at least for the decade it has been in the Horizon League. But you see, that’s the problem. The victory over the Bulldogs is no easy feat, but when the team tied for fifth place in the conference is one of your best victories of the decade, you’ve had a pretty awful decade. The time is ripe for the Penguins to move on from Jerry Slocum and truly invest in their program. Don’t be surprised if the Horizon League has meetings to consider contraction of Youngstown State if Slocum is still the coach in April, or the replacement is not paid at a comparable level of other conference schools.
10. UIC (6-17, 1-10) – This was a lost season once April 2010 passed and Jimmy Collins was still the head coach. The fact that it took until August to install a replacement for Collins, who retired over the summer, made the 2010-11 season pointless from a competitive standpoint. Poor Paul Carter shouldn’t have applied to play immediately and instead should have sat out the season as a regular transfer. Now, the team looks to be out of luck in the future as well, with Carter, Robo Kreps, DipanjotSingh, Brad Birton, and potentially Zavion Neely (due to academic issues) on their way out. Of course, a blank slate to go along with a full season of recruiting may be just what Howard Moore needs.
A Look Ahead
The two teams off on Thursday, Milwaukee and Green Bay, square off in a huge rivalry game at the U.S. Cellular Arena on Saturday afternoon. The winner is still in the mix for a potential bye (albeit barely), but the loser will be fending off Detroit to hold onto the #6 spot and a conference home game. Following the loss at YSU, Butler is gasping for air. The worst time for this to happen is now, as they are headed into Valhalla to take on the Vikings of Cleveland State. CSU is fresh off a decisive victory at Valparaiso and split the season series. It would be a huge step for the Vikings if they could bury Butler with a sixth loss in conference. Not exactly the 1-2 matchup that ESPN was hoping for, but Butler can still make the conference race very interesting by sweeping the league leaders.
2.5.2011 – Green Bay at Milwaukee, 3 p.m. ESPNU
2.5.2011 – Butler at Cleveland State, noon ESPN or ESPN2
2.5.2011 – Loyola at Detroit, 2 p.m. HLN
2.7.2011 – Cleveland State at Detroit, 7 p.m. HLN
Expanding on Contraction
In the power rankings, I hinted that the Horizon League may want to consider contraction should Youngstown State move forward with Jerry Slocum as their head coach or replace him with a similarly shortchanged coaching staff. Besides Valparaiso, the Penguins are the only program that has been added since the 1994-95 season, and unlike Valpo, Youngstown has never been truly competitive in the conference. In their tenth season in the conference, YSU has never been better than fifth place, and that was in 2006-07. They are 2-9 in the Horizon League Tournament, with their best victory a four-pointer over #6 Green Bay in the 2002-03 tourney. Their coaching salaries are remarkably poor, only matched by the Phoenix.
But there are two things that separate Green Bay from Youngstown. For one, the Phoenix have been successful in the past ten years (and wildly successful during the nineties), scoring two #2 seeds in the past decade. The Penguins have never been anything more than marginal; how can the conference trump up a program who hangs its hat on a 14-7, 7-9 season as their best in a decade? The other thing that separates the similarly penny-pinching programs at Green Bay and Youngstown State? At UWGB, the Green Bay Phoenix are the show. Their nationally-ranked women’s basketball program is great, but men’s basketball, like it is at eight other schools in the conference, is the meal ticket. At YSU, football will always trump men’s basketball. Whenever money is being allocated at the Ohio school, it goes directly into the football program. Slocum is a good coach with over 600 victories, but never had a chance at Youngstown State because of the serious lack of resources, a very poor campus neighborhood and city at large.
At the very least, the conference members should consider setting certain restrictions to force Youngstown State to bring their program up with the rest of the League. However, they’ve had ten years and have played the anchor, dragging down everyone’s RPI in almost every season. What would the conference look like this year if YSU were in the Summit or NEC, two conferences that may be better fits for them? UIC would be the anchor, but even their RPI (#277 as of today) would be higher because they’d be lifted from the two games (and one loss) to the Penguins.
Were it my call, I would cut Youngstown State; is it heartless? Probably. Shouldn’t I give them time to pick themselves up? No, because they’ve had a decade to do so and haven’t shown any interest in becoming a better program. I don’t see any Slocum replacement changing that unless he and his staff are compensated more to the tune of other conference schools and their recruiting budget is picked up.
It’s not Youngstown State’s fault. They are married to football, as they should be – the program is the lifeblood of the city. But the lack of money for other sports points to the fact that the Penguins should be playing in a different conference; perhaps it’s a move to the Summit League, where they used to play, or maybe it’s the NEC. In either case, they’d be matching up with similar budgets and have a much better opportunity to win some games.
As for the Horizon League, I wouldn’t go forward with extending an invitation to anyone just yet, but Saint Louis and/or Oakland should, at the very least, be approached. SLU would likely turn the Horizon League down, as their situation in the A-10 isn’t bad enough travel-wise to make the move to the far better geographical fit of the H-League (or MVC for that matter). Oakland, on the other hand, would be a great fit, evening out the travel partner situation (dropping one Ohio school and adding one in Michigan makes it two from each state: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan).
In any case, I’m just spitballing, but the fact remains it’s plainly clear that the Horizon League and Youngstown State simply aren’t meant for each other.
Video of the Week: By now, you’ve probably seen Green Bay scrub Eric Valentin setting the Guinness record for half court shots in one minute. If you haven’t, indulge your eyes for a moment:
Butler sits alone atop to the Horizon League and UIC is lingering at the bottom. So why is this a game worth checking out? Well, first of all the Bulldogs have played some tough games on the road in conference. They barely survived against Loyola on Thursday night. Then there is the matter of UIC playing much better at home. The Flames’ lone conference win came at the Pavilion, against Detroit, and UIC also stunned Oregon State. No matter where Butler goes the Bulldogs bring a crowd, and an interested audience, and surely this game will be no exception. Come read along as we see if Matt Howard can finally get on track or if Gordon Hayward shows off his NBA-quality skills against the overmatched Flames. Robo Kreps is the man for the Flames, but he can’t keep it interesting by himself. Stop by and see what happens early Saturday afternoon on RTC Live.
Into conference play to stay. Besides the Bracket Busters event everyone is locked in and focused on conference play in the Horizon League.
Butler is still the team to beat. The Bulldogs haven’t been challenged yet in the Horizon League, but every team is gunning for them. There’s a huge game coming up at Wright State on Friday and another at Detroit on Saturday.
Parity reigns in league play. Besides the Butler bully at the top the conference nobody can get away with playing anything less than their “A” game. That’s especially true on the road.
Butler: The Bulldogs are an excellent offensive team, but the trip to Wright State is going to be a huge game. Pomeroy projects the Bulldogs to lose in a tight game on the road. The Bulldogs might’ve slipped up one too many times to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but now all that matters is the conference tournament in March. Gordon Hayward is ridiculous. If you haven’t seen Butler play this season you’re missing out on a treat. He’s got an excellent game and he rebounds. He’s 46th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.
Green Bay: One of the two annual rivalry games between the two Wisconsin schools in the Horizon League takes place on Saturday. The game is in Milwaukee so the Phoenix are slight underdogs. Green Bay won’t have played in a week since its last game was a 6-point win at Valparaiso. Here the player to watch is Rahmon Fletcher. He dominates the ball for the Phoenix, taking the 16th highest percentage of shots in the nation. Fletcher has to be on the court for Green Bay to play well. The Phoenix lost by an average of 23.5 points per game to Butler and Oakland when he was out.
Detroit: Probably the tallest team in the Horizon League, the aptly named Titans are using it to their advantage. Detroit suffered an upset loss to UIC at the Pavilion last Thursday, but came back to beat Loyola on the road to get a split in Chicago. A game against Valparaiso could be a trap game before Butler on Sunday. (Valparaiso is Butler’s “travel partner” and could be a trap game for many opponents this season.) Eli Holman is one of the tall people on the frontline. He’s 6’9″ but plays bigger and is 28th in the country in block percentage.
Wright State: The “other” Top 50 Pomeroy team in the Horizon League, the Raiders already have a tough loss in Horizon League play – 53-52 to Loyola on New Year’s Eve. Now they get Butler on their home court. Wright State forces a lot of turnovers, plays at a slow pace and generally grinds through a game. They don’t have any particularly good non-conference wins – Belmont is the best – so it’s Horizon League title or bust for the Raiders. Senior guard Todd Brown and junior guard Vaughn Duggins lead a very balanced attack. No player uses more than 21.8% of the team’s possessions while on the court.
Cleveland State: The Vikings are 6-10, but don’t let the record fool you, this team is a competitor in the Horizon League. After a four-game losing streak (albeit against some talented teams) head coach Gary Waters switched to a four-guard starting lineup and it’s paid off in two wins over Youngstown State and Loyola. The Vikings have to finish off the Chicago pair when UIC comes to town and then prepare for Butler. (Everyone prepares for Butler.) Norris Cole is the guy for Cleveland State. He does a little bit of everything from his guard position. Also, the four-guard rotation has given Jeremy Montgomery a more prominent role in which he could also flourish.
Loyola: A little bit of luck went a long way, but the Ramblers are coming back to reality during conference play. Then again, being sixth is still a surprising position for a team that was picked 10th in the preseason poll. Loyola lost a close game to Cleveland State in Cleveland on Thursday. The bench continues to outscore the starters and every game is going to be close. The loss to the Vikings was Loyola’s first close loss of the season. Now they have to go to Youngstown State to finish up the Ohio swing before playing crosstown rival UIC next Friday. Sophomore Walt Gibler is emerging as an effective scoring threat that goes to the line often. He’s seventh in the nation in fouls drawn.
Valparaiso: A New Year’s Eve victory over Milwaukee was a good way to end 2009, but 2010 hasn’t been as kind to the Crusaders. They have a sieve for a defense, probably because they gamble too often. (Valparaiso does rank 69th in steal percentage as a team.) Like I noted above, the Crusaders are Butler’s travel partner, so they might benefit from that, though it didn’t help last time as Green Bay won a tight game 64-58. Look out for sophomore guard Brandon Wood. He takes a lot of shots and makes them, a lethal combination. He also draws some fouls, making him a very effective scorer.
Milwaukee: Nothing like playing SIU-Edwardsville to make a Horizon League team feel better about itself. That’s exactly what the Panthers did on Tuesday to improve their record to 9-7. The game against Green Bay should be a big one and according to Pomeroy the Panthers are a slight favorite. If I had to handicap it though I’d give the edge to the Phoenix, even on the road. The Panthers don’t like giving up offensive rebounds, they rank 7th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. The guy here is James Eayrs, but the senior is having a bit of a problem with his three-point shot thus far this season.
Youngstown State: The reason the Penguins are ninth in the standings is because they got a home game against the tenth team. Youngstown State became the final Horizon League team to win a league game when it defeated UIC 76-67. Now maybe the Penguins can start a two-game winning streak when Loyola comes to town on Saturday. DeAndre Mays is the go-to-guy for the Youngstown.
UIC: An upset victory over Detroit on New Year’s gave the Flames their first conference victory, but two losses have followed. Jeremy Buttell absolutely went off with 31 points and 12 rebounds against Youngstown State, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Flames to victory. Now they’ll take on Cleveland State before the crosstown game versus Loyola on their home floor at the Pavilion on January 15. (A game that will be televised on ESPNU.) Robo Kreps is the go-to-guy most nights for UIC and when he’s on he can carry the team, but nights when he shoots 4-14, like he did against Youngstown State, make it difficult to win.
Big Stars Missing Big Time: Two of the top teams in the Horizon League, Green Bay and Detroit, were hampered by the loss of star players. Rahmon Fletcher hasn’t played for the Phoenix since injuring himself against Wisconsin on December 9 and Eli Holman missed three games for the Titans between November 28 and December 13.
A Different Point of View:Basketball State has a different way of seeing the Horizon League. It thinks Butler is #1, but has surprising Loyola at #4 and 0-2 Youngstown State at #5. Both are in front of Detroit, which is 2-0 in the league.
Rise of Chicago: The two Chicago programs in the Horizon League, UIC and Loyola, have been down for a while now, but the Ramblers are off to a 7-2 start. A win at Bradley really cemented their status as a darkhorse in the conference. UIC might be struggling, but the Flames rose up to defeat Pac-10 foe Oregon State on Wednesday at home.
Very busy Saturday: Saturday, December 19 is one of the busiest days of the season for the Horizon League as nine of the 10 teams will be in action. The only team not playing is Loyola (Ill). Big games include Xavier at Butler, West Virginia at Cleveland State, and Youngstown State at Green Bay in a conference tilt.
More Places to See the Horizon: The Horizon League is one of the best mid-major conferences out there in getting its games out to the world for free. If you live in Indianapolis, Youngstown, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Dayton or Chicago you can now get even more Horizon League games on television with the Horizon League Network’s Game of the Week. This is another great development for the league to complement HLN’s excellent online broadcasts.
Butler — The Bulldogs got the win they had to have over Ohio State at home last Saturday. Now comes another weekend test on national television as they take on Xavier on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. There was a time when the UAB game on Tuesday might’ve been an easy game, but not this season. The Blazers are 9-1 and just beat Cincinnati. UAB already took out Green Bay in its first game of the season.
Detroit — Holman’s return against Michigan was nice. Otherwise it was a light week for the Titans. They hung tough for a while against the Wolverines but eventually lost, 75-64. Two MAC schools come to Detroit this week as the Titans take on Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
Loyola — The Ramblers are for real. Or at least that’s what fans are beginning to think after Courtney Stanley’sbuzzer beater against Bradley on Wednesday. The incredible half-court shot by Stanley gave Loyola a 68-65 victory over the toughest team remaining on their non-conference schedule. The Ramblers have to avoid giving all back this week when they play at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and host Albany on Tuesday.
Wright State — It was a tough week on the road for the Raiders as they lost a heartbreaker to Miami (OH) on Sunday and then followed it up with an 11-point loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday. With home games against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Arkansas-Little Rock on the slate for this week things are going to be much easier, to say the least.
Green Bay — The euphoria over the Phoenix victory over Wisconsin didn’t last long as Green Bay got a tough dose of reality while playing without Fletcher at Oakland. The Grizzlies blew out Green Bay, 76-52. It is possible that Fletcher could return for the important conference game against Youngstown State, but no matter what, the Phoenix are notoriously tough to beat at home.
Milwaukee — Ricky Franklin led the team in both points and rebounds as the Panthers defeated North Dakota State in their only game of the week. Milwaukee then took a week off for exams and heads back to work for the continuation of Miami (OH)’s Horizon League series. The Panthers take on a Wisconsin team already familiar to Horizon League fans on Wednesday in Madison.
Youngstown State — Youngstown State has a big game against Green Bay on Saturday in conference. Then High Point comes to town, and since the team is ranked 311th in the Basketball State rankings they shouldn’t be too worrisome for the Penguins. I’m not nearly as bullish as some people are about Youngstown State, as they really haven’t proven anything against good competition yet this season.
Cleveland State — The Vikings hung 113 points on NAIA Wilberforce and then lost at home to Robert Morris by 8 points. Cleveland State has three very difficult non-conference games remaining and while Gary Waters should be commended for taking on the challenge of West Virginia and road games at Ohio State and Kansas State he might’ve overscheduled a bit. The Vikings haven’t found any continuity yet and besides Norris Cole nobody has consistently put the ball in the basket. Cleveland State has zero seniors, so this might be a one-year blip.
Valparaiso — An easy win at home against Toledo will beget more easy games against Concordia (Wisc.) and at IUPU-Fort Wayne over the next few games for the Crusaders. Valparaiso is near the bottom of the Horizon League so no game should be taken lightly.
UIC – The return of Spencer Stewart has energized the Flames and made them into a better team. While the game against Oregon State wasn’t pretty, the result — thanks to Robo Kreps‘ lay-up with 5.3 seconds remaining and two stolen inbounds passes — was. UIC tries to continue the momentum this weekend when it takes on Northern Illinois, a game many people thought might be the Flames first Division I win of the season. With that monkey already off their back, UIC can just concentrate on improving. The Flames also head to Akron on Tuesday this week.
The Horizon League opens play. The Detroit Titans (82-71 victors over Youngstown State) and Green Bay (88-69 victors over Loyola-Chicago) were the two most impressive winners during an opening four-game slate on Thursday. Five more league games are on tap for Saturday. That’s what happens when you need to play an 18 game home-and-home schedule.
Butler struggles against major conference squads. The Bulldogs lost to Clemson and Minnesota at the 76 Classic in Anaheim. Butler rebounded to crush Ball State 59-38 on Wednesday. Still, the Bulldogs have shown some weaknesses during non-conference play. The tough games aren’t over yet. Butler must play Georgetown this week and Ohio State on December 12th.
Wright State rising up. The Raiders are looking like the best competition for Butler during league play. Brad Brownell’s team missed out on an upset of Washington and lost at Northeastern, but Wright State did beat Portland State and is ranked 50th in the Pomeroy rankings.
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.
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 Champion. Butler (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.
ACC Wins Again. Well, it was closer this year than it has been since 2005, but the ACC won the event for the tenth year in a row, 6-5. The league of atlantic coast schools are now 62-35 (.639) against its midwestern counterparts in this challenge – can we go back to the ACC/Big East version now? Oh, and we really couldn’t have made worse picks today if we had tried – we went 1-4, and Wake was our only winner – picking that game correctly was akin to picking the sun to come up tomorrow. Maybe we’ll stay out of this prediction business for a while. What we found really interesting was that home court in the two leagues with the most advantageous home environments didn’t seem to matter much – home teams were 5-6 in the Challenge (see below).
Carolina Looks Unstoppable.UNC 98, Michigan St. 63. We hesitate to move into the realm of hyperbole in early December, preferring to leave that to the likes of Vitale with his offerings of UNC “competing with” the Clippers, T-Wolves and Grizzlies (which is patently absurd, btw). But at least at this point in the 2007-08 season, UNC is well ahead of everyone else in college basketball. What the Heels did to Michigan St. tonight in its home state could appropriately be described as an absolute dismantling. Frankly, we’re not sure how the Spartans show their faces in E. Lansing tomorrow, considering the Heels only defeated UCSB by 15 in Santa Barbara and Kentucky by 19 in Chapel Hill. As good as Carolina was, MSU was utterly moribund. UNC held the Spartans to 35% shooting from the field, 24% from three, and forced 21 turnovers, many of which directly led to Carolina layups or threes. Speaking of which, if Ty Lawson is going to play as well as he did tonight – ripping balls out of passing lanes (7 steals) and dropping 25-footers with consistency (twice), then we really can go ahead and pass the championship trophy over to Roy Williams. And the question of whether Tyler Hansbrough is healthy was put to rest with another workmanlike 25/11 where he was pretty much able to do whatever he wanted inside the lane. Danny Green was his typical stat-stuffer self (6/5/5 assts), and Ed Davis continues to impress off the bench (10/7 in 17 mins). As for MSU, the only player that seemed ready to play was Chris Allen, who singlehandedly kept MSU in the game with his long-range shooting in the first half. The others – Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray – all horrible. Looking at the schedule, the next even remote possibility of a team staying within 15 pts of Carolina will be at Wake on January 11th. As for MSU, this supposed top ten team hasn’t looked anywhere near it thus far this season – can Izzo get it together?