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.
And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!
While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.
At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.
The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.
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:
If you are a true fan of Mid-Major basketball, then this is the weekend for you. Many fans who find a whole lot of joy in watching teams from the smaller conferences compete, share the common gripe that there is not nearly enough coverage of these teams. Well, at no other point during the season will you see ESPN dedicate an entire Saturday of basketball almost exclusively to the best Mid-Major teams around the nation.
Playing against the same faces within a team’s conference can become monotonous, but the BracketBuster weekend enables 114 teams around the country a brief recess before the final stretch of the regular season and tournament time to play an opponent they would otherwise never play. Although many of these games will have little meaning in the grand scheme of things, there are a select few that have serious implications as several Mid-Major teams partaking in the BracketBuster weekend sit squarely on the bubble.
Brace yourself for a great day of college hoops on Saturday. With so many of the top Mid-Major teams in the country playing—George Mason, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Cleveland State, Old Dominion, Missouri State, and Wichita State—you can bet that at least one of these teams, if not more, will be wearing Cinderella’s slipper come March.
In last week’s article I touched on the notion of parity and how great it is within the world of sports. After analyzing many of the Other 26 conferences this week, I could not help but notice how in several of the conference there is not one team that has distinguished themselves from the pack yet, and we are already nearing mid-February. In some cases, there are not even two or three teams that are running away with the league. Competitiveness or mediocrity? Well, does it really matter? All this means is that conference tournament week becomes that much more unpredictable and exciting. Here are a few of the conferences that are still completely wide open:
Atlantic 10: Four teams—Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, and Richmond—have records between 8-2 and 8-1.
CAA: Four teams—George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Hofstra—have records between 12-2 and 10-4.
The A10 and CAA are both very similar as each have four teams in legitimate contention, and both appear to be two-bid leagues at the moment.
Conference USA: Six teams—UTEP, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa—have records between 6-2 and 7-3.
Horizon League: Five teams—Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Wright State, Butler, and Wisconsin Milwaukee—have records between 10-3 and 9-5.
MAC: Eight teams—Kent State, Buffalo, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Ball State, and Western Michigan—have records between 7-2 and 5-4.
Southern Conference: Four teams—Charleston, Furman, Wofford, and Chattanooga—have records between 11-2 and 10-3.
Southland Conference: Nine teams—Northwestern State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Texas State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, UTSA, and Texas Arlington—have records between 7-3 and 5-4.
Very elaborate, I know. But, it is pretty remarkable the balance in the leagues. Of these seven conferences, there are a total of 40 teams who can still say they are capable and have a legit shot at winning their conference. What does this all mean? A great week of basketball during the conference tournaments, followed by more weeks of deliciousness during the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone
With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Diengpracticing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.
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 ClevelandState 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 GreenBay, 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 TroyTabler and CooperLand 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. GreenBay (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. YoungstownState (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.
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:
Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor. His weekly column, The Other 26, explores the minutiae of the twenty-six Division I conferences outside the BCS sextet.
One of the best weekends of the year prior to Championship Week and, of course, the NCAA Tournament, is when the BracketBusters are played. It provides a nice break from conference play, and some of the top mid-major teams in the country have an opportunity to strut their stuff, build up that all-important resume, and have a last opportunity of picking up a quality non-conference victory. Because many of the top games are televised, it is also a great chance for all you guys out there that solely pay attention to the BCS teams around the country to gain some insight of who may have a shot at upsetting a higher seed and advancing a round or two when filling out your Tournament bracket next month. Here are my top 10 BracketBuster game, from tenth to first:
10.Kent State at Drexel—February 18, 9PM (ESPNU)
Neither team is in the running for an at-large bid, but obtaining additional confidence heading into their respective conference tournaments is what both will play for. Drexel is just a step below the top teams in the CAA, while Kent State is right in the mix for the MAC crown as there has not been one team that has truly distinguished themselves. The Flashes, led by Justin Greene’s 16 points and 7.5 boards a night, are one of the more balanced teams in the MAC as five players average nine points or more. Chris Fouch, arguably Drexel’s top player, will really test Kent State’s backcourt.
9.Austin Peay at Fairfield—February 19, 1PM (ESPNU)
Fairfield has been flying under the radar playing in the MAAC this year—not as much attention has been given to the league due to Siena’s return to mediocrity after a great run under Fran McCaffery—and they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Aside from a tough one point loss at Loyola (MD) in mid-January, Fairfield has not lost since November 23 against St. Joseph’s. They are currently the favorite to win the MAAC, but there are a host of teams nipping at their heels. The Stags will take on an Austin Peay squad that sits atop their league—the Ohio Valley Conference—as well. The game will feature two of the better point guards in the land of mid-majors as Derek Needham for Fairfield averages 14 points and 5 assists, and Caleb Brown for Austin Peay is second in the OVC in assists.
8.Hofstra at Wright State—February 19, 11AM (ESPNU)
Hofstra and Wright State are both teetering on the edge of becoming legitimate contenders in their respective leagues. The Pride got out to a quick 5-0 start in the CAA, but have gone 3-3 in their last six to fall behind Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. In the crazy Horizon League this year, it is anyone’s best guess who will be the last one standing. Cleveland State with Norris Cole looks to be the current favorite, but Wright State is not far behind. The storyline for this game will undoubtedly revolve around Charles Jenkins who has a legitimate shot of hearing his name called by David Stern on NBA Draft night, but don’t be surprised if Vaughn Duggins for Wright State steals the show. The fifth-year senior has scored in double figures in every game save two, and is the fourth leading scorer in the Horizon League.
It’s Feb. 1. That means there’s only 40 days left until Selection Sunday, or 40 days left for teams to build up their resume so their bubble doesn’t pop. We’re sure there are going to be a lot of heated discussions about teams hovering within that last four in-last four out zone over the next six weeks. Heck, here at TWTW, we’ll probably change our opinion on certain squads three or four times until the end of the regular season. It should be a crazy six weeks, but we know it’s going to be fun.
What We learned
After a weekend that saw 13 ranked teams lose (and the entire top 25 go 22-20 for the week, as Seth Davis pointed out on SI.com) the chic thing to do is talk about the gigantic bulging central part of the bell curve that symbolizes this college basketball season. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of who’s good and who’s bad on a weekly basis, as a team is liable to have a monumental win one night and then lose to a lesser school a few days later. Let’s use Georgetown as an example. Just over two weeks ago the Hoyas were a mess at 1-4 in the Big East and losers of four of their previous five games. Now, they’ve won five in a row, including recent triumphs at Villanova and at home against Louisville. Georgetown isn’t the only school that enjoys playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check out this paragraph from Davis’ Monday column:
“Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.”
Given all this uncertainty, can anyone honestly say with any assurance that there’s a clear-cut elite set of teams? OhioState might be undefeated, but the Buckeyes have had their fair share of nail biters over ho-hum teams (Michigan, Penn State, and most recently, Northwestern). TWTW would like to put its eggs into Texas’ basket. The Longhorns are this week’s Team du Jour, having torched four ranked teams in the last 13 days, but you wouldn’t be shocked if Texas didn’t have a hiccup or two to an unranked team before the season’s end, would you?
This Tristan Thompson-Nathan Walkup Encounter Accurately Summarizes Texas' Throttling of the Aggies Last Night (B. Sullivan/Dallas Morning News)
The week is here, long at last. Going into the season, BYU and San Diego State were projected to be strong, but this strong? Just to give you an idea of where these two juggernauts stood before the season, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll had San Diego State receiving 73 votes and BYU 55 votes in the top 25 poll. In Zach Hayes’ Bracketology—a bracket that, in my mind, is very accurate for his latest edition—he had SDSU as a six seed and BYU a seven. Clearly, each team has exceeded many of the critics and so called experts expectations. Who would have thought that the teams would combine to have a 38-1 record at this stage of the season? Not even Steve Fisher or Dave Rose would have thought that.
In the grand scheme of things, the tilt in Provo, Utah, next week will not have an impact on whether or not either team will make the NCAA Tournament—it is a foregone conclusion that both are in—but this may be San Diego State’s biggest roadblock between them having an undefeated regular season or not. Can the magic carpet ride that San Diego State has been flying on continue, or will Jimmer Fredette and Co. take the air right out from under them? It will all go down on Wednesday evening in Provo.
Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
A Look Back
Everyone thought that Cleveland State had asserted its dominance on the conference; their first four victories yielded four blowouts. We should have known, by looking at the Power Rankings, that the teams CSU smashed into the ground were the teams that sit in the bottom half of the rankings. It should have been no surprise, then, that the Vikings were blown out at Butler and then dropped a close one against Valparaiso at the ARC in their trip through Indiana, never an easy trip for any Horizon League team. Butler destroyed the Vikings in the battle of the top teams in the Horizon League, and they’re back to their customary #1 spot in the Power Rankings. In one of the conference’s biggest rivalries, Milwaukee shot poorly and couldn’t go over the top of seven-footer Alec Brown in the post, dropping a 69-64 decision in Green Bay.
1. Butler (12-5, 4-1) – The Bulldogs took a licking at Milwaukee last Monday, ending their 22-game conference winning streak, a Horizon League record. They responded just as a Brad Stevens-coached team is expected to — by destroying first-place Cleveland State in front of a crowd of 7,071. The Bulldogs changed their lot with that victory; had they lost, they’d stand at 2-2 headed into the game against Youngstown State that was too close for comfort.
2. Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2) – Any dominance the Vikings had asserted over the conference was dashed this past week. Gary Waters‘ crew learned, as every team does, that it’s extremely difficult to win on the road at a Horizon League school. The Vikings were blown out at Butler before dropping a decision at Valpo. They get an easy week to recharge before their rivalry game at Youngstown State on Saturday.
3. Valparaiso (12-5, 4-1) – If the Crusaders dominated Cleveland State, they may have even overtaken second. But the Crusaders have six road games left in the conference, a tall order in the H-League. Should they get back to scoring in the high sixties and beyond on a consistent basis, they’ll be a tough out the rest of the way.
4. Detroit (10-7, 4-1) – Tommy Titan has got to be a happy camper. His Detroit squad went to Chicago and came back unscathed, although the UIC Flames definitely put a scare into Ray McCallum‘s crew. The Titans have a showdown with Butler on Friday night.
5. Wright State (11-6, 4-1) – To date, the only blotch on the Wright State resume in conference is a road loss at Detroit, one they suffered at the beginning of December. Since then, the Raiders have gone on an absolute tear through the Horizon, with only one truly close game (Green Bay, decided on a buzzer beater by Vaughn Duggins). Still, Wright State’s four wins have come against four of the bottom five teams in the conference. We’ll have a better idea of where they’re at when they welcome Valparaiso and Butler to the Nutter Center this weekend.
6. Milwaukee (8-9, 3-3) – It’s hard to figure out the Panthers, who have excellent wins against Butler, Northern Iowa and Detroit but also quizzical losses to Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and a blowout at Wright State. The Panthers will continue to be a middling Horizon League team until they can figure out how to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball.
7. Green Bay (8-9, 2-3) – Until Saturday, the Phoenix did not have a notable victory. Once again, though, Green Bay defended the home court against a well-traveled Milwaukee program, separating themselves (for now) from the bottom of the pack. A pair of games against Loyola and UIC should give an idea as to whether or not they’re truly above the cellar.
8. Loyola (10-7, 1-5) – An excellent non-conference record has been buoyed once again by the poor level of talent. Jim Whitesell‘s team scheduled as though they were hoping to get to 15 victories. Their lone conference win is a blowout 30-point schellacking at Youngstown State.
9. Youngstown State (6-9, 1-5) – Boy, did they come close. A Penguins squad that’s been blown out by nearly every team they played in the conference season came to Hinkle Fieldhouse and nearly stole one from the Bulldogs. It’s unlikely that YSU will replicate that effort for every game the rest of the season, so look for Cleveland State to clean up in the rivalry game.
10. UIC (5-12, 0-5) – The honest truth is that the UIC faithful were expecting a season like this. You don’t have the turnover the Chicago school has weathered without going through some transition, and this season hasn’t been much of a surprise. The Flames have an opportunity to win in Wisconsin this weekend, but a road victory is a difficult thing to obtain in the conference.
A Look Ahead
The Horizon League has been ridiculously unpredictable in the beginning of the conference season; only two teams, Detroit and Wright State (not Cleveland State and Butler) have avoided blowout losses. From December 30th through January 5th, no game was decided by less than 16 points and more than 3. This week has it all; Big time teams go on the road (Butler to Detroit and Wright State, CSU to Youngstown State), rivals jockey for position (UIC and Loyola invade Wisconsin), and big offense runs into big defense (Valpo heads to Dayton to take on Wright State).
1/14 – Butler at Detroit, 7 p.m. ESPNU
1/15 – Cleveland State at Youngstown State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/15 – Loyola at Milwaukee, 2 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/16 - Valparaiso at Detroit, 1 p.m. Horizon League Network
1/16 – Butler at Wright State, 7 p.m. Horizon League Network (WNDY 23 in Indianapolis)
YouTube Clip of the Week
The fact is, it’s tough for ANYONE to travel in the Horizon League. Just ask Butler, who lost for the seventh time in their last ten trips to Milwaukee: