HORIZON LEAGUE NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-Over the past ten years, the Horizon League has put a team in the second round seven times. Even more recently, three teams have made the Sweet Sixteen over the past five years, the most recent being Butler who advanced that far last year.
-The first place team in the conference standings has won the conference tournament each of the past three years.
-Valparaiso, who was previously a member of the Mid Continental Conference, is new to the Horizon League this year. HORIZON LEAGUE TEAMS
-Last years BUTLER team is a testament to why preseason rankings mean virtually nothing. The team was picked to finish sixth in the conference, but ended up spending most of the season in the Top 25, tying for first place in the conference standings, and advancing to their second Sweet Sixteen in four years. They ended up falling to Florida, but gave the Gators a bigger scare than anyone else they faced in the NCAA Tournament en route to the National Championship. Although Butler didnt win the Horizon League Championship last season, they were clearly the most successful team and once again look like theyre good enough to be in the Top 25. They return three starters, including A.J. Graves
, who averaged over 16ppg last season. Graves, like just about everyone else on the team, is a fantastic shooter. This is a team that didnt go to its bench much, but forward Pete Campbell did see quite a few minutes and should be in the starting line-up this year. This team turned the ball over less than ten times a game, which was the best in the nation and with the guards they have coming back it looks as though they will once again do a good job of taking care of the basketball. One downside is that head coach Todd Lickliter left to take the job at Iowa, but the transition should be a smooth one because they hired assistant coach Brad Stevens to replace Lickliter. The Bulldogs are in the Great Alaska Shootout along with Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Washington State, Michigan and Western Kentucky. This is a team that got out of the gate quickly last year by winning the Preseason NIT, and they have the chance to do the same thing again this year. Other big names on their schedule include Ohio State, Florida State, Bradley, Southern Illinois, and a Bracket Buster game.
-Everything that WRIGHT STATE head coach Brad Brownell touches seems to turn to gold. He went to two NCAA Tournaments in four years at UNC Wilmington, but what was more incredible than that was that even though they won the automatic bid on both occasions, they were seeded #11 in 2003 and #9 in 2006, which means they would have most likely received an at-large bid had they needed it. Last year was his first year with the Raiders and he took them to just their second NCAA Tournament in school history. At 23-9, it was just their second winning season since 2002 and their first 20+ win season since 1992-1993. The Raiders were the conference champions last year and three starters are coming back, but they lose DeShaun Wood who averaged just under 20ppg and was clearly the leader of the team. The Raiders have six new players on their roster and are much bigger than they were last season, which should help them out in the post. Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins also give them some experience in the backcourt. This is a team that effectively ran the motion offense in the latter part of the season last year, and having two experienced guards back should make their offense effective again this year. If some of the new guys can step it up the Raiders should be at the top end of the standings once again.
-ILLINOIS CHICAGO was one of the favorites to win the league last season, but ended up going just 7-9 in conference play and 14-18 overall. They were very talented, but head coach Jimmy Collins
missed most of the season due to a stomach disorder and his absence must have effected the team in a bad way. Three starters are back this year and it looks as though they have the ingredients to be a contender. Guard Josh Mayo should be one of the team leaders, and newcomers Billy Baptist (juco) and Byron Pickens (an all city player from Chicago) should be able to contribute as well. The talent is there. It was there last year as well, which is why there is reason for concern, but having Jimmy Collins
back on the bench and healthy should make a difference.
-LOYOLA, IL had a big year last year by winning 21 games and finishing third in the standings. They nearly upset Butler in the semifinals of the conference tournament, but came up just short in overtime. They played part of the season without Blake Schilb
who missed a few games due to injury, but when they were at full strength they were about as good as anyone. Three starters are back this year, but Schilb isnt one of them. Guard J.R. Blount should be a big contributor. Hell be joined by Seton Hall transfer Justin Cerasoli
when he becomes eligible in the second semester. All and all the team looks strong, but they dont appear to be quite as good as they were a season ago.
-VALPARAISO has all five starters coming back and should be a better team than they were a year ago. The problem is that theyre also in a much better conference than they were a year ago, so their improvement may not be reflected in their win total. All and all the move to the Horizon League was a good one for the Crusaders, and they do have the experience they need to hold their own, but I dont see them in the mix for the league title this year.
-WISCONSIN GREEN BAY always seems to have a young and inexperienced, but talented team. I dont know why that is. It seems like every now and then theyd be experienced and ready to compete for the league title. Four starters return from last years 18-15 team, but none are seniors. Forward Mike Schachtner is one of the better players they have, but they need someone to step up at the guard position if this team wants to contend for the conference championship.
-WISCONSIN MILWAUKEE won just nine games last season, which was a drastic downfall from two straight trips to the second round, one of which involved going to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005. The Panthers should be much better this year. They probably arent a second round caliber team, but four starters are back. Guard Avery Smith and forward Paige Paulsen were big time contributors last year on offense and should step up big for them again this year. Three transfers are also eligible to play this year and will probably see quite a few minutes, so this is a team that should get back on top in a hurry.
-CLEVELAND STATE has not finished higher than sixth in the conference standings in the past six seasons and head coach Gary Waters has quite the rebuilding project ahead of him. Things should begin to improve. Forward JNathan Bullock is one of two returning starters, and he led the team in scoring and rebounding last season. Theyre also bringing in some fairly talented freshmen from the state of Ohio who will most likely be expected to play contributing roles this season. I dont see the Vikings in the postseason, but they should be able to improve on their win total from last year.
-DETROIT has an outstanding player in guard Brandon Cotton
, who averaged over 18ppg last year. The problem is that none of his teammates were nearly as good, and as a result they ended up with just 11 wins. Perry Watson has had quite a bit of success at Detroit, but things seem to be going backwards rather than forwards. Theyve had three consecutive losing seasons after having nine straight winning seasons and multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament. Two juco transfers join the squad this year, and theyll need to step it up if Detroit is going to turn things around.
-YOUNGSTOWN STATE finished in a tie for 4th last season, which was a big time improvement from what were used to seeing out of the Penguins. In fact, it was the first time theyd won more than ten games in six years. Just two starters are back this year, and their leading scorers from last season are gone. It looks as though theyll be much closer to the bottom of the standings than they are to the top.