Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Horizon League Tournament Preview

The trend in conference tournaments lately is to have the top two seeds receive a double bye, which prevents bad losses to the best teams in the league. That way, at-large possibilities from a mid-major conference don't go out the window with an early conference tournament loss. The Horizon league is the same way. To me, it is unfair to the teams seeded below them, but that argument is for another date and time. Onto the preview. The Horizon League is a conference that is being dominated by one team, this one being Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They won the league by four games, and have won 7 in a row, 15 of their last 16. Their wing combination of Ed McCants and Noah Tucker is often too much for most teams to handle. McCants is second in the league in scoring, while Tucker also puts up 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. Boo Davis is another perimeter threat that averages in double figures. They start a very small lineup, with those three combined with 6-2 Chris Hill and 6-7 Adrian Tigert, who is second in the conference in rebounding. The Panthers lead the league in scoring, and are third in scoring defense. Wisconsin-Green Bay is one of two teams to defeat UW-Milwaukee, but also lost by thirty to them. They are not the hottest of teams, having lost three in a row and four of their last five. The Phoenix are led by point guard Javier Mendiburu, who leads the Horizon in assists and also puts up 5 boards and over 11 points per contest. Josh Lawrence and Benito Flores are solid frontcourt performers, with Flores the team's leading scorer and rebounder. Matt Rhode and Brandon Morris also provide scoring from the perimeter. Detroit has been up and down all season, but own road wins over Wisconsin Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but also a loss to last-place Youngstown State. The Titans are tied for the league lead in scoring defense, have some players that can take over a game on offense. Brandon Cotton, a transfer from Michigan State. Averaging 18 per, he has scored in double figures in every game since joining the team in mid-December. James Theus is the perfect backcourt mate, and is a defensive stud in addition to being the only other double-digit scorer. The Titans go 11-deep and have a host of players that produce on the interior. After winning five of their previous twenty games, Loyola-Chicago has won four in a row to grab the #4 seed. They have also swept Wisconsin-Green Bay, by an average of 17.5 points per win. The Ramblers have the highest scoring duo in the league in Blake Schilb, who is also third in the league in assists, and DaJuan Gouard. Those two combine for 33 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals per game. Majak Kou is a solid performer on the wing. Illinois-Chicago did not live up to preseason expectations, and have been inconsistent all season. Cedric Banks, however, is arguably the best player in the league, leading the league in scoring at 18.5 per outing. He can carry them to a couple of wins, and is averaging 29 points per game over last four. Armond Williams anchors the inside for the Flames, and is a very tough rebounder. Jovan Stefanov can drop 15 (as he did on Duke) if you're not careful, and Elliot Poole is another member of a very good frontline. If Banks is hot, and the frontcourt can dominate the paint, that inside-outside punch will lead the Flames a long way. Wright State lost the tie breaker to the two above teams and landed a not-so-friendly six seed. The Raiders are not deep, only bringing two guys consistently off the bench. 5-11 DaShaun Wood has scored in double figures in every game except three this season, and also rebounds at a clip of over 5 per game and dishes out almost 4 assists. The Raiders frontcourt is stacked with three double figure scorers who are also pretty solid rebounders in Zach Williams, Zakee Boyd, and Drew Burleson. They could be a sleeper. Butler has won their last three games to get the 7 seed. They lead the league in scoring defense and are also one of the best shooting teams in the conference. Brandon Polk leads the team in scoring and rebounding, while AJ Graves is the main threat from the outside. Cleveland State lost their five games entering the tournament, and need to get hot again. Omari Westley is fourth in the league in scoring and first in rebounding. He has scored 20-plus in four of the past six contests. However, he has missed the last two games and might not play in the conference tournament. If he can't go, the Vikings are done. Raheem Moss is a good player, but he is not able to carry a team. Youngstown State finished in the cellar, going 2-14, with their wins over Detroit and Loyola-Chicago. They are 3-23 in their last 26 contests. Brian Radakovich and Quin Humphrey form a good inside-outside duo, though.
Prediction: UW-Milwaukee is on a roll and have a great combo in McCants and Tucker. They should be able to win the two games necessary for a championship. Detroit and Wright State could be sleepers to get the automatic bid if they get some breaks here and there.

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