Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Horizon League Preview


The Horizon League wasn't the most exciting of leagues last season, as Wisconsin-Milwaukee won the regular season title by four games. In the conference tournament, Detroit was on the verge of upsetting the Panthers, but fell short by two in the championship game. Once in the NCAA Tournament, UW-Milwaukee used their press to perfection, defeated Alabama and Boston College en route to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Illinois after a valiant effort. The Panthers could repeat their Cinderella run of a year ago with a few breaks here and there.

Favorites: Wisconsin-Milwaukee returns everyone but star Ed McCants from the Sweet 16 team of a year ago. Joah Tucker, the leading candidate for conference Player of the Year, can dominate a game, as evidenced by his 32-point performance against Illinois in the NCAA Tournament. His partner up front, Adrian Tigert, is an all-conference-caliber player. He is a very good rebounder and a solid low-post option that does all the dirty work down low. In the backcourt, the underrated tandem of Boo Davis and Chris Hill return. Davis is a double-figure scorer and a decent shooter, while Hill is a solid all-around player. Returning wings Allan Hanson and Mark Pancratz and Western Kentucky transfer Kevin Massiah will attempt to replace McCants.

Contenders: Detroit came within two points of the NCAA Tournament, and only lose one starter from that team. Brandon Cotton may be the best offensive player in the league. He is nearly impossible to stop when driving to the basket. Muhammed Abdur-Rahim returns as a starter on the wing, while Ben Green is also a nice option off the bench. Marquette transfer Brandon Bell should have an impact once he becomes eligible at the point. Up front, Ryvon Coville and Torvoris Baker have the potential to be one of the better inside tandems in the league. Forwards Chuck Bailey and Ethan Shaw will see plenty of minutes off the bench. Wright State returns four starters from a .500 team. Point guard DaShaun Wood is one of the better players in the conference. He is an excellent scorer and rebounder (for his size), as well as a very solid passer. His backcourt partner, Zakee Boyd, is a double-figure scorer and provides shooting for the Raiders. Two forwards also return in the starting lineup. Drew Burleson is the main option down low. He has a nice mid-range game and provides balance on the inside. Everett Spencer can do nearly everything on the court. He spends most of his time on the perimeter but he is a very good rebounder. Jordan Pleiman should move into the starting lineup. He could be poised for a big year at the center spot. Guard Jaron Taylor and several frontcourt newcomers will provide depth.

Sleepers: Loyola-Chicago returns one of the most versatile and talented players in the league in Blake Schlib. The 6-7 point guard can do everything on the court and is a player of the year candidate. Majak Kou was the team's sixth man last season but should move into the starting lineup this year. He is the best defender on the team, and was a double-figure scorer a year ago. Chris Logan also returns as a starter on the perimeter. In the frontcourt, Tom Levin is the lone returnee with significant experience. Several newcomers, including JC transfer Kye Pattrick, are going to have to step up up front. Butler returns all five starters from a season ago. Leading the way is a trio of guards that ranked 1-2-3 in the league in 3-point shooting percentage. A.J. Graves is the best perimeter scorer on the team, averaging over 11 points per game. He led the team in steals and is also a good passer and an exceptional free throw shooter. Bruce Horan led the league in three-point shooting percentage, but is somewhat one-dimensional. Avery Sheets also averaged around double figures in points. He was the leading assist man on the team, and had over a 2:1 assist:turnover ratio. That trio forms one of the best perimeter triumvirates around, but Brandon Polk is the go-to-guy on the Bulldogs. He is a candidate for the first-team all conference. He is tough to stop down low. Brandon Crone is his partner in the frontcourt. He is a solid all-around player that can also hit the three. Illinois-Chicago loses their top two players from a year ago, but return a solid group of players that should be ready to step up. Elliott Poole is the top returnee; he could be ready for a huge season. Jovan Stefanov is very versatile and will be one of the better scorers on the team if he gets used to being a go-to-guy. Justin Bowen came off the bench at times and started other times a season ago, and could do the same this year. He is an excellent athlete and a very good rebounder. Newcomers Othyus Jeffers and Danijel Zoric are expected to make impacts in the frontcourt. On the perimeter, Rocky Collum returns as a starter, and is the best shooter on the team. However, he might not keep his starting job. JC transfer D.J. Smedley is expected to push him at the point. Karl White will move into the starting lineup.

Rounding Out the Pack: Wisconsin-Green Bay lost essentially their entire team, but a host of newcomers are ready to take the departed's places. However, the one major returnee, forward Josh Lawrence, is a good one. He is an inside-outside threat that needs to have a huge year. Point guard Ryan Evanochko also returns. He is a decent scorer. The only other returnee that is going to see minutes is center Tevah Morris. Freshman forwards Ryan Tillema and Mike Schachtner are expected to play major minutes right away, as is guard Simon Farine. Cleveland State returns one of the best guards in the conference in Raheem Moss. He is a very good shooter and scorer. Fellow perimeter players Victor Morris and Steve Gansey have the ability to double their scoring averages from a year ago and get into double figures. Up front, Patrick Latham and Frashon McGee return. Latham is an excellent defender, while McGee could have a big year. Purdue transfer Ije Nwankwo should make an immediate impact once eligible. Youngstown State has one of the best players in the league in guard Quin Humphrey, who could be even better this season. His backcourt partner will be Derrick Harris, a solid point guard. Freshman Chad Fender is an excellent shooter. Up front, John Barber leads the way. He needs to become a better all-around player if he is going to become a go-to-guy down low. Colin LaForme and Alex Sanchez are going to have to step their respective games up if the Penguins are going to do anything this season.

Prediction: UW-Milwaukee is the odds-on favorite to win the Horizon League. They could run away with it if they play to their potential. No one has enough players to match up with guys like Joah Tucker, Adrian Tigert, and Boo Davis. They just have too many options. Detroit, as always, will be in the thick of things, while Wright State and Butler lead a group of teams that are going to contend for what will end up being second place. Although anything can happen in the conference tournament, UW-Milwaukee will get the automatic bid from the Horizon League. A very balanced league is in for an interesting winter, especially if UW-Milwaukee is as good as advertisted.

Player of the Year: Joah Tucker, F, UW-Milwaukee

All-Conference Team:
G- Brandon Cotton, Detroit
G- DaShaun Wood, Wright State
F- Blake Schlib, Loyola-Chicago
F- Joah Tucker, UW-Milwaukee
F- Brandon Polk, Butler

Second Team:
G- Quin Humphrey, Wright State
G- Raheem Moss, Cleveland State
G- Josh Lawrence, Wisconsin-Green Bay
F- Adrian Tigert, UW-Milwaukee
F- Drew Burleson, Wright State

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