Monday, October 22, 2007

Horizon League Preview


The Horizon League had one of the more underrated conference races in the country. Everyone knew about Butler, who started off hot and put itself for an at-large bid early. However, the Bulldogs weren’t the #1 seed in the conference tournament. That went to Wright State, who had won nine in a row before falling in its season finale. The loss ended up meaning nothing, though, as Butler also lost that night—at home to Loyola (Chicago). Only one other team finished .500 or above. In the conference tournament, the #1 seed meant everything, as Wright State beat Butler in the title game to win the automatic bid. In the NCAA Tournament, WSU fell to Pittsburgh, but Butler beat both Old Dominion and Maryland before losing to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. It looks like it could be another banner year for Butler—and, as a result, the Horizon.

Favorites: Butler is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference this season after its sensational 29-win campaign from a year ago. The Bulldogs are led by one of the best backcourts in the country, A.J. Graves and Mike Green. Graves is a very good scorer and shooter who never stops hustling. Green is an excellent all-around player who is one of the best distributors and rebounders of in the conference, and can also score. Pete Campbell will become the third option after becoming one of the best three-point shooters in the country off the bench last season, while small forward Julian Betko returns as a starter. Both post starters graduated, leaving the trio of returnee Drew Streicher, Alabama transfer Avery Jukes and freshman Matt Howard to take over the inside.

Contenders: Wisconsin-Green Bay returns four starters from last season, and will look to compete for a league title. The Phoenix have one of the best forwards in the league in Mike Schachtner, a terrific inside-outside option and shooter. Terry Evans, a very good defender, and Randy Berry also start up front. In the backcourt, Troy Cotton can knock down long-range shots and Ryan Tillema is a 6-8 match-up problem at guard. Wright State loses two starters from last year, including Player of the Year DaShaun Wood, and will take a step back this season. However, led by wings Vaughn Duggins and Troy Brown, the Raiders won’t fall too far. William Graham will likely replace Wood in the lineup. Up front, Jordan Plieman leads the way. Ronnie Thomas and Scottie Wilson will fight for minutes. Wisconsin-Milwaukee has one of the best combos in the conference in guard Avery Smith and forward Paige Paulsen. Smith can score in bunches, while Paulsen is a good inside-outside offensive option. Allan Hanson and Ricky Franklin also return on the perimeter, while Charlie Swiggett and Roman Gentry provide depth. Oklahoma State transfer Torre Johnson will make an immediate impact in the frontcourt.

Sleepers: Valparaiso will play its first year in the Horizon, and could contend right away with the return of all five starters. The Crusaders have an excellent forward duo in Urule Igbavboa and Shawn Huff, both double-figure scorers and all-conference candidates. Samuel Haanpaa is a 6-8 guard who can shoot lights-out from deep. Brandon McPherson is yet another double-figure scorer, while Jake Diebler returns at the point. Jarryd Loyd is the sixth man. Illinois-Chicago loses three starters but has a legit inside-outside duo in Josh Mayo and defensive ace Scott VanderMeer. Joining Mayo on the perimeter will be Spencer Stewart and Robert Bush. Texas Tech transfer Jeremy Buttell will start also. Detroit has one of the best players in the league in guard Brandon Cotton, an outstanding scorer. He put up over 18 points per game. Fellow seniors Jon Goode and Zack Everingham also return on the perimeter. Chris Hayes will start up front, but someone else needs to step up.

Rounding Out the Pack: Loyola-Chicago loses four starters from a year ago, and will fall several spots from its third place finish of last year. However, it does have one of the best backcourts in the league in returnee JR Blount and Ole Miss transfer Justin Cerasoli. Up front, Leon Young and Andy Polka will start up front, while Tracy Robinson is a good inside-outside option at forward. Cleveland State is led by forward J’Nathan Bullock, an underrated forward in the Horizon. He will team with Eastern Illinois transfer George Tandy in the frontcourt. Kevin Francis will also start. Guards Joe Davis and St. John’s transfer Cedric Jackson could start in the backcourt. Youngstown State had a surprising fourth-place finish last season, but loses three starters from its 7-9 conference campaign. Byron Davis returns at the point, while several players will fight for the two starting wing positions. Up front, John Barber will start, while Dwight Holmes could be primed for a solid season.

Prediction: The Horizon likely will not have the same tight, two-team race it did a year ago with Butler and Wright State. This season, the Bulldogs look like the clear-cut top team in the conference. There are several teams capable of fighting for second place, but I don’t think any team will be on the level of Wright State a year ago, or close to Butler this season. A.J. Graves and Mike Green are just too good of a backcourt, and the Bulldogs’ system is seemingly fool-proof. They simply win basketball games, and will win plenty this year.

Player of the Year: A.J. Graves, G, Butler

All-Conference Team:
G- A.J. Graves, Butler
G- Mike Green, Butler
G- Brandon Cotton, Detroit
G- Avery Smith, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
F- Mike Schachtner, Wisconsin-Green Bay

Second Team:
G- JR Blount, Loyola Chicago
G- Vaughn Duggins, Wright State
F- J’Nathan Bullock, Cleveland State
F- Urule Igbavboa, Valparaiso
F- Paige Paulsen, Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Photo Credit: AP

1 comment:

  1. This was one of the better previews I have read for this league, although shorter the the Blue Ribbon analysis I don't think it falls to far behind. Good job.