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The Horizon League tournament always gives the advantage to the top two-seeded teams, as they both get byes into the semi-finals. However, that does not take away from the number of teams that could potentially win the automatic bid. Butler was atop the league all season, but it did not run away with it, as four other teams finished at least 11-7 in conference play. If Butler gets knocked out, this league is going to receive two bids to the Dance – the Bulldogs are a lock.
Favorite: Butler is clearly the hands-down favorite to win the automatic bid out of the Horizon League, despite struggling somewhat in the last month. The Bulldogs lost three conference games in February and won two others by five points or fewer. They have the most talent in the league, including inside force Matt Howard and super freshman Gordon Heyward. Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley anchor the backcourt. This team needs to hit its outside shots to win, though.
Contenders: Wisconsin-Green Bay hung toe-to-toe with Butler throughout much of the league campaign, including beating the Bulldogs by nine in early February. The Phoenix has arguably the most explosive offense in the league, with five double-figure scorers. Ryan Tillema and Troy Cotton can really shoot the three, while Mike Schachtner is the main man inside. Cleveland State was my preseason pick to win it, and they had won eight league games in a row before falling in the season finale at Butler by two. J’Nathan Bullock is a very difficult player to match-up with at the forward spot, and Cedric Jackson is one of the best all-around players at the mid-major level. Norris Cole can score.
Sleeper: Wright State is not a fun team to play. The Raiders play excellent defense and they really force teams into tough shots. When they are hitting their shots, they can win a couple of games. Todd Brown is the go-to-guy offensively; if he is hot, look out. Cory Cooperwood is the leader up front, while John David Gardner runs the show.
Prediction: Sure, Butler is the best team in the conference and will get a bid to the NCAA Tournament if they win the Horizon tourney or not. However, the Bulldogs are not going to run roughshod over the rest of the conference this week. Green Bay has plenty of options offensively and they have given Butler trouble this year, while Cleveland State lost to Butler by two twice and has a lot of talent. Still, despite the urge to pick someone outside of Butler, the Bulldogs’ mixture of experience and inside-outside balance is unsurpassed within the league. The Horizon will be a one-bid league once again.
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