Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Horizon League Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

Not surprisingly, the Horizon League did not feature a semblance of a conference race. Butler ran through the conference undefeated, with 12 of the 18 Horizon wins coming by double-figures. There was quite a battle for second place, as Wright State shrugged off a 4-4 start to win eight of its final 10 league games and get a double-bye. Four other teams finished above .500 in the league, with a talented Detroit team going 9-9. The conference tournament gives the top two teams a double-bye into the semifinals, giving Butler and Wright State a heavy advantage heading into the tournament.

Favorite: Plain and simple, the heavy, heavy favorite is Butler. If the conference tournament didn’t give the top teams byes into the semifinals, the favorite would still be Butler. Now, the Bulldogs are basically a lock to get to the title game. Either way, Butler is going to be a tough team in the NCAA Tournament. They control tempo, are efficient at both ends of the floor and don’t allow second chances. Gordon Hayward is one of the best players in the country, while Shelvin Mack is an underrated point guard. Matt Howard’s production has decreased since last season, but he’s still a go-to inside player. Willie Veasley is another double-figure scorer.

Contender: Although the group after Butler is crowded, it’s tough to ignore Wright State as the primary contender – because of its double-bye into the semifinals. Offensively, the Raiders take care of the ball and knock down three pointers, while they force turnovers and rebound the ball well defensively. They are led by their loaded perimeter group, including Vaughn Duggins and Todd Brown, two players who can shoot from three and also get to the basket.

Sleepers: There are a multitude of teams who can throw a scare into Butler in the conference tournament, chief among them Detroit. The Titans have lost to the Bulldogs both times this season, but only by a combined seven points. They have a dominant frontcourt, led by versatile Xavier Keeling and center Eli Holman. Thomas Kennedy is another double-figure scorer, while Chase Simon and Woody Payne form a solid backcourt. Wisconsin-Green Bay, which finished third, is another threat. The Phoenix knock down threes at a high rate, which helped them defeat Wisconsin and Kent State earlier this season. They have a very good guard trio in Rahmon Fletcher, Bryquis Perine and gunner Troy Cotton. Randy Berry is a very solid rebounder up front.

Prediction: If someone is picking against Butler to win the conference tournament, he/she is just being a contrarian. The Bulldogs dominated the league all season, never losing a game, and also host the semifinals and finals. Combine all of that, and it’s very tough to imagine Butler losing in the league tournament. With that said, the Bulldogs have had some close calls this season, and there are plenty of teams that could give them a run. Any of the top seven teams have the pieces to win a few games, and I think that Butler will end up facing No. 7 seed Detroit in the title game. Of course, the Bulldogs aren’t losing, and will be a Sweet 16 threat in the NCAA Tournament.

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