Horizon League Power Rankings (February 22 – 28)

The Horizon League holds steady in the conference RPI ranks remaining ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference for 11th this week.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 6-23, Conference Record: 2-16, RPI: 288)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 79-65

The season is drawing to a close for the Flames.  A couple bright lights on a dim season:  Senior F Paul Carter – Finished on the all-newcomer team averaging 14.6 points and 8 rebounds per game.  Senior G Robo Kreps – Would have received consideration for the all-conference third team (if one rightfully existed) averaging 16 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 2.9 assists per game.  Next year will be a fresh start for coach Howard Moore.  It’s time for Moore to put his stamp on this program.  Projected conference tournament finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Cleveland State (22-7)

9. Youngstown State (7-20, 2-16, 291)

Recent Results: Lost to Green Bay 71-60, Lost to Milwaukee 94-87 (OT)

The Penguins came within inches of ruining Milwaukee’s season, but like so many games before, they came up just short.  Youngstown State finished with just one player receiving any conference accolades.  Sophomore F Damian Eargle – Averaging 11 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3 blocks per game, Eargle had the best season of any Penguin and finished as a member of the all-newcomer team.  Eargle could have also made a strong case for the All-Defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Valparaiso (19-10)

8. Loyola (16-14, 7-11, 195)

Recent Results: Beat Valparaiso 68-48, Lost to Butler 63-56

The Ramblers were able to squeak out one more conference win in a dismal conference season.   The Ramblers finished with one player in the conversation for any conference accolades.  Senior G Geoff McCammon – On his way to earning the Horizon League’s Sixth Man of the Year award, McCammon averaged 14.5 PPG and 3 RPG while averaging 43.2% from beyond the arc (and ironically leading the team with 30.9 minutes per game).   One could make the case that sophomore F Ben Averkamp was a third team performer.    Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Detroit (15-15)

7. Green Bay (13-17, 8-10, 164)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 71-60, Lost to Cleveland State 64-57

A big round of applause is deserved for senior G Rahmon Fletcher who ends his career as one of the greatest Phoenix of all time.  The diminutive point guard finished the year as a member of the all-conference second team averaging 16 PPG and 3 APG.  Fletcher should have a nice long career overseas.  Also finishing with postseason accolades is freshman C Alec Brown.  Named to the all-newcomer team, Brown finished the season with 10 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Wright State (16-13)

6. Detroit (15-15, 10-8, 146)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 77-67

A nice win to end an unsuccessful regular season for the Titans, but they’ll have a lot of work to do if they wish to reach the NCAA tournament.  Still, in all of their mediocrity, they pulled in a bunch of postseason awards.  Freshman G Ray McCallum Jr. was named the Newcomer of the Year in the Horizon League as well as to the all-newcomer team and all-conference second team.  It’s a pretty impressive haul, but it left some people wondering if it was well deserved, or if it was just a product of being a McDonald’s All-American.  Junior F/C Eli Holman also pulled in honors as a member of the all-conference second team and the all-defensive team.  Again, some question whether Holman was truly worthy of the second team.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Loyola (16-14)

5. Wright State (16-13, 10-8, 128)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 74-72, Beat Hofstra 82-56

The Raiders slipped in their last game of the year and will now take on the Green Bay Phoenix in the first round.  One man that should will them to victory is first team all-conference senior G Vaughn Duggins.  Duggins truly had an outstanding season averaging 18 PPG and 3.8 RPG.  His backcourt mate N’Gai Evans earned second team all-conference with 14.2 PPG, 4 RPG, and 3.3 APG.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

Up Next: Friday vs. Detroit (14-15)

4. Valparaiso (19-10, 12-6, 71)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 68-48, Beat UIC 79-65

Valpo faltered down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 4 and squandering an opportunity for a first round bye.  Still, the Crusaders had a successful season with Junior G Brandon Wood leading the way as a first-team all-conference player.   A case could have been made for Ryan Broekhoff to be included on the second-team, but he’d have to settle for consideration for the third-team.  The Crusaders would have had a much better season had Cory Johnson not regressed so much in his senior year.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; CBI/CIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Youngstown State (7-20)

3. Cleveland State (22-7, 13-5, 37)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 87-83, Beat Green Bay 64-57

The Vikings blew a huge opportunity that now puts them behind the eight ball.  Losing to Milwaukee at home dropped them to third in the pecking order, and quite possibly ruined what was a fantastic season.  Senior G Norris Cole, who is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard, is 2011’s Horizon League Player of the Year.  He also placed on the all-defensive team as the Defensive Player of the Year.  Clearly, Cole is a special player that should find a place on an NBA bench.  Also receiving postseason honors is junior G Trevon Harmon who is a member of the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; NIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. UIC (6-23)

Matt Howard gave his blood, sweat, and tears to the Butler program. Bulldog fans should be proud.

2. Butler (20-9, 13-5, 45)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 63-56

The Bulldogs didn’t quite finish where they hoped, but they still have a chance at accomplishing their goal of making it back to the NCAA tournament.  Outgoing senior F Matt Howard has had an outstanding career and caps it off as a member of the all-conference first team as well as the all-defensive team.  Congratulations to him on an outstanding career.  Also, Junior G Shelvin Mack finished on the second-team and Ronald Nored finished on the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Win the Horizon League Tournament; NCAA Tournament Auto Bid

Up Next: Saturday vs. UIC/Cleveland State/Green Bay/Wright State (at Milwaukee)

Ryan Allen has been a tremendous spark of the bench for Horizon League COY Rob Jeter.

1. Milwaukee (18-12, 13-5, 98)

Recent Results: Beat Cleveland State 87-83, Beat Youngstown State 94-87 (OT)

What an incredible story these Panthers have to tell.  Finding themselves sitting at seventh place in conference play at a 4-5 record, and just coming off a 60-43 thrashing at the hands of Valpo, the Panthers knew something had to change.  They held a team meeting where everything was laid out on the table.  Nothing was held back.   And the rest?  Well, that’s what we like to call history folks.  Senior F Anthony Hill went on to average 20 PPG, 6.5 RPG and shoot 76.6% at the stripe over this 9-game stretch and earned first team all-conference along the way.  Junior PG Kaylon Williams would go on to average 7.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG (!) and 7.8 APG (!) while earning a spot on the all-newcomer team (and certainly made a case for the second-team).   Junior G/F Ryan Allen was asked to defend the opponent’s best guard in crunch time, and while he didn’t play the minutes necessary to earn a spot on the all-defensive team, he was as important to his team as any other player.  Finally, head coach Rob Jeter improved as a coach so much that he earned the Horizon League Coach of the Year award; a well deserved honor for a guy who put all his faith in his vocal point guard, and had a lot of help from his qualified assistants.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Championship Game; NIT

Up Next: Saturday vs. Youngstown State/Valparaiso/Loyola/Detroit

Horizon League Power Rankings (Nov. 29 – Dec. 5)

Following this week, the Horizon league has the 7th highest RPI of any conference in the land; between the SEC and Conference USA.

This week marked the early start of conference play and it shook up our power rankings something fierce.  Could Cleveland State and Loyola continue their torrid starts to the season?  Could Butler get revenge in their rematch against Duke?  Would upstart Youngstown State fall back to earth?  All these questions were answered this week; see who’s up and who’s down in our weekly power rankings!

In descending order…

Duke stuffs Butler's upset bid...

 

10. UIC (Record: 3-5, RPI: 241)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 68-66, Lost to Akron 54-52

Hard to move up these power rankings if you can’t win.  The best thing to say about UIC’s two losses this past week is that they were fighting to the end in both.  It took overtime for Valpo to outlast Robo Kreps and the Flames on Thursday, and they lost the lead with less than 20 seconds to go against Akron on Saturday.

Up Next: Saturday at Illinois State (6-2)

9. Youngstown State (4-3, 208)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 76-67, Lost to Green Bay 74-59

The Penguins had been off to their best start since 2000.  All was well in Eastern Ohio; that is at least until they made their first conference road trip to Wisconsin. Devonte Maymon certainly was able to talk the talk in his “homecoming”, but Milwaukee and Green Bay did a little more of the walking.  The good news is they’ll get a couple weeks off of conference play to iron out their shortcomings.

Up Next: Saturday at Robert Morris (3-4)

8. Wright State (2-5, 195)

Recent Results: Lost to Cincinnati 76-69, Lost to Detroit 78-69

The Raiders are in the midst of a tough non-conference schedule that doesn’t get much easier this week.  Losses to Cincinnati and Detroit were expected, but still, disheartening.  Coach Billy Donlon NEEDS to get more physical post play from his “big” men if the Raiders hope to finish close to .500 in conference play.  Being 342nd in rebounding in the nation isn’t going to get you very far in this league…

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Air Force (5-1)

7. Milwaukee (4-5, 166)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 76-67, Lost to Cleveland State 82-59

The Panthers are really struggling to find their identity right now.  They’ve been the most inconsistent team in the Horizon League so far.  One game they’re outlasting Youngstown State behind clutch free throws and sound decision making.  The next they’re giving up with 30 minutes left in the game.  If Coach Rob Jeter can’t turn this talented enigma into a more consistent competitor, then he will likely feel a significant amount of heat from donors wondering if their money is being well spent.  Still, after 9 games into the season, the Panthers have a lot of time to turn it around.

Up Next: Wednesday at Wisconsin

6. Green Bay (3-4, 98)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 83-75, Beat Youngstown State 74-59

See Panthers, Milwaukee.  The Phoenix haven’t been able to put together back to back wins so far this season.  If they can get the Rahmon Fletcher that showed up against Youngstown State in very game, it won’t be long before that happens.  When Fletcher can stay out of foul trouble, he’s as good a point guard as there is in the Horizon League.  But he’s no good to Green Bay when his butt is on the bench.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Duquesne (3-3)

5. Detroit (4-4, 183)

Recent Results: Lost to Akron 77-69, Beat Wright State 78-69

The Titans have shown flashes of brilliance early on in the season, but it’s taking them awhile to get used to playing together.  They’ve been able to score in bunches at time with the help of dominant rebounding margins, and Eli Holman has been an Horizon League Player of the Year candidate since day one.  However, Coach Ray McCallum needs his guards to pick and choose their spots.  When one is having an off-day shooting, their shots need to be limited.  Chase Simon can’t be taking 23 and 26 shots, as he did against Mississippi State and Albany, and only making 8.  But, once this team gets into midseason form, they have a chance to make some noise in March.

Up Next: Wednesday at Western Michigan

4. Loyola (7-2, 182)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 65-63, Lost to Valparaiso 66-56

The Ramblers played their hearts out against the Nored-less Butler Bulldogs, but they came up empty.  Three days later, they couldn’t answer an 11-0 run by Valpo and suffered their second loss in a row.  This type of behavior has become a trend for Loyola dating back to last year.  They’ve done really well against non-conference opponents but struggled mightily against conference foes.  If Chicago Now writer John Templon’s early efficiency margins are any indication, Loyola’s conference struggles won’t end soon.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. SIU-Edwardsville

3. Valparaiso (4-2, 31)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 68-66, Beat Loyola 66-56

After an injury-riddled start to the season, Coach Homer Drew has his guys playing good basketball as we get into December.  Two early conference victories has to be a good feeling for senior F Cory Johnson.  The Duluth, MN native has led his team to 4 straight victories behind very efficient shooting.  The Crusaders have a great shot at winning 4 of their next 5 games before returning to conference play against Butler.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Purdue (#18, 7-1)

2. Butler (3-3, 37)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 65-63, Lost to Duke 82-70

The Bulldogs were without their point guard Ronald Nored earlier in the week due to a concussion he suffered in the win over Siena, but it didn’t matter as Butler outlasted Loyola in Chicago.  Three days later, the Bulldogs would have their chance at revenge as they traveled to East Rutherford, NJ to face the Duke Blue Devils.  It wasn’t meant to be however, as Duke defeated the Bulldogs 82-70.  This week reminded us how mentally tough Coach Brad Stevens’ players are.  I would expect nothing less than a Horizon League final game for Butler.

Norris Cole is focused on the NCAA Tournament. Do you dare doubt him?

Up Next: Thursday at Xavier (5-2)

1. Cleveland State (9-0, 17)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 83-75, Beat Milwaukee 82-59

The Horizon League’s visibility (thanks largely to Butler) and the Vikings outstanding play has put them at #31 in the AP Top 25 and #33 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll.  Also, Cleveland State is #1 in CollegeInsider.com’s Mid Major Top 25 poll ahead of the likes of Gonzaga, Old Dominion, St. Mary’s and Butler.   Norris Cole has been the biggest reason why Cleveland State has been so dominant, and he is the early favorite for the Horizon League’s POY.  Expect a nationally ranked and undefeated Cleveland State team to travel to West Virginia on December 18th to give the Mountaineers all they can handle…

Up Next: Tuesday vs. West Virginia Tech

Horizon League Power Rankings (Week 1)

Following the first full week of college basketball action, it seems like a good time to begin the weekly Horizon League Power Rankings.  After about a week and a half of play, the Horizon League comes in at 19-12, which doesn’t include the Non-Division I opponents because, well, those wins just don’t tell us a whole lot.

You’ll find that after the first week and a half some surprise teams occupy spots near the top and bottom of the league.

In descending order…

10. Valparaiso (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Indiana-Northwest 111-64, Lost to Kansas 79-44, Beat Purdue-North Central 98-44

One of two teams in the league without a Division I win, the Crusaders have shown that they have an explosive offense.  Holding Kansas under 80 is, at worst, a moral victory.  The question is: do the Crusaders have the capable bigs to keep up with the Eli Holmans of the Horizon League?  Giving up 34 points to Kansas’ Morris twins isn’t a good sign.  Coach Homer Drew is hoping that F Cory Johnson can come back quickly from plantar fasciitis in his foot and be a factor on the offensive AND defensive end come conference play.  Don’t expect to see Valpo in this spot as early as next week.

Up Next: Tuesday at Ohio

9. Detroit (1-2)

Recent Results: Lost to New Mexico 63-54, Lost to Syracuse 66-55, Beat Indiana Tech 93-62

Don't expect to see this talented trio so low in the power rankings again...

The Titans are the other team without a Division I victory.  Though they lost their first two games of the season, they showed signs of being a very good defensive team.  Eli Holman has been an absolute beast early on with averages of 17.7 PPG, 10 RPG and shooting 59% from the field.  I don’t expect Detroit to toil in the bottom half of the league for long as their schedule becomes far less difficult following their game in Starksville tonight.

Up Next: Monday at Mississippi State

8. Wright State (Record: 2-1)

Recent Results: Lost 67-44 to Indiana, Beat Northwood 75-55, Beat Southern 66-43

The Raiders have experience at the guard position, which is the main reason it would be no surprise to see them finish in the top 6 of the league.  However, since they’ve only played three games, they only have one win against a Division I opponent, and were destroyed on the boards by Indiana.  Their achilles all season will be their lack of depth and size up front, but as long as Vaughn Duggins is in the game, the Raiders have a chance.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Oakland

7. Green Bay (2-2)

Recent Results: Beat Minnesota-Duluth 75-36, Lost to Marquette 89-69, Lost to San Diego State 79-70, Beat Miami (OH)

The Phoenix showed their potential in the first 10 minutes against San Diego State, but completely imploded in the final 30.  A lack of depth on the roster could come to haunt them as it did in a grueling battle against the Aztecs, but the talent is there.  Troy Snyder has been a pleasant surprise, and senior guards Bryquis Perine and Rahmon Fletcher will give the Phoenix an chance in every game, evidenced by their victory over the Redhawks of Miami.

Up Next: Monday vs. IUPUI

6. Youngstown State (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Samford 64-61, Beat Buffalo 64-53, Lost to Akron 91-84

The Penguins have probably peaked in our power rankings, but their victories over Samford and Buffalo are solid wins.  There are so many unknowns with the Penguins, but one thing is for sure, the new group of guys are not quitters.  Devonte Maymon has been a pleasant surprise so far, and Vytas Sulskis has been the veteran presence they need.  The news isn’t all good.  The Penguins are not well suited to sustain the success over a grueling conference schedule.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Toledo

5. UIC (3-2)

Recent Results: Lost to Pitt 97-54, Beat Roosevelt 94-54, Beat Toledo 57-51, Lost to Charleston 78-66, Beat Rhode Island 74-68

After an uninspiring first four games of the year, the Flames posted a very impressive victory over the Rams of Rhode Island.  Expect an up and down first season for Coach Howard Moore as he tries to figure out who will stick around next year.  Forming rotations with a bunch of guys who you’ve only known for a couple months has to be incredibly difficult, but fortunately for Coach Moore, he has veterans Robo Kreps, Zavion Neely, and Paul Carter at his disposal.  The Flames will be a tough opponent for any Horizon League team.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Central Michigan

4. Milwaukee (3-2)

Recent Results: Lost to Portland 80-60, Lost to Florida Atlantic 85-76, Beat UC-Davis 73-62, Beat Niagara 90-73, Beat Northern Iowa 65-63

A lackluster start to the year could have put the Panthers at or near the bottom of these power rankings.  But after a couple of really solid wins, things are looking up in Milwaukee.  Tone Boyle has found his stroke, and the Panthers have gotten a ton of energy from sophomore G Lonnie Boga and newcomer Ryan Allen.  Milwaukee has a tough week ahead, but against an extremely athletic Marquette team, their depth COULD be the key to a monumental upset.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Western Michigan

3. Butler (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Marian (Ind.) 83-54, Lost to Louisville 88-73, Beat Ball State 88-55

Bulldog fans are hoping Shelvin Mack doesn't have to shoulder all the burden in their march towards madness.

This might be the lowest you’ll see Butler all year, but there are some legitimate concerns with this team.  Their loss at Louisville should absolutely not be considered a bad loss, but it revealed that this team might struggle to find scoring at times.  If Matt Howard can’t stay out of trouble, Butler is essentially putting all their hopes on Shelvin Mack to score.  My bet is that someone (Shawn Vanzant?) will emerge to be a consistent threat on the wing opposite Mack, so no need to panic…yet.

Up Next: Tuesday at Siena

2. Cleveland State (5-0)

Recent Results: Beat Bryant 71-57, Beat Iona 78-68, Beat Kent State 69-66, Beat Urbana 83-49, Beat Louisiana-Lafayette 60-55

The first of two undefeated teams in the Horizon League, the Vikings are fully capable of continuing that trend through the first 12 games of their season.  Behind spectacular point guard play from senior Norris Cole, Cleveland State hopes to pile up non-conference wins in a fairly weak non-conference schedule.  The Vikings have gotten quality minutes from junior F Aaron Pogue and have all the potential to be the last time standing come conference tournament time.

Up Next: Tuesday at Akron

1. Loyola (5-0)

Recent Results: Beat Eastern Kentucky 73-57, Beat Indiana State 86-74, Beat UT-Pan Am 79-57, Beat Eastern Illinois 73-62, Beat Western Michigan 82-64

The Ramblers’ schedule is littered with weaker non-conference opponents, but you simply cannot dismiss Loyola’s average margin of victory so far.   On average, the Ramblers have beaten their opponent by 15.8 points per game.  That is remarkable against any 5 opponents, and when looking further into what’s behind their success…why is everyone so surprised?  Returning their entire starting lineup from a year ago has been key to their success early as Jordan Hicks has been a man among boys with a true shooting percentage of 71.5%.

Up Next: Monday vs. Alcorn State

Top Five Dominating Post Players in the Horizon League

Post players, especially the good ones, are a lot fewer in number than the guards in the Horizon League.  Because of that, fans tend to remember post players a lot more; they’re larger than life, and fans get behind their big behemoths.

I decided to take a bit of time and try and rank my best post players in the Horizon League.  I did leave out a couple guys that deserve to be on the list (Aaron Pogue, for one) but I think I at least have a decent top five:

Anthony Hill can take over games.

5. Anthony Hill – You know I wasn’t going to get this list going without giving a heads up to the Panthers, and Anthony Hill is by far the best in the post we’ve got.  He’s got the biggest problem with sharing the ball among the post players here; not because he doesn’t share it, but because unless Kaylon Williams is on the floor, all five players are scorers; Hill won’t be the guy to score twenty a night, although he can.  Matt Howard cannot take Hill, flat out.  Hill scored 18 and 21 points in the two regular season match-ups, and 15 points in only 20 minutes of the conference semifinals.  Hill seems to save his biggest games for the biggest opponents.  He does have a tendency to shoot the three if given the wide-open opportunity, even though his ability is marginal outside the arc.  He belongs down in the block, where he has more post moves than anybody and can use them.  On a worse team, he’d be putting up 18 a night, but with the balance he hovers around ten.

He's injury-prone, but when healthy there are few that can stand up to Andy Polka.

4. Andy Polka - The Loyola post from Oshkosh is definitely the best rebounder in the conference.  He has a nose for the ball and the strength to push even the biggest opponents around under the glass.  The problem with Polka, of course, is that he should have graduated by now, but redshirted last year because of injuries.  He might have been higher had he been healthy, but Polka has been injury-prone for much of his career.  The lack of talent around him will be a problem for him this season; none of the other players on the list will be asked by their coaches to carry the load as much as Polka will be asked by Whitesell.

3. Cory Johnson – If this were a discussion of the best forwards inside and out, Cory Johnson may be #1 on the list.  However, this is all about who can dominate the low block, and Johnson’s jack of all trades status means he’s the jack in the post, not the ace.  That’s probably unfair, because Johnson is a pure scorer more than any of the players on this list, and he can go off for 25 on any given night.

2. Matt Howard – Believe me, I labored long and hard trying to decide who was number one, and while Matt Howard doesn’t have a lot of downside, I’m still dropping him in the two spot.  You’re more than welcome to disagree in the comments section.  Howard is the smartest basketball player in the conference; disagree if you want, but he knows where the ball is at all times, has great reaction on defense, and knows how to work the officials better than anybody else.  He can draw a foul from anyone, and it’s a good game; he shoots almost 80% from the line.  On the downside, he can be dominated, as we’ve seen with Anthony Hill.  But he’s consistently good, and that’s why he’s been all-conference three years in a row.

He's just a monster, the best post player for 2010-11.

1. Eli Holman – He’s terribly inconsistent, with games of four points against Wright State and 21 against Valpo. When I explain Holman’s game to people who haven’t seen him, I use one word: anarchy.  It’s powerful, it’s incredibly talented, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  If you gave him Matt Howard’s basketball IQ and Anthony Hill’s offensive post moves, he’d be the best player in the nation, I’m convinced of it.  He, above all the others, has NBA size (6’10”, 255) and the game to match.  He’s pure athleticism, the best post player that Detroit has had since who…Dave Debusschere? We’re going to be modest and say Ryvon Covile.  Holman’s 2.5 blocks per game last season are enough to prove that he’s one of the best defensive post players the conference has seen in awhile, and his nine rebounds are proof that he owns the area around the basket.  If coach Ray McCallum Sr. can get him going consistently, the Titans will be the best team to challenge Butler since Wright State got it done with VD and Wood in 2007.

Five Impact Rookie Guards

Ever year, the Horizon League gets bigger.  On the Sweet 16 Panther team in 2005, Adrian Tigert was playing center at 6’7” a majority of his time on the floor.  This season, Tigert might get mugged if he were to go down low with big men like Eli Holman, Anthony Hill, Andy Polka and Andrew Smith.  The players aren’t always taller, but they’re bigger bodies, wider and stronger.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the Horizon League has always been a guard-dominated league.  I’ve made the argument that this may be the best collective back court in the history of the conference, and I stand behind that.  Not only is the returning guard corp very strong, but newcomers entering the conference are also of very high quality.  Let’s take a look at five rookie guards that will make an impact in the Horizon League.

Calliste is the Pepperoni Pizza Combo guard

Jason Calliste sat on the bench last season while he watched the Detroit Titans rattle off 20 wins, challenge Butler in two games, and ultimately finish seventh in the Horizon League.  Calliste averaged 24 points and 11 assists as a senior at the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Growing up in Canada, Calliste honed his skills as a guard by taking thousands of shots and working on passing skills.  Calliste, more than any of the newcomers, embodies the “combo” guard (How appropriate, I just polished off a bag of pepperoni pizza combos). Calliste can run the fast break and a set half-court offense, which should allow Titans coach Ray McCallum Sr. the opportunity to give Ray McCallum Jr. a rest running the point.

McCallum comes into the conference with much fan fare

Ray McCallum Jr. is coming into the league with easily the most fan fare.  While he’s an incoming freshman and not an established college guard like Kaylon Williams, McCallum comes in with quite possibly the most fan fare of any player of Horizon League history.  Fans of the conference will remember the attention Butler got when Gordon Hayward turned down big-time schools for his chance with the Bulldogs, but McCallum’s hype far outstrips even that.  The fact of the matter is that McCallum wouldn’t even have thought of Detroit had his father not been the coach there, and with that comes expectations for him to blow away competition.  His ability to run the point is proven, and he can score from anywhere on the court.  Pairing him with Calliste will more than make up for the departure of Xavier Keeling and graduation of Woody Payne, and making Chase Simon, Detroit’s leading returning scorer, effectively a third heat.

Jay Harris joins an already high-powered Valpo offense.

While Ray Jr. is coming into Detroit as a highly regarded recruit, another top 150 player settled in down a state in Indiana.  Jay Harris is one of the highest-rated players to come into coach Homer Drew’s Valparaiso team in a long time, but many outside of northwest Indiana don’t even know it because Harris was outshined by the commitment of Ray Jr.  Starring for Oswego East in Illinois, Harris averaged a rocking 28.7 points per game for his senior season.

The intriguing thing about Harris is that he is such a high-scoring guard, and he’ll be entering the highest-powered offense in the Horizon League.  There’s not a lot of space to throw the ball along, with Cory Johnson among league leaders in scoring and Brandon Wood atop the list.  If there’s anything you should take to the bank, it is that the Crusaders walk into the 2010-11 season as the odds on favorites to score the most points, and Harris is a big part of that.

Hopkins, flying into a hoop near you.

Butler fans don’t have to go too far to find the home of incoming guard recruit Chrishawn Hopkins, who is a native of the city and attended Manual High School.  Hopkins struggles with defense, and will benefit from the Bulldog coaching staff’s defensive mentality.  If Hopkins can reduce his turnovers, Shelvin Mack will pass the torch to him whenever Mack finally heads to the NBA.  Hopkins will, however, be thrown into the mix early in his college career, and likely will be a part of the Butler rotation.  He’s extremely athletic, can play above the rim, shoots very well from three-point land (42%) and is a numbers junkie; he averaged three blocks and three steals his senior season to go along with 26 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  He won’t be shouldering the whole load while a freshman, but it’s good for Butler fans to know they have great scoring coming to campus to offset Gordon Hayward’s departure.

Butler fans will remember Williams, who only played 19 minutes in this blowout loss at Hinkle.

The problem with all of these incoming recruits is that we don’t know how they’ll react to the college game.  Many players turn out to be busts because they can’t adjust to the speed of the game, or the complexity.  The difference with the last player on our list is we know he’s ready for the big show.  Kaylon Williams, who transferred into Milwaukee this season, spent last year at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.  The year before that, he teamed up with James Haarsma (sitting out this year at MKE) on the Evansville Aces.  Williams led the Aces and the Missouri Valley Conference with 4.87 assists per game as a freshman before transferring.  He’s a distributor, plain and simple.  The Panthers have lacked a true point guard since Chris Hill graduated in 2006, a four-year span that saw the Panthers led by shooting guards converted to point guards.  Williams has size at 6’4” 185, something that will benefit him on the defensive end against guards in the Horizon League that tend to be strong.

One of the biggest benefits Williams brings to the Panthers is consistency.  The point guard only hit above 10 assists twice at Evansville, but only had one game in which he did not record an assist, a one-point loss at Wichita State where Williams pulled in seven rebounds and shot four of six from the field.

With the way guard play has already been in the Horizon League, and the players added here, suffice to say that the collective back court in the conference could rival any high-major conference.  And that means one thing: we have a really exciting season ahead.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 957 other followers