Horizon League Power Rankings (January 18-24)

The Horizon League holds steady at 11th in Conference RPI this week.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 4-15, Conference Record: 0-8, RPI: 266)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 68-59

Another dismal season for the Flames.  A bummer of a way to go out for seniors Paul Carter and Robo Kreps.  UIC will be hard-pressed to reach 5 wins this season.  Crazy that one of them came against Illinois.  Bizarre…

Up Next: Thursday vs. Cleveland State (16-3)

9. Youngstown State (5-12, 1-8, 260)

Recent Results: Lost to Wright State 66-62, Lost to Detroit 73-69

The Penguins actually put together a rather competitive week.  They only lost to Detroit and Wright State by a combined 8 points.  Senior Vytas Sulskis just keeps chugging along, and deserves some consideration for an all-conference team.

Up Next: Thursday at Loyola (12-8)

8. Loyola (12-8, 3-6, 194)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 68-59

Loyola gets their second win in a row this week, albeit against the worst team in the conference.  Senior Andy Polka has played quite well the last couple games, and if Loyola is going to make a run in this league, this is the stretch that they’ll need to do it.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Youngstown State (5-12)

7. Milwaukee (10-11, 5-5, 130)

Tony Meier (21) and Anthony Hill (23) look to lead Milwaukee to a first round home game in the Horizon League tourney.

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 60-43, Beat Butler 86-80

I’m just not sure what to say about this team.  I don’t know what motivates them to beat teams like Butler, and just get completely blown out in other games.  It seems to be a lack of mental toughness, but how does that explain their wins over the Bulldogs?  If anyone can logically explain how the Panthers have gotten to this point, please let me know.  Either way, they’re in the thick of a tight conference race for a first-round bye in the conference tournament

Up Next: Friday vs. Detroit (10-10)

6. Detroit (10-10, 5-4, 167)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 81-69, Beat Youngstown State 73-69

A .500 record is too low for the talent this team boasts.  That has to fall squarely at the feet of Coach Ray McCallum Sr.  However, if they can come out of Wisconsin with a sweep this weekend, it will go a long way towards their standing in the Horizon League with UIC and Loyola to follow Milwaukee and Green Bay.

Up Next: Friday at Milwaukee (10-11)

5. Green Bay (10-10, 5-4, 131)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 81-75, Beat Valparaiso 63-61

Brian Wardle has done a great job with his squad this year.  He was left with two great senior guards, and absolutely nothing else.  He’s gotten good production from his young players, and it’s obvious that they continue to improve as the season goes on.  However, I don’t expect Green Bay to end up in the top half of the league come late February.

Up Next: Friday vs. Wright State (11-8)

4. Wright State (11-8, 6-3, 100)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 66-62, Lost to Cleveland State 65-46

Getting blown out at Cleveland State was not what new coach Billy Donlon was hoping for.  They’ll have the chance to bounce back in what is shaping up to be a very important week in Wisconsin.  Vaughn Duggins is the heart and soul of this team and will likely find himself on one of the two All-Conference teams at the end of the year.

Up Next: Friday at Green Bay (10-10)

3. Butler (13-7, 6-3, 41)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 81-75, Lost to Milwaukee 86-80

Getting swept by Milwaukee is the reason Butler has no chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, they still can earn their way in the Horizon League tournament, but it’ll be an uphill climb.  Cleveland State, Valparaiso, and apparently Milwaukee will have a lot to say about Butler making it back to the “big dance.”

Up Next: Saturday at Valparaiso (13-6)

2. Valparaiso (13-6, 7-2, 57)

Recent Results: Beat Milwaukee 60-43, Lost to Green Bay 63-61

The Crusaders drop a spot due to their home loss to the hands of the Green Bay Phoenix, but they’re still tied for first in the standings.  This week is perhaps the biggest week of the season so far for the Crusaders.  They’re 7-2 and will take on Butler AND Cleveland State in the next two games.

Up Next: Saturday vs. Butler (13-7)

Norris Cole is focused on getting the Vikings to the big dance.

1. Cleveland State (16-3, 7-2, 32)

Recent Results: Beat Detroit 81-69, Beat Wright State 65-46

Cleveland State probably doesn’t have the signature victory to earn an at-large bid at this point.  Hopefully, a victory over Butler, Valparaiso, and the BracketBuster can help them earn that respect.  The Vikings have won three in a row, and traveling to Chicago this week should improve that to five in a row.  Norris Cole has been the best guard in the league this year.

Up Next: Thursday at UIC (4-15)

Horizon League Power Rankings (December 21 – 27)

The Horizon League rises to 9th in conference RPI following a stellar week by the Butler Bulldogs.

Only two games other than the BracketBusters in February remain in the Horizon League’s non-conference slate.  To finish in the top 10 in Conference RPI would be tremendous for the state of this league.

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (Overall Record: 4-6, Conference Record: 0-2, RPI: 226)

Recent Results: Lost to Kent State 71-58

Where do the Penguins go from here?  Vytas Sulskis is the lone bright spot on a team that will be hard pressed to match the 6 Division-I wins from a season ago.  My best guess is they’ll up the ante to 7 this year, but what does that mean for Youngstown State.  Since joining the Horizon League in 2001, the Penguins have been nothing but a drag on the league’s profile.  What would it take for the league to give up on this program?  A program that financially isn’t up to the task of competing in what has become a formidable conference.

Up Next: Thursday vs. UIC (4-8)

9. UIC (4-8, 0-2, 228)

Recent Results: Lost to Oregon State 74-54

Losing by 20 to a bad Oregon State team proves that UIC’s win over in-state powerhouse Illinois was more of an aberration than the norm.  Fortunately, they have a shot at their first conference win of the season with their upcoming game against conference bottom-feeder Youngstown State.  The upside for the Flames is that they’ve proved that on any given night they will be a tough out for any conference opponent.

Up Next: Thursday at Youngstown State (4-6)

8. Green Bay (5-7, 1-1, 155)

Recent Results: Beat Wyoming 68-62

Two straight wins for the Phoenix should give them some nice momentum heading into the conference portion of their schedule.  Senior guard Rahmon Fletcher has been playing like he deserves to be a first team all-conference member.

Up Next: Wednesday at Wyoming (6-6)

7. Milwaukee (6-7, 1-1, 150)

Recent Results: Santa Claus dropped off a playbook in front of the U.S. Cellular Arena.

The Panthers have really put together a nice schedule this year.  Sure, they’d like to have a few more wins, but with each win by Northern Iowa and South Dakota State, the Panthers season looks that much better.  It’ll be important for the Panthers to forget the results of the non-conference season and focus on what’s important ahead: Wright State.

Up Next: Thursday at Wright State (5-6)

6. Wright State (5-6, 0-1, 174)

Recent Results: Lost to Charlotte 57-53

The #6 spot is up for grabs in the power rankings as the Milwaukee Panthers come to town.  Wright State should be up to the challenge if Anthony Hill doesn’t play.  But if he does, he could go off against a frontcourt that includes Johann Mpondo‘s 3.8 rebounds per game.  A manageable next couple of weeks should see the Raiders get back above .500 against D-I opponents.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Milwaukee (6-7)

5. Detroit (6-6, 1-1, 197)

Recent Results: Lost to Bradley 73-65

This is not what Coach Ray McCallum Sr. had in mind when he envisioned his son, Ray McCallum Jr., leading the break for open alley-oops to Chase Simon before the season started.  The Titans certainly haven’t set the world on fire, and frankly, I’d be surprised to see them do that once the conference season gets under way.  We’ll get a chance to pass judgement later this week.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Green Bay (5-7)

4. Loyola (9-4, 0-2, 209)

Recent Results: Beat Texas Pan-American 84-76

Sure they’re 9-4, but who have they beaten?  Their best win is over 4-6 Indiana State.  Are you kidding me?  Loyola is in for a rude awakening with their next opponent, Cleveland State.  0-3 to start the conference season isn’t an easy hole to climb yourself out of.  They could find themselves dropping down these rankings like a lead balloon if they’re not able to prove themselves in conference play.

Up Next: Thursday at Cleveland State (11-1)

Valpo celebrates their 103-102 win over the Oakland Grizzlies.

3. Valparaiso (7-4, 2-0, 77)

Recent Results: Beat Oakland 103-102

I don’t even know what to say about the Crusaders’ 103-102 victory over Oakland this past week.  It defies all logic.  The Crusaders’ third leading scorer in the game, Michael Rogers, only had 10 points.  Valpo only had 18 assists on all those points.  On top of that, they had 26 fouls.  Huh??   One thing I can say for certain is that the Crusaders are for real.  They may not finish at the top of the Horizon League, but trust me…they’ll be fighting until the end.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Ball State (5-3)

2. Cleveland State (11-1, 2-0, 11)

Recent Results: Beat South Florida 69-62

I really hate to do this, but the Vikings have officially dropped a spot in our Power Rankings.  You’ve been great Cleveland State, you really have.  I mean, it’s not you…it’s me.  I just need some space right now.  Cleveland State has had an extremely successful non-conference season, but now it’s time to show just how tough they are.  Butler, Valpo and the rest of the conference are certainly not going to back down because the Vikings have been the talk of the town since their hot start.  Time to earn your keep…

Up Next: Thursday vs. Loyola (9-4)

Where did this beautiful cookie duster go anyways?

 

1. Butler (8-4, 1-0, 9)

Recent Results: Beat Utah 74-62, Beat Florida State 67-64, Beat Washington State 84-68

No team in the nation has had a better week than the Bulldogs.  Winning the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu was quite the Christmas present for Shelvin Mack and the boys.  Matt Howard has arguably been the conference player of the year so far, while mentoring Andrew Smith to be the consistent big man Howard needs by his side.  The road to defending their conference crown resumes Saturday against Valpo.  Just how good can this Butler squad be?

Up Next: Saturday vs. Valpo (7-4)

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

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.

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