Horizon League Power Rankings (Dec. 14 – 20)

The Horizon League rises to 10th in conference RPI following a couple great wins over some tough opponents.

The non-conference games are winding down (save the BracketBusters), and the Horizon League should feel fairly satisfied with its performance.  Whoever comes out of the Horizon League should be pretty battle tested come tournament time.

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (Overall Record: 4-5, Conference Record: 0-2, RPI: 234)

Recent Results: Lost to North Carolina State 67-50

Not a lot of excitement this week for the Penguins, and there doesn’t seem to be much on the horizon either.  A game against the Golden Flashes of Kent State should be a difficult game for Jerry Slocum‘s bunch.  Senior guard Vytas Sulskis continues to be the team’s best player, and as he goes, so too do the Penguins.  Unfortunately, he needs a little more help than he’s received.

Up Next: Tuesday at Kent State (8-3)

9. Green Bay (4-7, 1-1, 172)

Recent Results: Beat North Dakota 72-68

I know the Phoenix just beat North Dakota, but they were very fortunate to do so.  Needing a furious rally late in the second half, the Phoenix were able to pull out a close one, but this team will struggle mightily come January if they can’t get more production from their bench.  Alec Brown has been an outstanding freshman for Green Bay, but as should be expected, much of his play has been quite inconsistent.

Up Next: Wednesday at Wyoming (6-6)

8. Milwaukee (6-7, 1-1, 166)

Recent Results: Lost to DePaul 61-47, Beat Bowling Green 72-69

The Panthers look frustrated on the court.  They lack on the court leadership and are easily rattled.  DePaul put on a clinic with their full court pressure that caused the Panthers to turn the ball over time and time again.  Milwaukee needs to find consistent point guard play, and if they want to run their offense through the post, they need to find a post player that is capable of letting the offense flow through him.  Anthony Hill hasn’t proved that he’s the guy for the job yet.

Up Next: December 30th at Wright State (7-5)

The Flames have reason to celebrate after upsetting the Fighting Illini

7. UIC (4-7, 0-2, 206)

 

Recent Results: Lost to Northern Illinois 82-80, Beat (#14) Illinois 57-54

Like the Panthers, UIC has been quite inconsistent so far.  Their loss against Northern Illinois was a tough one, but their victory over in-state rival Illinois was HUGE.  Coach Howard Moore has shown early in his career that he has the ability to be an outstanding coach in this league.  Employing the 1-3-1 zone against Illinois was brilliant and shows that Moore isn’t going to just trot his guys out there and hope for the best.  A few other Horizon League coaches could learn something from what Moore has done in his short time at UIC.

Up Next: Wednesday at Oregon State (4-6)

6. Valparaiso (5-4, 2-0, 77)

Recent Results: Beat IPFW 63-47, Beat Eastern Michigan 74-67

Two easy home wins were highlighted by the Crusaders’ victory over IPFW.  Coach Homer Drew has been able to get a lot of production from his bench with Kevin Van Wijk and Jay Harris being the main weapons.  The Crusaders will be a very tough team in the Horizon League during the stretch run.

Up Next: December 20th vs. Ball State (5-3)

5. Wright State (5-5, 0-1, 126)

Recent Results: Beat Central Michigan 53-49, Beat Miami (OH) 66-51

Wright State has had a solid non-conference but I’m still skeptical they’ll fare as well in Horizon League play due to their lack of frontcourt depth.  Their victory over Oakland earlier in the season was an example of what they can do when everything comes together.  But their loss against Southern Illinois leaves doubt in my mind that they’ll come to play each and every game.  Still, they should be good enough to finish in the middle of the pack this year.

Up Next: Wednesday at Charlotte (5-6)

4. Loyola (8-4, 0-2, 214)

Recent Results: Lost to DePaul 81-74

As the schedule gets hotter, the Ramblers seem to get colder.  Much like last year, Loyola has beat up several bad teams which has inflated their record.  Loyola is a better team than they were last year, but the big question is, can they win in the Horizon League?  Geoff McCammon and Ben Averkamp are trying to prove that they belong in the upper echelon of the league.  Only time will tell…

Up Next: Wednesday at Texas-Pan American (3-10)

3. Detroit (6-5, 1-1, 177)

Ray McCallum Jr. has been everything the Titans could hope for...

Recent Results: Beat Central Michigan 75-49

In their latest victory over Central Michigan, Ray McCallum finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists.  With the Newcomer of the Year award already sewn up, McCallum looks to lead a streaky Detroit team into conference play.  There’s no question that they have the ability to stay with any team in the Horizon League.  Its just a matter of which Detroit team will show up.

Up Next: Wednesday at Bradley (5-5)

2. Butler (5-4, 1-0, 44)

Recent Results: Beat Stanford 83-50

Matt Howard.  Yep, that’s all you need to say.  The senior forward has finally seemed to live up to his potential posting 27 points and 10 rebounds in a romp over Stanford.  If Howard and Shelvin Mack can continue to take turns shouldering the load for the Bulldogs, another trip to the tourney is in the cards.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Utah (7-3)

1. Cleveland State (10-1, 2-0, 14)

Recent Results: Lost to West Virginia 74-63

The Vikings put up a good fight against West Virginia, but came up a few possessions short.  The reality is that Cleveland State probably hasn’t built up a good enough profile to earn an at-large bid in the tournament.  They’ll need a victory over South Florida and a win in the BracketBuster to improve their standing, but at this point, the only thing that matters is the conference schedule.  Win the conference, and you’re in….

Up Next: Wednesday vs. South Florida (6-6)

Horizon League Power Rankings (Dec. 6 – Dec. 13)

The Horizon League drops to 11th in conference RPI following a rough week for some league members.

The league returned to non-conference play following a week of conference matchups, and some teams fared much better than others.  See who’s up, who’s down in this weeks power rankings!

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (Overall Record: 4-4, Conference Record: 0-2, RPI: 229)

Recent Results: Lost to Robert Morris 90-60, Beat Malone College (non-DI) 78-62

If there’s one thing we can tell about these Penguins, it’s that they’re not ready to contend in the Horizon League.  Youngstown State was absolutely throttled by an average Robert Morris team, and that has earned them the unenviable distinction of the worst team in the Horizon League.  Coach Jerry Slocum probably doesn’t deserve to coach this team next year, but in all likelihood, he will.

Up Next: Thursday at North Carolina State (5-3)

9. UIC (3-6, 0-2, 252)

Recent Results: Lost to Illinois State 53-43

Yes, I know they lost the only game they played this week, but to be honest, the only reason they moved up in the rankings was because of how poorly Youngstown State has played.  Against the Illinois State Redbirds, senior Paul Carter was the only guy out there with any game.  He accounted for 16 of the team’s 42 points and 11 of the team’s 29 rebounds.  The Flames need Zavion Neely to step up or else they could be back in the cellar in no time.

Up Next: Tuesday at Northern Illinois (2-4)

8. Green Bay (3-7, 1-1, 151)

Recent Results: Lost to Duquesne 81-71, Lost to Buffalo 78-64, Lost to Wisconsin 70-56

If not for a hard-fought loss against the Badgers, Green Bay might be even lower than the eighth spot.  Facing a shortage on guards after Seth Evans was ruled out against Wisconsin (flu), Coach Brian Wardle took the redshirt off freshman Kam Cerroni.  Cerroni, coming back after tearing his ACL in high school, had a game he soon hopes to forget.  There’s not going to be anybody else for Coach Wardle to pull off the bench at this point in the season.  He has to hope that guys will come together and learn on the fly.  An easier schedule in the next couple weeks should help with that.

Up Next: Monday vs. North Dakota (3-6)

7. Valparaiso (4-4, 2-0, 107)

Recent Results: Lost to (#18) Purdue 76-58, Lost to Toledo 75-72

A horrendous loss to Toledo drops Valpo to seventh this week.  The loss gives former Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk his first victory with the Rockets.  Coach Homer Drew would probably like nothing more than to get healthy over the next few games so the Crusaders can continue their solid play in the conference portion of the schedule.

Up Next: Saturday vs. IPFW (7-2)

Ja'Rob McCallum hopes to lead the Panthers with a strong December

6. Milwaukee (5-6, 1-1, 117)

Recent Results: Lost to Wisconsin 61-40, Beat South Dakota State 82-70

As bad as the Panthers looked against the Badgers, they were that good against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.  Ja’Rob McCallum and Tony Meier have been outstanding over the past few games, and they’re the two biggest reasons Panther fans have hope for the rest of this season.  Senior leaders Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle need to find their stroke again.

Up Next: Tuesday at DePaul (3-6)

5. Wright State (3-5, 0-1, 163)

Recent Results: Beat Air Force 76-61, Beat Tusculum College 60-47

Wright State is a weak number five here, but beating Air Force pushes them ahead of Valpo and Milwaukee.  If they can follow that up with a couple of wins against MAC foes in the next week, then I’ll feel a little bit better about them being in this spot.  If not, look for them to drop a couple notches.  I’m just not too impressed by what they’ve done so far.  Let’s see if they prove me wrong.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Central Michigan (2-6)

4. Detroit (5-5, 1-1, 196)

Recent Results: Lost to Western Michigan 71-69, Beat Eastern Michigan 68-65

The Titans needed all of Ray McCallum‘s 31 points to overcome Eastern Michigan on Saturday.  They’re in the top 100 in points and rebounding yet they toil in mediocrity.  The big question is why?  Why can’t the Titans put it together?  Why are they losing to teams like Western Michigan when they were predicted to be the second best team in the Horizon League?  Perhaps they were overrated coming into the season.  We’ll find out soon enough as the Titans re-enter conference play just before the New Year.

Up Next: Saturday at Central Michigan (2-6)

3. Loyola (8-3, 0-2, 194)

Recent Results: Beat SIU-Edwardsville 78-50, Lost to (#5) Kansas State 68-60

The Ramblers really turned it on in the second half against SIU-Edwardsville and continued that into their game against Kansas State.  Unfortunately, they weren’t able to upset the Wildcats, but they showed that they can play with almost anybody.  I like the Ramblers, a lot…  They have great team chemistry, and I think we’ll see that as they enter mid-season form.

Up Next: Saturday at DePaul (3-5)

2. Butler (4-4, 1-0, 53)

Recent Results: Lost to Xavier 51-49, Beat Mississippi Valley State 91-71

Losing to Xavier was tough since it was such an entertaining, albeit low-scoring game.  The Bulldogs just haven’t looked to be in sync yet as the season has progressed.  They have a few more tough games against good schools that should test their mettle and give some of the younger players like Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall a taste of what it’s like to play in big games.

Up Next: Saturday vs. Stanford (5-2)

How did DJ Khaled make these power rankings?

1. Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0, 21)

Recent Results: Beat West Virginia Tech 94-62, Beat Sam Houston State 74-62

“All I do is win, win, win no matter what…”  These eloquent lyrics from DJ Khaled describe exactly what Cleveland State has done so far this year.  They continue to be ignored by the pollsters, but perhaps a win at West Virginia this week will be exactly what it takes for the Vikings to get some love.  Apparently having the most wins in all of college basketball isn’t enough…

Up Next: Saturday at West Virginia

Catch and Shoot – Tuesday

- Kevin O’Connor’s coverage of the Italy trip begins today.  The SA will undoubtedly complain, claiming he should be spending more time on the media guide.

- Shelvin Mack will be working with Team USA, further fueling the fire that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are bball smitten with the Butler guard.  Maybe after the season he’ll take his talents to South Beach.

Could this be the future home of a doubleheader?

- The Indy Star is reporting about a possible “Big Four” doubleheader at Conseco Fieldhouse including Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame, and Purdue.  Luckily Matt Painter, Mike Brey and Brad Stevens are down-to-earth guys, because there won’t be much room after Tom Crean’s ego and forehead enter the building.  Joking aside, we know the nation is taking Butler seriously, but to know that now Indiana, Purdue, and Notre Dame are also only makes Butler stronger.  The chances of BU being a “flavor of the week” in Indy get noticeably smaller if this Big Four happens.

- Valpo has their opponents set in Cancun: Pioneros de Quintana Roo, Rebotera de Cancun, and bar time. PantherU is offering a big reward for a picture of Homer Drew with a fruity drink complete with umbrella.

- Todd Brown is going Dutch in his professional career.  He will play half the time, with his girlfriend playing the other half of his minutes.  Congrats to the most underrated Horizon League player of the last decade on getting himself a job playing ball. And his girlfriend.

- Meanwhile, Valpo is also going Dutch, with Kevin Van Wijk qualifying to play for three years at VU.  He joins a long list of foreign players to put on the Valpo jersey. I’d love to hear the recruiting pitch. “You can play at North Carolina, you can play at UConn, or you can play at Valpo, it’s all the same thing really.”

- ESPN.com decided it needed to talk about Horizon League basketball outside of Butler, so naturally it continued to hammer the Ray Jr.-Ray Sr. storyline.

- UWMPanthers.com ran a story with coach Jeter saying thanks to all the donors who came out for the golf outing on July 19th.  Hell of a party, I recommend it.

- Kyle Nagel doesn’t work for Wright State, he covers them, but he’s certainly hammering home the company line here when he belittles the impact of big men in the Horizon League.  Where I think Nagel fails is showing the difference between big men and post players.  Hayward wasn’t a post player mostly, but Nagel includes him.  He also doesn’t include the 6’8” Anthony Hill or several other players between 6’4” and 6’9” that are strong, big bodies down in the post in the conference.  Matt Howard is a skilled big man.  Is he 6’9″? No, but he sure as hell is effective. While it’s certainly not necessary to have great post players (Wright State for the last 4 years) to win, it certainly helps.

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.

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