Panthers pick up Akeem Springs

Jimmy Lemke may be away from his computer, but that didn’t stop him from breaking the news that Rob Jeter and the Panthers have landed Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs, a 6’3 guard.

From Twitter….. ‏@PantherU 4h

Breaking: Milwaukee gets final piece for 2013-14 roster, Akeem Springs, who transferred from NIU last season. Three years left. ‏@PantherU 4h

You heard it here first: Akeem Springs is the newest Panther. Freshman at NIU last year, he’ll have 3 years of eligibility. ‏@PantherU 3h

Springs will sit the 2013-14 season. Kicked us around in game at the KC this past season

The Waukegan native averaged 7.7 points in 19.8 minutes per game in 18 appearances for the Huskies,

Look to PantherU for more as more information becomes available…..

Moore chooses Milwaukee

Fifth-year senior Malcolm Moore will transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the 2013-14 season, sources told PantherU on Tuesday.

Moore takes one of two scholarships remaining for the 2013-14 campaign, and likely will step into a pivotal role in the post.

Moore graduated from UTEP this semester. Originally committed to Creighton out of high school, Moore did not qualify and spent two years in junior college before joining the Miners.

A 6’7″ 220 pound forward, Moore joins the post recruiting class of twins Brett and Alex Prahl and Matt Tiby. Moore will vie for post minutes behind JJ Panoske and Tiby.

Kaylon Williams, who is familiar with Moore from high school, said that “Malcolm will be a big help in turning things around from last year.” Moore is originally from Iowa City.

Milwaukee is still hot on the heels of Quevyn Winters, who could fill the starting shooting guard role for the Panthers as soon as he is eligible.

Oakland to be first of hopefully more

According to an administration executive at a Horizon League university, the conference’s impending addition of a new school will be the first of hopefully “several new members,” the source told in an e-mail.

The source would not confirm or deny whether or not the ninth Horizon League school would be Oakland, only to say that “There will be an announcement soon on a new member.” PantherU confirmed through four sources yesterday that Oakland would be the first new member, but none of them knew about anything beyond Oakland.

When asked whether Oakland would be the only school joining the Horizon League for the 2013-14 season, the source said, “That…will depend on how quickly the other schools can get board approval and leave their prospective conferences.” It sure looks like other schools are in serious discussions to join the Horizon League.

For basketball, the addition of Oakland is an obvious improvement over Loyola. In one of their worst seasons in almost a decade, Oakland finished 152 in the RPI. Loyola, in one of their best since the graduation of Blake Schilb in 2005-06, finished 222 in the RPI.

A move to ten teams this season would bring the conference to the same membership it enjoyed from 2007-08, when Valparaiso joined the conference, to 2011-12, Butler’s final season.

Many fall sports would be affected greatly in scheduling by a move to 12 teams. One fall coach said, “If we bring in three more teams in addition to Oakland, I’m going to have to call up some non-conference opponents and cancel, which I really don’t want to do.”

This news should be music to the ears of Horizon League fans who wanted to see more than Oakland University added to the conference.

Bring the Norse North

When PantherU confirmed that Oakland was indeed coming to the Horizon League, the move was accepted with a lot of relief. Many fans were worried that the Horizon League was going to add IUPUI or IPFW, schools on no fan’s short list for the conference. It all stemmed from the fact that fan confidence in the Horizon League office, and commissioner Jon LeCrone, was tepid at best.

And why should it be? Adding Valparaiso was a great move, but Youngstown State has only recently stopped being an anchor dragging down the conference RPI. Men’s basketball is the sport that matters, and YSU has finished above .500 in conference exactly once since they joined the Horizon League in 2001. The Penguins have an average seed of 7.66 in the conference tournament, with their high water mark being a five-seed in 2006-07. So you can see why fans have been worried about replacements since Butler and now Loyola have departed the conference.

Fans wrung their hands for the past year, worried that the Horizon League commissioner would find his new Horizon League team in the Horizon League’s home town. They watched as the MVC, WAC, Mountain West and Summit got weaker. They saw the Ohio Valley Conference add Belmont and get considerably stronger on the southern flank.

But finally, the rabbit came out of the hat. Despite the perception that their addition would be blocked once again by Detroit, the conference will be announcing Oakland as its newest member in the next couple weeks. It’s not the home run that Belmont or Murray State would be, but it is the best fit, the double down the line. Oakland is an immediate upgrade over a Loyola school that was only bested in futility by Youngstown State since 2000.

It’s time to give LeCrone some credit. He watched the WAC practically implode and did nothing. He saw the MVC target some of his schools and didn’t do anything to stop Loyola leaving, which is addition by subtraction for the Horizon. Realize that without lifting a finger, LeCrone simultaneously weakened the MVC and strengthened the Horizon. Then, he strengthened the conference further by adding Oakland, a school that has earned its stripes. Since 2005, the Golden Grizzlies have more NCAA Tournament appearances than any Horizon League team. Though they haven’t won a game in the round of 64, they did come close in their last appearance against Texas.

Make that two victories in a row for Jon LeCrone, who has turned the Summit into an afterthought by adding Valpo and Oakland. He is on a roll, so to speak. But the job isn’t done. The Horizon League is at nine members, an odd number that just begs another addition.

The Horizon League has certainly been at its best when it is at an even number. In 1998, the eight-member conference sent three of its members to the NCAA tournament. Even this past season, with Butler gone and usually strong Milwaukee in a bad year, the conference finished 12th. But the real strong years came from when Valparaiso joined in 2007-08 to 2011-12, when Butler left. The conference was defined by Butler in those years, but Cleveland State, Valparaiso, Milwaukee, Wright State and Detroit all left strong marks. That is why the Horizon League remains as strong as it was when Butler was a part of the conference – it was never just Butler. Butler became Butler because they went through the baptism-by-fire of the Horizon League. They’re not Belmont, or Gonzaga, or Davidson, or Murray State. The reason isn’t because of Hinkle Fieldhouse or some abstract idea of the “Butler Way.” It’s because this conference is as tough as nails – even Youngstown State and Loyola notched victories over Butler in their strongest years.

Which is why the tenth member needs to be a smart choice. The Horizon League needs to add a program that has the ability to be a great basketball school down the road. It is important that they field a baseball team, but no team the conference could add will elevate the Horizon beyond a low-major in that sport; that’s just the way the cookie crumbles for northern baseball conferences.

So who can the Horizon League add? We’ve gone over this at great length, and we’ve learned that Belmont is absolutely not coming to the Horizon League, and Murray State likely would not come without Belmont. This leaves a slew of schools, but I’m prepared to say that Northern Kentucky should be the tenth member of the Horizon League. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you why.

For one, Northern Kentucky features the best geographical fit for the Horizon League. Robert Morris is also only an hour from a current conference school, but the Colonials would force a weird travel partnership between Cleveland State and Wright State. NKU ensures that Wright State is no longer a southern outpost of the conference, and it ensures that CSU remains a travel partner for YSU, schools that are only about an hour drive from each other.

The travel partner situation would be the best it has ever been. Sure, UIC needs to go further to Valpo than they did to Loyola, but it’s not actually by all that much. Milwaukee and Green Bay stay together, as do Cleveland State and Youngstown State. The Detroit/Oakland partnership is the closest any partners have been in the conference, and NKU provides Wright State a rival only one hour south and in a major metropolitan city, Cincinnati.

I know what the drag is. We highlighted their total lack of success in Division I last week, and the Norse are definitely a few years away from being a legitimate basketball program.

But we don’t need them to be. Not today. This isn’t Youngstown State, a school that values football a lot more than men’s basketball (and rightfully should). We’re talking about a school whose move to Division I was centered around basketball, exists in a city that is crazy about college basketball, and is armed with the best tools to become a great program. Just eight years after going to D-I, Oakland made its first NCAA Tournament appearance. Will NKU have to wait that long?

The Horizon League could opt to wait for NKU to get better before they decide to add them. But what happens when NKU makes its jump a little sooner than expected and they get snatched up by the CAA or OVC? The Norse could decide, like Belmont, that the OVC is a comfortable enough home and say ‘no’ to the Horizon League. We’d be letting a sleeping juggernaut go because we were too frightened they’d take too long getting going.

They won’t. If there were ever a school that prepared for its transition to Division I the right way, it’s NKU. They finished 11-16 in their first year in D-I where most schools take a few years to get going. Their last few years in D-II were good, with three NCAA tournament appearances in their last four years.

What changed? The home changed. NKU built the $60 million Bank of Kentucky Center, a 9,200-seat beast of a facility that is the reason NKU is in the Atlantic Sun and not the OVC. Why is that? The Ohio Valley was ready to vote to admit the Norse, but members expressed worries that NKU would have an unfair recruiting advantage due to the facility, and it never came to a vote.

It should come to a vote in the Horizon League, and the Board of Directors should pass it. This school has the opportunity to be a powerhouse down the road, and by adding Oakland we’ve already gotten better as a men’s basketball conference.

NKU has even boosted their athletics and basketball budgets considerably. In 2010-11, the Norse spent $5.788 million in athletics. In 2012-13, that number jumped to $9.12 million this season. NKU could still spend more – their basketball budget of $1.111 million would be higher than only Youngstown State – but the fact is that NKU reported a profit in men’s basketball. Imagine what they could do if they spent less money on travel (the Horizon League is much better for travel than the Atlantic Sun) and more on recruiting and operating expenses.

As for other sports, the Norse are coached in women’s basketball by Dawn Plitzuweit, who was a candidate to replace Sandy Botham and assisted Kevin Borseth at Michigan. Men’s soccer was a D-II powerhouse, winning the national title in 2010. Softball and women’s soccer are also very strong. The soccer stadium is a $6.5 million facility with a luxury box.

The Norse are not eligible for the NCAA Tournament until July 2016, so we’re looking at three seasons of NKU being unable to represent the conference in the tournament. That’s okay – even if they were eligible today, they wouldn’t be ready to win a conference title.

But we’re not buying the best team of the past ten years. We’re investing in a program for the next ten. NKU makes too much sense. They need to be the tenth school – this urban university in a major midwestern city, the perfect geographical match-up that plays exactly the sports the conference needs them to play.

Let’s hope Jon LeCrone and the Board of Directors make it three great additions in a row.

Horizon League adding Oakland

Multiple anonymous sources are confirming to PantherU that Oakland is indeed coming to the Horizon League, confirming what was reported in the Green Bay Press Gazette by Rob Demovsky on April 4th. The Horizon League will likely announce Oakland in the next couple weeks.

Oakland University, located just twenty miles away from the University of Detroit Mercy, brings the membership back to nine programs. No word on whether or not a tenth member was forthcoming, although none of PantherU’s sources had any idea.

Oakland, which has been a member of the Summit League since 1998, joined Division I in 1997 and promptly opened the O’rena when they joined the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit). The O’rena seats 4,005 fans and is host to basketball and volleyball on campus.

PantherU recently rated Oakland as the third-best possible addition to the Horizon League after Belmont and Murray State. Oakland scored a perfect 10 each on sports offered and location, both of which match the Horizon League perfectly. The Golden Grizzlies received and 8 out of 10 for their outstanding O’rena facility and a solid 7/10 each in success, brand and effect.

Making the move is an obvious one for Oakland, but they will need to boost their basketball budget if they are going to maintain the level of success they’ve seen in the Summit. With three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2005, the Grizzlies only have a play-in game victory and three losses. The last, an 85-81 loss to Texas in 2011, was a heartbreaker for a program that seemed like it was ready to finally get over the hump.

PantherU will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

Sports – This has been the obvious choice since Day 1 when Butler left the Horizon League. Oakland plays all Horizon League sports except men’s tennis. Big deal. Oakland has a great lineup of teams, and their most important sports are men’s basketball, soccer and baseball. Score: 10.

Facilities – The O’Rena, which is apparently not an Irish thing, is a very nice albeit small gymnasium that seats 4,000 fans. The Horizon League has long had the 5,000-seat rule, but I don’t think anyone would make a stink about the O’Rena. The arena lacks suites, but I doubt anyone is going to take issue with that. Score: 8.

Location – No doubt, being 20 miles away from the University of Detroit gives the Titans a feeling of claustrophobia. But there’s no getting around the fact that Oakland is too much of a good fit to pass up. Most people outside Detroit see the Golden Grizzlies as the best fit, and Detroit’s running mates have both walked out. My guess is the snug fit will cause Detroit to look elsewhere, but we’d be naive if we didn’t think they already were. If the Horizon League brings in the Grizzlies as part of a package, the Titans will be more tempted to stay. Oakland alone makes Detroit sweat. Oakland with one or a few other schools makes Detroit intrigued. Locking the Summit out of the Detroit recruiting market is good for business. Score: 10.

Budget – The overall budget over $10 million is a good sign. The basketball budget of $1,389,435 could be all right, since it’s better than YSU by a few lengths. I’d still like to see the basketball budget get a few hundred thousand tacked onto it; that’d give us a winner. Score: 6.

Success – Greg Kampe, like Rick Byrd at Belmont, has been the steward of Oakland basketball all the way from the dregs to D-I. He has strong roots at the school, and the program averages in the top half of Horizon schools in RPI over the last six years. They certainly aren’t Murray State or Belmont in NCAA success, but there’s no doubting that Oakland has an opportunity to step up their solid success even more in the Horizon League. Score: 7.

Brand – When I first saw Oakland – who was here for the men’s soccer Panther Invitational – I thought they came all the way from California. That’s quite all right, as the name is classic and known to the people in eastern Michigan. The Golden Grizzlies name is a bit generic, but it’s a good mascot. The OU in their logo looks too much like Oklahoma for my taste. Their victory over Tennessee put them on the map nationally. Maybe they’ll do it again soon. Score: 7.

Effect – This is the school everyone expects, and most people want. Oakland makes a lot of sense, they’re spending enough in basketball and can spend some more without breaking the bank. Their facilities are in order and they have name cache in the conference. Oakland isn’t going to “wow” anybody, but that’s probably because we’ve been talking about bringing them into the conference for years. Score: 7.

Final: 55.
Oakland versus the Horizon League since joining Division I:

vs. UIC: 1-0
vs. Milwaukee: 1-1
vs. Detroit: 1-3
vs. YSU: 5-3
vs. Green Bay: 3-1
vs. Valparaiso: 4-17
vs. WSU: 1-2
vs. CSU: 0-3