Horizon League Rankings (February 8-14)

The Horizon League grabs position in the conference RPI ranks inching ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference for 11th this week.

Which Horizon League team will be the Cinderella in this year's NCAA Tournament?

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 6-20, Conference Record: 2-13, RPI: 277)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 63-61 (OT), Lost to Milwaukee 70-59

The Flames have a tough stretch to end the season, but coach Howard Moore has his team playing tough to the end.  UIC pulled out a gritty overtime win over Green Bay earlier this week before losing to Milwaukee.  Can they play spoiler late in the season with games against Butler and Valpo?  Projected Conference Finish: 2-16 (10th); no postseason tournament beyond Horizon League

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Loyola (14-12)

9. Youngstown State (6-17, 2-13, 266)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 86-76

The ‘Guins played Cleveland State tough in Cleveland and will be a tough team to play at the end of the season.  They have a very real chance at upsetting Green Bay and/or Milwaukee on their home court.  Projected Finish: 3-15 (9th); no postseason

Up Next: Saturday at Cleveland State (19-4)

8. Loyola (14-12, 5-10, 214)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 66-57, Beat Green Bay 79-62

The Ramblers were spanked by Milwaukee in a revenge game earlier this week.  They truly lack a dependable point guard at this point as Geoff McCammon, Andy Polka, and Ben Averkamp really aren’t the problem.  Projected Finish: 6-12 (8th); no postseason

Up Next: Wednesday at UIC (6-20)

7. Green Bay (11-14, 6-8, 164)

Recent Results: Lost to UIC 63-61 (OT), Lost to Loyola 79-62

Green Bay has the toughest schedule of anyone down the stretch.  To get to 7 wins will be an accomplishment as they have Butler, Valpo, Youngstown State, and Cleveland State left on the schedule.  Projected Finish: 6-12 (7th); no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Butler (17-9)

6. Detroit (13-14, 8-8, 151)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 82-74, Lost to Butler 66-51

Detroit has, undoubtedly, one of the most talented starting lineups in the Horizon League.  They might have THE most talented.  So, what’s keeping them at 8-8 in conference?  The problem is, things don’t seem to be getting any better for the Titans.  Projected Finish: 9-9 (6th); no postseason

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Youngstown State (6-17)

5. Wright State (15-11, 10-6, 106)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 71-63, Lost to Valparaiso 58-56

Originally I projected a four game losing streak to end the conference season for the Raiders, but I think they’ll take care of business against Detroit to end the season right.  Vaughn Duggins has had a 1st team All-Conference type of season for coach Billy Donlon.  Projected Finish: 11-7 (5th); no postseason

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Cleveland State (20-5)

4. Butler (17-9, 10-5, 45)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 71-63, Beat Detroit 66-51

The Bulldogs have won four in a row now and play three of the four worst teams in the league in the next two weeks.  Look for Butler to finish strong and take a seven game winning streak into the conference tournament.  Projected Finish: 13-5 (3rd); NCAA Tournament Auto Bid

Up Next: Tuesday at Green Bay (11-14)

3. Milwaukee (15-11, 10-5, 109)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 66-57, Beat UIC 70-59

Butler’s hot streak is eclipsed only by Milwaukee six (!) game winning streak.  The Panthers are hot, and look capable of beating any team in the league at this point.  They have a shot at a first-round bye in the league tournament, but the road won’t be easy.  They finish the season on a two game Ohio road trip.   Projected Finish: 12-6 (4th); CIT

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Valparaiso (17-7)

2. Cleveland State (20-5, 11-4, 37)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 86-76

The Vikings probably need to finish alone in first place to take the Horizon League title as their tie breaker with Valpo doesn’t fall in their favor as of right now.  A lot can happen between now and then, but they’ll need help.  Their schedule is manageable but will provide some tests.  Projected Finish: 14-4 (2nd); NIT

Up Next: Wednesday at Wright State (15-11)

Can the Crusaders handle the bright lights of crunch time?

1. Valparaiso (17-7, 11-3, 49)

Recent Results: Beat Detroit 82-74, Beat Wright State 58-56

The Crusaders have an easy finish to end the season with the Milwaukee Panthers the only road block on the way to a Horizon League crown.  Can Homer Drew’s team handle the pressure and finish strong?  Projected Finish: 14-4 (1st); NIT

Up Next: Wednesday at Milwaukee (15-11)

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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)

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.