What the Panthers lack without #21

This much we knows is true: despite beginning the season 2-0, no one in the Milwaukee Panthers fan base has been pleased with how the two games have gone.

Southwest Minnesota State was playing the game at the end like they had a chance to win, because they did.  Northern Illinois almost clanked in a game-winner at the buzzer.  This is a team that lost first-team All-Conference player Anthony Hill and volume shooter Tone Boyle.  But what else is the team missing?

Tony Meier's absence has been notable. But what is it that makes him so important?

Tony Meier.  And everyone knows it.  But why is it that Tony Meier’s absence has the rest of the team in such a funk?

The fact of the matter is that without Tony Meier, the Panthers don’t have a lot of room with which to work.

Milwaukee’s offense is predicated very much on spacing.  Tony Meier’s role, whether the inside presence is Anthony Hill or James Haarsma and the point guard is Ricky Franklin or Kaylon Williams, is to provide spacing.  Yes, he’s there to score points. Yes, he’s there to draw fouls and take advantage of his great free-throw shooting.  But what makes Meier so effective, and the Panthers as a team, is the spacing they can achieve.

Spacing is all about spreading out a defense.  In the first couple games without Tony Meier, the Panthers have lost much of their ability to get spacing.  Take the starting lineup from tonight’s Northern Illinois game for example.  Ryan Allen and Ja’Rob McCallum start as the 2 and 3 on the wing, Kaylon Williams runs the point, and James Haarsma is the 5.  Without Tony Meier in the game, it is up to Kyle Kelm to run the 4 spot, with help from Ryan Haggerty and Demetrius Harris, depending on the personnel on the court.

Ja'Rob McCallum's newfound strength will help him drive the lane. But what if there's no lane to drive?

Kelm is a good player, and he’s going to be great down the road.  But Kelm has yet to show in college that he is a force to be reckoned with from the outside.  Because of their height, both Kelm and Meier have jump shots that are practically unblockable.  What a player like Evan Richard achieves with amazing jumping ability, they achieve just by being really tall.  Meier’s shooting, of course, has been far more consistent and effective – this is mainly because he has two years of experience on Kelm, but the fact remains that when he gets the outside shots, whether they be from two or three, he knocks them down.

This causes several things to happen.  First, and most important, Meier’s shooting ability from the outside forces the opposing defense to guard him when he’s out there.  Because they have to do that, they are not able to sag their four defender into the post and double-team the five.  In case you haven’t noticed, James Haarsma has been living with people on his back the first two games of the season.  These double teams are why.

Not only does the 5 find himself in a precarious position offensively, but that sagging 4 defender is also in place to cut off driving lanes for Milwaukee guards.  Ja’Rob McCallum’s newfound leg and arm strength led him to drive the lane at will against Parkside in exhibition, but against regular season opponents he isn’t finding the space to make that happen.  The same goes for Ryan Allen and Evan Richard.  While McCallum and Richard have the jump shots to step back and pop, Allen is still improving in that area and could be scoring more if Meier were in the lineup.

Speaking of McCallum and Richard stepping back and taking outside shots, the lack of an effective outside shooter at the four means that there are more outside shots.  I realize that sounds confusing, but having a post player who can also shoot well from the outside forces the defense to commit help out to him, which in turn opens up the driving lanes and closer shots.

There is one simple truth about basketball.  The closer you get to the rim, the higher shooting percentage you make.  So while it’s good to have Meier outside shooting threes, it’s better to have Anthony Hill inside pounding the glass.  Eight times out of ten you’re going to end up with the inside player scoring more.

Anthony Hill was very effective in the post, but how would he have done if he had the constant double-team that James Haarsma is facing this season?

This is the foundation of Milwaukee’s championship team.  For the first time in Jeter’s tenure, the Panthers not only found themselves above the cellar in shooting, but in the top half of the conference.  This came largely from Anthony Hill’s high shooting percentage, which existed because Anthony Hill spent his senior year camped out underneath the basket.

Without Meier on the court, Haarsma is getting double-teamed, finding the offensive glass much more crowded, and the team as a whole is finding their driving lanes cut off far more often than they would if Meier were on the court.

Meier is a decent post player, but his outside shooting makes him a many-headed monster and a scary player to guard.  That makes it impossible for opponents to leave him open on the perimeter, because if they do he makes them pay.  And by bringing the defenders out to meet him, the Panthers find much more open lanes in which to drive.

To me, the answer is simple.  The team can either wait for Meier to heal, weather the stormy November and hope he comes back in December ready to go immediately, or they can find that #4 who can score on both the inside and outside.

Kyle Kelm is that guy.  He has a good outside shooting stroke, but he needs it to be more consistent if he’s going to help the team fix its major spacing issue.  This is why the SMSU game was so troubling; Kelm seemed more comfortable on the outside, yet he was almost forcing himself to play that four spot underneath as a prototypical power forward.

Kelm bulked up this offseason, this much is obvious.  His arms and legs are noticeably stronger, but that doesn’t mean he needs to camp out on the block like Ant Hill did.  On the contrary, it should only mean that when he is down low, he can use that extra strength to power through defenders.  It doesn’t mean he needs to spend any more time on the block.  If you are a perimeter-shooting power forward, by all means continue to be that player.  I don’t think anyone is arguing Steve Novak should have played more down low at Marquette.

Find the player who can draw opponents to the outside at the four position, and the Panthers will find the key they need to open up the offensive locked door.

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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 (February 15-21)

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: 6-22, Conference Record: 2-15, RPI: 291)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 67-66 (OT), Lost to Butler 79-52

With just one game left on the schedule for the Flames, it looks like a certainty they’ll finish last in the league for the tournament.  Their likely draw for the first round of the tournament will be Valpo or Butler who they are 0-3 against this season.  Projected Conference Finish: 2-16 (10th); no postseason

Up Next: Saturday at Valparaiso (18-9)

9. Youngstown State (7-18, 2-14, 272)

Recent Results: Lost to Detroit 91-79, Beat Bowling Green 83-76

The Penguins are toiling at 2-14 in conference, but they have two home games left, and I think they win at least one of them.  Projected Finish: 3-15 (9th); no postseason

Up Next: Thursday vs. Green Bay (12-16)

8. Loyola (15-13, 6-10, 213)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 67-66 (OT), Lost to St. Peters 71-67

The Ramblers only have one win against a Horizon League team in the top half of the conference.  They’re a below average team in an above average conference…  Projected Finish: 6-12 (8th); no postseason

Up Next: Thursday at Valparaiso (18-9)

7. Green Bay (12-16, 7-9, 190)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 64-62, Lost to Southern Illinois 61-60, Beat Valparaiso 81-80 (OT)

After losing two straight games to game winning baskets by the opposing team, you can imagine how hard Coach Brian Wardle’s heart was pumping in his chest when he found his team going to overtime against 11-4 Valparaiso.  This time, the Phoenix were on the other side of the drama; much to the delight of Milwaukee Panther fans everywhere.  Projected Finish: 7-11 (7th); no postseason

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

6. Detroit (14-15, 9-8, 159)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 91-79, Lost to Drake 84-76

Do you realize that the Titans have exactly TWO wins over teams in the RPI top 150 all year?!  They surprised Cleveland State earlier this month, but before that their only other decent win was on December 4th against Wright State.  Their last chance at another top-150 win comes on Friday at Wright State.  I don’t see it happening…   Projected Finish: 9-9 (6th); no postseason

Up Next: Friday at Wright State (16-12)

5. Wright State (16-12, 10-7, 111)

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

Wright State is still playing really good basketball.  After losing to Valpo, Butler, and Cleveland St. by a combined 12 points (two of them on the road), they then went out and crushed Hofstra.  Projected Finish: 11-7 (5th); no postseason

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

When it came down to it, Valparaiso couldn't close on a victory.

4. Valparaiso (18-9, 11-5, 48)

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

I had a hard time trying to decide what the order should be the rest of the way.  Valparaiso falls here due to their losses at Milwaukee and Green Bay.  Still, they beat a really good Missouri State team this past weekend.  Projected Finish: 13-5 (3rd); NIT

Up Next: Wednesday at Milwaukee (15-11)

3. Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5, 107)

Recent Results: Beat Valparaiso 79-76, Lost to Buffalo 80-65

Losing to Buffalo was expected in my opinion.  It was clear that the Panthers had nothing to play for in this game, and quite frankly, they had much more to lose.  They came out of the game with their best post player, Anthony Hill, injured with a “twisted ankle.”  They’ll need everyone at 100% to overcome Norris Cole and the Cleveland State Vikings.  If they can, only Youngstown State stands in their way for the league title.   Projected Finish: 12-6 (4th); CIT

Up Next: Thursday at Cleveland State (21-6)

Ronald Nored will do everything he can to get the Bulldogs back to the NCAA's.

2. Butler (19-9, 12-5, 49)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 64-62, Beat UIC 79-52

The Bulldogs will go into the tournament having won seven in a row and huge momentum towards the NCAA tournament.  A product of their weak schedule to end the season, Butler has a really good shot at at the coveted two seed, but they’ll need a little help, as well as a victory over Loyola. Projected Finish: 13-5 (2nd); NCAA Tournament Auto Bid

Up Next: Saturday vs. Loyola (15-13)

1. Cleveland State (21-6, 12-4, 35)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 64-62, Lost to Old Dominion 74-63

Losing to Old Dominion all but assures that the Vikings will need to win the HL Tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament.  Norris Cole will do everything in his power to make sure that happens.  Projected Finish: 14-4 (1st); NIT

Up Next: Thursday vs. Milwaukee (16-12)

Horizon League Power Rankings (January 25-31)

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (5-14, 1-10, 293)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 84-71, Lost to UIC 83-61

Ouch.  Getting beat by Loyola in the Gentile Center is expected.  Getting blown out by UIC is inexcusable.  The Penguins flat out laid an egg, and it will be tough for them to recover in a very competitive Horizon League.  Projected Conference Finish: 1-17 (Tied for 9th)

Up Next: Thursday at Butler (13-8)

9. UIC (Overall Record: 5-16, Conference Record: 1-9, RPI: 270)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 63-49, Beat Youngstown State 83-61

The Flames are officially off the schneid.  I expected them to beat Loyola at home, but not by the margin they did.  The rest of their schedule is tough, but a four game home stretch in mid-February could be the difference between 9th and 10th.  Projected Finish: 1-17 (Tied for 9th)

Up Next: Thursday at Detroit (10-12)

8. Loyola (13-9, 4-7, 199)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 84-71, Lost to Cleveland State 81-70

Well, here it is.  Now or never for the Ramblers.  These next five games are crucial for them to finish .500.  Realistically, they’ll need to win all five to do so.  I just don’t see that happening.  Projected Finish: 7-11 (8th)

Up Next: Thursday at Wright State (12-9)

Athletic dunks haven't translated to the win column for the Titans.

7. Detroit (10-12, 5-6, 184)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 72-67, Lost to Green Bay 85-74

33 turnovers in the last two games has Detroit reeling.  Detroit is the most athletic team in the Horizon League, but that hasn’t translated to the win-loss columns.  Fortunately there’s time to recover, but the schedule isn’t easy.  Projected Finish: 9-9 (Tied for 6th)

Up Next: Thursday vs. UIC (5-16)

6. Green Bay (11-11, 6-5, 142)

Recent Results: Lost to Wright State 63-61, Beat Detroit 85-74

Like Loyola, and every other middling team in the league, this is the stretch that will separate some teams.  They have a huge game at the U.S. Cellular Arena this week that will give them a leg up on Milwaukee, or cause them to fall behind a game and a half.  I expect what every rivalry game provides; a fight to the finish.  Projected Finish: 9-9 (Tied for 6th)

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

5. Milwaukee (12-11, 7-5, 117)

Recent Results: Beat Detroit 72-67, Beat Wright State 54-53

The Panthers are peaking, and they have a legitimate shot at the fourth best record in the Horizon League come season’s end.  They’ll have to do much of their damage away from home, however, as 4 of their last 6 games are in enemy territory.  They’ll need more of the same from seniors Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle.  Projected Finish: 11-7 (4th)

Up Next: Saturday vs. Green Bay (11-11)

4. Wright State (12-9, 7-4, 99)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 63-61, Lost to Milwaukee 54-53

Coming out of Wisconsin with a close win and a close loss should be a moral victory for the Raiders.  Playing without third leading scorer Troy Tabler and fourth leading scorer Cooper Land, their freshman got some welcome experience in conference play.  Projected Finish: 10-8 (5th)

Up Next: Thursday vs. Loyola (13-9)

3. Butler (13-8, 6-4, 43)

The Agro Crag? Wait, what?

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 85-79 (OT)

When the Bulldogs escaped the Gentile Center in early December with a 63-61 victory over the Ramblers, they probably never imagined it would be the difference between a winning record and .500 right now.  Little did they know, it would be the first game in the Agro Crag that is the Horizon League schedule this year.  Clearly, they haven’t taken kindly to playing with a “target” on their back all season, and an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament looks like an afterthought at this point.  Projected Finish: 13-5 (3rd)

Up Next: Thursday at Youngstown State (5-14)

2. Valparaiso (14-6, 8-2, 55)

Recent Results: Beat Butler 85-79 (OT)

I can’t stress enough how important the win over Butler was.  It gives them a huge leg up on a first round bye in the Horizon League tournament.  Their next game against Cleveland State is almost as important as the Butler game.  Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they’ll have to do it on the road.  Projected Finish: 14-4 (2nd)

Up Next: Thursday at Cleveland State (18-3)

1. Cleveland State (18-3, 9-2, 30)

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

The league title comes down to Thursday’s tilt with the Crusaders of Valparaiso.  At 9-2, the Vikings have a leg up on the Crusaders and a favorable schedule to boot.  But you never know, and that’s why they play the games folks.  Projected Finish: 15-3 (1st)

Up Next: Thursday vs. Valparaiso (14-6)

 

Horizon League Power Rankings (December 28 – January 3)

The Horizon League drop to 10th in Conference RPI this week.

Yet another strange week in the Horizon League.  Who’s #1 this week???

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (Overall Record: 5-7, Conference Record: 1-3, RPI: 245)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 71-69, Lost to Loyola 83-53

The Penguins squeaked one out against UIC at home, but were then crushed in the Beeghly Center by Loyola.  It’s really tough to forecast Youngstown’s next D-I win.  How many wins will they be able to pull out in the Horizon League?  Unfortunately, they don’t get to play UIC at home every week.

Up Next: Friday at Valparaiso (8-5)

9. UIC (4-10, 0-3, 217)

Recent Results: Lost to Youngstown State 71-69, Lost to Cleveland State 83-59

UIC is struggling right now.  They’ve lost 7 of their last 8, and if not for their upset over Illinois, they’d probably be sitting in last place in these power rankings.  Being within a possession of Youngstown State in Youngstown keeps them in 9th for now, but they’re definitely walking on thin ice.  Who knows when they’ll win their first Horizon League game…

Up Next: Thursday vs. Wright State (7-6)

Rahmon Fletcher is hoping to turn this season around for the young Phoenix

8. Green Bay (6-9, 1-3, 180)

Recent Results: Lost to Detroit 79-56, Lost to Wright State 67-64, Beat Houston Baptist 77-61

The Phoenix have beaten three sub-320 RPI teams so far this year, and haven’t looked particularly good in any of them.  Their best win of the year (arguably of course) was over 4-9 Miami (OH).  Single digit wins this season isn’t out of the question, but I have faith they’ll get 10.  This can’t be how Rahmon Fletcher or Bryquis Perine were hoping to end their college careers.

Up Next: Saturday vs. Milwaukee (8-8)

7. Detroit (7-7, 2-1, 206)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 79-56, Lost to Milwaukee 84-81

Apparently the Titans are going to try to win most games without the three-ball.  Detroit only gets 19.4% of their points from three point shots.  That’s tough in the Horizon League where you have a number of teams who are trying to bury you with the three ball.  On top of their lack of perimeter shooting, they’re a poor defensive team.  Ken Pomeroy is even a little confused as he labels their defense scheme as inconclusive.

Up Next: Thursday at Loyola (10-5)

Kaylon Williams is hoping that his buzzer beating shot in Detroit was the turning point for Milwaukee's season.

6. Milwaukee (8-8, 3-2, 135)

Recent Results: Lost to Wright State 68-44, Beat Detroit 84-81, Beat Butler 76-52

What a week for the Panthers!  They travel to Dayton to take on Wright State, only to be blown out by Vaughn Duggins and company.  Then they head north and knock off Detroit in overtime.  Finally, they head back home and absolutely demoralize Butler to end their 22 conference game win streak.  What the hell happened in between Wright State and Detroit!?  Kaylon Williams happened…  17 point against Detroit including the game-tying three pointer to send it to overtime, and a triple-double against Butler (10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 1 turnover!) shows that Kaylon is the difference maker on this team and it’s him, not Anthony Hill, that makes the Milwaukee offense go.

Up Next: Saturday at Green Bay (6-9)

5. Wright State (7-6, 2-1, 145)

Recent Results: Beat Milwaukee 68-44, Beat Green Bay 67-64

Thoroughly dismantling Milwaukee was the highlight to a great week for the Raiders.  Vaughn Duggins has been outstanding and the post play for Wright State has been up to the task so far.  It seems I may have underestimated their ability to defend a bit there… Oops!  The Raiders travel to Chicago for a couple of tough games this week.  We’ll see what they’re made of soon enough.

Up Next: Thursday at UIC (4-10)

4. Loyola (10-5, 1-3, 164)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 73-55, Beat Youngstown State 83-53

Another team with a turbulent week as Loyola has yet to prove they are among the upper echelon of teams in the Horizon League.  I’d be shocked to see them get to 20 wins this year, but they have a good shot at 18.  They’ll really need to prove that they’re capable of beating solid teams.  Six of their wins this year have come against teams with a sub-280 RPI, and their best win came against 6-6 Western Michigan.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Detroit (7-7)

3. Valparaiso (8-5, 2-1, 70)

Recent Results: Beat Ball State 69-52, Lost to Butler 76-59

Valpo had two really nice wins in a row over Oakland and then Ball State.  Then they followed it up with a dud against Butler.  I still like the Crusaders for third in the conference though.  Unfortunately, for them, I don’t see it getting any better than that.

Up Next: Friday vs. Youngstown State (5-7)

2. Butler (9-5, 2-1, 18)

Recent Results: Beat Valpo 76-59, Lost to Milwaukee 76-52

What a shame the let down in Milwaukee was for the Bulldogs.  It really hurts their chances at an at-large bid and puts serious doubt into their minds for Friday’s huge matchup against Cleveland State.  Milwaukee really played a nearly flawless game, but Butler really didn’t show up to play.  I’d be shocked if we didn’t see Butler looking to avenge their loss on Monday with a home court win over the Vikings.

Up Next: Friday vs. Cleveland State (13-1)

1. Cleveland State (13-1, 4-0, 27)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 73-55, Beat UIC 83-59

And earn their keep they have.  The Vikings had no problem dispatching of their Chicago based foes this week and it all sets up for a huge matchup at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday.  Coach Gary Waters has his guys playing extremely efficient basketball.  We’ll see who the king of the conference is come Friday…

Up Next: Friday at Butler (9-5)

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 (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)