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)

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Horizon League Power Rankings (Nov. 29 – Dec. 5)

Following this week, the Horizon league has the 7th highest RPI of any conference in the land; between the SEC and Conference USA.

This week marked the early start of conference play and it shook up our power rankings something fierce.  Could Cleveland State and Loyola continue their torrid starts to the season?  Could Butler get revenge in their rematch against Duke?  Would upstart Youngstown State fall back to earth?  All these questions were answered this week; see who’s up and who’s down in our weekly power rankings!

In descending order…

Duke stuffs Butler's upset bid...

 

10. UIC (Record: 3-5, RPI: 241)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 68-66, Lost to Akron 54-52

Hard to move up these power rankings if you can’t win.  The best thing to say about UIC’s two losses this past week is that they were fighting to the end in both.  It took overtime for Valpo to outlast Robo Kreps and the Flames on Thursday, and they lost the lead with less than 20 seconds to go against Akron on Saturday.

Up Next: Saturday at Illinois State (6-2)

9. Youngstown State (4-3, 208)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 76-67, Lost to Green Bay 74-59

The Penguins had been off to their best start since 2000.  All was well in Eastern Ohio; that is at least until they made their first conference road trip to Wisconsin. Devonte Maymon certainly was able to talk the talk in his “homecoming”, but Milwaukee and Green Bay did a little more of the walking.  The good news is they’ll get a couple weeks off of conference play to iron out their shortcomings.

Up Next: Saturday at Robert Morris (3-4)

8. Wright State (2-5, 195)

Recent Results: Lost to Cincinnati 76-69, Lost to Detroit 78-69

The Raiders are in the midst of a tough non-conference schedule that doesn’t get much easier this week.  Losses to Cincinnati and Detroit were expected, but still, disheartening.  Coach Billy Donlon NEEDS to get more physical post play from his “big” men if the Raiders hope to finish close to .500 in conference play.  Being 342nd in rebounding in the nation isn’t going to get you very far in this league…

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Air Force (5-1)

7. Milwaukee (4-5, 166)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 76-67, Lost to Cleveland State 82-59

The Panthers are really struggling to find their identity right now.  They’ve been the most inconsistent team in the Horizon League so far.  One game they’re outlasting Youngstown State behind clutch free throws and sound decision making.  The next they’re giving up with 30 minutes left in the game.  If Coach Rob Jeter can’t turn this talented enigma into a more consistent competitor, then he will likely feel a significant amount of heat from donors wondering if their money is being well spent.  Still, after 9 games into the season, the Panthers have a lot of time to turn it around.

Up Next: Wednesday at Wisconsin

6. Green Bay (3-4, 98)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 83-75, Beat Youngstown State 74-59

See Panthers, Milwaukee.  The Phoenix haven’t been able to put together back to back wins so far this season.  If they can get the Rahmon Fletcher that showed up against Youngstown State in very game, it won’t be long before that happens.  When Fletcher can stay out of foul trouble, he’s as good a point guard as there is in the Horizon League.  But he’s no good to Green Bay when his butt is on the bench.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Duquesne (3-3)

5. Detroit (4-4, 183)

Recent Results: Lost to Akron 77-69, Beat Wright State 78-69

The Titans have shown flashes of brilliance early on in the season, but it’s taking them awhile to get used to playing together.  They’ve been able to score in bunches at time with the help of dominant rebounding margins, and Eli Holman has been an Horizon League Player of the Year candidate since day one.  However, Coach Ray McCallum needs his guards to pick and choose their spots.  When one is having an off-day shooting, their shots need to be limited.  Chase Simon can’t be taking 23 and 26 shots, as he did against Mississippi State and Albany, and only making 8.  But, once this team gets into midseason form, they have a chance to make some noise in March.

Up Next: Wednesday at Western Michigan

4. Loyola (7-2, 182)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 65-63, Lost to Valparaiso 66-56

The Ramblers played their hearts out against the Nored-less Butler Bulldogs, but they came up empty.  Three days later, they couldn’t answer an 11-0 run by Valpo and suffered their second loss in a row.  This type of behavior has become a trend for Loyola dating back to last year.  They’ve done really well against non-conference opponents but struggled mightily against conference foes.  If Chicago Now writer John Templon’s early efficiency margins are any indication, Loyola’s conference struggles won’t end soon.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. SIU-Edwardsville

3. Valparaiso (4-2, 31)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 68-66, Beat Loyola 66-56

After an injury-riddled start to the season, Coach Homer Drew has his guys playing good basketball as we get into December.  Two early conference victories has to be a good feeling for senior F Cory Johnson.  The Duluth, MN native has led his team to 4 straight victories behind very efficient shooting.  The Crusaders have a great shot at winning 4 of their next 5 games before returning to conference play against Butler.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Purdue (#18, 7-1)

2. Butler (3-3, 37)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 65-63, Lost to Duke 82-70

The Bulldogs were without their point guard Ronald Nored earlier in the week due to a concussion he suffered in the win over Siena, but it didn’t matter as Butler outlasted Loyola in Chicago.  Three days later, the Bulldogs would have their chance at revenge as they traveled to East Rutherford, NJ to face the Duke Blue Devils.  It wasn’t meant to be however, as Duke defeated the Bulldogs 82-70.  This week reminded us how mentally tough Coach Brad Stevens’ players are.  I would expect nothing less than a Horizon League final game for Butler.

Norris Cole is focused on the NCAA Tournament. Do you dare doubt him?

Up Next: Thursday at Xavier (5-2)

1. Cleveland State (9-0, 17)

Recent Results: Beat Green Bay 83-75, Beat Milwaukee 82-59

The Horizon League’s visibility (thanks largely to Butler) and the Vikings outstanding play has put them at #31 in the AP Top 25 and #33 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll.  Also, Cleveland State is #1 in CollegeInsider.com’s Mid Major Top 25 poll ahead of the likes of Gonzaga, Old Dominion, St. Mary’s and Butler.   Norris Cole has been the biggest reason why Cleveland State has been so dominant, and he is the early favorite for the Horizon League’s POY.  Expect a nationally ranked and undefeated Cleveland State team to travel to West Virginia on December 18th to give the Mountaineers all they can handle…

Up Next: Tuesday vs. West Virginia Tech

Catch-and-Shoot Monday

Jay Harris is preparing for D-I at Valpo.

– Mark Lazerus of the NWI Times has word on Jay Harris’ preparation for the Valpo trip to Cancun.

– Andy Katz of ESPN.com discusses the fallout from Matt Brady and James Madison University’s failed lawsuit against Marist.

– The NCAA is banning schools from hiring search firms that hook them up with coaches if those firms also handle recruits. The Pump brothers look like a couple of the biggest names hit here.  But let’s be honest, the Chump brothers were part of the ticket-scalping scandals at the Final Four in the early 2000’s as well as with the Kansas Jayhawks earlier this year.

– Colorado State AD Paul Kowalczyk had surgery to remove his cancerous prostate.  Best wishes to the Captain of the Rams.

– Billy Donlon and Brian Gregory, the head coaches of the two D-I programs in Dayton, give their take on developing post players in the mid-major world to the Dayton Daily News.

– Tom Enlund continues his awesome work for the Journal-Sentinel, highlighting Milwaukee’s trip to Italy.

Scheduling takes flight

Flenard Whitfield and the Western Michigan Broncos come to the Klotsche Center for the 2010 Throwback game

Over the past few years, schools in the Horizon League have bolstered the conference’s reputation nationally, mainly based on performance in the NCAA Tournament.  However, the conference’s RPI seems stuck outside the top 10, which is the barometer the big boys in BCS auto-bid conferences use to determine if other conferences are worthy of their attention.

How do we do it?  Getting better is just part of it.  There are two things that have needed to change: teams need to schedule tougher, and they need to win those tougher games.  The fact is, when you lose to tougher teams, your RPI and reputation don’t get hurt as badly as if you lost to St. Francis (it doesn’t matter which one, Youngstown).  If you win those games, that’s when you start boosting your RPI big time, which in turn leads to multiple bids for the conference, which leads to more Cleveland State over Wake Forests and Milwaukee over Oklahomas.

Most Horizon League schools, sadly, don’t get this.  Until this year, thankfully, I had to count Milwaukee among those who schedule D-II regular season games, low-majors in home-and-homes, and the ridiculous 4-for-1, of which we essentially have two.  This season, however, we’ve turned it around.  You know who has had their act together the whole time?  Wright State.

Billy Donlon's Raiders put together a great schedule for 2010-11.

There’s no coincidence that Wright State, despite being a bad rebounding team, has finished as high as they have for many years.  It’s because they test themselves in the non-conference season.  Today in the Pro-Am, Ricky Franklin looked as though his last game against Butler was five years ago.  Why?  Because he’s been playing with NBA talent all summer, and that in turn picked his game up tremendously.  Wright State understands this, and they do not shy away from scheduling difficult games with both high-majors and mid-majors.

Kyle Nagel of the Dayton Daily News (where’s Marc Katz?) wrote an article in today’s paper discussing the Raiders’ non-conference schedule.  Plainly put, it’s excellent.  There’s a hefty amount of tests, a couple easy wins and one potential blowout.  Of the seven games, they have eight potential opponents.  I’ll be breaking them down Cold Stone style:

Like it: Southern, Air Force, Southern Illinois.  With SU, the Raiders get an easy home win to kick off the season.  Air Force is a name school, but one Wright State will easily beat.  Southern Illinois will prove to be a more difficult game, but like Air Force is a name everybody knows; my favorite College Gameday was at SIU.

Love it: Purdue, Oakland, Charlotte.  It’s not just about getting a test, but a test you can win.  Wright State can absolutely beat Purdue, and I hope they get the opportunity, but the possibility of our reigning #2 walking out of Chicago with a 20+ point drubbing is definitely there.  Oakland is just a great game.  With their center back in the fold after testing NBA waters, the Raiders will get a great test game for their run-ins with big front lines at Milwaukee, Loyola and Detroit.  Charlotte is an awesome program with a recognizable name (hint, those of you who prefer UW-Milwaukee, Charlotte is a big name, UNC-Charlotte is not) that fans at the Nutter will enjoy.

Gotta Have It: Richmond, Cincinnati.  What’s not to love about Richmond?  They’re an A-10 program oozing with history, a program that people across the country recognize, and they flat-out win.  After Purdue, this is most likely their toughest game (although Oakland will be damn good), but Richmond is beatable, especially if the Raiders get off to one of their signature bucket-is-an-ocean shooting binges.  Cincinnati is even more so an AWESOME game for the Raiders.  Not only is this a winnable game, but it’s a BCS school in their home state, a 2-for-1 series with a power conference school that doesn’t fill their arena just an hour down the road.  Pack the house in Cincinnati, Raiders.  Pack the house.  A Nut away from Nut, perhaps.

When it all comes down to it, Wright State’s schedule as it stands is the perfect mix of easy games, road tests and difficult-but-winnable contests.

Brandon Wood and the Crusaders got smothered at the Breslin.

We have schools that are scheduling too difficult for their own good.  What does Valpo get out of games with Purdue, Michigan State, and North Carolina?  Sure, the UNC game was ONLY an 11-point loss, but getting drubbed in the other games did not help them prepare for Horizon League competition.  Those games were just lessons in how to lose confidence.

Loyola, on the other hand, is a school that schedules too easy to get anything good out of it.  The school needs real tests, and there are always too few of them on the schedule to get real experience for their players.  Look, Loyola isn’t going to get better by scheduling an easy non-conference docket.  The Ramblers started the season 9-1 in non-conference play.  This was the best record of all Horizon League teams in the non-conference season.  The Ramblers went on to win 5 conference games and finish 8th.  How’d they do it?  Weak scheduling.  Sure, Kansas State is a great team.  But like Valpo, they got their teeth kicked in and got nothing out of the experience.  Bradley and Western Michigan were the only other two teams sniffing the top 150 in RPI, with the Braves at 100 and WMU at 151.

The Rambler plays UT-Pan American twice this year. Yup.

Both were excellent games, and guess what: both were followed by blowout victories.  Loyola has got to realize that in the future, games like their current one season home-and-home with UT-Pan American do the team exactly zero favors.  Fans don’t want to see the game at the Genital, the RPI doesn’t get help even with a blowout victory, and no respect can be gained by beating them.  The fact is that teams that get tested get better; schoolchildren aren’t just given tests to see how their teachers are doing, the tests are designed to help them get better.  And the non-conference schedule is the same for college basketball programs.  Test your team, and they get better.  Let them skip class, their grades will suffer.

So there are opposite ends of the spectrum that don’t truly work for the Horizon League; Valpo’s drubbings don’t help, and Loyola’s low-major and D-II wins don’t do them any favors.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: take a leaf out of Wright State’s book and learn how to schedule, people!

Catch-and-Shoot

This is the first PantherU Catch-and-Shoot, which will come out every two days and is a gathering of links, on which we in the information age love to click, about the programs in the Horizon League.

– Potential Milwaukee recruit Shaq Boga continues to shine on the AAU circuit, dishing out enough dimes for 3rd place in assists at the prestigious Peach Jam Tournament.

– Lindsey Willhite from the Chicago Daily-Herald had more information and commentary on Jimmy Collins’ departure.

– Shannon Ryan from the Chicago Tribune says that Collins plans on “relaxing for awhile”.

– Wright State picked up its second commitment for the 2011 class, 6’5” shooting guard Kendall Griffin from Avon, Indiana.  Julius Mays, the N.C. State transfer, was the first.  Griffin cited close proximity to home and WSU’s Setzer Pavilion as reasons he picked the Raiders.  Aside from coach Donlon, of course.

– RaiderFanatic from the WSU Proboard found this video of Griffin canning a three. Don’t get your hopes up to really break down his shooting stroke, the footage is shorter than William Henry Harrison’s presidential term.

– As you can probably tell, Paul Jesperson did not commit to the Panthers last night.  The Merrill star will ply his trade at UVA.

– Paul Oren of the NWI Times was there as Valpo resumed practice. They’ll be headed to Cancun for their international trip. No word on whether or not coach Drew will appear in the new Girls Gone Wild video.

– Butler has added Mississippi Valley State to its non-conference home slate. MVSU, like the other non-conference home games, will be a Saturday afternoon game.  Like days at Wrigley, I think the Saturday afternoon game at Butler is becoming a staple of the Horizon League.  I’ve gone to several of those games myself, and there’s nothing quite like it.

– Speaking of Butler, they offered Georgian Malcolm Brogdon following the Peach Jam.  Dave Woods at the Indy Star thinks he “sounds like a Ronald Nored who is a scorer.” All right, Dave, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I don’t believe that C&S will be a daily thing, because frankly, other media tend to not come out with info daily on Horizon League schools.  For instance, the Green Bay Press-Gazette has nothing on the Phoenix since July 2nd, although that could be because Rob Demovsky is on vacation.