Horizon League Power Rankings (January 11-17)

The Horizon League holds steady at 11th in Conference RPI this week.

This week, we have a new leader atop the power rankings for the fourth time this year.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 4-14, Conference Record: 0-7, RPI: 263)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 87-75, Lost to Green Bay 74-50

With another week comes another winless streak.  To add insult to injury, junior guard Zavion Neely, was ruled academically ineligible for the spring semester.  This is a huge blow to a team already seemingly short at guard.

Up Next: Saturday at Loyola (11-8)

9. Youngstown State (5-10, 1-6, 243)

Recent Results: Beat Wilberforce 86-51, Lost to Cleveland State 61-51

The Penguins are clearly in the bottom tier of this league that includes only UIC.  At this point, they should be focused on the guys who will be key contributors next year and developing them to be contenders in this league.  Right now, that’s not what the Penguins are.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Wright State (10-7)

8. Loyola (11-8, 2-6, 187)

Recent Results: Lost to Green Bay 71-68, Beat Milwaukee 71-65

At this point, you can probably interchange Loyola with any of the next three teams on this list.  They played Green Bay close at the Resch Center, then went into the Cell and took down the Panthers.  Winning in Milwaukee was huge, because they should be able to manufacture a nice little winning streak here traveling to UIC and Youngstown State.

Up Next: Saturday vs. UIC (4-14)

7. Milwaukee (9-10, 4-4, 149)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 87-75, Lost to Loyola 71-65

If their recent stretch of games is any indicator, they’ll probably beat Valpo and then lose to Butler.  In their last 10 games, they’ve alternated wins and losses with not even a 2 game streak of consistency.  They could really use a little of that senior leadership that departed when Ricky Franklin graduated.

Up Next: Friday at Valparaiso (12-5)

Alec Brown has a bright future in Title Town.

6. Green Bay (9-9, 4-3, 161)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 71-68, Beat UIC 74-50

Green Bay is getting better, which is more you can say for any of the teams below them in the rankings.  If not for Ray McCallum, Alec Brown might be the Freshman of the Year in the Horizon League.  On top of that, Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Perine have stepped their game up.

Up Next: Friday at Butler (12-6)

5. Detroit (9-9, 4-3, 178)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 87-64, Lost to Valparaiso 78-68

Butler showed the Titans just how tough life is without Eli Holman.  Butler’s forwards outscored Detroit’s 48-9.  The Titans would be an afterthought in the Horizon League without their big man in the middle.  Ray McCallum didn’t care much for Ronald Nored’s defense either (3 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers).

Up Next: Thursday at Cleveland State (14-3)

4. Wright State (10-7, 5-2, 105)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 71-60, Beat Butler 69-64

The Raiders are serious contenders in the Horizon League.  Losing to Valpo was tough, but they rebounded quite nicely against Butler at home.  They’ll follow that up though with four straight road games including Cleveland State and Milwaukee, who they have a really hard time with in US Cellular Arena.

Up Next: Friday at Youngstown State (5-10)

3. Butler (12-6, 5-2, 26)

Recent Results: Beat Detroit 87-64, Lost to Wright State 69-64

The Bulldogs went out and did exactly what I said they shouldn’t.  They lost to a team they should beat.  They are now behind Valparaiso AND Wright State in the standings and if the season ended today, they’d find themselves without a first round bye.  Fortunately for them there’s over a month yet to play, but they’ll have a target on their back the entire time.  

Up Next: Friday vs. Green Bay (9-9)

2. Cleveland State (14-3, 5-2, 27)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 61-51

The Vikings have a favorable league schedule the rest of the season.  They’ll play Valpo and Butler at home and their next four games are either at home or against bottom dwellers.  Norris Cole very well could be the Horizon League player of the year.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Detroit (9-9)

Homer Drew and the Valpo Crusaders were a great addition to the Horizon League.

1. Valparaiso (12-5, 6-1, 48)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 61-50, Beat Detroit 78-68

Can you believe that the Crusaders are the BEST defensive team in the Horizon League?  No team has improved their defense more from last season to this, and it’s a credit to coach Homer Drew.  John Templon of ChicagoNOW goes into detail here.  All hail the Crusaders!

Up Next: Friday vs. Milwaukee (9-10)

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Horizon League Power Rankings (January 4-10)

The Horizon League dropped again to 11th in Conference RPI this week.

There’s no doubt the Horizon League is as good talent-wise as it’s ever been, and this past week, we saw that in the results.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 4-12, Conference Record: 0-5, RPI: 255)

Recent Results: Lost to Wright State 71-63, Lost to Detroit 72-69

Five games into the conference schedule and UIC is winless.  When will their first win come?  Three upcoming road games make it seem likely it won’t be any time soon.  In new coach Howard Moore’s first year, the talent level just isn’t there yet.  There are pieces in place, however, that should give UIC fans some hope for the future.

Up Next: Thursday at Milwaukee (8-9)

9. Youngstown State (5-9, 1-5, 245)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 79-55, Lost to Butler 84-79

The Penguins were just a couple of possessions short of a major upset over Butler on Sunday.  While Youngstown State is clearly not the most talented team in the Horizon League, they obviously have enough to make any game interesting.  However, it will be tough sledding for them up until the end of January.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Wilberforce

Coach Jim Whitesell desperately needs some Horizon League victories.

8. Loyola (10-7, 1-7, 197)

Recent Results: Lost to Detroit 83-71, Lost to Wright State 58-41

New year…Same results.  Loyola just can’t seem to replicate their non-conference success when the conference portion of the schedule comes around.  Much of this comes from the fact that the teams in the Horizon League are MUCH better than most of the teams they’re playing in the non-conference games.  Coach Jim Whitesell isn’t doing his Ramblers any favors by preparing them for a low-major conference schedule.  This is the Horizon League, not the MEAC!

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

7. Green Bay (7-9, 2-3, 166)

Recent Results: Beat Milwaukee 69-64

Beating in-state rival Milwaukee on their home floor is always a nice feeling for Green Bay, but the true test will be whether or not they can avoid a letdown against the two Chicago teams this week.  This part of the schedule provides the Phoenix with a nice opportunity to get some conference wins before heading to Indiana to take on Butler and Valpo.  Senior leaders Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Perine came up huge against Milwaukee.

Up Next: Thursday vs. Loyola (10-7)

6. Milwaukee (8-9, 3-3, 135)

Recent Results: Lost to Green Bay 69-64

Much like Green Bay, the Panthers will host the two Chicago teams this week and look to pad the conference record before traveling to Indiana.  Losing to rival Green Bay was a bit of a disappointment for coach Rob Jeter’s team, but they’ll look ahead to UIC for what they hope will be a blowout win.  If they’re upset by the Flames, watch the Panthers slide back down this list…

Up Next: Thursday vs. UIC (4-12)

5. Detroit (9-7, 4-1, 155)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 83-71, Beat UIC 72-69

The Titans did well to sweep the Chicago teams this week as it puts them atop the league in a tie for first place.   Unfortunately for Detroit, they’ll be without star big man Eli Holman as he was suspended for one game by the league for his involvement in a scuffle with UIC forward Brad Birton in their most recent game.  This is a huge blow for a team looking to shut down Matt Howard and Butler’s potent offense.

Up Next: Friday vs. Butler (11-5)+

N'Gai Evans is leading his team to the top of the Horizon League.

4. Wright State (9-6, 4-1, 145)

Recent Results: Beat UIC 71-63, Beat Loyola 58-41

Who’s the hottest team in the Horizon League?  That’s right… It’s the Wright State Raiders who’ve won 7 of their last 8 games.  The Raiders will get a major test this week though as they host both Valpo and Butler.  Can N’Gai Evans continue his outstanding point guard play and push Wright State ahead of Valpo on this list?  We’ll find out Friday…

Up Next: Friday vs. Valparaiso (10-5)

3. Valparaiso (10-5, 4-1, 58)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 79-55, Beat Cleveland State 64-58

The Crusaders are rolling.   They took care of business at home against Cleveland State to keep them tied atop the Horizon League.  Senior guard Howard Little is doing much of the dirty work, and coach Homer Drew has a good thing going.  The key will be if they can at least split in their four games against Butler and Cleveland State.   So far, so good…

Up Next: Friday at Wright State (9-6)

2. Cleveland State (13-3, 4-2, 30)

Recent Results: Lost to Butler 79-56, Lost to Valparaiso 64-58

This is not what the Vikings had hoped for.  In what they knew would be a tough week, they wanted to prove their mettle traveling to Indiana to take on their two biggest challengers in the Horizon League race this year.  Fortunately they’ll have a chance at redemption in about a month, but until then, the Penguins await.

Up Next: Saturday at Youngstown State (5-9)

1. Butler (11-5, 4-1, 26)

Recent Results: Beat Cleveland State 79-56, Beat Youngstown State 84-79

Butler is a vulnerable team this year, and there’s certainly no guarantee they’ll win the conference.  Beating Cleveland State put them in the right direction, but they’ll need to continue to take care of business against 4-1 Detroit.  At this point, it would be hard to put the Bulldogs in the tournament should they lose in the HL tournament.  They’ll need to avoid more performances like those against Milwaukee and Youngstown State.

Up Next: Friday at Detroit (9-7)

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

Horizon League Power Rankings (Week 1)

Following the first full week of college basketball action, it seems like a good time to begin the weekly Horizon League Power Rankings.  After about a week and a half of play, the Horizon League comes in at 19-12, which doesn’t include the Non-Division I opponents because, well, those wins just don’t tell us a whole lot.

You’ll find that after the first week and a half some surprise teams occupy spots near the top and bottom of the league.

In descending order…

10. Valparaiso (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Indiana-Northwest 111-64, Lost to Kansas 79-44, Beat Purdue-North Central 98-44

One of two teams in the league without a Division I win, the Crusaders have shown that they have an explosive offense.  Holding Kansas under 80 is, at worst, a moral victory.  The question is: do the Crusaders have the capable bigs to keep up with the Eli Holmans of the Horizon League?  Giving up 34 points to Kansas’ Morris twins isn’t a good sign.  Coach Homer Drew is hoping that F Cory Johnson can come back quickly from plantar fasciitis in his foot and be a factor on the offensive AND defensive end come conference play.  Don’t expect to see Valpo in this spot as early as next week.

Up Next: Tuesday at Ohio

9. Detroit (1-2)

Recent Results: Lost to New Mexico 63-54, Lost to Syracuse 66-55, Beat Indiana Tech 93-62

Don't expect to see this talented trio so low in the power rankings again...

The Titans are the other team without a Division I victory.  Though they lost their first two games of the season, they showed signs of being a very good defensive team.  Eli Holman has been an absolute beast early on with averages of 17.7 PPG, 10 RPG and shooting 59% from the field.  I don’t expect Detroit to toil in the bottom half of the league for long as their schedule becomes far less difficult following their game in Starksville tonight.

Up Next: Monday at Mississippi State

8. Wright State (Record: 2-1)

Recent Results: Lost 67-44 to Indiana, Beat Northwood 75-55, Beat Southern 66-43

The Raiders have experience at the guard position, which is the main reason it would be no surprise to see them finish in the top 6 of the league.  However, since they’ve only played three games, they only have one win against a Division I opponent, and were destroyed on the boards by Indiana.  Their achilles all season will be their lack of depth and size up front, but as long as Vaughn Duggins is in the game, the Raiders have a chance.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Oakland

7. Green Bay (2-2)

Recent Results: Beat Minnesota-Duluth 75-36, Lost to Marquette 89-69, Lost to San Diego State 79-70, Beat Miami (OH)

The Phoenix showed their potential in the first 10 minutes against San Diego State, but completely imploded in the final 30.  A lack of depth on the roster could come to haunt them as it did in a grueling battle against the Aztecs, but the talent is there.  Troy Snyder has been a pleasant surprise, and senior guards Bryquis Perine and Rahmon Fletcher will give the Phoenix an chance in every game, evidenced by their victory over the Redhawks of Miami.

Up Next: Monday vs. IUPUI

6. Youngstown State (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Samford 64-61, Beat Buffalo 64-53, Lost to Akron 91-84

The Penguins have probably peaked in our power rankings, but their victories over Samford and Buffalo are solid wins.  There are so many unknowns with the Penguins, but one thing is for sure, the new group of guys are not quitters.  Devonte Maymon has been a pleasant surprise so far, and Vytas Sulskis has been the veteran presence they need.  The news isn’t all good.  The Penguins are not well suited to sustain the success over a grueling conference schedule.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Toledo

5. UIC (3-2)

Recent Results: Lost to Pitt 97-54, Beat Roosevelt 94-54, Beat Toledo 57-51, Lost to Charleston 78-66, Beat Rhode Island 74-68

After an uninspiring first four games of the year, the Flames posted a very impressive victory over the Rams of Rhode Island.  Expect an up and down first season for Coach Howard Moore as he tries to figure out who will stick around next year.  Forming rotations with a bunch of guys who you’ve only known for a couple months has to be incredibly difficult, but fortunately for Coach Moore, he has veterans Robo Kreps, Zavion Neely, and Paul Carter at his disposal.  The Flames will be a tough opponent for any Horizon League team.

Up Next: Wednesday vs. Central Michigan

4. Milwaukee (3-2)

Recent Results: Lost to Portland 80-60, Lost to Florida Atlantic 85-76, Beat UC-Davis 73-62, Beat Niagara 90-73, Beat Northern Iowa 65-63

A lackluster start to the year could have put the Panthers at or near the bottom of these power rankings.  But after a couple of really solid wins, things are looking up in Milwaukee.  Tone Boyle has found his stroke, and the Panthers have gotten a ton of energy from sophomore G Lonnie Boga and newcomer Ryan Allen.  Milwaukee has a tough week ahead, but against an extremely athletic Marquette team, their depth COULD be the key to a monumental upset.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Western Michigan

3. Butler (2-1)

Recent Results: Beat Marian (Ind.) 83-54, Lost to Louisville 88-73, Beat Ball State 88-55

Bulldog fans are hoping Shelvin Mack doesn't have to shoulder all the burden in their march towards madness.

This might be the lowest you’ll see Butler all year, but there are some legitimate concerns with this team.  Their loss at Louisville should absolutely not be considered a bad loss, but it revealed that this team might struggle to find scoring at times.  If Matt Howard can’t stay out of trouble, Butler is essentially putting all their hopes on Shelvin Mack to score.  My bet is that someone (Shawn Vanzant?) will emerge to be a consistent threat on the wing opposite Mack, so no need to panic…yet.

Up Next: Tuesday at Siena

2. Cleveland State (5-0)

Recent Results: Beat Bryant 71-57, Beat Iona 78-68, Beat Kent State 69-66, Beat Urbana 83-49, Beat Louisiana-Lafayette 60-55

The first of two undefeated teams in the Horizon League, the Vikings are fully capable of continuing that trend through the first 12 games of their season.  Behind spectacular point guard play from senior Norris Cole, Cleveland State hopes to pile up non-conference wins in a fairly weak non-conference schedule.  The Vikings have gotten quality minutes from junior F Aaron Pogue and have all the potential to be the last time standing come conference tournament time.

Up Next: Tuesday at Akron

1. Loyola (5-0)

Recent Results: Beat Eastern Kentucky 73-57, Beat Indiana State 86-74, Beat UT-Pan Am 79-57, Beat Eastern Illinois 73-62, Beat Western Michigan 82-64

The Ramblers’ schedule is littered with weaker non-conference opponents, but you simply cannot dismiss Loyola’s average margin of victory so far.   On average, the Ramblers have beaten their opponent by 15.8 points per game.  That is remarkable against any 5 opponents, and when looking further into what’s behind their success…why is everyone so surprised?  Returning their entire starting lineup from a year ago has been key to their success early as Jordan Hicks has been a man among boys with a true shooting percentage of 71.5%.

Up Next: Monday vs. Alcorn State

Catch and Shoot – Tuesday

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

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

Could this be the future home of a doubleheader?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Impact Rookie Guards

Ever year, the Horizon League gets bigger.  On the Sweet 16 Panther team in 2005, Adrian Tigert was playing center at 6’7” a majority of his time on the floor.  This season, Tigert might get mugged if he were to go down low with big men like Eli Holman, Anthony Hill, Andy Polka and Andrew Smith.  The players aren’t always taller, but they’re bigger bodies, wider and stronger.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the Horizon League has always been a guard-dominated league.  I’ve made the argument that this may be the best collective back court in the history of the conference, and I stand behind that.  Not only is the returning guard corp very strong, but newcomers entering the conference are also of very high quality.  Let’s take a look at five rookie guards that will make an impact in the Horizon League.

Calliste is the Pepperoni Pizza Combo guard

Jason Calliste sat on the bench last season while he watched the Detroit Titans rattle off 20 wins, challenge Butler in two games, and ultimately finish seventh in the Horizon League.  Calliste averaged 24 points and 11 assists as a senior at the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Growing up in Canada, Calliste honed his skills as a guard by taking thousands of shots and working on passing skills.  Calliste, more than any of the newcomers, embodies the “combo” guard (How appropriate, I just polished off a bag of pepperoni pizza combos). Calliste can run the fast break and a set half-court offense, which should allow Titans coach Ray McCallum Sr. the opportunity to give Ray McCallum Jr. a rest running the point.

McCallum comes into the conference with much fan fare

Ray McCallum Jr. is coming into the league with easily the most fan fare.  While he’s an incoming freshman and not an established college guard like Kaylon Williams, McCallum comes in with quite possibly the most fan fare of any player of Horizon League history.  Fans of the conference will remember the attention Butler got when Gordon Hayward turned down big-time schools for his chance with the Bulldogs, but McCallum’s hype far outstrips even that.  The fact of the matter is that McCallum wouldn’t even have thought of Detroit had his father not been the coach there, and with that comes expectations for him to blow away competition.  His ability to run the point is proven, and he can score from anywhere on the court.  Pairing him with Calliste will more than make up for the departure of Xavier Keeling and graduation of Woody Payne, and making Chase Simon, Detroit’s leading returning scorer, effectively a third heat.

Jay Harris joins an already high-powered Valpo offense.

While Ray Jr. is coming into Detroit as a highly regarded recruit, another top 150 player settled in down a state in Indiana.  Jay Harris is one of the highest-rated players to come into coach Homer Drew’s Valparaiso team in a long time, but many outside of northwest Indiana don’t even know it because Harris was outshined by the commitment of Ray Jr.  Starring for Oswego East in Illinois, Harris averaged a rocking 28.7 points per game for his senior season.

The intriguing thing about Harris is that he is such a high-scoring guard, and he’ll be entering the highest-powered offense in the Horizon League.  There’s not a lot of space to throw the ball along, with Cory Johnson among league leaders in scoring and Brandon Wood atop the list.  If there’s anything you should take to the bank, it is that the Crusaders walk into the 2010-11 season as the odds on favorites to score the most points, and Harris is a big part of that.

Hopkins, flying into a hoop near you.

Butler fans don’t have to go too far to find the home of incoming guard recruit Chrishawn Hopkins, who is a native of the city and attended Manual High School.  Hopkins struggles with defense, and will benefit from the Bulldog coaching staff’s defensive mentality.  If Hopkins can reduce his turnovers, Shelvin Mack will pass the torch to him whenever Mack finally heads to the NBA.  Hopkins will, however, be thrown into the mix early in his college career, and likely will be a part of the Butler rotation.  He’s extremely athletic, can play above the rim, shoots very well from three-point land (42%) and is a numbers junkie; he averaged three blocks and three steals his senior season to go along with 26 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  He won’t be shouldering the whole load while a freshman, but it’s good for Butler fans to know they have great scoring coming to campus to offset Gordon Hayward’s departure.

Butler fans will remember Williams, who only played 19 minutes in this blowout loss at Hinkle.

The problem with all of these incoming recruits is that we don’t know how they’ll react to the college game.  Many players turn out to be busts because they can’t adjust to the speed of the game, or the complexity.  The difference with the last player on our list is we know he’s ready for the big show.  Kaylon Williams, who transferred into Milwaukee this season, spent last year at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.  The year before that, he teamed up with James Haarsma (sitting out this year at MKE) on the Evansville Aces.  Williams led the Aces and the Missouri Valley Conference with 4.87 assists per game as a freshman before transferring.  He’s a distributor, plain and simple.  The Panthers have lacked a true point guard since Chris Hill graduated in 2006, a four-year span that saw the Panthers led by shooting guards converted to point guards.  Williams has size at 6’4” 185, something that will benefit him on the defensive end against guards in the Horizon League that tend to be strong.

One of the biggest benefits Williams brings to the Panthers is consistency.  The point guard only hit above 10 assists twice at Evansville, but only had one game in which he did not record an assist, a one-point loss at Wichita State where Williams pulled in seven rebounds and shot four of six from the field.

With the way guard play has already been in the Horizon League, and the players added here, suffice to say that the collective back court in the conference could rival any high-major conference.  And that means one thing: we have a really exciting season ahead.

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.