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

Advertisements

Horizon League Rankings (February 8-14)

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

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

In descending order…

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 86-76

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Wednesday at UIC (6-20)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 86-76

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

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

Can the Crusaders handle the bright lights of crunch time?

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

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

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

Up Next: Wednesday at Milwaukee (15-11)

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 (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)

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

It’s Official – Howard Moore to UIC

After a month of uncertainty following Jimmy Collins abrupt retirement, the University of Illinois-Chicago announced Friday that Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore will replace Jimmy Collins as head basketball coach.

Collins retired in July, much later than coaches usually end their tenure at a school.  Collins’ incoming recruiting class didn’t know until a month before school began that they would have a different head coach.

The retirement of Collins also came a week after associate head coach Tracy Dildy departed for Chicago State’s head job.

Moore is the second Bo Ryan protege to join the head coaching ranks in the Horizon League.  If you don’t know who the other is, turn off your computer and go ask somebody.

Panther fans will remember Howard Moore the player, who was a part of the only Wisconsin Badger team to lose to the Milwaukee Panthers.  That team lost 77-72 in the UW Fieldhouse on December 12th, 1992.

The Flames are coming off a particularly awful season where they finished 8-22 with a valiant effort at the U.S. Cellular Arena against our Panthers in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament.

What’s next for UIC?

By now, if you’re a new and loyal follower of PantherU or happen to stumble across a fan message board for a Horizon League school, you’re well aware that Jimmy Collins has left the Flames for retirement.  Unlike his last leave, he has left no doubt as to whether or not this is permanent.  I’m a Packer fan, so I know that until that position is filled, UIC fans need to wait with bated breath or #4 might be running out of that tunnel…errr, Jimmy Collins could be walking out of the locker room.

Jimmy Collins when he took the UIC job

I’m about 95% sure, however, that this is the end of the JC era at UIC.  There is no way a coach can leave three months before practice starts and not hurt the team, but in the long run this is the best thing for both parties.  Leaving on his own terms, Jimmy Collins does not soil his reputation on campus and in the city, and that’s good.  He deserves that.  UIC, on the other hand, can go out and get the coach they want, albeit from a much smaller pool than had he left in April, but more on that later.

Reading the comments on the UIC fan board, I understand where a lot of them are coming from.  In essence, Collins has had the team handcuffed for at least three years now.  The amount of defections from the Flames the last few years has made Milwaukee’s 2007-08 season look tame.  But they shouldn’t throw stones at Jimmy Collins for the end of his tenure.

Instead, they should be honoring him.  Let’s face it; Collins has done the school no favors by sticking around a decent amount of time longer than he should have.  But that doesn’t change the fact that before Jimmy came along, the Flames were barely a D-I program.  Since then, he’s taken them to four postseason appearances, including three NCAA tourney stops.  He is the all-time wins leader at UIC, and his players are some of the best the school has ever had: Cedric Banks, Josh Mayo, Scott Vandermeer, Martell Bailey, Elliott Poole, the list goes on.

I don’t think you can name the court after the coach, since he never won a game in the NCAA tournament.  But some recognition of coach Collins would be nice; he took them places they’ve never been, and remains a UIC guy first and foremost.

The program, on the other hand, is reeling.  The idea of Collins continuing to coach even into this next season was enough to douse a lot of Flames.  But with the retirement of their formidable coach, they have a pretty great opportunity.  Athletic Director Jim Schmidt is staring at the biggest test of his career: finding the coach that can take UIC to the next level.

For prospective coaches, UIC is a hell of an opportunity.  DePaul, for decades, was the queen bee in a city that produces a sickening amount of talent.  Except for one glorious year in the mid-80’s, Loyola basketball has largely been irrelevant.  Northwestern and Chicago State have never been to the tournament, although the Wildcats have gotten close recently.  Every team has had their difficulties, but no team has taken charge and been the torch-bearer for the city.  Get it?  Take the torch and run with it, Flames.

UIC has an advantage that the other schools in the city don’t have (save for CSU), and that’s the fact that they are a public school.  UIC has decent admission standards, but dynamite players from the Chicago Public League that won’t be able to get in at DePaul, Loyola, or Northwestern can find a home in the Pavilion.

The Flames just lost Tracy Dildy to the head coaching job at Chicago State, and he’s wasted no time in recruiting the CPL heavily.  Dildy is armed with a very nice arena (read the description from their athletics website, it’s priceless: “…will make this facility the best that the city of Chicago or the state of Illinois has ever seen.”), a relatively clean roster, and notoriously lax academic requirements.  He has the opportunity to make CSU the premier program in Chicago…

Please.  Tracy Dildy spent the last couple years at UIC, and once it was clear to him that he wasn’t the heir apparent anymore, he took the CSU job.  I hope he does well; fans of Chicago State may have many things said to them, but you can’t deny that they’re loyal, and that kind of loyalty deserves some results.  But let’s get real – Dildy’s facing an uphill battle.  UIC has been there before, they have the more prestigious school, and they are the biggest in Illinois this side of UC.  Add in the on-campus arena with major recent upgrades, and the Flames are one great coach away from being a contender by 2012-13.

DePaul was pushed to hire a coach with significant ties to the CPL, but shied away from the city and chose Oliver Purnell from Clemson.  While he’s a great hire, one has to wonder whether or not he can get DePaul successful in a conference that boasts 15 teams ahead of him on the curve.  Look, Jerry Wainwright, while not perfect, is not a bad coach.  In many respects, DePaul is a bad job.  They bolted C-USA for a league they can’t compete in, occupy an arena that they can’t get students in, and spend a significant amount of money less than basketball-centric schools like Marquette and Georgetown do.

What UIC needs to find now is a coach that can recruit Chicago and the rest of the country evenly.  They need a coach who can formulate a good game plan, hires assistants that can do a decent scout, and become an ambassador for the program in the UIC population and the school in the Chicago population.  Basically, everything that Big D of the UIC Flames board says.  He’s infinitely more knowledgable on the UIC situation than I am, and his post, directed at AD Jim Schmidt, was impeccable.

So who is the next head coach of the UIC Flames?  The names I hear most frequently are decent.  Ernie Kent and Gene Cross are both coming off of firings at Oregon and Toledo, respectively, and I wouldn’t want to go that direction if I’m a UIC fan.  Mark Miller or Bryant Lowe, the two remaining assistants, would absolutely be a step in the wrong direction.  Collins did great things for the school, but the last thing they need is to continue with the tree that has been dying the last few years.  However, I believe that Dildy’s move is a sign that Schmidt wants to move away from Collins disciples.

Big Ten assistants very well could do the trick…I better say that because that’s the well we dug our coach out of.  Jerrance Howard and Jay Price from Illinois, Vince Taylor from Minnesota, and Howard Moore from Wisconsin are all listed as candidates.  But I’m going to put in two names.  One, everyone has thought of:

Could UIC look to former Illini assistant Webster?

Tracy Webster spent the better part of early 2010 as the interim head coach after Jerry Wainwright was fired by DePaul.  Before his tenure with the Blue Demons, Webster has made stops at Kentucky, Illinois, Purdue, and Ball State since graduating from UW-Madison in 1994.

From 2001-2003, Webster worked at Ball State for current Indiana assistant Tim Buckley.  He spent one season on Gene Keady’s staff at Purdue before spending several years at Illinois.  It was there, as an assistant to UWM alum Bruce Weber, that Webster helped bounce the Milwaukee Panthers in the Sweet 16 in 2005.  That could throw a little fuel on the fire, but who am I kidding, our fans are too blindly in love with Bucky to despise the former captain of the Badgers.

Webster would be a wonderful hire.  He has the Chicago connections, he has been a head coach-in-waiting for several years, and he’s a likable guy that the UIC fan base could adore.  But somewhere, there’s a former head coach that could turn into a dark horse candidate for the Flames.

As much as UIC fans and Milwaukee fans and Wright State fans may hate to say it, the Butler Way has certainly carved its niche much like the Green Bay Way did in the 1990’s under Dick Bennett.  Brad Stevens is one of the best young coaches in the country, some would argue THE best.  And he learned it all at the knee of…

Todd Lickliter.  I know what you’re thinking.  This guy?  He was a decent head coach at Butler, but no one can remove the stains of 2003-04 and 2004-05 from the record books.  The coach for two of Butler’s worst seasons in the decade, however, was also the guy who coached A.J. Graves and Mike Green to the Sweet 16.  Stevens’ near-national title was enough to get the Butler people to pony up the cash, but Lickliter’s Sweet 16 netted him a high-paying job at perennial Big Ten mid-level Iowa.

Lickliter could be roaming the sidelines of the Horizon League again.

He didn’t do a lot there, but the fact of the matter is that like DePaul, Iowa isn’t the most wanted job on the market.  Unlike DePaul, where they decided to invest in basketball with Purnell, Iowa hasn’t fully supported its basketball program since Dr. Tom Davis left.  Rumors are rumors, but when word got around that Steve Alford had raised enough money to build a $26 million practice arena and was denied because the powers that be didn’t want money to come out of the football program, that’s a tip.  Alford never got the support he needed to turn Iowa into a powerhouse.  The Hawkeyes, since his departure, gave the same low level of help to Lickliter, and got lesser results.  Meanwhile, Steve Alford wouldn’t take the Iowa job for quadruple the money he’s making at New Mexico.

At Iowa, football is king, and Lickliter could never have truly succeeded with that kind of distant fan base.  UIC, on the other hand, kicked out hockey, the only program that truly could rival the support for basketball.  Baseball and men’s soccer are big with the Flames, but if Lickliter could get the UIC community to buy into their own version of the Butler Way, the Flames could have something seriously special on their hands.

One thing I know is this. At this stage in the summer, coaching staffs are nearly full.  Teams are getting ready for the fall semester.  UIC should have a bare-bones talent pool to pick from, but they don’t.  They have a truly great group of coaches that are vying for the position of head coach at the biggest university in Chicago.

And that should make everyone else in the Horizon League a little queasy to hear.