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)

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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.