Badgers game brings rare heavyweight bout #BeatUW

For the first time in four years and only the fourth time since Milwaukee went D-I in 1990, the Wisconsin Badgers will be making the trip to Brew City to take on the Milwaukee Panthers.  The Badgers are 8-2, identical to the Panthers, but their resume is far more impressive.

While other Badgers get more pub, Ryan Evans is quietly a driving force behind Bucky's success.

Wisconsin boasts three guards – Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser, and Ben Brust – that can beat you by themselves.  Taylor is a pre-season All-American who runs the point and can do it all for the Badgers.  While an ankle injury has slowed him down somewhat, he still can get the ball to Wisconsin’s scorers, giving UW a dangerous point man to run the show.

Josh Gasser was recruited heavily by the Milwaukee coaching staff that tried to import the entire Swing AAU club – Gasser, Kyle Kelm, Evan Richard, Chip Rank, and Marquis Mason – but failed to do so.  Gasser is the point guard of the future, but right now is content with filling up buckets and playing the glue man when Taylor is on point.

Kaylon Williams needs to control the game the way he can.

Receiving a player that had committed to Iowa didn’t make a lot of headlines, but Ben Brust has proven that he is capable of being a big time scorer that the Badgers have lacked for quite some time.  Brust is a streak shooter who occasionally catches lightning in a bottle and beats teams by himself.  He scored 21 against BYU and 27 against UNLV in two games that proved you can’t leave him open on the arc (he was a combined 14-for-17 from three in the two games) under any circumstances.  Outside of those two games, his effectiveness has been limited to low-majors (Kennesaw State, Colgate, UMKC) but he is still a dangerous shooter.

The big problem for Milwaukee could come on the front line, however.  Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma had difficulty with UNI’s large front line, and the Badgers’ version is only better.  Jared Berggren is the kind of center that doesn’t make mistakes and scores at a decent clip.  Berggren may not be the big time banger on the glass, but usually he doesn’t have to be as the Badgers are a solid shooting team.

Ryan Evans could be the game changer for the Badgers tomorrow night.  At 6’6”, Evans is tall enough to give guys like Paris Gulley fits trying to guard his size, but he’s also quick enough to get by Tony Meier or Kyle Kelm.  He’s a good shooter inside the arc and, like Ricky Franklin or Kaylon Williams, has a nose for rebounds and wins rebounding battles against taller forwards.

Defense is how Milwaukee will send Bucky home whimpering.

In the end, though, it all comes down to Bo Ryan.  The coach turned Wisconsin basketball from barely-high-major to full-on power program in a short space of time.  Bo’s tenure at Milwaukee was short but helped our program springboard into our first real national success, and all that is due to his coaching and recruiting ability.  While Ryan doesn’t tend to get many top-50 recruits, he does pick up a lot of players that do two things – shoot the ball well from anywhere on the floor at any size, and take care of the basketball.

The Badgers’ vaunted Swing offense has built them into a team that can beat just about anyone.  The Kohl Center has become part of that identity too, a death trap for opposing programs.

But we’ve got some things that ‘ol Bucky may not be counting on.  The Arena is no easy court to win in, especially when the place is full as it looks to be close to tomorrow.  A high number of tickets have been sold to Panther fans, who are starting to come out of the woodwork with Milwaukee’s excellent start to the season.  The Panthers also have built an identity on defense.  Now, that identity may have been shaken by the events of last week, but the Badgers will not run the ball like DePaul and Milwaukee will not break down right after it did so at UNI.

Milwaukee can guard any team in the country, they just need to dig, to never stop digging in.  The Panthers have legitimate three-point threats at every position on the floor, and if they close out on the arc they’ll be able to give Bucky fits all day.

This is the most important part.  One of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths is that they do not make mistakes, and they sit and bide their time and wait for you to make yours.  Once the mistakes happen, the Badgers grab hold of it and never let go.

It is very important that Kaylon Williams understands this last part.  At UNI, in front of dozens of family and friends from Cedar Rapids, Williams forced himself into trying to impress them and do everything for the Panthers.  This led to a lot of mistakes (seven turnovers in the box score, could have easily been nine) that UNI capitalized on and blew the game open.

Williams shot the ball well and found open players on the court, but he needs to settle down against Wisconsin and not let what they do fluster him on the court. Slow down, control the game, and good things will happen.  Always, always, always take care of the ball, and Milwaukee will come out on top.

This is your opportunity, Milwaukee, to show the country that this is a program to be reckoned with.

TROUNCE ‘EM POUNCE

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Defense quickly becoming Milwaukee’s identity

Bo Ryan runs the swing.  Bruce Pearl’s team presses the hell out of you.  John Calipari runs an NBA roster and somehow remains under the salary cap.

Yet until this season, Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers have struggled to really find an identity.

Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams defended well last year on the perimeter. Having Paris Gulley to help in 2011-12 has brought great results.

This has always been a team that rebounds well, but that’s not an identity.  Perhaps the poor free throw shooting has been the Panthers’ identity, but I don’t think anyone wants to own up to that one.  So what kind of team are we?  We don’t run the swing, more of a swing/dribble drive hybrid that looks great in Kaylon Williams’ hands and no one else’s.

Looking over the box scores of the season and watching the team play has led me to a conclusion, that this year the Panthers actually have found an identity.

Defense.

Man-up, smack you around, in your face defense.  This is the kind of identity that I’ve longed for, and the 6-1 start is due to this newfound interest in defense.

With Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen, and Paris Gulley on the court, there is no team in the country that Milwaukee cannot defend.  These three are the kind of lock down defenders that coaches drool over; Ryan Allen spent much of last season playing minutes despite so-so offense because he was a dynamite defender; it looks like Paris Gulley is going to be the same player this season, as he played 18 minutes tonight despite having a poor offensive night.

Over the offseason, Ryan Allen worked on his offensive game to the point where not only is he no longer a liability on the offensive end, but he’s a boon for the team’s scoring chances.  How does this help Milwaukee’s defense? Well, to put it simply, Allen is on the court a whole lot more.  Ja’Rob McCallum spent the summer doing the opposite, and bulked up and built enough lateral quickness to no longer be a tremendous liability on the defensive end.  While McCallum and freshman Evan Richard are not on the level of the other three guards, they are not bad defenders and get better with more game experience.

Ryan Allen has become one of the premier defenders in the Horizon League along with CSU's D'Aundray Brown and Butler's Ronald Nored.

The Panthers showed the speed and toughness to run with Michigan State for 38 minutes last week, getting back in transition D and limiting second-chance opportunities by racking up defensive rebounds.

In the post, Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma had trouble with help defense and defending layups against Southwest Minnesota State; they have not had that trouble since, and while Haarsma has been consistently great on defense, Kelm has only gotten better and better every game.

Off the bench, Ryan Haggerty is one of the best post defenders in the conference.  While he doesn’t have much of an offensive game in comparison to Kelm, Haarsma and Tony Meier, Haggerty more than measures up by having a strong nose for the ball, playing exceptional help defense, blocking shots like a machine, and playing with a high motor.

Ryan Haggerty may not play 25 minutes a game, but he is an exceptional post defender.

We can trace this newfound love of defense back to the Northern Illinois game.  With Williams in the lineup for the first time, the Panthers won the game by forcing the Huskies to shoot only 37% and give up 23 turnovers.  Since then, the only team to sniff 60 points on Milwaukee was Michigan State, whose nine point run to begin the second half left 61 points the rest of the game.

The Panthers’ opponent field goal percentage (37.1) ranks number one in the Horizon League.  Milwaukee also leads in opponent efficient field goal percentage (40.1%) and, most importantly, is only giving up 53.1 points per game, first in the Horizon League and eighth nationally.

Here is a short table showing defensive numbers and how Milwaukee stacks up nationally:

Opponent Statistics Numbers Conference rank National rank
Points per game 53.1 1 8
Field Goal% 37.1 1 28
Effective Field Goal% 40.1 1 14
3PT Field Goal% 22.8 2 6
Steals per game 5.7 2 77

So, as you can see, the Panthers have found their identity – lock down defense.  It has become something the Panthers have done very well all season, and the team’s record shows that this is the difference-maker that coach Rob Jeter has looked for over his head coaching career.

With new emphasis on defense, Milwaukee is finally moving up into the echelon where their fans can expect tough defense and a shot to win every game.

Black and Gold gets it right in second stanza

After going in at halftime with only a four-point lead against a team picked to be one of the dregs of the Horizon League, the Milwaukee Panthers came out of the break firing to blow out the Loyola Ramblers, 59-41 in front of 3,517 fans at the U.S. Cellular Arena.

Ryan Allen had a major alley-oop, but more importantly played mistake free for 28 minutes

Milwaukee’s first-half problems had a lot to do with how they shot the ball; there were quite a bit of missed shots that allowed the Ramblers to keep it close, and the Panthers led 22-18 at halftime.

Perhaps a big reason the Panthers shot poorly was that they missed Ja’Rob McCallum in the lineup.  McCallum, who had an injured wrist in the offseason, had the injury flare up on him and the team held him out as a precaution so as not to aggravate it further.  The Panthers really missed McCallum’s high offensive rating (103.5) when they were forced to start Paris Gulley in his place.

Gulley, who started the SMSU game at point guard to start the season, started in the shooting guard slot and did not win anybody over with his play on offense tonight.  Gulley had a rough night shooting the ball, going 0-for-5 from the field and registering only a turnover and two personal fouls in 17 minutes of play.  Gulley did play his usual airtight defense, locking down Joe Crisman, who finished with six points despite coming in averaging over ten.

Still, the shooting guard rotation seems to have cleared up a bit.  Evan Richard, who had a rough time last week, came out and did enough to warrant continued playing time.  With McCallum out, Richard played 23 minutes and scored seven points on 2-of-5 shooting with a three pointer and two free throws.  Richard also registered elsewhere, picking up three rebounds as well as an assist and a block without turning the ball over once.

Kaylon Williams was in control the whole time he was in the game.

Once the game got into the second half, the team’s shooting woes subsided and the Panthers grew a commanding lead gradually over the course of the half.  Milwaukee got solid performances from Kyle Kelm (13 pts, 6 rbs, 2 blks, 6-for-7 FG) and Kaylon Williams (12 pts, 7 rbs, 7 asts, 3 stls, only 2 TO) to really blow the game wide open.

It seemed that Williams and Kelm have really started to grow a rapport with each other and it showed tonight.  Kelm’s 6-of-7 from the floor came largely from Williams finding him down low for easy baskets.  Because Kelm has been shooting the ball better from the outside as the season has gone on, and James Haarsma has all season, the Panthers were able to stretch out the Rambler defense and get a lot of nice inside looks.  This really was where the Panthers broke the game open, scoring 34 points in the paint compared to Loyola’s 8.

The other good part about the game was the fact that the Panthers cut down on mistakes in a huge way.  Their seven turnovers were the lowest they’ve had all season and the leader, point guard Kaylon Williams, only turned the ball over twice on a couple of passes where he drove and tried to do too much with it.  Williams especially looked much better today, controlling the game in a way reminiscent of Jason Kidd.  His assist to turnover ratio for the season has been boosted to 1.6.

Remember when I wrote "There's no better feeling than faith rewarded?" Rob Jeter's team is 6-1, the best start in his career. Photo by UWM Post.

All of this said and I haven’t even gotten to Ryan Allen, the senior wing guard who led the team with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes of mistake-free basketball.  Allen didn’t take the outside shots that Loyola gave him early in the game, but in a stretch in the second half he hit two long distance bombs that barely touched net, then hit both free throws he took with dead-eye accuracy.

Tony Meier returned tonight, playing 18 tough minutes as he scored three points and pulled down four rebounds while going 1-of-6 from the field.  It was Meier’s first game action since the NIT game at Northwestern in March.  Look for him to get better and help the team more as he gets over his leg injury.

The game wasn’t without its problems.  The slow first-half start was troublesome, as was the continued mediocre shooting from the free throw line (7-for-14).  Milwaukee could have really blown the game open if they had taken care of business in the first half.  In the final five minutes, coach Rob Jeter took a few players out when instead of running the clock down, they pushed the tempo to try and get some points.  After that, the Panthers’ “C” team played out the game.  Milwaukee registered two trillionaires on the night in Christian Wolf and Quinton Gustavson (that’s 1 or more minutes played with no statistical implication on the box score).

Milwaukee turns its attention to struggling UIC on Saturday to hopefully go 2-0 to start the Horizon League season and get off to an impressive 7-1 start heading into the big hitters of the non-conference schedule.

Highlights:

Press Conference:

Stopping Alex Young

He’s long. He’s strong.  He’s fast. He’s scoring in every way imaginable.  He’s on his way to the NBA. No player that the Panthers have seen in this young season can stack up to him.

His name is Alex Young. And he’s damn near impossible to stop.

Young failed to score ten points in a game once last season.

In two games this season, Young is averaging 19.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game.  He is skilled, but his game is all about pure athleticism.

A hometown kid who didn’t get much in the way of recruitment, Young was picked up by IUPUI coach Ron Hunter and groomed to be the successor in a long line of tall wing guard/forwards who are dynamic scorers.

A dynamic scorer he became.  Since coming to the Jaguars, Young has increased his production from 11 to 18 to 19 points per game.  With 20 points in his first game and 19 Tuesday night against UALR, it looks as though Young is on his way towards doing it again.

Some teams have had success against him.  In a game against Oral Roberts last season, he was held to just six points on 3-for-12 shooting. While he didn’t score under ten points the rest of the season, the Jaguars lost many games.

The simple fact is that Young is going to get his.  But to beat the Jaguars, you need to slow him down.  Decrease his efficiency – force him to get 20 points on 8 of 20 shooting instead of 8 of 13.  Force him to miss a lot of shots and you make the Jaguars far less efficient.

How do you do that?  Confusion.  The good thing about the Panthers is that there are a lot of players on the program that can theoretically defend Young.

On the perimeter, players like Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen and Paris Gulley can be used on a rotation, cutting out his outside shot.  They can’t keep him covered by themselves; they are not nearly long enough to alter his shot as he drives to the hole.

Milwaukee will need to funnel Young into the waiting arms of our taller defenders.

Perhaps Young’s strongest part of his game is that ability to drive the lane.  Many of his points are scored while he is taking the ball to the hole.  His speed helps him blow past slower defenders, and his length gets him past most guards who have trouble blocking his shots.

What Milwaukee will have to do to minimize his driving ability is two things.  First, they need to cut off the driving lanes that give him a direct line to the basket.  If he doesn’t have open space to lay in the easy buckets, he’ll have to work harder at his shots.  The second part is funneling him directly to the height of the team – Kyle Kelm and Demetrius Harris have the height and blocking ability to get in his face and force him to miss shots.  Maybe they won’t get a block every time down the floor, but they’ll be able to alter enough shots for him to become inefficient, thus giving the Panthers more possessions.

So look for the Panthers to take advantage of all that length in trying to stop Young from destroying their defense.  If they don’t, you’re going to have a long night at the Cell.

Panthers finish off Mustangs to open with a W

Without star forward Tony Meier for a few more weeks with a calf injury and star point guard Kaylon Williams to a one-game suspension, the Milwaukee Panthers had trouble establishing themselves on both sides of the floor in a 71-65 victory over the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs on Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Allen's ability to score was a major plus.

Milwaukee was led by Ja’Rob McCallum and Ryan Allen in scoring, with each dropping in 16 points apiece.  The Panthers also got nine points and 17 rebounds by James Haarsma, who practically lived on the offensive end with different Mustangs draped all over him.

The Panthers had to get through a major shooting funk to begin the game, and didn’t establish a decent lead until the waning moments of the first half.  Mitch Roelke led the charge by hitting two three-pointers, one with seconds remaining, to put the Panthers up 33-24.

Milwaukee reached a lead of about 18 points at one point in the second half before losing their way.  The Mustangs had their way on the offensive end, finding open driving lanes for most of the second half.  Help defense in the post struggled for Milwaukee.

The Panthers offense struggled without their starting point guard to give direction.  With Williams sidelined, point guard duties were spread between McCallum and Paris Gulley, who each scored well but are not point guards.  Gulley had major trouble dribbling to his left and got caught several times, and the team overall was susceptible to the press for a few possessions until they figured it out.

The Panthers hit the road tomorrow, squaring off against Northern Illinois in DeKalb on Monday night at 7 p.m.

Horizon League Power Rankings (February 22 – 28)

The Horizon League holds steady in the conference RPI ranks remaining ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference for 11th this week.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 6-23, Conference Record: 2-16, RPI: 288)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 79-65

The season is drawing to a close for the Flames.  A couple bright lights on a dim season:  Senior F Paul Carter – Finished on the all-newcomer team averaging 14.6 points and 8 rebounds per game.  Senior G Robo Kreps – Would have received consideration for the all-conference third team (if one rightfully existed) averaging 16 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 2.9 assists per game.  Next year will be a fresh start for coach Howard Moore.  It’s time for Moore to put his stamp on this program.  Projected conference tournament finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Cleveland State (22-7)

9. Youngstown State (7-20, 2-16, 291)

Recent Results: Lost to Green Bay 71-60, Lost to Milwaukee 94-87 (OT)

The Penguins came within inches of ruining Milwaukee’s season, but like so many games before, they came up just short.  Youngstown State finished with just one player receiving any conference accolades.  Sophomore F Damian Eargle – Averaging 11 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3 blocks per game, Eargle had the best season of any Penguin and finished as a member of the all-newcomer team.  Eargle could have also made a strong case for the All-Defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Valparaiso (19-10)

8. Loyola (16-14, 7-11, 195)

Recent Results: Beat Valparaiso 68-48, Lost to Butler 63-56

The Ramblers were able to squeak out one more conference win in a dismal conference season.   The Ramblers finished with one player in the conversation for any conference accolades.  Senior G Geoff McCammon – On his way to earning the Horizon League’s Sixth Man of the Year award, McCammon averaged 14.5 PPG and 3 RPG while averaging 43.2% from beyond the arc (and ironically leading the team with 30.9 minutes per game).   One could make the case that sophomore F Ben Averkamp was a third team performer.    Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Detroit (15-15)

7. Green Bay (13-17, 8-10, 164)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 71-60, Lost to Cleveland State 64-57

A big round of applause is deserved for senior G Rahmon Fletcher who ends his career as one of the greatest Phoenix of all time.  The diminutive point guard finished the year as a member of the all-conference second team averaging 16 PPG and 3 APG.  Fletcher should have a nice long career overseas.  Also finishing with postseason accolades is freshman C Alec Brown.  Named to the all-newcomer team, Brown finished the season with 10 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Wright State (16-13)

6. Detroit (15-15, 10-8, 146)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 77-67

A nice win to end an unsuccessful regular season for the Titans, but they’ll have a lot of work to do if they wish to reach the NCAA tournament.  Still, in all of their mediocrity, they pulled in a bunch of postseason awards.  Freshman G Ray McCallum Jr. was named the Newcomer of the Year in the Horizon League as well as to the all-newcomer team and all-conference second team.  It’s a pretty impressive haul, but it left some people wondering if it was well deserved, or if it was just a product of being a McDonald’s All-American.  Junior F/C Eli Holman also pulled in honors as a member of the all-conference second team and the all-defensive team.  Again, some question whether Holman was truly worthy of the second team.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Loyola (16-14)

5. Wright State (16-13, 10-8, 128)

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

The Raiders slipped in their last game of the year and will now take on the Green Bay Phoenix in the first round.  One man that should will them to victory is first team all-conference senior G Vaughn Duggins.  Duggins truly had an outstanding season averaging 18 PPG and 3.8 RPG.  His backcourt mate N’Gai Evans earned second team all-conference with 14.2 PPG, 4 RPG, and 3.3 APG.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

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

4. Valparaiso (19-10, 12-6, 71)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 68-48, Beat UIC 79-65

Valpo faltered down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 4 and squandering an opportunity for a first round bye.  Still, the Crusaders had a successful season with Junior G Brandon Wood leading the way as a first-team all-conference player.   A case could have been made for Ryan Broekhoff to be included on the second-team, but he’d have to settle for consideration for the third-team.  The Crusaders would have had a much better season had Cory Johnson not regressed so much in his senior year.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; CBI/CIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Youngstown State (7-20)

3. Cleveland State (22-7, 13-5, 37)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 87-83, Beat Green Bay 64-57

The Vikings blew a huge opportunity that now puts them behind the eight ball.  Losing to Milwaukee at home dropped them to third in the pecking order, and quite possibly ruined what was a fantastic season.  Senior G Norris Cole, who is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard, is 2011’s Horizon League Player of the Year.  He also placed on the all-defensive team as the Defensive Player of the Year.  Clearly, Cole is a special player that should find a place on an NBA bench.  Also receiving postseason honors is junior G Trevon Harmon who is a member of the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; NIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. UIC (6-23)

Matt Howard gave his blood, sweat, and tears to the Butler program. Bulldog fans should be proud.

2. Butler (20-9, 13-5, 45)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 63-56

The Bulldogs didn’t quite finish where they hoped, but they still have a chance at accomplishing their goal of making it back to the NCAA tournament.  Outgoing senior F Matt Howard has had an outstanding career and caps it off as a member of the all-conference first team as well as the all-defensive team.  Congratulations to him on an outstanding career.  Also, Junior G Shelvin Mack finished on the second-team and Ronald Nored finished on the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Win the Horizon League Tournament; NCAA Tournament Auto Bid

Up Next: Saturday vs. UIC/Cleveland State/Green Bay/Wright State (at Milwaukee)

Ryan Allen has been a tremendous spark of the bench for Horizon League COY Rob Jeter.

1. Milwaukee (18-12, 13-5, 98)

Recent Results: Beat Cleveland State 87-83, Beat Youngstown State 94-87 (OT)

What an incredible story these Panthers have to tell.  Finding themselves sitting at seventh place in conference play at a 4-5 record, and just coming off a 60-43 thrashing at the hands of Valpo, the Panthers knew something had to change.  They held a team meeting where everything was laid out on the table.  Nothing was held back.   And the rest?  Well, that’s what we like to call history folks.  Senior F Anthony Hill went on to average 20 PPG, 6.5 RPG and shoot 76.6% at the stripe over this 9-game stretch and earned first team all-conference along the way.  Junior PG Kaylon Williams would go on to average 7.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG (!) and 7.8 APG (!) while earning a spot on the all-newcomer team (and certainly made a case for the second-team).   Junior G/F Ryan Allen was asked to defend the opponent’s best guard in crunch time, and while he didn’t play the minutes necessary to earn a spot on the all-defensive team, he was as important to his team as any other player.  Finally, head coach Rob Jeter improved as a coach so much that he earned the Horizon League Coach of the Year award; a well deserved honor for a guy who put all his faith in his vocal point guard, and had a lot of help from his qualified assistants.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Championship Game; NIT

Up Next: Saturday vs. Youngstown State/Valparaiso/Loyola/Detroit

Horizon League Power Rankings (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