Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
OUTLOOK: Butler has been the big boy in the Horizon League for some time and
put the conference on the map with unpredicted runs in the NCAA Tournament two
of the last three years. Things change however, and this season Butler will be
playing in the Atlantic 10, which puts three teams in great position to
capture this year's league title.
Valparaiso was crowned the Horizon League regular season champion last season
and is well equipped for a title defense. The Crusaders were a bit of a
surprise last season, but Bryce Drew's team is not going to be sneaking up on
the competition this time around. Green Bay and Detroit are both viable
contenders also as they both have a star player and efficient supporting
casts. The Titans will try to ride the coat tails of Ray McCallum Jr. to their
second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Cleveland State, Milwaukee, and Youngstown State all lost some firepower, but
still have reasons to be optimistic. The Vikings have one of the league's most
accomplished coaches in Gary Waters. The Panthers are welcoming a few
promising recruits, and the Penguins have finally erased the losing culture in
Wright State is on a downward slope. Coach Billy Donlon's team will have
trouble recovering from its off-year as it tries to replace its league's
Newcomer of the Year.
UIC and Loyola both will try to overcome miserable seasons and make
unprecedented runs at first place. The Flames lost their best post player but
are returning four starters. The Ramblers return three starters and welcome a
Big Ten transfer as they celebrate their 50th anniversary of their 1963
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Valparaiso
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Valparaiso, 2. Green Bay, 3. Detroit,
4. Cleveland State, 5. Milwaukee, 6. Youngstown State, 7. Wright State, 8.
Illinois-Chicago, 9. Loyola-Chicago
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
VALPARAISO - Former Crusaders' point guard Bryce Drew did a terrific job in
leading his alma mater to a 22-12 overall finish, which included the program's
first-ever regular season Horizon League title. Valpo had to settle for the
NIT after being upset by Detroit in the conference tournament, but Drew's
first year at the helm was an overall success. The Crusaders return Horizon
League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff (14.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Kevin Van
Wijk (14.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) to their frontcourt. Indiana transfer Bobby
Capobianco (6-9, 250) and Jamaican freshman Vashil Fernandez (6-10, 220) will
provide depth and size in the post, something the team lacked a year ago. The
Crusaders also have a deep, experienced backcourt which features Matt Kenney
(7.3 ppg), Will Bogan (7.2 ppg), Ben Boggs (4.5 ppg), and Erik Buggs (3.4
apg). Valpo could be even more successful in the second year of Drew's system.
GREEN BAY: The Phoenix squad that finished 15-15 overall last season returns
four starters including one of the top NBA center prospects in the nation.
Coach Brian Wardle transformed a team that was 3-6 in conference action and on
a four-game losing streak into a feared opponent. Green Bay managed to win
eight of its last 10 games to create a positive vibe around the program
heading into Wardle's third season. The key to the team's success will be the
lanky, 7-1 Alec Brown, who earned All-Horizon League honors after averaging
13.8 point and 8.1 boards per game as a sophomore. Also back in the frontcourt
are power forward Brennan Cougill (9.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and sophomore swingman
Josh Humphrey (6-5, 198). Green Bay has a talented and progressing point guard
in sophomore Keifer Sykes (11.2 ppg, 3.4 apg). Opponents are unable to double
team Brown or Sykes with Kam Cerroni's marksmanship and Horizon League leading
accuracy from three-point range (46.5 percent) lurking on the perimeter. Green
Bay showed what it can do down the stretch last season. With Brown in the
middle, the Phoenix are never to be counted out.
DETROIT: The Titans ran the table in the Horizon League Tournament for their
first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999. Detroit managed to finish 22-14 despite
a 7-10 start to the season. Coach Ray McCallum did a great job of bringing his
team together for a run to the Big Dance where they lost to Kansas in the
second round. McCallum should be able to carry over last season's success with
his son, Ray McCallum Jr., starting at point guard. The younger McCallum (15.4
ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 apg) turned down offers from top tier programs out of high
school and his strong performance on the way to his Horizon League Tournament
MVP award showed he is a special player. Jason Calliste (6-2, 168) plays well
opposite McCallum in Detroit's backcourt and netted 10.1 ppg. Nick Minnerath
(6-9, 220) is back after a season-ending injury just five games into last
season. The senior forward averaged 12.0 points and four rebounds per game
before being sidelined. Doug Anderson (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Western Michigan
transfer Juwan Howard Jr. (9.3 ppg) will see action in the frontcourt
alongside Minnerath. Detroit may not be as loaded at the forward position as
Valpo, but the younger McCallum seems to elevate his play when needed to
deliver his team crucial victories.
CLEVELAND STATE: The Vikings have been thriving and won 20 or more games in
four of the six seasons they've played under Gary Waters. Cleveland State
managed to finish second in the conference with a 12-6 league record and a
22-11 overall mark last year. The Vikings will have a difficult time
duplicating that success with senior forward Tim Kamczyc (9.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) as
their only returning starter. Trey Harmon (12.6 ppg), Jeremy Montgomery (10.9
ppg), and D'Aundray Brown (10.8 ppg) all graduated and took their double-digit
scoring averages out the door with them. CSU will need some scorers to emerge
to fill the huge void left by their departures. Forward Anton Grady (8.5 ppg,
6.4 rpg) and guard Charlie Lee (4.1 ppg, 2.2 apg) are expected to move into
the starting lineup and take over as the leaders of the program. The loss of
four starters will be hard for Waters to overcome, but his creativity and
drive seldom allows a losing record.
MILWAUKEE: The Panthers pushed through an up-and-down, injury-plagued season
to finish with a 20-11 record and a trip to the CBI Postseason Tournament.
Coach Rob Jeter continued his defensive-minded philosophy and his team limited
their opponents to only 62.5 ppg and 29 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Milwaukee lost a few important aspects of the 20-win team, but senior forward
James Haarsma (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is back to lead the charge. Kyle Kelm (7.6
ppg, 4.5 rpg) complements Haarsma very well from the other forward slot. Paris
Gulley (8.5 ppg) is the only returning starter from the backcourt. Gulley hit
39.9 percent from three-point range and was second on the team with 52 makes
from long distance. Junior college transfer Jordan Aaron (5-10) is expected to
be the Panthers' next starting point guard. The Panthers have a good one-two
punch at forward with Haarsma and Kelm, but their unproven guards could hold
YOUNGSTOWN STATE: The Penguins were unable to post a winning record in his
first six seasons with the team, but the seventh year was the charm for coach
Jerry Slocum. YSU, which ranked first in the Horizon League by making 38.1
percent of its three-point attempts, finished 16-15 overall. The 16 victories
were the most in a season for the Penguins since 2001. Although YSU lost two
starters from last year's team that took a step in the right direction,
Kendrick Perry (16.8 ppg, 3.9 apg), Damian Eargle (11.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.7
bpg), and Blake Allen (12.8 ppg, 3.0 apg) are all back in the fold. Newcomers
Ryan Weber (6-7, 200), Kamren Belin (6-7, 225), and Bobby Hain (6-10, 235)
will all battle for time at the open forward positions. Perry may be the best
offensive player in Horizon League, while Eargle is a Defensive Player of the
Year candidate. Still, YSU will need production out of its newly added role
players to generate a consecutive winning season.
WRIGHT STATE: Coach Billy Donlon watched his squad finish with a disappointing
13-19 overall record for the program's first losing record in six years. To
make matters worse, Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Julius Mays (14.1 ppg)
transferred to Kentucky and Armond Battle (6.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg) graduated. The
Raiders were second to last in scoring offense in the conference last season
with just 58.0 ppg. That mark will be hard to improve upon with zero players
with double-digit scoring averages returning. Sophomore guard Reggie Arceneaux
(5-9, 160), who averaged 8.5 ppg as a rookie, could become the go-to-guy in
the offense, but he will need to cut down on his turnovers. Newcomers Joe
Bramanti and Antonio Drummond should both see immediate action in the WSU
backcourt. Forwards Cole Darling (6.3 ppg) and A.J. Pacher (5.4 ppg) are
threats inside and out on the offensive end, but are not up to par on the
defensive end. The loss of Mays will be tough for Wright State to overcome.
Donlon needs a new consistent scoring threat to surface or the Raiders will
have a rocky journey through the 2012-2013 season.
ILLINOIS-CHICAGO - The Flames are primed to improve upon their 8-22 finish as
four starters return to the lineup. UIC had the least effective defense in the
Horizon League last season as it allowed 67.8 ppg. Coach Howard Moore is just
15-46 and has yet to win a conference road game in two seasons at the helm of
the program. UIC will have trouble finding someone to replace Darrin Williams'
6-9, 269 frame in the middle. Hayden Humes (6-8, 215) played well at forward
with averages of 8.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg, while converting a team-best 41.8
percent of his three-point attempts in his first season at UIC last year.
Little used, 6-10 sophomore Will Simonton (0.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg) is the leading
candidate to start in the middle. The UIC backcourt starts two experienced
seniors in Gary Talton (11.6 ppg) and Danny Barnes (10.4 ppg). Talton led the
team with 99 assists last season. The Flames have an interesting nucleus with
Humes, Talton, and Barnes. UIC should be able to improve upon last season's
win total with the trio back.
LOYOLA-CHICAGO - Porter Moser will hope his second season with the Ramblers
goes much smoother than the 7-23 nightmare his inaugural year provided. Loyola
finished last in the conference with a 1-17 mark versus Horizon League foes as
well. Moser's underachieving team returned its leading scorer Ben Averkamp
(15.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Also back is Joe Crisman (6-4, 195), who averaged 8.5 ppg
last season as a freshman. Newcomers Jeff "Keke" White, Devon Turk, and Kody
Williams are all expected to make an immediate impact in Loyola's backcourt.
Junior guard Cully Payne averaged 8.6 ppg as a freshman at Iowa before a
season-ending injury ended his sophomore season after just five games. Payne
set out last season as per transfer rules and could make a big impact in his
return to action. The Iowa transfer could be a difference-maker and take some
of the pressure off of Averkamp. Loyola still has a mountain to climb before
it will be competing for the league crown.
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