Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Wish Lists

With another six days until Christmas I thought I would beat the crowd and get out my list of what I would give to a few teams in the Horizon League. No re-gifting allowed.

Youngstown State
: A "W" over a Division I or II team.

It's been a tough year so far for the Penguins but there is one Bright spot. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Kelvin Bright has shown that when he gets hot he is a force to be reckoned with. His per game averages do mask a pretty pedestrian 40% field goal percentage.

Wright State: A do over.

Remember when you were a kid and nothing seems to go right at the beginning of a game? You call for a do over, right? Coach Brownell needs to petition the NCAA for a do over after the Raiders 0-6 start. Can someone please tell me what has happened to Todd Brown? PLEASE?!?

Milwaukee: A victory over a team with a winning record.

The Panthers are 5-5.
Record of teams the Panthers beat: 10-39
That's bad. Like really bad. Did I mention one of those victories was against DIII Upper Iowa University? I really like the depth of this team and they are 2-0 in league play. But show up for a game against a team you shouldn't destroy.

Green Bay: Some rebounding.

Green Bay can shoot. Evans. Tillema. Cotton. They are a GREAT free throw shooting team. But they rebound by committee, and they don't do it particularly well. Their aggregate rebound margin for the season is -40, and -30 in the team's four losses. Losing 6-6 Chop Tang won't help.

UIC: ...

If you're like me you have a friend or family member that is really hard to shop for. That would be UIC this season. They have the leading scorer in the Horizon League, Josh Mayo. The Flames have the leading rebounder in the Horizon League in big man Scott VanderMeer. And they have the second best assist man in the HL, Spencer Stewart. Even the team defense has been impressive as the Flames have only allowed one team to score over 70 points against them this season, 77 in a victory against Northern Iowa. Consistency remains the only obstacle for UIC this season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Love it.

By now you've probably seen this...but I can't watch it enough.

Nice work, Vikings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Day After...

If you're anything at all like me, then you've had mornings where you've woken up and said to yourself, "I wish I'd done that differently." Well, I had one of those this morning...but thankfully it wasn't due to a poor decision made within the previous 24-hours. Instead, it was due to what appears to be a good that can be expanded on to make this "video blogging" concept more enjoyable for everyone once league play begins in January.

Adam and I ran into some of the expected hurdles, like spotty wireless internet signals. This was a fear of ours out on the road (it worked out better than we expected), but not within the arena. At first we suspected it was because I was running a Mac computer...but we found out later (from Bradley's SID) that Carver Arena's wireless system has its issues. Luckily we found away around the problem, and we don't expect to run into that issue again, as all Horizon League arenas have great Internet systems because of what's required to webcast games on HLN.

Aside from technical problems, last night's dress rehearsal gave Adam and I an idea of what we "should" and "shouldn't" do during these video updates on location. We now know that it will be a priority for us to arrive at our selected arenas several hours before tip-off, in order to get you ready for whatever game is on tap. After that, we can begin finding students/fans that enter the arena as soon as the gates open to give you an idea of the atmosphere. While the game is going on, Adam and I will likely be relegated to providing text updates to the blog with thoughts and insights. Even though we can essentially turn around our video updates in a matter of 5 minutes...5 minutes in a basketball game is an eternity, and anything we say would likely be outdated by the time it makes it up to this blog. Besides, once we start traveling to league games, you'll already be watching whatever contest we're at on HLN, right? This way, we can point out a few things from our perspective, without distracting you while you're watching the game action on HLN. Perhaps we'll provide one video update at halftime...and we'll certainly continue to provide post-game soundbytes from players and coaches. We'll also have a day in between our scheduled Thursday/Saturday we'll have to figure out what to bring to the blog on those days.

We certainly appreciate the comments posted here last night...and there were other places where we noticed some "discussion" on what we were doing. All in all, we'd like to hear more from you to know if you like our plan, or if we're completely missing something with this idea. Let us know, and we'll do what we can. Once we start this back up again in January, it's sure to be much smoother and easier to follow. We'll keep things relegated to one "entry" for each game, and only update that entry throughout the game (placing the newest updates at the TOP...not the bottom).

Now, I swear we'll get back to basketball-related discussion next time I write. There's already one comment we received last night that I was planning to address anyway. I guess great minds think alike.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Post Game Goodies

Brad Stevens

On tonight's win over Bradley...

On Avery Jukes' performance tonight...

On the growth of the freshmen starters...

That's it for tonight, look for more of this from the blog once league play starts. But better. 

More From Peoria...

Under 4:00 Timeout

Butler up 15 at 36-21. Bradley cut the lead to ten at 31-21 and a quick basket by Avery Jukes and another three pointer by Gordon Hayward got it back up to 15. Jukes looks strong with the basketball and has two easy buckets off of screen and rolls.
Coach Stevens was VERY animated about a possible missed defensive assignment by Butler freshman Garrett Butcher. I can't remember him ever being that animated. Bradley guard Sam Maniscalco keeping the Braves in it with his outside shooting.

Hey guys, we found a Butler fan here in Peoria! 

Someone asked about the size of the crowd. You ask and you shall receive...

Update: Butler now only up 5 w/8:00 to go, good run by Bradley. And Damon's computer hates him. 

6:37 mark 2nd Half

Shout out to the Valpo women's basketball team who defeated #23 Purdue tonight 71-60.

On The Road

We're on our way! In an effort to give YOU the fans a more full Horizon League experience we're on the road and video blogging along the way. Here's a quick look at the beginning of our trip:

6:55pm: We've arrived...but we're having a few technical issues at our destination. Stick with us...

7:03pm: for the reveal...

7:10pm: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." this little attention to the time frame in the video. Read the timestamp I'm including in these posts.

8:35pm: Alright...this is why we do "test runs" with this sort of thing. Having some issues with the wireless connection in the arena. We're not giving up, but unfortunately, it'd be a little pointless to show you our "Pre-game Interview" with Butler Radio Analyst, Nick Gardner. Sorry Nick.

Anyway...Butler leading 31-17 with 6:30 to play. Bradley went to a zone defensively for a few possessions, but Gordon Hayward shot 'em out of it pretty quick. He's having a solid 1st half with multiple 3-point field goals. Defensively, Butler has held their own against a pair of trees in the post.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Road Test...For Us!

If you've been following along here on the HLN Blog, you may remember a couple weeks ago when we mentioned that this season we'd be trying something new with a gameday "video blog" of sorts. We're still in the planning stage, as far as figuring out which league games we'll be hitting once the calendar flips from 2008 to 2009...but there has been some progress to report.

The progress, essentially, is that our video camera arrived! It's about the size of an iPhone and fits in the palm of your hand. What makes it so useful for us, is the built-in USB Port...which will allow us to shoot a couple minutes of video, plug it into our computer(s), edit if necessary, compress the file for use on this blog (or HLN, or the HLN Facebook page, etc), and post it for you to see. I know, it sounds complicated...but the whole process when I tested it out today, took about 2-4 minutes. And the video is incredibly sharp for the camera's size...identical to what you see content-wise on HLN.

So, with that in mind...we're going for a test drive tomorrow (Wednesday) night. There are a few games on the Horizon League schedule (men's and women's)...and we'll wait to tell you which game we're planning to report from. We want you to check it out, and tell us what you think. All content tomorrow night will be posted right here, on the HLN Blog.

Two things will make this fun for everyone. 1) Your participation. 2) Strong wireless internet signals. Inside an arena, this shouldn't be an issue...but the whole point of this idea for gameday video blogs, is to be able to bring you thoughts/opinions/strange happenings...while we're on the road. In turn, we'll respond to your comments/thoughts/questions along the way. We'll be using a wireless internet card while we're traveling from site to hopefully Bill Kurtis isn't a liar.

See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 5, 2008

First Full (Kind of) Night of League Action

If Thursday night is any indication of how good league play is going to be this year, then we're in for a great season. The ending of the Butler-Cleveland State game overshadowed what I'd like to talk about here first.

UIC's dismantling of Vanderbilt AT Vanderbilt.

With Wright State's current free fall, UIC is looking like the team that might step up and make some noise. It's probably the biggest win for the league out of conference so far this season. Very talented SEC schools are made to look foolish at Memorial Gym because of its uniqueness. The Flames seemed right at home shooting 63% on three-point field goals and withstanding the inevitable second-half Commodore run. Saturday's showdown with in-city rival Loyola will tell us a little more about the consistency of the Flames. Games against Georgia Tech and Illinois State will also tell us what kind of team the rest of the league is going to have to deal with this season.

Green Bay and Milwaukee both took care of business at home in their league openers and are probably asking themselves 'why not us?' The Panthers look balanced and deep. Newcomers Tone Boyle and Tony Meier look like a good inside-outside combination. (sidenote- can we please petition coach Jeter to find someone named Toni and get the band back together.) They have a good balance of youth and experience but I'm going to hold back any excitement until they beat a team with a winning record. Their first chance might not be until Dec. 20 in Milwaukee against Bradley.

Green Bay beat the hapless Raiders Thursday night and have now won four in a row. Glancing at their schedule, the Phoenix have a chance to put together a nice little run in the coming weeks. The only game in the December where they'll be the underdog is in Madison. We might not learn too much about Green Bay during this part of their schedule (unless they leave Madison victorious) but they'll have a nice record next to their name come the first week of January.

The Main Event

I could only watch portions of the Butler-Cleveland State game due to some other work, but here were a few observations:

- Neither team played close to their best game but the visitors came out winners. This is important because in games like this the team with the best player, in this case CSU with J'Nathan Bullock, normally win. Not Thursday.

-Teams are learning how to defend Matt Howard. It has been rare this season to see him carve out good position on the block and have the ball delivered to him in a position where he can make a play.

-Both of these teams can defend. Cleveland State's ability to seemingly always get their hands on the ball and play the passing lanes is effective. Butlers constant switching and solid positioning on defense will frustrate teams as it always has.

-Zach Hahn wants the ball at the end of the game. He's just that type of player. He struggled at times in the NCAA tournament last year and many had him buried behind a recruiting class of good guards at Butler, but none of that seems to matter to Hahn. The scary thought: He's only a sophomore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

2008 HL Championship Re-Match...TONIGHT!

Since Adam is "on assignment" today...I'll try to answer this.

Anonymous writes:
With such a young Butler team going against a more experience Cleveland State team that made it to the tournament finals last year, I'm wondering how important you guys think the regular season is this year? I mean, home court in the tourney could be huge, but even if the very young Bulldogs win the conference regular season, I wonder how they'll hold up in the tourney against a CSU team knowing that this is their last shot? Assuming no Horizon team gets an at large this year, as big as this early season BU-CSU clash is, I suspect it will all come down to the tournament and who is playing best then. Thoughts?

I think the regular season is EXTREMELY important in the Horizon League every year, because of the HL Tournament format. Ask any coach if they'd rather have to win 2 games 4 days to go to the NCAA tournament...or would they rather have to win 3 games in 5 days, or even 4 games in 7 days to get to the Big Dance? Finishing in the top 2 of the HL in the regular season is crucial, and a huge advantage.

As it relates to this year...well, tonight's game between CSU and Butler may give us a clue as to who's really ready for prime time. CSU had chances to make statements against Washington or Kansas State, but couldn't. Butler, whom many thought would slide back a little this year, has mowed down everyone in front of them...while starting 3 freshmen and not having a single senior on the roster.

The scenario you posed with the "young Bulldogs" winning the regular season and potentially having to face the "back-against-the-wall Vikings" once again in the Horizon League Tournament is an interesting one. I'd argue, though, but by the time March rolls around...the Bulldogs won't be quite so young. They'll have an entire season's worth of experience under their belts. I'd suspect that Cleveland State would certainly have a sense of urgency, however, about breaking through and making it to the NCAA Tournament.

While thinking about at-large NCAA births are still way down the road...I can see scenarios where Cleveland State or Butler (if they run away with the HL regular season crown) may have an argument. CSU still has to play West Virginia and Syracuse. Butler still has games against Ohio State, Xavier, and it's possible.

As for tonight, the Vikings are on their home floor. CSU was tabbed as the team to beat in the Horizon League this year. CSU is more experienced than the "young" Butler squad they'll face tonight. If the Vikings can't win this one...I'll have some serious reservations about thinking of them as the favorite in the Horizon League.

EDIT: 2:53PM - From today's edition of "Good Morning Hoops Nation" on The Mid-Majority. Way to go Flames!
Illinois-Chicago 74, at Vanderbilt 55 -- The Flames have a bonafide star in Josh Mayo, a rotation of bruising bigs (many with long names), a strong defense and a head coach in Jimmy Collins that is three parts wizened sage and one part Dolemite. So why aren't they taken seriously in the Horizon League this year? Probably their propensity to run themselves into dumb possessions. Last night in Nashville, Mayo got his 30, freshman Robert Kreps stepped forward for a career high 23, and UIC showed laser-sharp focus, dumping the SEC Commodores with a combination of muscle, ball control and skill. With a lost season in progress at Wright State and disappointments at Valpo, it may be time to put the Flames into that NCAA contender conversation with Cleveland State and Butler.



Looks like we had a "setting" turned on, which required me to moderate all of the comments which were being posted.

It's OFF now, and your comments are up! Keep 'em coming...


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Dare You...?

While perusing the Jay Bilas Blog over at The Worldwide Leader (It's an "Insider" article, if you're interested in following the link to his blog)...I came across a little nugget that all of you fellow Horizon League fans may enjoy.

In the interest of full disclosure, the blog entry is titled "Thoughts, trends and treats from November" and dated November 30, 2008.

In the midst of several observations about numerous college basketball teams, and their performance thus far...the following bullet point was tossed into the mix:

"What possible justification do we have for having over 340 Division I basketball teams? It is silly."



Is this silly? What about this? Sometimes it happens simultaneously.

Yes (in the last video)...those are 2 of college basketball's super-powers, UCLA and North Carolina, being dispatched in the NCAA Tournament -- at the same time -- by 2 randoms in this world of 340-some-odd Divsion I basketball teams. 1999 was a good year.

I'll never deny the fact that teams from power conferences overwhelmingly outperform the teams considered mid-majors or low-majors. However, for every powerhouse like Duke...there's a Rutgers perpetually drowning in the bottom of the Big East. Similarly for every upstart program (lacking historical tradition) like Tennessee...there's a storied program like Indiana which is in shambles. You'll find similar situations in all of the Division I Men's Basketball's relative.

Take a Horizon League member like Loyola (Chicago). They've only won 20 games once in the last 15 years. Should they not have the opportunity to play Division I basketball? Or does their 1963 National Championship carry any weight?

Writing in a blog about "Thoughts, trends and treats from November," that having over 340 Division I basketball teams can't be where the real silliness begins.

Just my opinion...not necessarily the Horizon League or HLN's view.

Who knows...maybe I'm reading too much into Mr. Bilas' comment. Or maybe I'm all.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cleveland State vs. Valpo - "Quasi-Live" Blog maybe you're like me and you're planning to watch tonight's league-opener between Cleveland State and Valparaiso.

If so, keep an eye on the blog tonight, as I'll be blogging while I watch. I call it "quasi-live" since I'm not actually at the game...but I'll be updating throughout the contest.

We're not set up to live-blog on this page, so you'll have to refresh the page every now and then to see my entries as they file in.

Send me your comments/questions...and I'll try to address as much as I can. for tonight's game...our good friend Kyle Whelliston at The Mid-Majority has tabbed tonight's game as his "Game! Of! The! Night!" You can read his preview here. We love The Mid-Majority here at HLN...and I'm pretty sure all you Valpo fans are pretty familiar with his work as well.

6:50pm - 10 minutes to game is up on HLN!

7:02pm - Just looking over the numbers for both teams thus far...Valpo needs a little more production from Urule Igbavboa, especially in a game tonight where he'll be challenged every trip down the court by J'Nathan Bullock. For CSU...there's a reason Mr. Bullock's "Player of the Week" award has coincided with more victories for the Vikings. This is a match-up to watch.

7:12pm - Under 16:00 Timeout - 6-2 CSU
Didn't take long for Coach Drew to yank Igbavboa. Fumey, his replacement, has been logging almost as many minutes...and has been a tad more productive. We'll see what he can do against Chris Moore.

7:22pm - Under 12:00 Timeout - 8-4 CSU

Just plain ugly so far. CSU doesn't seem to have found a shooter that can stretch defenses and force opponents from double-teaming Bullock, or sagging off of Cedric Jackson. SORELY missing their floor leader, Brandon McPherson.

7:25pm - 13-4 CSU Nice quick run by the Vikings...Bullock playing with 2 fouls. Bold move by Coach Waters.

7:31pm - Under 8:00 Timeout - 20-6 CSU
Now this is the Cleveland State team I remember seeing last season. Scrappy defense, and turning that defensive pressure into offense. Bullock burying 3-pointers is never a good sign for their opponents. Valpo looks as out-of-sync as I've seen them in awhile. Every shot appears to be a good shot for the Crusaders. The veterans need to show the youngsters the way...

7:35pm - 20-12 CSU Amazing what a little intensity can do.

7:42pm - Under 4:00 Timeout - 25-12 CSU
Like I said...amazing what a little intensity can do...this time for CSU, extending the lead back to 13. J'Nathan Bullock is such a match-up problem. Kid can just about do it all..

7:53pm - Halftime - 31-14 CSU
I can't say I'm surprised that Valpo has went with a zone defense, as CSU has had it's troubles shooting from the perimeter. And honestly, the Vikings haven't been outstanding in the half-court...other than Bullock. Regardless of what Valpo does on the defensive end in the 2nd half, they're going to have to figure out a way to get better shots themselves. Valpo shot 5-25 from the field in the first half...not gonna cut it...ever. I hate to say it again...but it's really showing how badly they miss Brandon McPherson.

8:09pm - 37-14 CSU
Valpo fans...please tell me...have you ever seen anything like this before? Coach Drew pulling his starters less than a minute into the 2nd half? This is bad...but it looks like the 5 Crusader starters are returning to the floor.

8:14pm - Under 16:00 Timeout - 39-18 CSU

Valpo has gotta try something to get back in going man-to-man and employing a full court press. I'm not sure those things can do much about the Crusaders poor shooting.

8:20pm - 48-25 CSU

I'd like to see someone other than Bullock consistently make a shot. It would benefit them in the long run.

8:24pm - Under 12:00 Timeout - 52-29 CSU

I can hear a rather large woman warming up her voice in the hallways of the Wolstein Center...

8:35pm - Under 8:00 Timeout - 53-37 CSU

It appears that Valpo's Michael Rogers and Howard Little have awoken from their slumber. Unfortunately, you can't spot your opponents a 27-point 2nd half lead and expect to win many games.

8:38pm - Homer Drew...ejected?!? I never thought I'd see the day. I'd love to know how many times that has happened in his career. Valpo fans...any idea?

8:43pm - Under 4:00 Timeout - 59-38 CSU
Still a little stunned by the Homer Drew ejection...and starting to think about Thursday's showdown between CSU and Butler...

Not too much to say about this all sort of speaks for itself. One of those games where I feel like the losing team isn't as bad as they played tonight, and the winning team may not be as good as the margin of victory indicates. You can't argue with what Bullock did tonight, 29 points and 6 rebounds in 32 minutes, but I still contend that SOMEONE is going to need to be able to consistently hit a jumper come Thursday against Butler. As we all know...Butler won't turn the ball over as much as Valpo did tonight...and I'd expect those lanes to the bucket to be a little smaller for CSU on Thursday as well.

Hopefully the Wolstein Center is PACKED on Thursday...should be very entertaining!

That's all for now...


Allow Myself to Introduce...Myself

Hey all Horizon League fanatics!

I'm Adam Coppinger and I'll be sharing my thoughts on the league and other musings here on the blog. I'm excited to share my opinion on certain happenings in the league but I'm even more excited to hear and read about YOUR thoughts and suggestions for discussion and content. So never be afraid to share what you think or disagree with what we say, even if you're wrong.

Here are a couple things I'm looking forward to this week.

Cleveland State's big week

The Vikings seem to have rounded into form for the start of league play. Just in time. They start the week out tonight (Dec. 2) against Valparaiso. The Crusaders are struggling a bit now but this one should be a well contested game.

The game of the week in the league is Thursday night when Butler travels to Cleveland. This is a big game for both teams. Such a big game so early in the season can mean a lot. For the Vikings it's a chance to show the rest of the league that all the pre-season accolades they received were warranted. A loss at home to the up-and-coming Bulldogs could make for another long season of looking up at Butler in the standings. I just can't see J'Nathan Bullock and Co. letting this happen in Cleveland. I'm sure there will be more about this game on the HLN later in the week.

Wright State Reeling

The Raiders are now 0-4 and standing at a crossroads. They just lost their leading scorer for at least a month and their schedule doesn't get any easier. Duggins was the only Raider averaging in double figures and the team just hasn't been able to score consistently (see: 37 points against Miami OH). This week they make the Wisconsin double dip, and as if that weren't enough, WSU still has to make a trip to Wake Forest and has games against undefeated Arkansas-Little Rock and in-league foe Cleveland State. Games thought to be 'gimmes' in the preseason are looking tough as even Murray State is playing well with a 28 point win over Western Kentucky on their resume'. Tough sledding for the Raiders but they've started slowly before and rebounded. If any coach in the league can do it it's coach Brownell.

I'm just glad I didn't pick them to win the league. Right, Damon?

Friday, November 28, 2008

So Much More To Come...

Hi HLN'ers -

Damon Lewis here...and let me just say...trying to digest a plate of left-overs from Thanksgiving is awfully tough when there is so much to talk about regarding the Horizon League Network. It's really an exciting time in our development, and I'd like to try to bring you up to speed on what's happening currently, and what's to come.

So here goes...

1) First of all, you may be visiting this HLN Blog for the very first time...and if so...welcome! This blog was originally designed, more or less, as a "nuts and bolts" way to update viewers of HLN on what was being discussed, developed, and implemented in the evolution of the Horizon League Network (as you can probably see by some of the early posts). While some of that will still make its way to this blog, the majority of the posts are going to now focus on what's going on around the Horizon League.

Myself and Adam Coppinger
(whom you'll be seeing/hearing/reading a lot more from across all HLN platforms in the weeks ahead) will be posting here regularly to help get the conversation started among all fans of the Horizon League. I can't speak for Adam, but you'll likely find my entries to be bold and opinionated...and don't worry, I can take the heat. In fact, I want the heat...I want to hear your opinion...whether you agree or disagree with whatever it is I may discuss on a given day.

2) If you're a "Facebook-er" or a "MySpace-er" you may have noticed our increased presence on those sites...specifically Facebook. We've put together a formidable group of "friends" on Facebook and we're starting to see an increase in the amount of conversation among the people who are watching the videos we post...which are some of the same pieces of content you can find on HLN. For example, when we start to see people communicating to each other on Facebook, thanks to a video or event we posted regarding the Horizon League Women's Soccer Championship...we start to get excited.

HLN also uses Twitter...which is my personal favorite. You can learn the basics here. It's free...but if you choose to receive text message updates, you're cell phone provider's rates do apply.

3) With basketball season upon us, our regular viewers will surely notice some re-working that has taken place, or will be taking place, regarding our basketball content. First and foremost, I'm sure many of you have noticed the larger viewing window for games...and hopefully a more reliable stream with less interruptions.

You may have already noticed that "Player of the Week" content has been included in the weekly HLN Update...which will be the case all season. Last season we also produced a "Plays of the Week" video...and while we will still feature the best basketball plays of the week, it will be presented in a much different form. We're still ironing out the all I'll say at this point, is that we're hoping to get YOU involved in the process. Stay tuned.

Another change from last basketball season will be the availability of game highlights. The majority of our schools (hopefully all of them) will be cutting game highlights from their home games, to be posted on HLN the morning after each league game. Our people at each school are already working to master the process, and it's looking good.

Lastly, we've got something very special in the works this basketball season...and it includes bringing HLN to you, the fan. Myself and Adam (whom I mentioned earlier) will be traveling around the league to various basketball games and bringing you a video-blog, of sorts, showing you what a game-day/night is like from start to finish. We'll be posting video from the moment we hop in the car, until the lights are turned off in the arena. Technology is an amazing thing. Some of it may be silly, it may be important pre-game updates, or it may include interviews with athletes. Regardless, it will certainly be worth checking out throughout the day on our travel days. We'll be promoting it heavily, so if you have ideas, or want to make a case for us to visit your school for a specific game...let us know!

All in all...we're doing everything we can to try and make HLN feel like an online community where fans can come EVERYDAY to watch, discuss, and debate all things Horizon League. We hope you'll join us!

Until next time...


Thursday, October 16, 2008

A new year… a new Horizon League Network

The Horizon League Network is beginning its second year at The site was a complete success during year one, more than tripling our registered user base. I wanted to thank everyone who watched last year and if you didn’t, sign up today… it’s free!

Year two brings some change to HLN. The live viewing window has been increased substantially to provide a better experience for HLN users. Also, the picture quality is clearer, allowing for full-screen viewing with less pixilation.

We continue to explore the use of Microsoft Silverlight and provide a beta version for all of our on-demand content. It’s our goal to continuously explore new technologies and implement them when appropriate. We are also exploring the use of Flash Video to deliver both our live and on-demand content.

Some more exciting additions have come in the way of on-demand content. Damon Lewis and the crew at WebStream Productions is ramping it up. The HLN Update debuted a month ago now and has been a resounding success. Essentially a look at the week that was and the week that will be, the HLN Update gives the network the ability to have its own SportsCenter-type show. This is a great promotional tool for our student-athletes as all sports are now included.

We’re also making a push in the social media world. We want to bring our content to the masses and get it in front of as many interested people as possible. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and many other social networking sites will carry HLN content this year. This will also allow fans to connect with HLN and get any questions they might have answered.

That’s all for now… check back soon for the next big thing!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Email that Makes it All Worthwhile

Yesterday I got the best piece of feedback yet on HLN. It was a letter from a graduating student expressing her appreciation for the live streaming of the commencement ceremony at Loyola University Chicago. It's emails like this that tell me what I'm doing is really worthwhile. With the Horizon League Network we were able to bring this graduating student closer to her family and was able to make the occasion even more special.


"As if I wasn't grateful to this institution already, Loyola University does something that makes me appreciate it even more. Last Friday, as I walked down the stage to receive my Master in Social Work, my extended family was able to joing in this celebration thanks to Loyola's initiative to broadcast commencement ceremonies in real-time online video. Several members of my family gathered that evening at my father's home and cheered every time they saw me and, particularly, when my name was called to receive my diploma.

I honestly say that my achievement has greater significance now after knowing that my father, back in my natal Puerto Rico, joyfully watched my graduation ceremony. His health has been greatly compromised due to cancer treatment. So I promised pictures and did not dare to suggest any traveling. Then I received the information about Loyola's online video. Hopeful I told my brothers but still did not know if in fact was going to work for them.

Knowing that same Friday night that my father was, in a sense, among those attending my graduation ceremony was and still is a great gift to me. I spoke to him the next morning and he was still overjoyed, amazed by the technology, and impressed with how well Dr. James Marley pronounced my name. I know that my father was already glad for my accomplishment. However, this broadcast added to our celebration. Thanks!


Student X"

Monday, May 12, 2008

To Flash or Not to Flash

When thinking about content delivery the one thing that always comes up is compatibility. Streaming in Windows Media the past three seasons has given us a good amount of compatibility, but it still lacks the overall reach of Flash. The penetration of Flash is somewhere in the 98% range and also allows for some really exciting possibilities around and within the player.

With that said, Microsoft's Silverlight platform (my last post) is attempting to bridge the gap between WM and Flash. Another area where Flash isn't as advantageous is on the CDN side, where bandwidth charges are still higher for Flash delivery. I truly enjoy the experience that MLBAM has created with the new MLB player. It combines Flash and Silverlight. A good move by MLBAM as it has the functionality of Flash, yet the consistent streaming of Windows Media through the Silverlight plug-in.

As things develop for HLN v2.0, this is one of the major items on the table. We will also be exploring social community, increasing non-sports related content, developing a linking strategy and much more.

HLN Fact: Last weekend, the Horizon League Network webcast its first official non-sports related event with resounding success. Loyola University Chicago had live streaming video available for its 138th annual commencement, and it was watched by over a thousand unique viewers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Silverlight Beta Launches

The Horizon League Network is already working on the second version of the HLN platform and the first part of that transition has been launched with a beta version of an all-new player. Running off of Microsoft’s Silverlight streaming technology, the upgrade significantly enhances the viewing experience on HLN (the window is twice as big). The new player also gives us the chance to overlay graphics, commercials and other advertisements, which will hopefully be utilized in our sponsorship sales packages next year.

Since we are just in a beta testing phase with this product, it is not nearly finished. The site will most likely be redesigned to better integrate the new player and take advantage of some of the additional functionality available through Silverlight.

If you’ve read this much about the new beta player, please check it out. We’re really looking for some solid feedback on the new system, especially on how it compares to the original player.

Link to Beta Player


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Survey… Feedback from HLN Viewers

The most important part of the Horizon League Network is the user experience. This has been the driving force behind the development of the website and everything else that the Network has to offer. By creating a site that is as user-friendly as possible, I feel that HLN differentiates itself from many other online video sites. Also, the constant tweaking of the product as I receive feedback has significantly improved our product’s efficiency.

Customer service is a vital part of creating an optimal user experience. If users feel they are being listened to and that HLN will help them through their issues, they are more likely to develop an affinity to the website. I personally answer all feedback on our website in an attempt to help people access our content and better understand the product.

Recently, HLN has finished its most comprehensive user feedback tactic by sending a seven-question survey to all of its registered users. The results of the survey will shape the future of the Network and I thought publishing the results in this blog would be very interesting to some readers.

1. How did you become aware of the website?
a. Google / Search – 7.0%
b. Friend / Family – 17.6%
c. Alumni – 17.6%
d. Student – 7.1%
e. Athlete / Coach – 10.2%
f. Facebook – 0.3%
g. MySpace – 0.1%
h. Print Ad – 1.8%
i. Radio Ad – 2.3%
j. Online Ad – 10.1%
k. Other – 26.0 %
i. Most from university websites

2. What was the purpose of your first visit?
a. Live Sporting Event – 80.8%
b. Archived Footage – 2.2%
c. School Spirit – 5.4%
d. Curiosity – 8.9%
e. Other – 2.7%

3. What other content would you like to see?
a. User Generated Content – 9.4%
b. Stills of fans in game-day garb – 16.3%
c. Campus / Lifestyle – 20.2%
d. Episodic content / shows – 10.4%
e. Sports commentary – 51.7%
f. Student Life – 11.5%
g. Former Athletes (Where are they now?) – 42.9%
h. News Videos – 25%
i. Forums / chat – 16.9%
j. Vlogs and Blogs – 9.8%

4. Would you purchase DVDs of past games?
a. Yes – 33.9%
b. No – 66.1%

5. If yes to question 4, how much would you be willing to pay?
a. $15 – 58.5%
b. $20 – 10.1%
c. $25 – 2.1%
d. Other – 29.4%
i. Most $10

6. Would you be interested in being on a user panel to help us continually improve the Network?
a. Yes – 36.4%
b. No – 63.6%

7. How would you like to find out what’s new at
a. E-mail – 61.4%
b. Text – 0.2%
c. League website – 19.0%
d. School website – 15.0%
e. Facebook – 1.7%
f. MySpace – 0.4%
g. Other – 2.3%

Over 2,300 people completed this survey, which gives us a pretty good idea of the user sentiment (at the time 17,000 were registered for the site, so about 13.5%). We will be acting on some items immediately, but others will be implemented in year two. I found it very interesting that the majority of people wanted to see sports commentary though. It shows that people are looking for online video to mirror its over-the-air counterpart.

HLN Fact: As of 2/28/08, people from 87 different countries have visited the Network. The U.S. is far and away the leader with Canada, Finland, Germany and Mexico rounding out the top 5.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Online Strategies…

I want to pick up right where I left off in my last blog entry, our online strategies behind capturing the casual fan. This has been one of the most difficult areas of the entire project. Since there is no true TV guide to the Internet, it is very tricky to target individuals that might be interested in our content.

To combat this, I’ve decided to couple together ordinary online marketing techniques with some other more obscure methods. As most online entities do, we take full advantage of e-mail marketing and online ad placement. We’ve sent numerous e-mail blasts and have had ads placed on several newspapers’ websites in our markets during the first few months since our product’s launch.

The e-mail blasts have been sent to our existing list of registrants and our current registrants, so their true intent is not to find fans. They serve more as a tool to let our user base know when specific events are happening. The online advertisements have all been placed within the sports sections of newspapers’ websites. These are truly meant to capture the casual fan as they peruse the local news.

The most exciting online tactic (well, at least in my opinion) we are using right now would have to be Facebook. Most companies utilizing Facebook are simply creating applications, which I feel do not capture the true essence of the platform. Creating an application and throwing it on the platform is limiting and does not always support social interaction between the company and its supporters. According to O’Reilly, “87% of the usage goes to only 84 applications!" Taking a different approach, I have created a Horizon League Network Facebook account as if it were a living and breathing being. More than 100 people have friended this profile, with more than half being student-athletes that have starred in HLN videos. This also provides a great service to our athletes because all of their friends can see the videos they’ve starred in.

This is an area that there is no real precedent. As our product grows, so will its online presence and the tactics we use. Upstart FindInternetTV is a new website that is helping online video sites by setting up a directory and schedule (almost an online TV guide). I see sites of this nature taking off in the near future as Internet video “comes of age.”

Finally, this is another way we are increasing our online presence. Blogging. I have to admit at first I didn’t know about the whole concept. I was apprehensive to start a blog as I didn’t think people would care about my ramblings. Obviously, some people do. This blog has brought in hundreds of users to the site in the last month. So, you are reading and using it as an entry point to our site… thank you.

HLN Fact: Wednesday night’s Butler at UIC game set a single-game high for viewers with 3,248. If you watched, thank you. If you didn’t, you should go watch the archive!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Why HLN? -- Advantages of the Horizon League Network

The other day someone posed an interesting question to me… “Why HLN?” My first thought was, ‘why not?’ But, as I started to think about the question a little more, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be able to answer it with facts that supported and proved broadband distribution is the best model for the Horizon League.

I went to work on some preliminary research and started with three major categories: Cost, Control and Exposure. I felt that these were the major advantages that broadband distribution had over the television model.

The financial aspects of the model are by far the easiest to prove. Instead of having 10-15 games on regional sports networks, the League is able to produce hundreds of events each year at the same cost.

Control is a little harder to substantiate, but I see three distinct advantages of the broadband model.

1. Games can be played at desired times
2. All commercial time and additional online inventory available to sell
3. Ability for Horizon League to brand games

In the TV model, these items are for the most part out of the League’s control. The games will be played when TV dictates, commercial time will be split (with the vast majority going to the network producing the game) and the brand will be consistent with the other telecasts.

What does having control mean in the end? Essentially, more money, or the opportunity for more money.

Finally, the toughest item to prove would be exposure. I would say in the world of sports the ultimate exposure is primetime on ESPN or a weekend afternoon game on a major national network (i.e. CBS). It’s tough to argue against that, but when looking at the overall “potential” audience, these networks are limited compared to broadband.

CBS reaches 112.8 million homes (Nielson), while ESPN and ESPN2 are in about 96 million homes (ESPN). By the end of 2007, broadband reached approximately 300 million homes worldwide (eMarketer). This is where the reach of broadband gets scary. According to my math, the Horizon League Network is available in at least 187 million more homes than CBS.

To counter my own argument, which yes, I am allowed to do since this is my blog… the area that broadband distribution still falls short compared to television is the acquisition of the casual fan. In the TV world, people click through channels in an attempt to find something on. This gives the consumer a chance to accidentally stumble upon a show or event that they did not know about. Contrarily, the Internet does not give the user the ability to “click-through” channels. The Internet’s answer to this is search. With companies like Google and Yahoo!, you can be very specific and never come across a topic that deviates from the general topic your search. In the next post or two, I will breakdown our strategy behind finding the casual fan through search and other online tactics.

Obviously, this is only the starting point for an answer to the question “Why HLN?”

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Design

When I first began this project, the amount of content (ever-changing content at that) was a bit overwhelming. My initial instinct was to go simple, concise, and clear to mimic similar sites (news, sports, etc). This somewhat restricted my design, and Nate could tell. He wanted to see more of me in it; something a lot more custom and unique to other sites with similar content.

So I went to my sketchbook and got busy. I ended up doing a couple finished drawings that I was able to incorporate into the interface to give it more of a “high-action” feel. I thought that by creating a lot of movement, I could capture the essence of the site; live content constantly being updated.

It was a challenge to do something that was dynamic and interesting enough to pull people in, but still made sense for the amount of content that needed to be displayed. It was definitely fun to work on, though. Design is always most fun for me when I get to incorporate some other fine art, like drawing, into my digital work.

Nate had a vision to set HLN apart, and he saw it through. I enjoyed the process, and I’m glad to have been a big part of it.

-Ben Long

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tech. Stuff and Design

What Derek has done with our website is truly amazing. While I don’t try to understand all of the technical details, I can tell you that our site is compatible with just about every single type of browser / computer. Our biggest complaint from a year ago was that we were not Macintosh compatible. This was a grave mistake on our part, but was due to the platform setup by CSTV.

Compatibility is not the only area in which Derek’s setup has allowed us to grow. The ability to edit the different parts of the website was essential to HLN’s vision. Everyday, usually multiple times, I enter the administrative portion of the site to alter its content. This assures the HLN viewership of fresh content and something new nearly everyday.

Also, the way he created the different aspects of the site as widgets allows for a lot of possibilities as the product evolves. We plan on taking these items outside of HLN and place them on other sites that will help drive more interested viewers to HLN. A Facebook widget is one of many potential areas where fans of HLN can expect to see content in the near future.

Another area of the website that I saw as vital to setting apart HLN was the design. After looking at several different sports-based streaming offerings, I came to the conclusion that we would have to go outside of the box to develop our design.

This is an area that Mediasauce helped greatly. Ben Long, the company’s senior graphic designer, came to the rescue here with his unique style. While I don’t know many details about Ben’s artwork, I can tell you one thing, it’s awesome!

So, with a description of the design, its concept and inspiration, is Ben…


Thursday, January 17, 2008

HLN Tech. Stuff

Greetings and salutations to the users of the Horizon League Network! Let me start by stating that even though I have followed blogging from its inception to what it is today, I have not really put forth much effort into blogging myself.

I typically spend most of my time actually coding something instead of talking about what I do or how I do it. I am really excited to be blogging with some top notch individuals who really care about the user experience and who pay attention to not only new technologies, but to the people who use their website. Every day I speak to Nate Flannery who runs the website and discuss ways to make the website better in terms of functionality and usability. It is a privilege to be able to work with people who listens to the user community and quickly acts on their needs.

With regard to the HLN technology, I guess I can really start at the beginning. First, I must give credit to MediaSauce
who created a really engaging design for the website. It’s been a blast working with them and they are very good at website designs, 3D, and also interactive motion via Flash.

For the technology side, as always, I try to do something a little new that I have never done in the past. With HLN, the website is really just a collection of pieces of information that are basically widgets. So instead of taking the route of developing a dynamic database driven website of a typical CMS, I broke up each information section into its own class that can be run independently by itself or dependant on information being passed into a widget.

If you take the live events section for example, this widget could really be run outside of the website if needed or when embedded into the website, it takes the page’s properties and will display the relevant upcoming live event information pertaining to a school.

What this means is that each widget has great flexibility in how it is used or where it can be placed within the website. A widget can be duplicated multiple times on a page such as the advertisements and each widget will still be unique.

I would say the difference between a typical CMS and this approach is that the widgets are not dependent on a fixed layout, but rather the position of the X and Y coordinates. That means when the HLN website needs a new design, we can change out the design and re-position each widget very easy so the current content does not have to be re-written. The design can then be anything that is imagined - hopefully.

My feeling is that a few years ago this would not have been possible due to non-standard browsers, but as browsers adopt unified standards, this type of flexibility is now possible.

My passion is usability for a website and I believe that this underlying core of code will allow me to continue to easily modify the website to really suit its users based on their needs and how they interact with it.

I think that is it for now. I can continue to ramble on with my thoughts on other aspects of the technology, but I think I’ll save that for another day. If anyone has questions on the technology, I would be more than happy to answer them in my next blog. Just use the feedback link in the website to ask those questions.


Derek Swanson

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Horizon League Network launches… a while ago

Now that the new HLN has launched and we’re nearly three months into the product, I’ve finally found a little time to tell the world about some of the details of our product. This isn’t something that 99.999% of the world will care about, but for you 0.001%, this is for you.

The Horizon League Network, in short, is an online version of the Big Ten Network. Since the conference doesn’t have similar resources it was forced to look beyond television to publicize its product. Three years ago, the Horizon League decided to take its TV budget and reallocate it for webstreaming. Doing this has allowed the League to broadcast hundreds of games each year worldwide, rather than a select few games on a regional TV network.

After two fairly successful years, the League made a substantial step by partnering with Mediasauce (a company in Indianapolis) for its webstreaming platform. The partnership has allowed HLN to grow into a completely unique product in collegiate sports streaming.

As we progress through the remainder of this academic year, this blog will serve as the place that the people most involved in the Horizon League Network discuss the product. With that said, I introduce to you Derek Swanson… The man behind the code that makes it all work.