Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We've Moved!!!

Everything that you once found on this here little blog, has been moved to the new and improved Horizon League Network!

You can find us at:



The HLN Team

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moving Forward

Originally posted March 27, 2009

No matter which men's basketball team you root for in the Horizon League, the end of the season is always difficult to deal with. Some may joke that the season is "finally over," but what they're really saying is, "I can't wait to see how much better we are next year."

The reason I know this reality is difficult to deal with is two-fold.

1) It's difficult for me, and above anything else I'm a fan...just like each of you.
2) The response we've gotten from you this season on our little blog, makes it very clear just how passionate the fans are here in the Horizon League. Sure, we all might complain about attendance figures in the arena...but I can tell you whole-heartedly that each of our ten schools have a core of fans that want nothing more than success on the basketball court (and on the soccer field, volleyball court, or baseball/softball diamonds as well).

Despite detractors who fill message boards with unfounded claims that what we have here in the Horizon League is sub-par or 2nd-rate, those of us that see the big picture understand the growth that is taking place within all ten of our Horizon League men's basketball programs. We understand that down years happen. Just like the players that go to battle each night, it's more about how the adversity is handled...and what the response is. Looking ahead to next season, I surely like what I see.

An accomplishment such as having four teams earn 20-win seasons for the second-consecutive year (with the past two seasons being the only two times in league history this feat has been achieved) is certainly worth noting. A streak of five-consecutive years with at least 1 NCAA Tournament victory, isn't too shabby either.

What's more important to me, however, is what I see with my own eyes. Understand that the way a team like Cleveland State plays against Milwaukee, for example, is wildly different from the way the Vikings would approach a game with Wright State. Thankfully, I was exposed to many of these situations during the men's basketball season...and it was truly an eye-opening experience. I encourage any of you reading this to do the same next year, or at the very least, watch games on HLN that don't involve the team you typically root for. Really watch it. And if you want to go a step games from other mid-major leagues, and compare what you see. Trust me, you'll come to appreciate what the Horizon League is able to do in men's basketball even more, when you consider the resources available to them.

I use the word "resources" on it brings me to my next point.

Many of you who read here are also readers of The Mid-Majority (and resources are discussed a lot over there). Chances are you've already read this year's edition of The Epilogue, but if you haven't read it, you should. And if you have read it, then you are probably already aware that I'll be joining The Mid-Majority next season as a freelance writer. Essentially, my work there will be in addition to my duties here with the Horizon League Network. No worries, you can't get rid of me that easily. Although, I'm sure many of you have come to realize this season that my cohort Adam Coppinger is a pretty talented fella...and without his help on a lot of this, it simply wouldn't happen. And there's no question this wouldn't happen without the support and forward thinking of the people at Horizon League headquarters.

It's worth noting that I'm not joining Kyle next season so that I can be a mouthpiece for the Horizon League's awesomeness (even though it's clear that I certainly appreciate what this league has to offer). I'm joining Kyle next season because it is an opportunity for me to learn about other mid-major programs that go through the same ups and downs as the programs here in the Horizon League. I will be thoughtful, objective, and as precise as possible...just as I have tried to be here on HLN, and just as I will continue to be both here at the HLN Blog and on HLN. My hope is that this opportunity will allow me to gain an even greater appreciation for what we have here in the Horizon League, and pass that perspective along to you.

For the next few months, we'll be on a quasi-hiatus. The posts will be less frequent, but Adam and I will surely keep you informed of anything that warrants discussion.

Thank you for your support this year. Here's to making next season...a beautiful season.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I heard a great story in the locker room on Saturday. I'll try and paraphrase it here.

Coach Gary Waters has a notebook that he calls a 'vision book' where he writes down goals, both long term and short term. He showed the book to a potential recruit early last season. The recruit looked at Waters and basically told him that the goals were too lofty. Waters stood by his benchmarks. A week later CSU went out and beat Florida State in OT. The recruit, after finding out the result, explained to his coach that the victory against FSU was in the vision book. The kid must have thought Waters was a basketball prophet.

I liked the story because it shows what kind of a coach and leader Gary Waters is. He believed when very few did. It hit me after the game that this senior class for Cleveland State all bought into coach Waters' vision and built a foundation for future CSU teams. The foundation starts with J'Nathan Bullock. Without #35 there is no HL championship and no NCAA Tournament. George Tandy and Cedric Jackson found CSU after choosing somewhere else first. Chris Moore and his hard word. Renard Fields, the forgotten senior at times, was there through the tough times as well.

When the final buzzer sounded I was already thinking about the emotions that would be spilled out in that tiny little locker room in the corner of American Airlines Arena. I feel like I know the people in that room, even though I don't. I took some video but it's not really worth posting. There were no national writers in the room. All the video cameras and journalists were 20 feet down the hallway in another locker room. When asked about his altercation with Cedric Jackson, Chase Budinger couldn't remember his name or number.

We'll remember the ride that CSU took us on. How they thoroughly pounded a team that was ranked number one in the country. And how they let us hang out with them for the tail end of their incredible journey. Thanks.

(13) Cleveland State vs. (12) Arizona

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Razing Arizona

Tomorrow around 2:40 Cleveland State will once again be underdogs. Unfortunately, the element of surprise is no longer on their side. Arizona was the last team in the field and they aren't about to take anybody lightly. They have three guys that can score in bunches. 6-7 Chase Budinger, 5-10 Nic Wise, and 6-10 Jordan Hill. Stop them and AZ can't win. Budinger is the most dangerous for CSU. He has the size to shoot over Cole and Jackson but is too quick for Bullock. This is specifically the type of guy who D'Aundray Brown would check. Matchup nightmare for the Vikings. They have to feel confident about containing Wise after shutting down Teague but Wise is much more likely to stay aggressive for 40 minutes. Hill is more of an offensive rebound guy. Keep him from getting good position down low and box him out and he won't be a huge factor offensively. 

What do the Wildcats think of Cleveland State? Here's Budinger in the locker room on CSU:

The locker room today was a lot more crowded than yesterday or the day before. All the Vikings have taken it in stride. I mentioned yesterday that the smart people go to Norris for a good quote. Well apparently the word is out. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you "media darling" Nooooooooorrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiissss COLE!

After Mr. Cole was done with all the really important people I got him to answer a couple questions about the game with Arizona tomorrow.

What kind of preview would this be without some big guys? I've said it a couple times already but Chris Moore, Renard Fields, and George Tandy were so good defensively last night it got me thinking about many true post threats they've had to play against in the last 6 weeks. Matt Howard (Butler) is the only name that comes to mind and they held him in check as well. They were goofing around, which explains some of the random laughter. Here's Chris Moore then George Tandy:

I got to ask Coach Gee about Chase Budinger and how the Vikings were going to stop another NBA-bound player. He compared Budinger to one of the HLN Blog's favorites...

Thanks coach. I'll do my best to get some video up before tomorrow's game but the NCAA is pretty strict about video in and around the arena. The live blog will start up tomorrow at approximately 2:00 eastern. Stop by and root for the Vikings and follow along with what I'm seeing court side. See ya then!

In the Mean Time, the In-Between Time...

The Vikings came out so fast and so furious last night I thought I was watching a terrible Vin Diesel movie. Jackson's two 3-pointers had the Wake Forest coaching staff asking about the scouting report that they had that said he couldn't shoot, 32% for the year. Chris Moore's defense inside and his ability to run the floor got CSU easy opportunities at the basket. Norris Cole defended Jeff Teague well all game and J'Nathan Bullock was J'Nathan Bullock. Everybody coach Waters ran out played to their strengths and avoided making costly mistakes. The same can't be said for WF.

Eighteen turnovers, seven by Teague, showed that Cleveland State's ability to play the passing lanes, get deflections, and maintain a physical defensive style without fouling can frustrate even one of the best offensive teams in the country.

The Vikings' toughness was on full display as well. As they were fighting through tough calls (Jackson block/charge anyone?) the Demon Deacons were whining, showing their youth, and drifting in and out of timeouts. During the live blog someone asked about a foul that wasn't called when Bullock was shoved out of bounds and my response: he doesn't budge. They rarely complain about close calls, never expect a foul to be called, and treat reach-ins, holds, and hand checks by the other team as if they're flies that need to be ignored.

Coach Waters and his staff did a remarkable job getting their team prepared and it won't stop now. The business trip may just be getting started.

That Was Fun Wasn't It?

The title of this post is a quote from Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone. And it was SO much fun. I was seated right in the middle of the Wake Forest section and it was AWESOME.
I was live blogging from right here during the game and I need some more CSU fans to show up during the game Sunday around 2:40.


I thought Chris Moore did a phenomenal job defensively tonight along with Renard Fields. I got a chance to ask Chris about the team's defensive gameplan tonight:

Almost everybody in the room was trying to get quotes from J'Nathan but we all know that's a hard hill to climb. If you want a decent quote you go to the shooter, Norris Cole. As the story goes, he walked into practice on Monday and said "I got Teague". Right here on this very blog we had Cedric Jackson saying that Cole was most likely going to get a a turn on Teague. Here is Norris:

Cedric was getting some 'treatment' at the beginning of the open locker room session but eventually made his way out. I'm guessing he experienced a little cramping during the second half and needed some fluids and an IV. He had a bandage on his arm and he was visibly shaking when he first came in. He was so good tonight I had to post something from him in the post-game soundbytes. Here he is talking about setting the tone at the beginning of the game:

Coach Waters always seems so genuine during all his interviews with the media. I piggybacked on a question that's Pat Forde asked coach about what this win means for the Cleveland State program:

I'll try to post more video tomorrow during the afternoon. CSU has their media session in the early evening and I'll post some video ASAP.

There are about one hundred moments that happened and thoughts I had during the game tonight and I really can't put them all down here or it would be a rambling mess. One thing I will say is that there really is nothing quite like rooting for a hard working group of guys like Cleveland State, knowing how tough of a conference they came out of, and having other people recognize that as well. Tonight was just so much fun. I'll post more thoughts/stories from the game at some point tomorrow because if I try right now it will sound like a bunch of fanboy nonsense. Gary and the boys are on a 'business trip' and as they got on the bus to go back to the hotel I can only imagine they were jammin' to THIS.

Friday, March 20, 2009

(13) Cleveland State vs. (4) Wake Forest

Pep Rally Time!

I made my way over to Mambo's for the Cleveland State pep rally. Food, Drink, and Horizon League fans...FAAAAAANTASTIC.

The first gentleman I met was none other than Associate Athletic Director Chris Sedlock!

The next fellow I bumped into was Chad. I don't remember Chad's last name but he was really excited and he drove over 20 hours to get to Miami. He's a CSU student and is going to be loud and proud at the "AAA" tonight. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

And you can't go to a pep rally without talking to some long-time season ticket holders. This group of gentlemen came from far and near to check out their Vikings in the NCAA tournament. They were very cordial and I ended up sitting with them for a few minutes. The blog is going to keep an eye out for these chaps next time we're in Cleveland.

I want to thank all the great people at CSU for making me feel at home during their Mambo takeover. Everyone was kind and I'm grateful for their hospitality.
Every time I opened my camera to shoot some video this happened:

I've seen quite a bit of orange since I've arrived in Miami because Syracuse travels so well. What better icebreaker from an HL'er to a Syracuse fan than THIS. Actually this guy and his buddies were really nice and complimentary of CSU. Unfortunately for him all the chanting above was directed in his general direction.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coach Waters/D'Aundray Brown

By popular request I spoke with D'Aundray Brown about his knee. He seemed to be in pretty good spirits. He was sitting next to Cedric Jackson, probably hoping Jackson's positive vibes seep into his knee and magically heal it. It wouldn't be an interview today without some business talk. Anyway, here it is: 

As CSU came out of the north-end tunnel in AAA for their practice I was cautiously optimistic that I'd see #32 in green. Here is what I saw: 

Lastly, I caught up with Coach Waters before CSU's practice. He introduced me to coach Gee and was very positive. He has his team determined to prove they're supposed to be in Miami to win basketball games and for no other reason. He could be the best interviewee of any coach in the Horizon League. Thanks for giving the blog some time coach! 

That's it for me tonight, I'll be blogging during the game tomorrow so come right back here. The live blog will be open and I'll be taken your questions/comments and giving some analysis. 

We Talkin' Bout Practice

So each team gets to their NCAA first round site a day early to shoot around and get used to the gym. In other words: Practice.

Wake Forest was still on the court when I got to "AAA" so I decided to do some scouting and took a little video too:

Let's hope they shoot like that tomorrow night. 

Before each team practices the media gets to inundate the players with questions. So I strolled into the Cleveland State locker room and...I was the only one asking questions. 

A big theme during today's general media session was Wake Forest's size and how much bigger they are than the Vikings. Most of the mainstream media members look way too much at height and not at toughness. I asked J'Nathan Bullock about all the talk, his message was pretty clear:

When I asked J'Nathan about Miami and he called it a business trip, or bid'ness trip, it set off a series of comments about these games being a business trip for the Vikings. Got me a little depressed actually.
The key matchup in tomorrow night's game is going to be Cedric Jackson vs. Wake Forest's Jeff Teague. I asked Jackson about guarding one of the best players in the country. 

Once practice started up coach Gee and coach Desimplare worked the bigs at one end and the guards at the other. I was a little surprised by the tone of the practice although I shouldn't have been. It was all bid'ness. They brought out the pads to simulate what could be a very physical game down low. Cedric Jackson was keeping everybody's spirits up with some positive chatter. One player who didn't need any positive chatter was Norris Cole. That dude is a deadeye shooter. I mean he rarely misses. RARELY. I've seen some of his better games this year in person and you can't convince me that he isn't one of the best five players returning next year in the HL.

Here's a little bit from the end of practice when they started hurting the rim. I won't identify the bigs who "layed it in" or missed their dunk entirely. Could be worse I suppose.

I'll be posting an update on D'Aundray Brown and a quick conversation I had with Coach Waters before practice in a bit. Thanks for checking out the blog!

Party in the City Where the Heat is On!

Damon, it's the beginning...for Cleveland State. 

I'm down here in Miami and cannot get THIS song out of my head. And yes I can feel 'dat' Will, thanks for asking!

Because the video starts with freezing cold, which is where I was on Wednesday Morning, and then goes to a view from the plane, here was mine: 

So my fourth plane ride of the day was a little delayed and I was a bit tired until the color of my rental car woke me up. Really quickly.  That is the exact car. I got to the hotel around 1:40, so it was too late to do anything but sleep. When I woke up, thanks to numerous calls/texts from people that probably knew I was sleeping, I decided to take a look at my! Thanks Horizon League!

The building I zoom (shaky) to is American Airlines Arena. Home of all the basketball here in town for the next few days. 
So I made it safely, got all my stuff together, and headed over "AAA" for some practice. 

Is This the End, Or the Beginning?

I'm not one that's very big on silver linings. Some would call that pessimistic, I would call it realistic.

So what's the reality for Butler following their 75-71 NCAA 1st-Round loss to LSU?

Yes, they fought hard. Yes, their season is over. And yes, this is going to be a fantastic team the next few seasons.

It's impossible to ignore this team's youth, and it would be equally as ignorant to say that there weren't some "young" mistakes made in today's season-ender. Then again, those kind of mistakes come with the territory when Butler's 3 freshmen starters all played 33 minutes or more.

After the game it was evident how disappointed the Bulldogs were to be going home...freshmen, sophomores, and juniors alike.

One thing that Coach Stevens said during his news conference really stuck out to me. He mentioned how there have been very few times in his coaching career at Butler where an opposing player has been able to essentially dominate a game. That's basically what LSU's Marcus Thornton did today in scoring 30 points (10-15 FGs, 3-4 3pt FGs, 7-8 FTs) while pulling down 6 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, committing just 1 turnover, and notching 4 steals.

Think about that stat-line for a minute. And it's not like he did it without defenders running at him all day.

Anyway, it was a really well-played and well-officiated game in my humble opinion. During the game I couldn't help but think about how disappointed Matt Howard was in his own performance last season following Butler's 2nd-Round NCAA loss to Tennessee. He certainly got a little redemption today, owning the post the entire time he was on the floor.

Of course, last season Howard was a freshman...and many might attribute his "youth" to being a reason why he struggled in the NCAA Tournament. Today, however, Butler had two freshmen score in double-figures (Mack - 18, Hayward - 12).

As an SEC writer sitting next to me during the game put it, "Imagine what this team is going to be like in two years?!?"

We won't have to imagine...we'll be watching it.

Butler vs. LSU - NCAA 1st-Round Game

*This live-blog was interrupted by a poor Wifi connection within the Greensboro Coliseum. It is far from a complete view inside the Butler vs. LSU game, but we appreciate your patience and hope you enjoy what you read.

-Damon Lewis

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting Prepared

The Butler Bulldogs faced the media and hit the practice floor this afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum. Safe to say, this team is keeping things very loose...but are also very confident in what they're capable of doing tomorrow against LSU.

Practice was light, with just some competitive shooting drills. Pretty standard for a practice open to the public, and constrained to 40 minutes in length.

The Bulldogs arrived at the coliseum around 11:00am, with Coach Stevens, Matt Howard, and Willie Veasley representing Butler at their scheduled news conference, which took place at about 11:20am. While that was going on, however, the rest of the squad was in the locker soundbytes to many of Indy's local media-types. Heck, even Coach Stevens made it back in time to answer a few more of our burning questions. What a lucky guy.

It didn't take long, though, for the mood to change completely inside Butler's locker room. When we first entered, most of their eyes were glued to a television hanging from the wall. From nowhere, a game of "Catch Phrase" broke out...and it became pretty clear that this group isn't feeling any sort of pressure to live up to anyone's standards but their own. You'll notice in the video that Veasley and Howard had returned to the locker room by this time...and were greeted with more questions to answer. At least all they had to talk about was how this team knows how to stay loose, and have fun.

Eventually the Dawgs made their way to the practice court. Not a lot to see here, unless you like seeing made shot, after made shot. They kept it simple...nothing monster dunks for the crowd, although I did see Chase Stigall get rejected by the rim on one occasion. To his credit, I also saw him throw one down with authority...but the rejection brought on some serious "razzing" from a few teammates, and one coach. The session was over in the blink of an eye.

To my surprise, I didn't see a single Butler fan in the stands watching today's public practice (although I was told later there were about five who watched). Not surprising at all that about 98% of the people watching this afternoon's public practice were wearing Tar Heel blue. They're everywhere down here.

Something I hadn't thought about until after today's session was over (and not understanding why I hadn't seen any Butler fans yet) is what the impact of Butler's 1st-round game being on Thursday will be. Last year in Birmingham it seemed like Butler fans were everywhere, but that game was on a Friday and most of the fans rolled into Alabama on Thursday night. This time around, it will be interesting to see how many fans are able to show up on a Wednesday night.

One thing is for sure, I'll be out looking for Butler fans tonight. Also, part of the fun for the fans (and us media folks) at the NCAA Tournament is chatting up people that have a different team they're pulling for. Last year while traveling with Butler, it was nearly impossible to go 50-feet without a Louisville fan coming up and saying something along the lines of, "Ya'll killed us in '03." I think I'm going to have to find a "social setting" and see what this set of fans thinks about the Bulldogs.

P.I.G Party Sets the Tone

Tonight's NCAA Tournament Opening Round game gave us our first taste of what this so-called "madness" is all about...even if it was a rather unspectacular contest.

What is spectacular about this event year in and year out, is the support that the city of Dayton has shown. The crowds simply keep getting larger and larger...despite the city having zero affiliation with the teams involved. Needless to say, Dayton loves their basketball.

Dayton's South Park Tavern has become somewhat of a flag-bearer for the event...eating up a lot of tickets for the game each year. All this while customers stop in beforehand to eat up all sorts of pizza, and perhaps enjoy a fairly priced bottle of malted hops.

This year, Kyle Whelliston encouraged his readers at The Mid-Majority to make the trip to Dayton and enjoy an afternoon and evening full of talking and watching hoops. It just so happened that my driving directions to Greensboro, NC suggested I drive through I couldn't say no. While I wasn't able to stick around for the game (that whole "driving all night to Greensboro, NC thing" takes a little time), I was able stop by the South Park Tavern to dig a little deeper.

One of the first people I met was SPT's self-proclaimed President/Pizza Maker/Janitor, Bill Daniels. Bill is as friendly as his Hawaiian Pizza is tasty...and he took a few minutes out of his busy evening to talk to me about SPT, the Opening Round game, and how Dayton has come to love the event.

Bill forgot to mention on-camera that he's a Wright State alum. Trust me, he's impressed with how quickly Coach Brownell has brought the Raiders along.

Believe it or not, Bill wasn't the only one in the house with Horizon League ties. I also met Steve Timble, a Loyola Ramblers season ticket-holder. Steve and I talked all-things Horizon League. Current teams, old teams, name it, we discussed it. I also had to ask him some pointed questions about his Ramblers...and, of course, his interest in the Opening Round game.

Of course, Mr. Whelliston was in attendance as well. Being on camera isn't really his "thing" but it's worth noting that he did say he was happy that the HL ended up with two bids. Kyle says an awful lot of nice things about the HL all season long, so there was really no need to press the issue.

So we're underway with our NCAA Tournament coverage. (Wednesday), Butler has an open practice and media session which I'll be sure to gather lots of video from, and post later in the day.

Hey Adam, you going to make your flight to Miami??

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We're Goin' Dancin'...

Yes, you read that right!

The HLN Blog will be up and running all week long, getting you ready for both Butler and Cleveland State's NCAA Tournament games!

I'm literally minutes away from beginning a long, tedious drive to Greensboro, NC to cover the Bulldogs...while Adam will be making his way to South Beach tomorrow to track down the Vikings. Trust me when I say, Adam's "journey" to Miami is a pretty comical situation...but I'll let him explain that.

Anyway...we'll be posting videos throughout the week as we go behind the scenes with each team, and also live-blogging courtside for both Butler's and Cleveland State's NCAA Tournament games.

As for my trip...the beginning of my drive will take me through Dayton, OH...and word is, there's a pretty big social gathering that's been put together tonight, celebrating some fellow mid-majors. It's all you die hards should know what's going on in Dayton tonight. And we aren't talking about St. Patrick's Day.

Get ready for an exciting week...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crowning A Champion!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Semifinal Saturday!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tourney Time!

Easily my favorite time of the year. Last night, while switching back and forth during the first half of the 7:00 games, I couldn't help but notice the balance in the league. The two worst teams record-wise are bringing in serious talent next season and could be contenders. The 3-7 seeds all have similar talent levels and the one team I'm leaving out is the only team this season to beat Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. 

Quarterfinals are set: UIC vs. Cleveland State and Wright State vs. Milwaukee. 

Is UIC coming together? The Flames have won 5 in a row and they're getting tough inside play from Rob Eppinger and Tori Boyd. They killed YSU on the glass (+10) and showed a toughness that they haven't had at times this season. If VanderMeer can make a few bunnies, the Vikings could be in for some trouble. 

Detroit hung with CSU until a few minutes into the second half when the Vikings defense choked the life out of the Titans. D'Aundray Brown hyperextended his right knee and didn't return. This could be a big development because they are a completely different team without him. The Titans played a tough physical style that stymied J'Nathan Bullock and co. for a while but CSU's superior talent level finally broke through.  To quote Dennis Green, the Vikings are who we thought they were. The formula for beating Cleveland State is the same it's always been: limit turnovers, don't give up easy baskets, don't foul. 

Wright State got out to a quick lead on Valpo and held on to avenge a tournament loss last year. Cooper Land shot out of his mind and that's all it takes for WSU to get a win. One guy besides Todd Brown gets hot for the next two games and the Raiders have a chance. It really is that simple. 

Milwaukee flattened Loyola at the Cell and now returns to Hinkle with something to prove. Their last trip there didn't go too well. Lumber and co. (sounds like a legit business) took care of business all over the Ramblers. Milwaukee used this to get a 22 point advantage and roll into the second round. 

Valpo, Younsgstown State, Loyola, and Detroit all saw their seasons end last night. 

Coach Jerry Slocum and his mustache have a lot to build on going into next season. DeAndre Mays, Kelvin Bright, Vytas Sulskis, and Sirlester Martin, their top four scorers, all come back next season. Ward, Cooksey, and Parks give them some shooting off the bench, and another season together will certainly help. Expect another home game in the HL tournament next year. 

Valpo and Loyola could be considered disappointments this season. Valpo had some tough luck with injuries to Brandon McPherson and some depth issues up front. Loyola...thank goodness for that Butler win. 

Detroit: Coach McCallum is building a foundation and the way he's hoarding big guys they'll be a matchup problem for years to come. 

NOTE: Damon and I will be at Hinkle Fieldhouse live blogging the semifinal round of the league tournament. If you can't make it to Indianapolis get on the blog and follow the game along with us. As always, we'll be taking questions, comments, and posting plenty of video to get you ready for the semis. 

Monday, March 2, 2009


Fresh off the press:

Player of the year: Matt Howard (Butler)

Newcomer of the Year: Gordon Hayward (Butler)

Defensive Player of the Year: Cedric Jackson (Cleveland State)

Sixth Man of the Year: Ryan Tillema (Green Bay)

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens (Butler)


Matt Howard, Butler
Gordon Hayward, Butler
Josh Mayo, UIC
Ryan Tillema, Green Bay
J'Nathan Bullock, Cleveland State


Todd Brown, Wright State
Rahmon Fletcher, Green Bay
Tone Boyle, Milwaukee
Urule Igbavboa, Valpo
Cedric Jackson, Cleveland State


Cedric Jackson, Cleveland State
Scott VanderMeer, UIC
Will Graham, Wright State
Terry Evans, Green Bay
Matt Howard, Butler


Gordon Hayward, Butler
Tone Boyle, Milwaukee
James Eayrs, Milwaukee
DeAndre Mays, Youngstown State
Shelvin Mack, Butler

Agree? Disagree? Surprised? Leave us a comment and we'll answer any questions. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Finishing What We Started

Today's trip to the ARC at Valparaiso is stop 4 of 4 in this little jaunt around the Horizon League. With what's happened in the league this week...specifically in northeast Ohio...we've got plenty to talk about leading up to today's Valpo vs. UIC match-up, which tips at 4:00pm ET / 3:00pm CT.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Home Sweet Home...If Only For One Night

Making our way back to HQ in Indianapolis...but this journey isn't over yet!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

LIVE From Downtown Cleveland!

We're back for more. You ready?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LIVE From Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (...or Park)

Ahhh...Chicago. Corrupt politics, deep dish pizza, and Ramblers basketball!

Horizon League Road Trip

Get your motor runnin'... Head out on the highway. 

THE Damon Lewis and myself will be leaving in a few hours for Chicago. We are heading to the Wright State-Loyola game. As always we are looking for you to give us things to talk about and keep us going. The live blog will start early in the afternoon so get in there and start telling us what you'd like to hear us discuss or questions you'd like to hear answered. We saw all of you Wright State fans show up on Saturday, now we'd like to see you guys show up for the blog! Look for the live blog to be posted in the next couple of hours. We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Look Back...And a Look Ahead


A full slate of games on Saturday produced some exciting results. I'll start with the last game first as Green Bay defended its home court in front of 7,980 Phoenix fans at the Resch Center. First off, a big salute to the Green Bay faithful getting out on a Saturday night in full force. The 72-68 win looked all too familiar to some other Horizon League teams as Green Bay used its veteran grit and a good amount of free throws to win at home. Milwaukee didn't exactly execute to perfection in the last 35 seconds as coach Jeter had to call a timeout with the clock winding down. Jeter drew up a pick and roll with backside action, trying to get Tone Boyle a good look off a screen at the top of the key. Boyle got some contact but didn't get the whistle and the Phoenix 'escaped' and got some breathing room in second place, now two games up on Milwaukee.
Coach Jeter started James "Big Lumber " Eayrs for the first time all season and he didn't disappoint as he went for 22 and 9 but fouled out in the waning moments trying to grab a rebound. Anthony Hill only getting 7 minutes is a head-scratcher as well because Green Bay can be bodied down low.

Road trip note: We (Damon and I) will get another good look at Milwaukee as they face Cleveland State on the road this Thursday. As always, we'll be live blogging so spread the word. Big Lumber vs. J'Nathan Bullock is a heavyweight bout I'd pay to see.

Cleveland State has now won four in a row and they're on a crash course with Milwaukee for the third-place spot in the HL tournament. That is important because it would mean you would avoid the home team, and number 1 seed, in the tournament until the championship game. The Vikings scored 51 points in the second half and 83 total at Loyola while only going 2-7 from the three-point line.


Coach McCallum and the Titans picked up their second league victory on Saturday with a 56-55 "W" over Valparaiso. Consider me on the Ray McCallum bandwagon. The Titans play a tough, smart style that I believe is really going to translate to more wins next season when the talent level increases. They're not a good perimeter shooting team, so instead of banging their heads against a wall they shot three 3-pt. FGs Saturday. Chris Hayes has been the guy that has stepped up the past couple of weeks. The 6-9 senior is averaging 14.8 pts. and 6.5 rebs. in his last four games. Perhaps the most encouraging statistic from Saturday's game is that the offensively challenged Titans found a way to win with their leading scorer, junior Thomas Kennedy, going 1-8 from the field.

Penguin Power...?!

Youngstown State is now 5-8 in conference and showing some life. If they can maintain their position in the league standings they would host a first round league game. The Penguins 8 wins, with 6 games to play, gives them a chance to have a double-digit win total for just the second time in the last 8 years.

Butler Flexing its Muscle

Butler walked into a sold-out Nutter Center and dominated from the tip. It was really a sight to see. At one point in the first half, I believe the score was 19-2, Damon and I just looked at each other in disbelief. We both predicted a Raider victory and thought the game was going to be a back-and-forth battle. We couldn't have been more wrong. Driving through New Castle, IN on our way back to Indianapolis I think Zach Hahn (New Castle native) hit four more threes. Troy Tabler, Will Graham, and N'Gai Evans made as many shots as THESE GUYS. Green Bay is going to need some help from Cleveland State or Milwaukee to make up that last game in the league standings. This game could haunt Green Bay for a long time.

Road Trip Note Pt. II

Look out Horizon League, here we come! Damon and myself will be hitting the road this week because we just can't get enough of the Horizon League.

Tuesday: We will be at Loyola for their home game against Wright State (8pm ET / 7pm CT).

Thursday: Traveling to Cleveland for the Milwaukee @ Cleveland State game (7pm ET / 6pm CT).

Friday: Back to Indianapolis for UIC-Butler, Part II (7pm ET / 6pm CT).

Sunday: UIC @ Valpo (4pm ET / 3pm CT), be there or be square. WE WILL.

That's it. Four games in six days. Live blogging the entire time.

*If you live in any of these cities please let us know what we need to do, where we need to eat, and where all of you will be in preparation for all this basketball.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Beginning of an Exciting Journey

For starters...HLN Live-Blog, this Saturday LIVE from the Nutter Center for Wright State vs. Butler. Raiders up, be loud, and we'll show the rest of the HL how you support the green and gold. For those of you who can't make it to the Nutt (we're speaking to you, Butler fans...and anyone else around the HL for that matter), join us here throughout the afternoon and evening for HL analysis, pre-game features and interviews from both sides of the Wright State / Butler matchup, in-game commentary from myself and Adam (complete with YOUR thoughts and comments), and some post-game soundbytes as well. I've always enjoyed my experiences at the Nutter Center, and suspect that this trip will be no different.

It's also worth noting that next week's Horizon League men's basketball schedule is a little out of the ordinary, with games being played on Tuesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday. I'm happy to report that Adam and I will be traveling to games, at the very least, on 4 of those 5 nights. The final schedule is still coming together, but get ready Horizon League week we're coming to Y-O-U.

For now...we'll see you right here on Saturday!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Phoenix Rising

With roughly seven games to go for each team in league play there is a level of excitement back for the stretch run in the Horizon League. Green Bay's victory over league-leading Butler on Monday night changes everything. The senior-led Phoenix took advantage of all their opportunities and did an excellent job of not giving Butler anything to use as momentum. You can stare at the box score until you're blue in the face and watch the game several times over but the game was decided by turnovers. 16-4. The Phoenix 'out Butlered' Butler. They made almost all of their free throws, Troy Cotton hit a back-breaking jump shot toward the end of the game, and they were the more composed team in the second half when they made their run. Green Bay is now only 1/2 game back in the league standings.

What does this mean to the rest of the league?

Green Bay has given the rest of the league hope. No matter what anyone tells you, people around the league were getting worried about this Bulldog team being head and shoulders above everybody else. The thing is...they're not. It shouldn't have taken this loss, or a below-average effort against Valpo at home, or even a close call against Detroit. The league is deep this year. REALLY deep. There are no fewer than five teams in the Horizon League that I think could win a first round game in the NCAA tournament.

The Green Bay victory also gives Milwaukee and Wright State, and Cleveland State some hope. They all have one game with Butler left on their schedule and two of them, UWM, WSU, are at home. Milwaukee's schedule has five road games left but they are in control of their path for a top two seed in the HL tournament.

Cleveland State's victory over Wright State can't be overlooked either. The Vikings were in desperate need, and still are, of getting some league wins for a potential run in the tournament. Cedric Jackson's up and down play is really making it tough for them to string together some wins but the talent is there and Norris Cole is certainly stepping up his game.

Lastly, Ryan Tillema is in the lead in the clubhouse for player of the year. He's now leading the league in scoring and is coming off the bench! His ability to get to the free throw line on Monday really made the difference for the Phoenix.

Friday, January 30, 2009

It's a Saturday Night...Special!

Apologies to those of you feasting for Horizon League news as fast as you can get it. This week was a tough one, as I moved into a new pad, and Adam came down with a case of the "I'm sick" early in the week. Personally, I think he's just a little depressed about the outcome of last weekend's WWE Royal Rumble...but I digress.

To try and make it up to you, we're going BIG on Saturday night. 4 games, all evening tip-offs, and all on HLN. And yes, we'll be live-blogging for each one, watching the same video that you are on HLN.

"But can you live-blog 4 games at once when it's normally just you and Adam live-blogging?"

Glad you asked, voice in my head.

We've enlisted the help of two more Horizon League experts, to cover each of the 4 games Saturday night. Nate Flannery, the Horizon League's Director of New Media and Technology, will taking care of one well as Josh Rattray, the Horizon League's Assistant Director of Communications. Josh also helps out on a lot of the women's basketball content you see on HLN...and does a fantastic job, if I do say so myself.

So here's your lineup for Saturday night:

6:30 - Live Blog begins.
7:05 - Adam begins exclusively live-blogging Detroit @ Youngstown State game.
7:30 - Damon begins exclusively live-blogging Wright State @ Cleveland State game.
8:00 - Nate begins exclusively live-blogging Loyola @ Green Bay game.
8:00 - Josh begins exclusively live-blogging UIC @ Milwaukee game.

Come one, come all! It's sure to be a great night of not only watching great basketball on HLN, but also another chance for you to talk back with fans all across the Horizon League landscape.

Hope to see you HERE Saturday Night!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Questions Answered

First and foremost, a big THANK YOU to those that sent in questions for our man, Rob Demovsky, to answer.  We sorted through the virtual pile, and passed along the following queries to give fans a little more perspective heading into tonight's game between Green Bay and Butler.

Thanks again to the Green Bay Press-Gazette for letting us borrow Rob for this monumental HLN Blog event.  Alright, so maybe not "monumental," but you get the idea.

Q:  Is this the most talented team Coach Kowalczyk has had while at Green Bay?

Rob Demovsky:  I don't think there's any question this is his most talented team. However, I thought the 2004-05 team that had Benito Flores, Javier Mendiburu, Brandon Morris and Matt Rohde was close. That's the last UWGB group to beat Butler. This team has better athletes and therefore plays better defense and rebounds better. This team has more pieces as well. They have good shooters (Cotton, Tillema, Schachtner), good defenders (Evans, Fletcher, Berry, Nelson) and a ton of experience.

Q:  In your opinion, is there something specific that has made Butler so successful in the Horizon League year after year?

Rob Demovsky:  I asked a couple of Horizon League coaches that very question this week and no one had a specific answer other than to say they've got a great system and do a great job finding players who fit that system. That style certainly isn't for everyone, but if you find players who buy into it and believe in it, it obviously works. Some believe this Butler team is actually better than last year's 30-4 team. I'm not sure about that simply because I thought Mike Green was one of the toughest college basketball players I've seen, and guys like A.J. Graves and Pete Campbell just made big shots when it mattered. I've always respected the way Butler players and have enjoyed watching them.

Q:  Who do you think Terry Evans will guard in Thursday night's game?
Rob Demovsky:  My guess is Evans will guard either Mack or Hayward, but the Phoenix often switches on lot of screens so you might see him on different guys. However, there are times when they try not to switch. When they played at UWM, Evans almost never left Avery Smith.

Q:  Coach Kowalczyk seems to be a "target" on many Horizon League message boards and fan sites. Being Green Bay's beat writer, you're around him about as much as what's he really like?

Rob Demovsky:  I've never really understood why Kowalczyk was so disliked. Early in his career, he may have made some comments that came off as arrogant or cocky, but what Division I coach isn't that way. They all have egos. But I think he's learned from those mistakes like any good coach would. I've covered three different Division I coaches at two different schools in my 15 years of covering college basketball, and I will say that Tod is by far the most media-friendly coach I've covered. He lets me watch as much practice as I want, gives me as much as access to players and assistants as I want and takes time to explain his philosophies. And it's not just with me. He's pretty much the same way with all the local TV and radio stations. Off the court, he's a regular guy -- he likes to play golf, drink a few beers and relax with his family. He has two young children, and they've mellowed him a little bit. Like most coach's wives, his wife Julie is a saint. You might recognize Julie from her maiden name -- Nordgaard. That's right, she's the sister of former UWGB star Jeff Nordgaard.

Q:  Since we're midway through the season, who's your All-Horizon League 1st Team?

Rob Demovsky: I won't have seen every team in person until after this weekend, but I do believe I've seen all the teams at some point or another if not in person then on the Horizon League Network.

So I'd probably say the first team would be: Matt Howard, Ryan Tillema, Avery Smith, J'Nathan Bullock and either Josh Mayo or Gordon Hayward.

Too soon to say on Player of the Year although I would think Howard is the leading candidate. Hayward probably has the Newcomer of the Year already locked up. Terry Evans should repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, and Tillema is probably the Sixth Man of the Year, but he's really a starter, so maybe James Eayrs of UWM.


Bonus Question: I know you cover UWGB and the Packers, but who wins in a fight: Ditka or Big Lumber?

Rob Demovsky:  Well I am originally from Chicago, so I'd have to say Da Coach, but ...

Actually someone told me Eayrs' mom wouldn't let him play football because she was afraid he'd get hurt (my guess is he would have done the hurting), but I don't know if that's true. I'll say this, for a big guy, he's kind of a gentle giant. He's got soft hands and a great touch. The first time I saw him play, I thought no way can this guy play. I certainly don't think that now.

Thanks for all the questions. If anyone ever has a question about UWGB or the Horizon League feel free to contact me at, and please read the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lets Press (Gazette) the Issue...

It doesn't take a whole lot of research to figure out the most significant game in the Horizon League Thursday night.

(7-0) Butler vs. (6-1) Green Bay.

I could go on and on about the importance of Butler holding serve on its home court, or how ironic it would be if Green Bay were to end the Bulldogs' 18-game HL winning streak...a record currently belonging to the Phoenix (21 straight from 1995-1997).

Fans know the names. Tillema, Evans, Howard, and Mack. Schachtner and Hayward too.

But maybe what those interested in this contest don't know, are the more intricate details of the teams involved.

What's the pregame routine? Is Terry Evans REALLY that exciting to watch? Why does Matt Howard only cut his hair once per season?

Alright, so maybe your questions are a bit more hard-hitting than those examples. The point is, we've enlisted the help of someone a little more "in the know" than I could ever be.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Rob Demovsky wants to hear from YOU.

Rob has graciously accepted our invitation to answer your questions, leading up to Thursday's game between the Green Bay Phoenix and Butler Bulldogs.

Want his predicted outcome? Want to know if he thinks the Bulldogs are legit? Ask away...just keep the questions about the Packers for another day (and another blog).

Either ask your question in the comment section below this post, or e-mail us at:

We'll forward a handful of the best questions (well thought out, or incredibly ridiculous) to Rob, and post his answers right here, on Thursday, before the big showdown.

Leave your name, or be anonymous...doesn't matter to us. Just take advantage of the opportunity to pick the brain of a true-blue...or in this case, true-green...sports journalist.

*We also asked Butler beat-writer, David Woods of the "Un-named Indianapolis Newspaper," to participate in this Q & A. Despite Mr. Woods' interest in participating, he wasn't given permission to do so by his employer. It's unfortunate too, look at all of those words I cleverly linked to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Breakfast and Basketball

As Adam alluded to earlier in the week, we're once again rollin' up I-65 for some Horizon League hoops action. This time we'll be at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, IL for the Flames' Saturday matinée with the Butler Bulldogs. Our departure time from Indianapolis is scheduled for 7:00am (so long as I don't over-sleep). We'll be checking in throughout the drive, and be with you courtside throughout the contest. If you're planning to watch the game from the comfort of your own home on ESPN2, stop on by. We promise not to poke fun...even if you do show up in your pajamas.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On the Road Again

We're at it again, after seeing two Horizon League games last weekend we're going through withdrawal. Solution: LIVE BLOG from Chicago for the UIC-Butler game on Saturday. Call us Road Warriors, call us Trail Blazers or simply call us your connection to the big showdown on Saturday.

We'll be doing the same live blog that we did the day of the Green Bay-Milwaukee game. With any luck the Flames and Bulldogs will treat us to the same type of game the Phoenix and Panthers did. Hey, Coach Kowalczyk called it one of the best games he's ever been associated with.

So here we come Chicago! This is our first chance to see pre-season Horizon League player of the year Josh Mayo in person. He leads the league in scoring and has range for days. I've been on the UIC bandwagon for most of the season and this could be the biggest game of the year for the Flames momentum-wise. A win against Butler could give them the confidence they need to make a run.

Of course we all know that Butler is on quite a roll in league play and has to play Loyola on Thursday night. Last year the Flames used a 2-3 zone and forced Butler into 13 turnovers and let the #10 team in the country (at the time) bomb away, to the tune of 37 3-pt. field goal attempts. Expect a more balanced attack from Butler this Saturday.

So there it is, we'll be driving up EARLY Saturday morning and start the blog a few hours before the game so get up early and have questions/comments ready. Check back to this very blog for more details about our trip. We want to hear from you about what you want to discuss and maybe we can squeeze in another interview or two before the 2:00 ET tip.


The legend of Big Lumber continues to grow. And apparently, so does his game. The big man went dub-dub last night and is getting more and more national attention. All Milwaukee road games are now officially "must see." So look up your team's schedule and as T.O. would say, "get your popcorn ready," or probably more appropriately "get your pork rinds ready." BIG LUMBER is coming to a city near you!

Just found another BL shoutout, this time by Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis. LINK

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weekend Wrap-up

Another big weekend of basketball in the Horizon League and another weekend of surprises and near misses. Damon and I made the trip to Milwaukee for the big Wisconsin showdown on Friday night then woke up early to get back to Indianapolis for a look at Detroit as they played Butler at 2:00 ET. We barely survived the drive down. There was the large number of plows on the road (over 30), there were the flares that we had to drive over, the half dozen cars that slid off the road, and the accident we saw literally right in front of us on the south side of Chicago. All in a Horizon League blogger day's work.

The Milwaukee-Green Bay game was a classic. Both teams REALLY wanted that game. And for good reason, it was a match-up of two teams that are playing well at the top of the league's standings.

A few things that stood out during the game:

- BIG LUMBER, aka James Eayrs. The JUCO transfer is just a fun guy to watch. The origin of the "Big Lumber" moniker is a mystery to Damon and myself so if any of you HL fans know please share. BL hit a late-game three pointer to get the Panthers into overtime. He is obviously a big body but he has good footwork and can space the floor because other 'bigs' have to respect his range. We weren't the only ones who noticed.

-Green Bay's ability to space the floor. When coach Kowalczyk brings Ryan Tillema off the bench and pairs him with Mike Schachtner in the frontcourt it makes keeping Rahmon Fletcher out of the paint nearly impossible. Fletcher got in the paint all night for the Phoenix and has mastered the floater.

-I'll reserve judgement on both team's shooting guards. Both Tone Boyle and Troy Cotton have played well this year but both had an off-night Friday.

-Oh and Terry Evans' pass to Tillema for the dunk...WOW (if you have the video please post)

UIC Flames Out in Ohio

The Flames went 0-2 on their trip to Ohio this week and are now reeling at 1-4 in league play. I haven't had the chance to watch the archive of the game but I'll be interested to see how Cleveland State held Josh Mayo to 2-10 shooting. I know Viking fans don't want to hear it but they're one play away from sitting atop the league standings.

side note: If you haven't watched the highlights of the UIC-YSU game on HLN you need to. Josh Mayo can shoot from anywhere inside of 30 feet. Great win for the Penguins.

Bold Prediction: If Cleveland State shoots like they did against the Flames they WILL win the conference tournament AT Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Detroit so close yet so far...

I was really impressed with the Detroit Titans on Saturday. They played better than Butler for most of the game. If they could have gotten any semblance of an outside game (0-6 on 3 pt. FG) they would have left Indianapolis with their first conference victory. Coach McCallum can 'coach em up' as the Ole Ball Coach would say. Thomas Kennedy is a player. Both he and Eulis Stephens can make some tough shots and they'll be a tough team to beat the rest of the way.

Bold Prediction #2: Detroit will defeat one of the current top three teams in the conference at some point this season.

Monday, January 5, 2009

An Open Challenge To Milwaukee...


It wasn't all that long ago that U.S. Cellular Arena was possibly the most intimidating place to play in the Horizon League. See that sea of yellow in the upper-right corner of that picture? Yeah, they were loud. In fact this is an image from the 2006 Horizon League Tournament Championship Game between Milwaukee and Butler. I was at this game...and I remember being scared of the sheer number of kids packed into the Milwaukee student section.

Since that game, times have been tough for the Panthers. The last two seasons have both ended with overall records below the .500-mark. Needless to say, there have been several factors that have contributed to the struggles, factors that we won't get into right now. That's not the point of this message.

Milwaukee, after Monday's win over Valparaiso, matched their win total from the entire 2006-2007 season. Not to mention, they're halfway to their Horizon League win total from last season (9-9). That's a long-winded way of saying the Panthers are (9-5) overall, (5-0) in the Horizon League. See how we media-types work?

That's right Panthers're currently rooting for the top-dog ( in the Horizon League. Feels good to say that, doesn't it?

Maybe you've already seen this week's Horizon League Network Update (January 5th edition), and yes, it's true. We're coming to Milwaukee. And by "we," I'm referring to myself and fellow Horizon League fanatic, Adam Coppinger. He's only a little nuts...but I question his HLN viewing tendencies, which are extreme to say the least.

Anyway, Adam and I will be at "The Cell" this Friday, January 9th, for Milwaukee's match-up with league-rival, Green Bay. Throughout the day, Adam and I will be debuting the "live-video-blog" portion of this here site. Think of the experimental Butler vs. Bradley game last month as the soft opening. But Friday, Milwaukee vs. Green Bay...THIS is our grand opening. We're still working on the free appetizers and drink specials.

So what's the challenge? It's simple...


I'd be asking too much if I asked for the atmosphere I witnessed back in March 2006, but it's not asking too much to want to see the Milwaukee faithful support the team atop the Horizon League standings...especially against Green Bay. This means you, students, as well. I've already been hearing excuses about the student body being on winter break...but some are hopeful that they'll show up.

Adam and I will have plenty of spare time when we arrive early Friday afternoon in we want to hear from you, about where the true fans hang out before the game. Maybe you're a season-ticket holder, maybe you're one of the tens-of-thousands of students that attend UWM, or maybe you're someone that just loves the Black 'n Gold...tell us where the "place to be" is at.

You can comment below, reach us on the Horizon League Facebook page...or...oh, why can reach me, personally, on my Facebook page. "Friend" me/us...tell us where to be, and we'll do our best to be there. Communicating with us may go a long way toward us at least tracking you down before or during the game, if you so choose. We'll bring along some Horizon League bring along your Panthers (or Phoenix) gear and we'll make a trade. Our intent is to do anything we can to try and make this fun for everyone, while covering the game as well. Can't forget about the game, right?

And don't feel left out Green Bay fans...if you've got a crew coming down from Titletown, let us know! The same rules apply to you, as well.

So there it is...your fair warning. Just know, if Adam and I are left unimpressed, uninspired, or un-anything, we won't hesitate to make it known here on the 'ol HLN Blog.

You don't want that kind of embarrassment, do you?

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 Has Arrived...So Has the Horizon League

With the holidays, and 2008 for that matter, now in the rear-view's time to once again focus our attention on what is shaping up to be a highly-competitive regular season race in the Horizon League.

The information from our end will be coming fast and furious from here on out...whether it be here, or throughout the week on HLN. Highlights, top plays, interviews with coaches, blogging (live, with video), and perhaps even some live chat sessions (with guests) are all on tap over the next few months.

With all of that fresh in our minds, and league play upon us, there's no better time than now to take a look at what's at stake in the Horizon League over the next couple months. And trust me, there's plenty at stake.

Entering Saturday's slate of league contests, the Horizon League carries a rank of #10 in the country, when looking at conference RPIs. This number, as much as almost anything, puts the Horizon League on an inside track toward multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament when March rolls around. I'm not talking about the type of multiple bids the Horizon League has seen in the past, where there's an upset in the HL Tournament title game and two teams make the field of 65...I'm talking about two legit "locks" (or at least 1 lock and 1 bubble team) regardless of how the league tournament shakes out. Now, RPI isn't everything, but it certainly helps. A stronger league, with individual teams holding stronger RPIs, keeps the damage to a minimum when going through two rounds of league play. You already know all of this though. Right?

How about raw in an actual win-loss record. After all, it's the only tangible number that can be used to evaluate teams (or conferences)...and frankly, if you don't win games you aren't going anywhere. The Horizon League is looking pretty strong thus far, boasting a (47-42) record in non-league games against D1 competition. To put this in context, conferences like the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10, and Conference USA also have winning records out-of-conference, while the West Coast Conference is under .500, and the Colonial is exactly .500 at (63-63). Each of these leagues are either just above or just below the Horizon League in the current conference RPI rankings, and has a similar profile of teams. What's also impressive about the HL's non-league slate, is that they have a winning record against some of these similar conferences. (3-2) vs. the Atlantic 10, (5-3) vs. the Missouri Valley, and (11-9) vs. the Mid-American could go a long way come March...and wins against the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC only bolster the Horizon League's chances for two bids. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Take, for example, this recent excerpt from a post on Tuesday at The Mid-Majority:
Horizon League: Life in this year's top mid-major conference just got more complicated. In last night's G!O!T!N!, Wright State clamped down on Syracuse-beating preseason favorite Cleveland State 72-61 to send the Vikings into a 1-2 hole. The three remaining undefeateds are 2-0 Butler (off beating UAB in a minor Red Line Upset) and Green Bay. Your surprise conference leader is 3-0 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which posted an impressive 71-66 win over Illinois-Chicago last night.
While this type of praise is certainly a step in the right direction, it also sheds some light on which "type" of league-race could end up resulting in just one NCAA Tournament bid, or multiple bids.

If you look at last season's race in the Atlantic 10, just 4 games separated 2nd place Temple (11-5) from the (7-9) 11th place trio of Rhode Island, Duquesne, and St. Louis. Seven teams won 20+ games through the A-10 Tournament, but only 3 made the Big Dance. Why, you ask? Several teams had high-profile wins to their name but aside from Xavier, no one else separated themselves from the rest of the pack in league play.

On the flip side, look at what happened last season in the Sun Belt...a much lower rated league when it comes to RPI rankings. Western Kentucky and South Alabama made statements during league play by both finishing (16-2), five games ahead of their closest competitors. And when South Alabama stubbed it's toe in the Sun Belt semis against Middle Tennessee...the Jaguars still secured an at-large bid, despite having a mere (1-3) record against non-conference RPI top-100 teams. Two wins against Western Kentucky (2008 RPI: 39) during the regular season proved to carry a lot of weight for South Alabama...although, we all know what happened to them in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino, you...of all people...should be ashamed.

So what does this all mean for the 2008-2009 version of the Horizon League? Well, at this point, it appears that Butler, Cleveland State, and UIC (possibly) have had success that seems to be at-large worthy. Sorry Green Bay, but the non-league schedule just isn't strong enough. The Bulldogs and Vikings each have at least one signature win...while UIC could benefit from wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech if they can both move toward respectability in the SEC and ACC. For these purposes, lets focus on Butler and Cleveland State. If these two teams can take care of business the next couple of months and finish, say, 3-to-5 games ahead of the rest of the field...while winning their BracketBuster games...they could have NCAA Tournament bids already wrapped up before Horizon League Tournament play begins. The schedule sets up nice as well, as Butler and Cleveland State won't face off again until February 28th...the last day of the regular season.

Let the games begin (again)!