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)!