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.

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