Sunday, March 22, 2009

Visionaries

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:

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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!


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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.


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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:

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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...


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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.

POST GAME GOODIES:

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:

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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:


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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:


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


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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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: 

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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: 


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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! 


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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:

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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:

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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. 


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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.

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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: 
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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 view...wow! Thanks Horizon League!

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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.

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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 room...giving 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.

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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.

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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 flashy...no 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.

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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 Dayton...so 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.

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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, venues...you 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.

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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. Tomorrow...err...today (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 Tuesday...so 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

AWARD SEASON

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)

ALL-HORIZON FIRST TEAM

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

ALL-HORIZON SECOND TEAM

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

ALL-HORIZON DEFENSIVE TEAM

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

ALL-NEWCOMER TEAM

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.