Tuesday , Nov , 09 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Horizon League

*** College Basketball Preview – Horizon League ***

The Sports Network

By Brian Mason, College Basketball Staff Writer

OULOOK – It was another outstanding season for the members of the Horizon
League, as both Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Illinois-Chicago received a great deal
of national attention. The Panthers came away with the regular-season
championship and earned themselves an NIT bid, while the Flames were the 2004
Horizon League Tournament Champions and went on to lose to Kansas in the
opening round of the NCAA Tournament. These two schools are again predicted to
finish at the top of the Horizon League standings, but this season Wisconsin-
Green Bay could make its way into the top spot. The Phoenix have arguably the
deepest backcourt in the league and are poised to make a major run at the
title under head coach Tod Kowalczyk. Butler, which was once the undisputed
champion of this league, has fallen to a middle-of-the-pack squad and will
likely be a step below UIC, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay. Detroit, Wright
State, and Loyola-Chicago are also on the same level as the Bulldogs, but
Cleveland State is by far the team in need of major help. The Vikings lost all
16 of their league matchups last year and a repeat performance in 2004-05 is
not out of the question. While CSU will be battling to record a single league
win, UW-Milwaukee and UIC will likely be battling it out at the other end of
the spectrum, along with the Phoenix.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Illinois-Chicago

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Illinois-Chicago; 2. UW-Milwaukee; 3. UW-Green
Bay; 4. Detroit; 5. Butler; 6. Wright State; ; 7. Youngstown State; 8. Loyola-
Chicago; 9. Cleveland State

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

ILLINOIS-CHICAGO – The Flames came up just one win shy of winning the Horizon
League regular season championship last year, but they made up for it by
coming away with the tournament crown. Fortunately for coach Jimmy Collins,
who is in his ninth year with UIC, both Cedrick Banks and Armond Williams are
returning to the team this season. Banks has already been named the Preseason
Player of the Year in the Horizon League and with good reason, having ranked
third in the conference with 18.4 ppg last season. The talented guard shot a
league-best 43.1 percent from three-point range, which helped him gain first-
team honors for the second straight year. He was one of the main reasons that
UIC earned its second NCAA Tournament berth in three years. Banks earned back
his fourth year of eligibility this season per NCAA guidelines and enters the
year with 1,556 points, which puts him on pace to become UIC’s all-time
leading scorer. Williams, who is also a preseason First Team member, was
outstanding last year for the Flames, averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg. The
tandem of Banks and Williams is a lethal one, but the loss of former point
guard Martell Bailey hurts. Bailey averaged an amazing 7.8 apg last year and
now Marcetteaus McGee will be asked to fill his shoes, which is easier said
than done. McGee, who is just a sophomore, has excellent passing skills, but
he will play less of a role than Bailey did last year.

UW-MILWAUKEE – Having played in the last two Horizon League Tournament
championship games, UW-Milwaukee has the experience to make it back there
again, but the loss of Dylan Page is a huge one. Page, who was the Conference
Player of the Year last season, led the Panthers in scoring, rebounding,
blocked shots and minutes. The offense will now revolve around outstanding
guard Ed McCants and forward Joah Tucker. McCants, who played in his first
season with the Panthers last year, posted 17.1 ppg in 2003-04 and was a
lethal gunner from behind the arc (.428). Tucker on the other hand will be
asked to fill the lane and take over as the team’s frontcourt presence. He has
the ability and the strength to do it, as shown last season when he averaged
12.5 ppg and 4.8 rpg. Center Derrick Ford could also provide help down low for
coach Bruce Pearl’s squad. Ford stands at 6-10 and is widely considered one of
the top juco transfers in the league.

UW-GREEN BAY – The Phoenix are loaded at guard this season with Brandon
Morris, Javier Mendiburu and Matt Rohde. Morris is by far the best of the
three, but he could miss time due to academic issues. If that is the case, the
Phoenix will be without an athletic scorer who produced 10.9 ppg last season
on 42.7 percent shooting from behind the arc. Mendiburu on the other hand is
not a gifted scorer, but he does have a knack for distributing the ball (4.6
apg) and getting rebounds (4.5 rpg). Rohde is more of a spot up shooter, who
rarely misses an open shot and gives this team a trio of guards that ensures
they can stay in nearly every game. The frontcourt will be manned by
sophomores Tyler Koenig and Josh Lawrence, who both played well in their first
season with the Phoenix. Lawrence is the more gifted scorer of the two, having
the ability to score both in the paint as well as from the outside. Coach
Kowalczyk has the talent in place to win a league championship, but he must
get his frontcourt players to elevate their games.

DETROIT – Perry Watson is one of the most respected coaches in the league, as
his Titans have failed to post a winning record only once in his 11 years
behind the bench for Detroit. After going 10-6 in league play last season,
this year’s version of the Titans should be primed to make a run at the league
title. Defense has always been the name of the game with Watson and center
Ryvon Covile fits that mold perfectly. Covile started to come into his own at
the end of last season and finished the year averaging 5.0 rpg and 1.3 bpg.
Point guard James Thues, a former transfer from Syracuse, also gave the Titans
a defensive stopper in the backcourt. Thues shot only 40.6 percent from the
floor, but he was able to dish out 3.6 apg and often was talked about as the
best defender in the league. The loss of leading scorer Elijah Warren hurts,
but transfers from the state of Michigan could offset his departure. Michigan
transfer Chuck Bailey and Michigan State transfer Brandon Cotton will both
receive immediate playing time and will contribute right off the bat.

BUTLER – The Bulldogs knew that they were going to take a step down last
season, but falling to just 8-8 in league play was a major drop off for a team
that had dominated the Horizon League for most of the turn of the century.
Coach Todd Lickliter has amassed a 69-26 overall record in his three years
with Butler, but that mark will only get worse as the teams in the league get
better and his does not. Replacing Mike Monserez and Duane Lightfoot is a
tough task for Lickliter, but Bruce Horan and Avery Sheets are quickly
becoming a potent backcourt tandem. These two guards really stepped up their
play at the end of the 2003-04 campaign, helping Butler recover from an awful
4-9 start. The Bulldogs have size in the frontcourt with Jamie Smalligan (7-0)
and Brian Ligon (6-7), but neither will give the Bulldogs much in terms of
scoring output. Nick Brooks, who made 35.1 percent of his three-pointers last
year, could have a breakout season at small forward but if he struggles, so
will the Bulldogs.

WRIGHT STATE – The Raiders finished last season with an impressive 10-6 mark
in league play, but they would go only 4-8 outside of the conference. Wright
State also lost its two leading scorers from a season ago in Seth Doliboa and
Vernard Hollins, which means a drop off is likely. It gets even worse for the
Raiders, as head coach Paul Biancardi is in the midst of a battle to keep his
job and his name clean. Biancardi, who was a former assistant coach for Ohio
State, has been linked to an investigation in the Buckeyes’ program which
ultimately led to Jim O’Brien’s departure from the school. One thing that WSU
does have going for it is the improvement of point guard DaShaun Wood.
Considered one of the quickest players in the league, Wood is an impressive
passer (3.0 apg) and an outstanding three-point shooter (.368). Zakee Boyd and
Drew Burleson will likely step up their games at the forward position and the
addition of Zach Williams could be huge. Williams never got things going at
Ohio State, but a fresh start with the Raiders could allow him to become one
of the most dominating big men in the conference.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE – Youngstown State won just four of its 16 league matchups in
2003-04 and things are starting to look grim for head coach John Robic, who is
in the last year of his contract with the school. The Penguins have not had a
winning record since 2001 and the loss of guard Doug Underwood, who left the
team at the end of last season, is huge. Quin Humphery and Mike Woodard will
likely start at the guard positions for the Penguins, but neither has the
ability to score off the dribble, as Underwood did. The key to this season
falls on the shoulders of forward Khari McQueen, who will likely weigh close
to 300 pounds at the start of the year. McQueen shot a solid 53.6 percent from
the floor last season and was an imposing presence in the paint for the
Penguins, who will likely have juco transfers Zach Silverman and Mike Adams in
the starting lineup.

LOYOLA-CHICAGO – Loyola-Chicago said goodbye to Larry Farmer at the end of
last season and hired Jim Whitesell. The firing of Farmer was not unexpected,
as his squad went just 9-20 overall and only 4-12 in league play last season.
However, the hiring of Whitesell was a surprise because he has never coached
at this level and the Ramblers should have been looking for a coach that has
some experience rebuilding a Division I program. Unfortunately for Whitesell,
he has little talent on the roster, both at guard and forward. Loyola lost its
top three scorers from a year ago, including Paul McMillan, Demetrius Williams
and Terrance Whiters. The top returning player is Blake Schilb (8.9 ppg), who
shot 46.3 percent from the floor and also proved to be a decent rebounder (4.4
rpg) for the Ramblers.

CLEVELAND STATE – The Vikings ended the 2003-04 campaign on a 23-game losing
skid, which spelled a terrible finish for the first season of head coach Mike
Garland’s career. Cleveland State went just 4-25 overall and its roster has
little talent on it outside of guard Walt Chavis and forward Omari Westley.
Chavis suffered a broken hand last season and must prove that he is fully
healed from it this year or else the Vikings could be in for a world of
trouble in the backcourt. As long as Westley stays healthy, their frontcourt
will remain their strength. Being on a team as bad as CSU often keeps people
from mentioning Westley as one of the top forwards in the league, but that
shouldn’t be the case. The senior forward was outstanding last season,
averaging 14.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg, while also shooting an impressive 48 percent
from the field. Despite the play of Westley, who should be even better this
season, the Vikings have almost no chance of finishing outside of the Horizon
League basement.