College Basketball Preview – Horizon League
*** College Basketball Preview – Horizon League ***
The Sports Network
By John Agovino, College Basketball Staff Writer
OUTLOOK: The race for the Horizon League title will likely feature three
teams, UW-Milwaukee, Detroit and Wright State. Of those three, the Panthers
seem to be the most complete team, however, some wonder how the players of UWM
will respond to new coach Rob Jeter. As for the Titans and Raiders, they have
some similarities. Both teams have depth and experience and both return four
starters. Where they differ is on the defensive side of the court, which is
why Detroit has the best shot at dethroning the Panthers. Resting somewhere in
the middle of the HL pack will be Loyola-Chicago, Cleveland State and
Illinois-Chicago. Loyola is quickly developing into a strong program, but the
Ramblers are still a few years away from making any significant noise in the
conference. As for the Vikings, they made the necessary adjustments to get out
of the league’s cellar and now their objective is to become a contender.
Jockeying for position at the bottom of the standings will be UW-Green Bay,
Butler and Youngstown State. UWGB lost a ton of talent from last year’s squad
to be considered a strong team this time around and although Butler returns
the majority of its players, it needs to be more consistent on offense to make
any real headway. As for Youngstown State, the program is moving in the right
direct, it is just going to take some time to get there.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: UW-Milwaukee
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. UW-Milwaukee; 2. Detroit; 3. Wright State; 4.
Loyola-Chicago; 5. Illinois-Chicago; 6. Cleveland State; 7. UW-Green Bay; 8.
Butler; 9. Youngstown State
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
UW-MILWAUKEE: With 80 percent of the starting lineup back in the fold, the
Panthers look to be the team to beat yet again in the Horizon League. The loss
of last year’s leading scorer, Ed McCants, will have some affect on the
Panthers’ production, but look for Joah Tucker, a serious HL Player of the
Year candidate, to take over where McCants left off. Last season, the 6-5
Tucker averaged 16.2 ppg while collecting 5.7 rpg. Tucker is a beast in the
paint and should cause problems for almost all who oppose him. Also back for
another go is guard Boo Davis, the only other player on the roster to average
double-digit points last season, posting 10.2 ppg. Chris Hill is expected to
play along side Davis this season and he will continue to serve as the team’s
primary playmaker after dishing out 103 assists in 2004-05. With a strong
starting five and a deep, experienced bench, the Panthers will be tough to
beat most nights.
DETROIT: Last season, Detroit posted just a 9-7 mark in conference action, but
with four starters returning along with guard Brandon Cotton, who sat out the
first half of last season after transferring from Michigan State, the Titans
look to be one of the few teams that can contend with UW-Milwaukee. In just 22
games last season, Cotton led the Titans with 18.8 ppg, while shooting an
impressive 45.8 percent from the field. Also looking to contribute more on the
offensive side of the ball is Torvoris Baker and Ryvon Covile. Last season,
Covile averaged 7.5 ppg while collecting 5.2 rpg, as for Baker he posted 7.2
ppg and pulled down 5.8 rpg. With those two underneath the Titans could have
the best frontcourt in the conference. One guy to keep an eye on is Brandon
Bell, who will be eligible to play after the first semester after transferring
in from Marquette.
WRIGHT STATE: The Raiders are coming off a 15-15 season and although that
sounds mediocre, it was hard fought and well earned. With four starters back
in the fold, Wright State will be looking to make a run at the HL title. The
most important player returning for the Raiders is DaShaun Wood. Wood was
simply sensational last season, as he led the Raiders with 15.0 ppg to go
along with his team-best 111 assists. If Wood is the key to the backcourt’s
success, then Drew Burleson is likely to be the primary focus in frontcourt.
Last season, the 6-6 forward averaged 11.0 ppg while collecting 4.1 rpg. The
junior connected on 47.4 percent of his shots from the field and also
converted an impressive 78 percent of his free throws. With only one senior on
the roster, the Raiders have reason to be optimistic not just for this season,
but for the next couple.
LOYOLA-CHICAGO: Last year, the Ramblers finished the year with a sub .500
record, but the team was able to post an even 8-8 ledger in conference play,
and with four starters back this year, including junior Blake Schilb, Loyola
has reason to be optimistic. Schilb, who is a Player of the Year candidate for
the Horizon League, led the Ramblers last season in scoring (17.9 ppg),
rebounds (5.5 rpg), assists (120) and steals (52). Joining Schilb in the
starting lineup will most likely be Majak Kou. Last season, Kou started just
nine contests for the Ramblers, but saw action in 29 games and finished the
season third on the team with 10.6 ppg. While Kou will no doubt make an impact
underneath the basket, look for guard Pierre Parker to contribute in the
backcourt. Parker averaged just 15 minutes per contest last year and tallied
just 3.2 ppg, but don’t let the small figures concern you, this kid has the
potential to lead a team.
ILLINOIS-CHICAGO: The loss of Cedrick Banks and Armond Williams will surely
hurt the Flames this season, however coach Jimmy Collins hopes juco transfers
Othyus Jeffers, Danijel Zoric and D.J. Smedley will make an immediate impact.
Senior forward Elliot Poole is the top returning scorer for UIC, finishing
last season with 9.9 ppg. Poole, who shot 51.9 percent from the floor a year
ago, also grabbed 5.8 rpg for the squad. Playing along side Poole will either
be Jovan Stefanov or Justin Bowen. Both players saw time in the starting
lineup last season, but Stefanov was more productive, scoring 8.8 ppg while
collecting 5.1 rpg. Also back for the Flames is Rocky Collum, who will most
likely find himself in the starting lineup, but if that is the case he will
have to shoot much better than he did last year when he shot just 37.9 percent
from the field.
CLEVELAND STATE: The Vikings had a chance last season to post a winning record
in conference, but the squad lost five straight matchups to close the season,
finishing a disappointing 6-10. Raheem Moss and Patrick Tatham are the two
best returning player for the Vikings, as Moss averaged 12.8 ppg last year,
while Tatham posted 8.8 ppg. Despite their strong play, for the Vikings to be
successful, Moss and Tatham will need their supporting cast to step up. Two
players who can instantly help fill the void in the starting lineup are Renard
Fields and Ije Nwankwo. Fields in a 6-7 freshman from Hargrave Military
Academy and Nwankwo is a 6-7 forward from Purdue. Nwankwo will not be eligible
until after the first semester, but once he is ready we should see an
immediate splash. Obviously Moss and Tatham are capable of posting big numbers
for Cleveland State, however will those two get the support they need to help
the Vikings win. We shall see.
UW-GREEN BAY: The Phoenix had a very productive 2004-05 season, posting a
17-11 overall mark along with a 10-6 conference ledger. Unfortunately, the
team fell just short in the postseason, losing to Detroit in the semifinals of
the HL tournament. It would be nice for the Phoenix to have the opportunity to
make another run at the conference title, however that is unlikely considering
just one starter from last season’s team returns. Forward Josh Lawrence
started all 28 games last season and finished the year averaging 10.9 ppg,
while shooting 48.7 percent from the field. The Phoenix had little help from
their bench last year, so coach Tod Kowalczyk is hoping the crop of newcomers
can make an immediate impact. Juco transfer Aswan Minatee and 6-8 freshman
Ryan Tillema are two of the more notable additions to the UWGB roster and both
players should make instant contributions. With the lack of experience on the
roster, expect a large drop-off for the Phoenix this year.
BUTLER: The good news for Butler is all five starters from a year ago are
back, however the bad news is the 2004-05 team finished with a 13-15 overall
record and a 7-9 mark in conference. Hopefully this season the starting five
can learn from last year’s mistakes and find their way into the postseason.
For that to actually occur Brandon Polk will have to lead the team on and off
the court. Last season, the 6-6 forward posted a team-high 13.6 ppg, while
shooting 58.9 percent from the field. However, Polk is going to have to do
better than the 4.6 rpg he averaged last year. Another player who will have to
lead the squad is A.J. Graves. Graves was the only other player on the roster
to average double-figures in scoring last season (11.1 ppg). Teaming up with
Graves in the backcourt once again is Avery Sheets. Sheets averaged a solid
9.7 ppg for the Bulldogs in ’04-’05, while leading the squad with 112 assists.
With a year of experience behind them, the Bulldogs could be the surprise team
in the conference.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE: Last season was a complete nightmare for the Penguins, as
they won just five of 28 games, which included an abysmal 2-14 ledger in
conference. Although records like that have been the norm in recent years for
YSU, there is reason to be optimistic now that new head coach Jerry Slocum is
in town. Slocum is the perfect person to help rebuild a struggling program,
and he will have the of last season’s team scoring leader back on the court in
the form of Quin Humphrey. The talented guard averaged 14.4 ppg for the
Penguins, while connecting on 44.4 percent of his shots from the floor.
Although Humphrey’s return is a positive, the loss of starting point guard Jon
Mends and valuable role player Zach Silverman surely hurts. Slocum will need
strong contributions from guard Derrick Harris and forward John Barber if the
Penguins want to avoid another dreadful campaign.