Today we turn the calendars to February, the month where teams either prove their tournament worth or start getting ready for the NIT. January went out with another great SCGD last night as Niagara knocked off Iona in overtime to take control (for now) of the MAAC. Tonight we turn our focus over to the Horizon League, where the upstart Penguins of Youngstown State travel on the road to Dickie V Court in Detroit to battle preseason co-favorite Detroit (9:00 PM Eastern, ESPNU).
Valparaiso continues to lead the Horizon at 6-2. However, Detroit (6-3) and Youngstown (5-3) are both only one game behind in the loss column. Youngstown State blew Valpo away their last game out, scoring an easy 80-68 win over the conference leader. The Penguins have now won 4 straight games, though they need to now proved themselves on the road, and no better place to begin to do so than in Detroit.
As for Detroit, they enter the game with a KenPom rating of 63, the best in the Horizon League. Their RPI of 72 is also tops in the league. Their best win on the season came back on December 15 when they knocked off MAC co-leader Akron. However, a few bad losses, including Bowling Green and Cleveland State, will make it next to impossible for this team to contend for an at-large berth, even if they win out to the conference tournament championship game.
Speaking of the Horizon League tournament, the conference uses a double-bye system, advancing the top two teams directly to the semifinals. The third seed gets a single bye into the quarterfinals and seeds 4-9 must win 4 games to take the bid. The highest remaining seed also gets to host the championship game. For these reasons, more than in other leagues, the regular season has a lot of extra meaning. That makes tonight’s game even more important as the winner has the inside track on one of those top two spots as we head into the second half of the conference season.