Conference Preview: Horizon League

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The Horizon League tournament has become the home to some of the craziest Cinderella runs we have seen the past few seasons.  Two years ago, 4th seeded Northern Kentucky defeated 10th seeded Milwaukee in the finals.  Last year, it was the 2 seed, Wright State, going up against the 8 seed, Cleveland State, in the finals.  In other words – while the regular season means a ton, it may have no bearing whatsoever on what team actually gets the automatic ticket to the Big Dance.

Wright State is the favorite, at least for the regular season crown, as the Raiders return four starters from their NCAA Tournament team.  Northern Kentucky should be the top contender to knock them off, though keep an eye on Illinois-Chicago as well.  At the bottom of the conference, where we may see several teams struggle mightily this season, a new head man is welcomed in at Detroit.  Mike Davis, who coached previously at Indiana, UAB and Texas Southern, comes in and looks to begin to rebuild the Titans program.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Wright State – The Raiders stumbled late in the regular season last year to lose the conference regular season title but bounced back to win the conference tournament and get the league’s automatic bid. Four starters are back from that team, led by big man Loudon Love, and there is no reason why this team will not be right back near the top of the league again.
  2. Northern Kentucky – The bad news is that three of five starters, two of whom averaged double digits in scoring, are gone from last year’s regular season champions. The good news is that double-double machine Drew McDonald is back and, with him leading the way, the Norse should again be in contention for the regular season crown.
  3. Illinois-Chicago – The Flames may have lost leading scorer Dikembe Dixson in the offseason, but they return three starters and the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, Godwin Boahen, who shot over 42% from beyond the arc.
  4. IUPUI – The Jaguars lost their top two starters from last season, but hit the transfer market hard, so don’t be surprised if they are able to remain at least in the middle of the pack. Camron Justice (Vanderbilt), Grant Weatherford (Purdue and a season at Midland College), and 7-1 Ahmed Ismail (Manhattan) should all contribute immediately, while Mike Sagay (Boston College) becomes eligible in the second semester.
  5. Green Bay – The Phoenix were a disappointing 13-20 overall last season and lost two starters from that squad including leading scorer Khalil Small. A group of Juco additions must gel with the returning players if the team wants to improve this year.
  6. Oakland – Kendrick Nunn’s 25.9 points per game are gone, together with all four of the team’s other starters. All may not be lost, however, as the Golden Grizzlies will at least have some very good size with 6-10 Babatunde Sowunmi and 6-11 Brad Brechting.
  7. Cleveland State – Dennis Felton’s team made a Cinderella run to the Horizon league title game last season, but with only two starters back from that squad, don’t expect much this season. The good news is that the two returnees are only sophomores, so the team will be young and could be ready to move up by next season.
  8. Milwaukee – The Panthers were a solid 16-17 last season, but the top four players from that team are all gone now and head coach Pat Baldwin will have to rebuild. Don’t expect much at all this year.
  9. Youngstown State – The Penguins lost 24 games last year and then saw six of their top eight players leave the team. The only good news may be the arrival of Delaware State transfer Devin Morgan, who averaged over 14 points per game for his former squad.
  10. Detroit – The Titans have a new head coach in former Indiana/UAB/Texas Southern head man Mike Davis. Davis has a history of building success, despite what IU fans might tell you, but it will take a few years.  As for this season – seven of the top eight scorers from an 8-24 team are gone.  ‘Nuff said.
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