Horizon League Notebook
Five things to watch before the Horizon League tournament:
1. Can Butler win the rest of its remaining conference games?
Sadly enough, that’s probably what it would take for the Bulldogs to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they stumble in the conference tournament. The conventional wisdom is Butler’s likely RPI of 60-to-70 would be too low if they drop two more games.
Here’s a nightmare scenario for Horizon (and Butler) fans – Butler drops one of its two remaining conference games, gets to the tournament final and loses to a pretty good Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Detroit Mercy team. With a 27-5 record, Butler would quite likely be on the outside looking in to get into the Big Dance.
All this can be rendered more-or-less moot if Butler wins its remaining two conference games. A 26-4 or 27-4 record with some pretty big non-conference wins would be too hard to overlook.
2. Which Detroit Mercy team will show up to the tournament?
The Titans saw their national-best 38-game winning streak fall to the wayside in a loss to lowly Wisconsin-Green Bay.
There’s no telling what the Titans will do in a given game. They dropped five in a row in the non-conference season including some games to some really poor teams and have been up and down throughout the conference season as well. But they’ve defeated every team in the conference except Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whom they’re going to get another shot at in a couple weeks.
Injuries have struck Detroit this season, but the team the Titans put out in the conference tournament should be more or less healthy. A key goal in the remaining conference games will be to ensure the third seed in the tournament, so they can avoid the likely top seed – Butler – until the championship. If nothing else, the additional national television exposure in a loss to the Bulldogs would help recruiting more talent to a young, promising team.
3. Is Wisconsin-Milwaukee for real?
I think they are, but the jury’s still out in some people’s minds. Anyone who watches the Horizon knows the Panthers play some good ball, but the real question is – Will they be able to handle the pressure of three games in five nights, all of them do-or-die. Butler and Detroit have players who have handled that pressure successfully. The Panthers do not.
Like Detroit, seeding will be very important for UWM. The Panthers have three challenging road contests left – Cleveland State, Detroit and archrival Wisconsin-Green Bay. They have an outside shot for the No. 1 seed, but would have to run the aforementioned gauntlet unscathed and hope Butler drops a game.
A No. 2 seed would not be the end of the world, allowing the Panthers to avoid Butler until a potential championship game. A semifinal between likely No. 2 UWM and likely No. 3 Detroit would be excellent viewing.
4. Will any of the other teams in the conference get hot and pull off some shockers?
We haven’t mentioned Wright State, Illinois Chicago or Cleveland State yet, but any of those squads would be capable of pulling off a couple of upsets and getting into the championship game. They need to start setting themselves up now though.
UIC (at Wright State, at Butler) probably has the toughest remaining schedule, but the most talent of the three teams I mentioned. Wright State has two home games against UWM and Wisconsin-Green Bay and could definitely win both those games. Cleveland State is interesting because it won’t have to leave home again this season unless they make the Big Dance.
The remaining two conference games are home and the conference tournament will be contested on the Vikings’ home floor, a considerable advantage. Don’t be shocked if a No. 6 or No. 7 seed ends up in the conference title game against Butler.
5. Who will win conference MVP honors?
It’s still a wide-open race with preseason pick Thomas Jackson of Butler likely the favorite. Jackson hasn’t been as impressive during the conference season as he was earlier however.
David Bailey of Loyola Chicago is scoring 21.5 points per game, but may be hurt by the Ramblers’ struggles after a 5-1 start to the league season. Clay Tucker of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is also in the mix, scoring 17.4 points per game with 6.5 rebounds. He’s also ranked eighth in assists and second in steals (behind Jackson). Tucker could get the nod if the Panthers end up taking the regular-season title.
All three players could swing the race their way with big performances in their final games.