Horizon Championship Preview
Butler and Detroit.
As expected, that’s what was left after the smoke cleared on the Horizon League’s regular season. Granted, it took awhile for things to shake out like that, but with the conference tournament set to begin on Friday, March 1, all bets are off and gloves come off. (Insert your own cliche here).
In seriousness, the conference tournament should be quite interesting. Butler is a decided favorite, but the Bulldogs could see their NCAA Tournament hopes go up in flames with an upset, especially in the opening two rounds. As if winning a title isn’t motivation enough, you’re not likely to see a lack of effort from Butler.
Detroit is peaking at the right time, coming off a 94-61 demolishing of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the regular season finale to clinch the No. 2 seed. Several other teams will also be heard from before the tournament is over.
Note: All games at the Cleveland State Convocation Center, all times Eastern
Opening Round Game – Friday, March 1st, 7:00pm
No. 8 Wisconsin-Green Bay (7-20 overall, 4-12 Horizon) vs. No. 9 Youngstown State (5-22, 2-14)
Youngstown State was expected to struggle this season – its first in the Horizon – and struggle the Penguins have. An early season win over Kent, a likely NCAA Tournament team, will be the highlight of the season for YSU, but a win here and a chance to upset Butler in the quarterfinals would be a close second.
Prediction: Wisconsin-Green Bay 74, Youngstown State 63
Quarterfinals – All games Saturday, March 2nd
No. 4 Wright State (17-10, 9-7) vs. No. 5 Loyola Chicago (15-12, 9-7), Noon
You’d better believe that Butler does not want to face Wright State in a potential semifinal game. The Ramblers have the players and the patience to knock off the Bulldogs and make it to the Big Dance. Loyola started the season off hot, but has cooled off considerably. Wright State’s Doliboa brothers (Cain and Seth) are averaging 33 points a game combined. I think they’ll take care of Loyola rather easily.
Prediction: Wright State 82, Loyola Chicago 63
No. 1 Butler (25-4, 12-4) vs. No. 8-No. 9 game winner, 2:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs aren’t going to run roughshod through the tournament, but they will run through whomever gets put up against them in this game.
Prediction: Butler 68, UWGB or YSU 47
No. 2 Detroit (17-11, 11-5) vs. No. 7 Cleveland State (12-15, 6-10), 5 p.m.
An intriguing matchup since Detroit hasn’t played well at all on the road this season and this is technically a home game for the Vikings. If there’s a chance for a first-round upset, this is probably the game. Still, the Titans are a big game team and they have postseason hopes as well, since making it to the conference championship ought to put them in an expanded NIT.
Prediction: Detroit 64, Cleveland State 62 (OT)
No. 3 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5) vs. No. 6 Illinois Chicago (17-13, 8-8), 7:30 p.m.
Another interesting game. How will UWM react after getting drubbed by Detroit in its last game? Which UIC team will show up – the one that looked so impressive in an early season tournament in Las Vegas or the one that more or less sleepwalked through the regular season? I don’t know either, but I’m guessing that this will be the most entertaining of all the first-round games.
Prediction: Wisconsin-Milwaukee 84, Illinois Chicago 79
If the rest of my predictions hold up, I think Butler will narrowly beat Wright State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee will upset Detroit in the semifinals.
Butler is too good and has too much talent to depend on the selection committee for their ticket to the Big Dance, so look for the Bulldogs to take care of business in the final and allow themselves to breathe easier for the five-day wait between the Horizon final and the tournament selection announcement.