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Horizon Notebook

January 21, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Horizon Notebook

by Brian Seymour

Every season there seems to be one “anointed” mid-major team by the national press, as if the collective consciousness of the average basketball fan can’t handle two or more talented teams from outside the safe haven of the major conferences.

This season, Creighton has usurped Gonzaga for that role, but Butler has also fashioned itself a nice little season to this point. In fact, the two teams both share the best record in Division I and more than one similarity, so it seems our duty to compare the tale of the tape so to speak between the two teams and determine why Creighton is ranked 14th in the land and Butler is but a tiny blip on the national radar.

Record: Butler and Creighton are tied for the best record in Division I at 15-1. Creighton’s RPI, according to CollegeRPI.com is 44 and their strength of schedule (SOS) ranking is 190. Butler’s RPI is 48 and their SOS 204. Incidentally, the Sagarin computer rankings list Creighton as the fourth best team in the nation and Butler at 24.

The lone loss for the Bluejays came on the road against Xavier, a Top 25 team for most of the season. Butler’s lone loss came on the road in overtime against Hawaii, a considerably underrated team and a tough team to beat at home. Advantage: Slight edge to Creighton.

Top player: Creighton’s Kyle Korver is a Wooden Award candidate and likely first-team All-American. He’s been favorably compared to Wally Szczerbiak, who led Miami (Ohio) to a Sweet 16 appearance a few years ago. (One would hope the comparisons are because they’re both from top mid-major programs and have a sweet outside shot, not because they’re both white).

Butler doesn’t have a dominant player. In fact, the team’s top four scorers are all within a point of each other (Darnell Archey with 11.8 points per game, Duane Lightfoot Jr. at 11.3, Brandon Miller at 11.2 and Mike Monserez at 10.7). The Bulldogs play stifling team defense and won’t wow anyone offensively, but they can score in bunches. Advantage: Considerable advantage to Creighton. By the way, the star power of Korver probably accounts for most of the disparity in attention between the two programs.

Schedule: The remainder of the schedule favors Butler ending the season with a better record. The Horizon is a tough conference, but top to bottom, can’t compete with the balance of the Missouri Valley. Just about every road trip in the MVC is a tough out. Creighton’s biggest win of the season came on the road against Notre Dame, while Butler’s biggest win was probably on a neutral floor against Western Kentucky.

Still, Creighton has much more room to slip up and still earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee made it clear last season that five losses are too many for Butler to get an at-large selection. Advantage: Slight edge to Creighton

Intangibles: Butler’s lack of national recognition could work in their favor later in the season, especially if the Bulldogs continue to fly under the radar of whatever big school they’ll face off against in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Do not be surprised if the Bulldogs adopt an “us against the world” attitude for the rest of the year.

Creighton, on the other hand, could be ranked in the Top 10 by the time the tournament rolls around and won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Advantage: Slight edge to Butler.

Coaching: Both of these coaches are pretty safe bets to be moving up to a major school after the season if they want to. The offers will be there, especially for Creighton coach Dana Altman, who will probably be linked to just about every open job other than UCLA after the NCAA Tournament.

Second-year Butler coach Todd Lickliter had the unenviable job two years ago of following Thad Matta after he took the job at Xavier and should have had the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament last year if the selection committee had any guts. This year, it’s looking like Butler won’t leave that at-large berth to chance. Lickliter is a Butler alum and may choose to spurn some offers from major schools to stay at his alma mater, but likely won’t hold out forever. Advantage: Even.

So our highly unscientific analysis gives a slight edge to Creighton in the battle for Mid-Major supremacy, though how Butler has managed to elude the respect of so many Top 25 voters in all the major polls is hard to understand since it doesn’t appear there’s that much difference between the two teams.

Archey streak ends at 85

In the end, perfection was a hard standard to maintain for Darnell Archey.

Archey’s streak of consective free throws ended at 85 Saturday in the Bulldogs’ win over Youngstown State. He missed on the second shot of a two-shot foul with 3:42 left in the game.

It was the first miss for Archey since Feb. 8, 2001. After the game, the crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse saluted Archey as he shot ( and made) a ceremonial free throw with the crowd shouting his name.

“Once I missed, it kind of hurt,” Archey said. “I wanted to get 100. I kind of didn’t react to it for a while, for 10 or 15 seconds. Then I looked up and thought, ‘It’s over. We’ve got a game to win.'”

The win over the pesky Penguins pushed Butler’s mark to 4-0 in the Horizon.

Intrastate upset hurts for Wisconsin-Milwaukee

First-year Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk now has the biggest win thus far of his young head coaching career.

The Phoenix (6-11, 1-4) shocked Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a 79-68 win Saturday, posting their first league win of the season and putting UWM (13-5, 4-2) well behind the eight ball in the race for the regular-season title and home court advantage for the Horizon tournament. If nothing else, the result should be instructive on just how hard it is to win on the road in the Horizon.

Greg Babcock scored 16 points and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds for a physical Phoenix squad. For his work, Babcock was named the league’s player of the week.

“Green Bay played well, especially defensively,” UWM head coach Bruce Pearl said. “They’re very physical and we didn’t respond very well to that.”

With home-court advantage in the Horizon tournament on the line, UWM faces a likely must-win game Thursday when it hosts Butler.

About the Horizon tournament

For the first time, the tournament will be played at campus sites throughout the tournament, with the higher seeded teams getting to host the conference tournament games up to and including the championship game, a significant advantage for the regular-season champion.

UIC still hot

The UIC Flames took advantage of a rare national television appearance to post a big road victory over Detroit and stay within a game of Butler in the conference standings.

The Flames (10-4, 4-1) got 24 points and nine rebounds from Cedrick Banks in the win, just the second ever for UIC at Detroit’s Calihan Hall. The game was shown nationwide on ESPN2. Willie Green’s 23 points were high for a struggling Detroit (7-8, 2-4) squad.

UIC also has a compelling matchup this week, facing intracity rival Loyola on Wednesday, a rematch of the Horizon conference tournament championship from last year.

     

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