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Horizon Notebook

February 18, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Horizon League Notebook

by Brian Seymour

Don’t underestimate one of the more important races in the Horizon League standings over the season’s final three weeks — the quest for third place.

There’s a huge gulf of a difference between finishing in third or fourth place, as the third place team gets a bye into the Horizon tournament quarterfinals and the fourth place team would have to win four games in seven days (and potentially in three cities) to take the league title and the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Butler appears to have the two top spots in the league — and the automatic berth into the tournament semifinals that go with them — locked up, but the race for third place could go down to the wire.

Illinois-Chicago currently has the inside track on the No. 3 seed with a 9-4 conference mark and three league contests remaining. Both Detroit (7-6) and Loyola (7-6) both also have a shot at catching the Flames, who play two of their final three games on the road, including a potentially huge game at Loyola.

Now is probably as good a time as any to explain the complicated format which will be used for at least the next two Horizon postseason tournaments.

The first round of games on March 4 will pit the No. 4 seed vs. No. 9, No. 5 vs. No. 8 and No. 6 vs. No. 7 at the home court of the higher seeded team. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on March 7 and 8 on Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s home floor, which earned the right to host by finishing among the league’s top three teams (Butler has similar hosting rights in 2004 if it finishes in the top three).

The top two teams — likely Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Butler, as mentioned before — won’t have to play until the semifinals. If UWM loses in the semifinals, the championship game on March 11 will be played on the home court of the highest remaining seed.

The setup is designed to reward regular-season performance and enhance tournament attendance by increasing the number of games played at campus sites.

Bulldogs outside the bubble

I wrote in this space a few weeks ago that this season must seem like deja vu for Butler after running off a big winning streak early in the season before losing one right before conference play.

Well, things must really seem familiar now as Butler lost its second league contest last week — a 73-63 road loss to Loyola — and now must likely win the conference tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

One more loss would give the Bulldogs (18-4, 8-2) that magical fifth loss that kept them from earning an at-large bid last season and despite the cries of outrage from many in the media and coaching fraternities last year, it’s hard to believe that this season might be any different, especially with Wisconsin-Milwaukee also occupying a place on the tournament bubble.

Butler’s RPI is now 44, according to www.collegerpi.com, which probably would place them among the last four teams in the field.

Another loss, especially if it comes in the semifinal round of the league tournament, could drop them out of the field. UWM’s RPI of 62 is too low for at-large consideration, but the Panthers still have two big regular-season games left — at Southern Illinois and vs. Butler — to increase their ranking.

The Bulldogs did bounce back to upend Detroit on the road Saturday, 66-63, a huge win at a venue that is typically uninviting to opponents, but that gnawing sound in Indianapolis might be all the Butler fans chewing on their fingernails throughout the rest of the Bulldogs’ games.

Is eight enough for UWM?

Wisconsin-Milwaukee clinched a couple of milestones last week while also posting a 3-0 record on the week and running its win streak to eight.

The Panthers (21-5, 12-2) avenged their only two conference losses of the season with wins over Wisconsin-Green Bay and UIC and also clinched the first undefeated home regular season in school history. Not coincidentally perhaps, UWM also set a season attendance record at the Klotsche Center with an average of 3,448 fans per game.

Getting win No. 9 will be a challenge as the Panthers will be traveling to Southern Illinois Saturday in a nationally televised contest as part of Bracker Buster Saturday. The game will be at 3 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2.

Other Bracket Buster contests

There’s a lot less on the line in the other two contests featuring Horizon teams, though the matchups are intriguing.

Illinois-Chicago will host Bowling Green in a 5 p.m. (EST) contest on ESPN2 and Detroit will travel to UC-Santa Barbara for a 11 p.m. (EST) game.

Watson approaches milestone

It’s been a somewhat disappointing year by Detroit’s high standards, but Titan coach Perry Watson can move into a tie for the career record for Horizon League victories (93) with a win over Loyola Thursday. As mentioned above, the win would also keep Detroit in contention for the third place bye into the conference quarterfinals.


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