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Horizon Notebook

February 26, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Horizon League Notebook

by Brian Seymour

Maybe sitting out “Bracket Buster Saturday” was the smart move for Butler after all. Though for a few moments Monday evening it wasn’t looking that way.

Butler’s Horizon League rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee saw its hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament dashed after a last-second loss at Southern Illinois in one of the most exciting of the Bracket Buster matchups. SIU’s Stetson Hairston’s tip-in at the buzzer gave the Salukis a 66-64 victory and kept their slim at-large hopes alive.

Butler had elected to not participate in the series, opting for a non-conference battle against Duke earlier in the month. That game ended in a loss, but increased the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule, one of the major factors in the RPI. Butler’s RPI of 39 would suggest they’re a strong competitor for one of the final at-large bids to the tournament.

However, all that almost went for naught after the Bulldogs needed double overtime on Monday to upend Cleveland State in a 79-75 thriller. A loss to the Vikings would have likely crushed Butler’s chances of earning an at-large bid if they stumble in the conference tournament.

Brandon Miller scored 23 points for the Bulldogs (22-4, 12-2) including a 3-pointer with 1:11 left in double overtime that put Butler ahead for good, 77-75. Miller also hit two field goals in the final seven seconds to force overtime and a free throw with five seconds left to force the second overtime. Butler had squandered a 10-point lead midway through the second half.

Meanwhile, UWM’s RPI ranking fell to 61 after the heartbreaking loss to the Salukis and put renewed pressure on a strong performance in the postseason tournament , which the Panthers will be hosting.

Lost in the shuffle is the season-ending matchup between Butler and UWM in Indianapolis, which will decide the regular-season conference champion — winner take all. Butler has won the regular-season league title the last three straight seasons.

Seeds falling into place

Each team in the league now has two games remaining and it’s looking apparent how the conference tournament is going to shake out. UWM and Butler have clinched byes into the conference semifinals and UIC needs only to win one of its final two games to finish third and earn a bye into the quarterfinals.

Loyola and Detroit have clinched hosting duties for the first round of games, but hosting duties for the other game are up in the air with all four remaining teams still having a shot at finishing in sixth place. Wisconsin-Green Bay has the tiebreaking edge for the sixth place spot over Youngstown State.

Other Bracket Buster matchups:

Despite UWM’s loss, the Horizon finished 2-1 for the day, as Illinois-Chicago posted a 83-72 win over Bowling Green and Detroit pounded UC-Santa Barbara 75-59 on the road, the largest margin of victory for all nine of the day’s games. It was the first non-conference home loss for UCSB since a loss to Southern Cal in 2000.

Pop quiz

Which team has the longest winning streak in the conference? That would be Loyola, which has quietly won five straight. The Ramblers also have a bit of advantage over the conference’s other teams — a bye on the final weekend of the regular season and a chance to rest up for the first round of the conference tournament on March 4.

The Ramblers have an outside chance of finishing in third place and earning a bye into the quarterfinals. Senior guard David Bailey hit an interesting landmark in Loyola last game, surpassing 500 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists for the third straight season.


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