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Horizon League Preview

November 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Horizon League Offseason News Update

by Nick Dettmann

Thanks to the magical run to the Sweet 16 by the Butler Bulldogs and UW-Milwaukee’s near upset of Notre Dame in last season’s NCAA tournament, the Horizon League is now more powerful and competitive as ever.

With three very prominent programs excelling against some of the top teams in the country, the sun is only getting brighter on the Horizon and for the entire league. Last season, three teams (Butler, UW-Milwaukee and Illinois-Chicago) captured more than 20 wins. How many conferences can claim hold to that? Not very many…if any.

From top to bottom, the league is more competitive than it has ever been. That quick rise to prominence is certainly being noticed around the country.

In the off-season, the Horizon League and Strategic Marketing Affiliates (SMA) to help promote the league and its member schools at the national level. Under the agreement, SMA will help market the league in all facets including merchandise. Among SMA’s clients are many major conferences, such as the Big Ten.

“As we continue to gain name and brand awareness for our league, a licensing and partnership effort with a solid company like Strategic Marketing Affiliates is a logical next step,” said Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone. “With existing clients such as the Big Ten Conference and other prominent athletic leagues, SMA is an acknowledged leader in this industry.”

According to SMA Vice President John Mybeck, the Horizon League is gaining in national stature and awareness.

“The Horizon League has taken a leadership position in defining a strong personal responsibility and community service role for its student-athletes, and its teams, in all sports, are always extremely competitive,” Mybeck said. “These factors have combined to form a solid base of awareness for the League, and we believe that our licensing and marketing expertise will only serve to enhance the reputation of the League and its member institutions.”

The rise to the top as a premier conference is not only noticed in the business aspect, but it is being recognized on the court.

Over the summer, the league’s Most Valuable Player, Willie Green, was selected in the NBA Draft. He would be drafted by the Seattle Supersonics, but later traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and would later be signed following his summer camp. In addition, the strength of schedule of teams in the conference is hard not to notice.

Cleveland State a team that has been struggling in recent seasons will have one of the most difficult schedules in league history. Their strength of schedule ranks 35th in the country as they will host North Carolina on Nov. 29 and travel to Penn State the next game on Dec. 3.

Both Detroit and UW-Milwaukee will take on Sweet 16 participant Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc. The Flames of Illinois-Chicago will get to host Big Ten powerhouse Illinois at the United Center in Chicago. And, UW-Milwaukee will get to host Southern Illinois and travel to North Carolina State in front of a nationally televised audience.

Finally, Butler, the league’s ‘big-dog’ the last four seasons, not only has the chance to host the league tournament in March, but will also host the Michigan Wolverines at the beautiful Conseco Fieldhouse.

In addition, eight of the nine league teams will participate in the 2nd edition of the ESPN Bracket Buster. Five of those teams will host the Feb. 21 game at their respective university.

With the kind of national exposure that the Horizon League will be getting this season and the quality of the teams that will take to the court this season, the 2003-04 season will be another huge stepping stone for the league’s prominence.

It is hard not to get excited for the Horizon League 2003-04 season.

Pre-season awards:

Dylan Page, UW-Milwaukee
Seth Doliboa, Wright State
Cedrick Banks, Illinois-Chicago
Martell Bailey, Illinois-Chicago
Mike Monserez, Butler

Vernard Hollins, Wright State
Adam Baumann, Youngstown State
Aaron Carr, Illinois-Chicago
Paul McMillan, Loyola-Chicago
Mike King, UW-Green Bay

Newcomer team
Ed McCants, UW-Milwaukee
James Parker, Butler
James Thues, Detroit
DeAuntay Scott, Wright State
Quin Humphrey, Youngstown State

Player of the Year:
Cedrick Banks, Illinois-Chicago

Coach of the Year:
Jimmy Collins, Illinois-Chicago

Newcomer of the Year:
Ed McCants, UW-Milwaukee

Most Improved Player:
Terrance Whiters, Loyola-Chicago

Illinois-Chicago Flames (21-9, 12-4 Horizon, third):

Any team that is returning its entire starting five from a team that won 21 games last season is a prime candidate to win their conference. Illinois-Chicago fits that billing. What is even more frightening, they are all seniors.

Experience, depth and a veteran coach means that all the right tools are in place for the Flames to go deep into the post-season.

The only obstacles for the Flames are Butler, a 10-game win streak against UIC, and poor foul shooting, less than 60 percent last season.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Cedrick Banks, Sr.
G-Martell Bailey, Sr.
F-Armond Williams, Sr.
F-Aaron Carr, Sr.
C-Joe Scott, Sr.

Key losses:
G, Jon Schneidermann (10.1 ppg, 2.2 apg)
C, Kyle Kickert (4.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

Top newcomer:
Josip Petrusic

Schedule highlights:
BCA Classic in Cincinnati, Nov. 15-17.
Gazette Hawkeye Classic in Iowa City, Iowa, Dec. 5-6.
Illinois at the United Center, Dec. 30.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, UIC Pavilion, Feb. 21.
Butler in the season finale, Feb. 28.

Butler Bulldogs (27-6, 14-2, first):

Repeating a trip to the NCAA tournament will not be an easy task for head coach Todd Lickliter as he returns only one starter, Mike Monserez, and one key reserve, Duane Lightfoot.

Monserez, a 6-foot-6 senior averaged 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, while Lightfoot averaged 11 points a game.

The big strong point for the Bulldogs this season is what could happen at the end of the season. Following last year’s league tournament format, as long as Butler remains in the tournament, the games will be played at the Hinkle Fieldhouse. That may be what will save the Bulldogs as they went 12-0 at home last season.

The downfall of this squad will be depth. After you get through sophomore Avery Sheets, sophomore Bruce Horan and seniors Monserez and Lightfoot, Butler is very inexperienced. Four players combine for 43 games played last season, two of which are sophomores. That experience will be tested early as the Bulldogs will play Michigan on Nov. 30.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Avery Sheets, So.
G-James Parker, Jr.
F-Nick Gardner, Sr.
F-Duane Lightfoot, Sr.
F-Mike Monserez, Sr.

Key losses:
G, Brandon Miller (11.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
C, Joel Cornette (11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
G, Darnell Archey (10.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F, Lewis Curry (4.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg).

Top newcomer:
James Parker

Schedule highlights:
Michigan at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Nov. 30.
Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., Dec. 13.
UW-Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Feb. 19.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Feb. 21.
Illinois-Chicago in Chicago in the season finale, Feb. 28.

UW-Milwaukee Panthers (24-8, 13-3, second):

In their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers opened the eyes of many critics of the mid-majors.

Bruce Pearl’s troops came within a gush of wind the other direction from beating the most storied program in college sports, Notre Dame. However, in 2003-04, the UWM Panthers are going to need more than a gush of wind to help them back into the NCAA tournament.

Pearl has to replace seven seniors, including his entire four-man rotation in the backcourt from that historic team. Among the players to be replaced is the ‘go-to’ guy in Clay Tucker, easily UWM’s greatest men’s basketball player ever.

Looking to fill those shoes is pre-season first-team favorite, Dylan Page. Page, now a senior, will be the go-to guy for Pearl. Center Nate Mielke is going to be another player Pearl is going to have to look to take on a bigger role.

Size will be on UWM’s side again this season. Six players stand 6-foot-7 or taller and weigh more than 220 pounds. The Panthers will regain the services of Adrian Tigert and Kalombo Kadima who both sat out last season with medical red-shirts. However, just like their arch-rival Butler Bulldogs, experience will be a weakness. And just like Butler, that experience will be tested with a big game against North Carolina State and Wisconsin early in the season.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Kalombo Kadima, Sr. (5th year)
G-Mark Pancratz, So.
F-Dylan Page, Sr.
F-Adrian Tigert, So.
C-Nate Mielke, Sr.

Key losses:
F/G, Clay Tucker (18.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
G, Ronnie Jones (10.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G, Jason Frederick (10.3 ppg).

Key newcomer:
Ed McCants

Schedule highlights:
Big Sky conference favorite Montana, Milwaukee, Nov. 22.
Missouri Valley conference favorite Southern Illinois, Milwaukee, Nov. 29.
North Carolina State, Raleigh, NC, Dec. 7.
Valparaiso, Valparaiso, Ind., Dec. 10.
Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., Dec. 13.
Cable Car Classic, UC-Santa Clara, Dec. 29-30.
Butler, Indianapolis, Feb. 19.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Milwaukee, Feb. 21.

Detroit Titans (18-12, 9-7, tied fourth):

From 1997-2001, the University of Detroit-Mercy Titans averaged 23 wins a season. However, head coach Perry Watson has been struggling in keeping the recruits in Motown.

Last season’s 18 wins were a ‘disappointment’ to many who thought that Detroit could make a run at the league title. It was just a mere two years ago, that the Titans lost to Dayton in the third-place game at the NIT.

But the Titans have the personnel to help them reach the top of the league again. The Titans return three starters, but they will have to find someone to replace last season’s leading scorer in the conference and player of the year Willie Green.

One of the players that Watson will be looking to fill that role will be James Thues, a transfer from Syracuse.

Unlike Butler and UW-Milwaukee, experience will play a factor for the Titans. However, the schedule will not be very polite, which is what is going to set-back the Titans from gaining the conference crown. But they will be ready to play for the league championship in the tournament.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Rulon Harris, Sr.
G-James Thues, Jr.
F-Elijah Warren, Sr.
F-Muhammad Abdur-Rahim, Fr. (2nd year)
C-Willie Wallace, Sr.

Key losses:
G, Willie Green (22.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
F, Terrell Riggs (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

Key newcomer:
James Thues

Schedule highlights:
Duke, Durham, N.C., Nov. 22.
Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., Dec. 6.
Kent State, Detroit, Mich., Dec. 30.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Feb. 21.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (15-16, 9-7, tied fourth):

Head coach Larry Farmer and his team has a lot of momentum going into the 2003-04 season. The Ramblers won six of their last eight games, including knocking off Butler at home on Feb. 13.

This year’s squad looks to be one of the best all-around teams that Farmer has put on the floor during his tenure as coach, including the team that lost the 2001 league tournament championship game. Farmer feels that the blend of experienced veterans, along with a very talented group of freshmen will be an interesting mix this upcoming season.

Farmer will have to replace his go-to guy for three years in PG David Bailey. He will look in the direction of Terrance Whiters to hopefully fill the void that Bailey left.

Two players landed on the league’s All-Newcomer team, Paul McMillan and Demetrius Williams last season. Farmer is going to need McMillan and Williams to take on an even bigger role in not only winning games, but to lead the team due to the graduation of Bailey.

The schedule for the Ramblers is very much in their favor as the do not play a major conference team at any point during the season. The Ramblers start out with four on the road to DePaul, UMKC, Valparaiso and Bradley. Then, they will return home for four games in Western and Central Michigan, Birmingham Southern and league rival Youngstown State on Jan. 3.

As much as the schedule favors them, the schedule may also be a big weakness. Due to the lack of a ‘big-time’ test against a major conference team, the Ramblers may not be ready for the high-pressure situation that comes with the league tournament.

But Farmer feels that the non-conference schedule is tough enough to prepare his squad for what he feels is one of the toughest conferences around. According to Farmer, it will be another war in the Horizon League.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Terrance Whiters, So.
G-Louis Smith, Sr.
F-Paul McMillan, Sr.
F-Anthony Smith, Jr.
C-Demetrius Williams, Sr.

Key losses:
G, David Bailey (18.4 ppg, 5.3 apg)
F, Corey Minnifield (10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

Key newcomer:
Tyrell Blair

Schedule highlights:
DePaul, Chicago, Nov. 21.
Valparaiso, Valparaiso, Ind., Dec. 5.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Feb. 21.

Youngstown State Penguins (9-20, 4-12, tied sixth):

Three years removed from a weak Mid-Continent Conference, the Youngstown State University Penguins are now in the swing of things in the Horizon League.

The Penguins pulled out a surprise win over UW-Green Bay in the first round of the league tournament, but were rewarded with UIC and got pummeled. But don’t let that fool you. The Penguins have three talented starters returning and have a very talented freshman coming into the mix.

Head coach John Robic returns a veteran squad for the 2003-04 season, including last season’s top scorer, Doug Underwood (14.7 ppg). Robic also brings in quick guard from the Atlanta area in Quin Humphrey. As a senior, Humphrey tore up the court with 27 points and 8 rebounds a game and will be a major contributor right away.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Doug Underwood, Jr.
G-Quin Humphrey, Fr.
F-TeJay Anderson, Sr.
F-Brian Radakovich, Jr.
C-Adam Baumann, Sr.

Key losses:
G, Marlon Williamson (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg).

Key newcomer:
Quin Humphrey

Schedule highlights:
Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, Nov. 26.
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa., Dec. 13.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Feb. 21.

UW-Green Bay Phoenix (10-20, 4-12, tied sixth):

With one year under his belt, head coach Tod Kowalczyk is nearing getting the program to where he wants it. And with a brand-new facility in the Resch Center, that will definitely help in getting recruits.

The Phoenix has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 1996 and they will have to wait another year in Title Town. But Kowalczyk has all the arrows pointed in the right direction and is very close to getting all the tools in place.

Senior Mike King is the most talented player out of the group and in recent seasons. Over the summer, King helped represent his native Canada at the Pan-Am games and at the Olympic qualifying tournament.

Three starters return for the Phoenix this season and the experience is fairly balanced throughout the roster. UW-Green Bay is most certainly capable of playing the spoiler role this upcoming season.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Matt Rhode, Jr.
G-Terry Parker, So.
F-Kevin Hughes, Sr.
F-Mike King, Sr.
F-Tyler Koening, Fr.

Key newcomer:
Tyler Koening

Schedule highlights:
NCAA Tournament participant IUPUI in Indianapolis, Nov. 24.
Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, Dec. 2.
Oneida Bingo & Casino Classic, Green Bay, Dec. 29-30.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Green Bay, Feb. 21.

Wright State Raiders (10-18, 4-12, tied sixth):

The bottom two teams of the conference have new coaches. Wright State will finish ahead of Cleveland State because the Vikings have a tougher schedule.

Taking over for the underachieving Ed Schilling, is former Ohio State assistant Paul Biancardi. Biancardi comes to the Raiders after being under Jim O’Brien at Boston College and Ohio State for the past 13 seasons.

Biancardi hopes to use league player of the year candidate Seth Doliboa to lead the team both on and off the court. Biancardi hopes that Vernard Hollins will play a major role for the Raiders, providing a great 1-2 punch.

DeAuntay Scott, a former prep star from Cleveland East High School, averaged 27 points a game as a senior and will make an immediate impact for the Raiders. Also in the future for the Raiders is former three-year starter at Ohio State, Zach Williams. He has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but will make an impact next season.

But the success of the Raiders rest solely on how well the players adjust to Biancardi’s system. He hopes that his team is rolling on cylinders as Wright State has three tough non-conference games against Ball State, Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois in the beginning of December.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Vernard Hollins, Sr.
G-DeAuntay Scott, Fr.
F-Trent Vaughn, Sr.
F-Braden Bushman, Sr.
F-Seth Doliboa, Sr.

Key losses:
F/G, Tyson Freeman (7.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg)

Schedule highlights:
South Florida, Tampa, Fla., Nov. 29.
Ball State, Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 6.
Miami, Oxford, Ohio, Dec. 11.
Southern Illinois, Dayton, Dec. 15.
Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, Dec. 22.

Cleveland State Vikings (8-22, 3-13, ninth):

Rounding out the cellar will be the Cleveland State Vikings, but it will not because of lack of talent, it will be because of a tough schedule and a new coach.

The Vikings schedule ranks 35th in the nation. The eye popping games on the Vikings schedule are their consecutive games against North Carolina at home and at Penn State.

In addition, Rollie Massimino is finally out of the Cuyahoga Valley and Mike Garland is in. Just like Wright State, the Vikings decided to go to the Big Ten to fill their coaching vacancy. Garland, was formerly an assistant with the Michigan State Spartans under Tom Izzo. So, winning is something that Garland is familiar with and Cleveland State hopes that they are more successful in finding a winning coach.

Unfortunately, the Vikings are going to be hurting as last season’s All-Newcomer team representative Modibo Niakate was dismissed from the team due to team violations. So, the Vikings are going to struggle in looking for a leader in the locker room and on the floor.

Projected starting line-up:
G-Walt Chavis, Jr.
G-Jermaine Robinson, Sr.
G-Victor Morris, Fr.
F-Luke Murphy, Fr.
C-Pape Badiane, Sr.

Key newcomer:
Victor Morris

Schedule highlights:
North Carolina, Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 29.
Penn State, State College, Pa., Dec. 3.
Kent State, Kent, Ohio, Dec. 16.
Akron, Cleveland, Dec. 20.
Flint Hill Resources Islander Invitational, Corpus Christi, Texas, Dec. 29-30.
ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday, Cleveland, Feb. 21.

All in all, the Horizon League is on the rise and looks to take the next big step into national prominence. With the impressive and talented field that the league will put onto the floor this season, and with the schedules each schools has, the Horizon League will be yet again, right at the top of the horizon.


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