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Nick Dettmann

January 6, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Horizon League Notebook

by Nick Dettmann

A Mid-Season in Review

As the Horizon League flips the calendar to 2004, it is time to evaluate where each team sits.

The 2003-’04 season has seen their share of surprises and has already established many memories and classic moments. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix (7-4 overall, 1-0 Horizon League) has been the surprise team of the league so far. Things started slow for second year head coach Tod Kowalcyzk. The Phoenix started the season at 2-4, which included losses at Wisconsin and at Iowa. On the positive side during that stretch, the Phoenix captured their first road win under Kowalczyk, snapping a 15-game overall slide.

But in the last two-plus weeks, the Phoenix has turned it up. They have become one of the league’s best shooting teams as they had a stretch of four straight 50 percent performances from the field. On Dec. 22, the Phoenix snapped a seven-game losing streak to Butler with a 70-63 win at the famous Hinkle Fieldhouse. With that win, the Phoenix also snapped Butler’s 21-game home winning streak.

The Phoenix has three players averaging at least 10 points a contest and leading the way is Brandon Morris at 12.3 per game. Terry Parker and Mike King are the other two as they average 11.9 and 10.5 per game respectively.

Last year’s league tournament champion, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers (6-4, 1-0) has had an up and down season thus far. The campaign started with an emotional night that began with the re-opening of the U.S. Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee for regular season play. They squared off against Montana in the first regular season game since the 1997-’98 season. The Panthers would defeat Montana 95-83 and would defeat Concordia-St. Paul 90-62 just three nights later.

But, in a re-match of the ESPN Bracket Buster game in Carbondale last season, the Panthers and Salukis took to the floor at the U.S. Cellular Arena. SIU’s Darren Brooks had a career-high 26 points in the affair to lead the visitors to an 81-77 victory, snapping UWM’s 17-game home-winning streak. From there, it was out onto the road. The Panthers would split the four games, which featured trips to North Carolina State (77-71 loss), Valparaiso (86-82 win) and Wisconsin (89-71 win).

The Panthers came into the season with only one starter returning from that NCAA tournament dancing team. That starter, most certainly one of the best players in the league, is Dylan Page. He has lived up to his building and is certainly making a case for player of the year as he sits second in the league in scoring (20.9 points per game) and in rebounding (7.9 per game). Pleasant surprises have come from Joah Tucker and Ed McCants. Both are having great seasons, with McCants sitting fourth in scoring (18.4) and second in three-point shooting (.480).

As one of two new coaches in the conference, Wright State Raiders (3-7, 1-0) head coach Paul Biancardi has had his share of struggles in the first portion of the season. The Raiders started the season at 0-3, before defeating Ball State on Dec. 6 in the home opener and giving Biancardi his first career win. But, the Raiders have struggled to mount any offense as they rank 8th in overall scoring in the conference (65.8). Much of that could be attributed to that Biancardi is doing something only two other teams in the country are doing – starting three true freshmen.

The highlight so far to the young season is when they defeated Youngstown State in the league opener in Youngstown on Dec. 18, 69-59. The Raiders snapped a 15-game losing streak on the road with the win. And they have an excellent opportunity to get back into the league race, as they will play 10 of their final 17 games at the Nutter Center.

Led by player of the year candidate Seth Doliboa and first-team hopeful Vernard Hollins, the Raiders have the weapons to make a run in the league. Doliboa has scored in double figures in 61 of his last 62 games. His streak of 54 straight double-digit nights ended on Nov. 29 in a 74-59 loss to South Florida. Doliboa sits fifth in the league in scoring (17.9), sixth in rebounding (7.0) and third in free-throw percentage (.857). Hollins is right behind his tag team partner in scoring at 16.3 points per game and tenth in rebounding at 5.9 per game.

The Detroit Titans (6-4) has had a strong start to the season, thanks to very good defense. Only once so far this season they allowed a team to score more than 70 points, they still won the game 77-74 over Canisius on Dec. 20. On Dec. 22, the Titans got head coach Perry Watson his 200th career victory with a 98-61 win over Western Illinois at Calihan Hall in just his 11th season. Watson also was honored by Southwestern High School in Detroit shortly before getting win number 200. The school named their gymnasium “The Perry Watson Athletic Complex” shortly before the Titans game against Toledo on Dec. 13.

The season opened up with a visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium and the 2nd ranked Duke Blue Devils. The heavily favored home squad got a very early scare as the Titans came out with the game’s first 12 points, but Duke would prove why they are ranked. Duke would rebound and defeat the Titans 67-56 on Nov. 22. The only sour note of the season so far occurred just this past week as the Titans lost 68-48 to Kent State at Calihan Hall. It was the first time that a non-conference opponent defeated Detroit under Watson. Watson called the game the worst effort at home during his tenure.

2004 will not begin easily for the Titans, but if they get through it, they will have great momentum. They will start with two road games, first at UIC on Jan. 3 and then UWM on Jan. 5. The Titans are going to need the production of Elijah Warren to step-up a little bit as he is averaging just 11.4 points per game to lead the team. But, Syracuse transfer James Thues is having a strong first season in the Horizon League as he is averaging 10.9 points a night and is improving each night.

It was a very calm and quiet start to the season for head coach Larry Farmer and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (4-5). In the first two-plus weeks of the season, the Ramblers had only laced up their shoes for two games, while the rest of the league had already played at least four games. The Ramblers split those first two contests with the first coming in the way of a 73-61 loss to nearby rival DePaul on Nov. 21. Then, the Ramblers would rebound for a thrilling 83-75 overtime win over UMKC on Dec. 2. Loyola would win their next outing on Dec. 13 in Valparaiso 76-69 to give them a 2-1 start. From there, they would hit a three-game slide, which include two rare set backs at home against Oral Roberts and Western Michigan.

The schedule does not get polite for Farmer’s crew, as they will play five of their final seven games away from home. One of those two home games will feature a visit by Butler on Feb. 7.

The Ramblers have had a wide-variety of contributors this season that has kept them in it early on. Leading the way is Paul McMillan. McMillan has been the leader averaging nearly a double-double every night, 15.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest. But the Ramblers have shown to have one of the deepest benches in the conference. No player on the team has started in every game as Farmer continues to shuffle around the line-up on a nightly basis. He has five players averaging at least seven points a night and eight players averaging at least 20 minutes.

Even before the season started, a match-up that had blow out written all over it turned out to be one of the classics from the young season. On Nov. 29, the Cleveland State Vikings (4-7) took on then 8th ranked North Carolina in front of a packed CSU Convocation Center. The Vikings gave the Tar Heels all they could handle, even giving them a scare as CSU carried a 76-72 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the game. But, the Vikings could not hold on as the Tar Heels scored the final 10 points en route to an 82-76 win for North Carolina.

Under the direction of new head coach Mike Garland, the Vikings started the season 4-2 and looked poised to make a run in the conference. But, they have started to show their youth as they have lost their last five outings heading into the conference season. The Vikings have already been bit by the injury bug as one of the nation’s top shot blockers and one of their team leaders, Pape Badiane, suffered a broken hand in their game against Drake on Dec. 30 and will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks. Reserve center Pete Ritzema had to miss their trip to Corpus Christi, Texas because he is being slowed by back problems and another reserve center, Walt Walters was forced to miss the trip because of a death in the family.

The early bright spot has been the play of Jermaine Robinson as he has led the team in scoring in eight of the first ten games. Robinson also leads the conference in scoring (21.0) and is seventh in rebounding (6.5). Omari Westley is also having a strong season as he leads the league in rebounding (8.8) and is ninth in scoring (13.7).

The 2003-’04 season started almost a full week before the rest of the conference for the Illinois-Chicago Flames (9-4, 0-1). Head coach Jimmy Collins took his team to the BCA Classic at Xavier University in Cincinnati. The Flames went 2-1 in the tournament, defeating UC-Irvine 77-65 and Mercer 75-64 and losing to Oakland 79-66. From there, the Flames reeled off eight wins in their next nine games, including a 90-71 win over Northwestern on Dec. 20 from the UIC Pavilion. But as the calendar changed to 2004, UIC has lost two in a row. They lost their conference opener to UW-Milwaukee in Milwaukee on Dec. 23 in one of their worst games of the season, 78-62. Then, they would play their first-ever game at the United Center in downtown Chicago on Dec. 30. They probably will wish never to play there again as they lost to 20th ranked Illinois 75-60 and could never get on track with the bigger Illinois team.

The Flames have so far shown why they are the team to beat this season after they returned all five of their starters from a team that won 21 games last year. Cedrick Banks and Martell Bailey are up to their usual razzle-dazzle offense. The dynamic duo from Westinghouse High School in Chicago, Banks is third in the conference in scoring (18.8) and Bailey leads the league and is second in the county in assists per game (8.3).

2004 will start off well as the Flames play three straight home games including their city-rivalry with Loyola on Jan. 8. The true test for the will be in the very important month of February. The month will start with a home game against the Panthers on the 5th. Then, they will head out onto the road for the next three. The schedule will finish up with the final three at home. The Bracket Buster game on the 21st, Wright State on the 26th and, what could be a game that determine conference tournament seeds, Butler on the 28th. The Flames have lost 10 straight games to Butler.

As for the Butler Bulldogs (4-6, 0-1), the 2003-’04 season has been a disappointment so far. They are currently in jeopardy of not having their first 20-win season in seven years and not capture a fifth straight regular season conference championship. The Bulldogs will need to turn it up as they must finish as the number three seed or higher in order to get hosting right for the conference tournament in March.

Butler started off in their usual fashion going 2-0, but dropped four of their next five, including losses against Michigan at the Conseco Fieldhouse on Nov. 30 and at Indiana on Dec. 13. One of the many early disappointing spots has them seeing their 21-game winning streak at home snapped by UW-Green Bay on Dec. 22. The Bulldogs have also struggled in shooting. They are last in the conference in points per game (58.9), offensive rebounds (27.6), field goal percentage (.389) and three-point field goal percentage allowed (.420).

Their defense will have to turn it up in the second half of the season as the play their next three on the road, including a showdown with the league’s top offense in the Panthers on Jan. 8.

One of the bright spots has been the play of sophomore guard Avery Sheets. Sheets is coming off a career-high 25 point night in Butler’s 72-54 loss at St. Louis on Dec. 27 and is averaging 11.9 points per game in his first full season as a starter. Sophomore Bruce Horan is also having a good season as he is averaging 11.0 points a game.

To round out the conference, the Youngstown State Penguins (3-7, 0-1) has done well despite their record. The Penguins, led by John Robic, has played high-caliber opponents early on, including a game against 22nd ranked Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh on Dec. 13. The Penguins loss to the Panthers was only by a score of 57-42 in the hostile environment. The Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak in their last game on Dec. 22. Rounding out their three-game home stand, the Penguins defeated UMKC 73-65, after falling to Wright State and Mid-Continent Conference favorite Oakland by only three.

The next portion of the schedule does not start off easy, as the Penguins will have to play the first three away from the Beeghly Center. First up, a Jan. 3 showdown with Loyola-Chicago and then a Jan. 5 meeting with UIC. They will round out the trip with a Jan. 8 meeting with the league’s hottest team, the UW-Green Bay Phoenix.

Robic will be looking towards Adam Baumann, TeJay Anderson and Doug Underwood as leaders in the upcoming stretch run. They will need it, as YSU will play three of their final four on the road as well. Baumann is leading the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game and tied with Anderson in rebounding (7.3). Underwood is averaging 10.2 points per game for the Penguins.

Mid-season awards:

First team
Dylan Page, UW-Milwaukee
Cedrick Banks, Illinois-Chicago
Jermaine Robinson, Cleveland State
Paul McMillan, Loyola-Chicago
Seth Doliboa, Wright State

Second team
Ed McCants, UW-Milwaukee
Brandon Morris, UW-Green Bay
Adam Baumann, Youngstown State
Omari Westley, Cleveland State
Martell Bailey, Illinois-Chicago

Top player: Dylan Page, UW-Milwaukee

Top newcomer: Ed McCants, UW-Milwaukee

Top defensive player: James Thues, Detroit


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