The last week of conference play has arrived in the Horizon League. Over the past few years, the battle for the top seeds in the Horizon League has not been decided until the final game of conference play. This year is no exception, with multiple teams having a legitimate chance of securing one of the two top seeds in the Horizon League Tournament and the extremely important double-bye that gives the two top seeds an automatic spot in the semifinals.
The Valparaiso Crusaders currently sit at the top of the Horizon League with a 12-4 record in conference play, over two games ahead of the second place Cleveland State Vikings. A win tonight over the Loyola Ramblers will allow the Crusaders to clinch at least a share of the school’s first-ever Horizon League regular season championship and allow the Crusaders to host the Horizon League Tournament. The Crusaders will battle the Butler Bulldogs to end the season in a game that has major ramifications for the Bulldogs’ seeding in the Horizon League Tournament.
The Cleveland State Vikings are in second place with a record of 10-5 in Horizon League play. Currently in the midst of a four game losing streak, the Vikings are only one half-game ahead of the Detroit Titans and Butler Bulldogs. The Vikings will square off tonight against the Green Bay Phoenix and return home for two games against the Detroit Titans and Wright State Raiders. Coach Gary Waters has struggled to replace the contributions of the injured D’Aundray Brown, who has missed multiple games with a groin injury. The Vikings will need to win each of their last three games in order to maintain their grip on second place.
The Detroit Titans and Butler Bulldogs both possess conference records of 10-6 and are battling for third place. Butler is playing the UIC Flames this evening and will end the year with a contest against Valparaiso. Detroit will travel to Ohio for two road games against Cleveland State and the Youngstown State Penguins. Both teams have recovered from rough starts to the season and currently possess major winning streaks. Even if neither of these teams secures a double bye in the Horizon League Tournament, both of these teams could easily win four more consecutive games in the Horizon League Tournament in order to secure the Horizon League’s automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Milwaukee Panthers and Youngstown State Penguins are currently battling for fifth place. Sporting conference records of 9-7, both the Panthers and Penguins will seek to keep the seventh-place Green Bay Phoenix at bay in order to have the opportunity to host a game in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament. Both the Panthers and the Penguins had solid starts to the season, and they could easily surprise an unsuspecting team in the Horizon League Tournament and send a higher seed home far earlier than expected.
The Wright State Raiders currently sit in eighth place with a conference record of 7-9. Although most teams would be displeased with this spot in the standings, their performance this season has been a pleasant surprise given that the Raiders are an extremely young team.
The UIC Flames are in ninth place, and the Loyola Ramblers are in tenth place. Despite their low standing in the conference, the Ramblers’ talented tandem of Ben Averkamp and Walt Gibler can pose problems for any team in the Horizon League.
Needless to say, the last week of Horizon League play will be as hard-fought and as intense as the past few months of action, and fans should enjoy the great week of action that lies ahead!