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2013-14 Horizon League Post-Mortem

by - Published May 12, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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Wisconsin-Green Bay has waited a long time to get back to the level of its NCAA Division I glory years of the 1990’s, but the Phoenix did so in a big way in 2013-14.

UW-Green Bay dominated the Horizon League for its first conference title since 1996, when it was on a run of four NCAA tourney bids in six years and back when the Horizon was still known as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. The Phoenix put together a sparkling 24-5 regular season record and was the class of the conference with a 14-2 league mark.
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How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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Youngstown State may finally be ready to turn a corner

by - Published November 17, 2013 in Columns
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AMHERST, Mass. – Youngstown State couldn’t break through for a significant non-conference win on Sunday to follow their opening weekend. The Penguins came in at 4-0, winning the Kennesaw State Tournament last weekend, a good start. UMass was a little tougher than the first four teams they played, so the 85-69 setback isn’t shocking, but in all this is a program that might be ready to turn a corner after a lot of struggles.

“When your two seniors have nights like they had, it’s tough to be able to come in and beat a team as talented as they are,” said head coach Jerry Slocum. “I thought offensively, we had some open looks, we didn’t make them.”

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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St. Peter’s takes some positives despite close loss to Loyola-Chicago

by - Published December 23, 2012 in Columns
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – When you break down film undoubtedly the technical errors will surface. In the wake of Loyola-Chicago’s 54-49 victory over St. Peter’s at Yanitelli Center, a number jumps off the stat sheet, 6 of 19. That is the result for the Peacocks on the foul line. The main points:

1. Numbers wise the pace was slow to moderate as Loyola had 66 possessions to St. Peter’s 62. The efficiencies show the type of afternoon it was:

Loyola-Chicago 82
St. Peter’s 79

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What Was The Reason Behind Cleveland State’s Five Game Losing Streak?

by - Published February 26, 2012 in Conference Notes
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Why did the Cleveland State Vikings recently have a five game losing streak?

It’s simple–whenever a team loses their most valuable player, they’re going to suffer.

The Cleveland State Vikings have had their fair share of above-average talent on the roster over the past few years. Cedric Jackson played briefly for multiple teams in the NBA and is currently playing overseas. Both J’Nathan Bullock and George Tandy have also played overseas. Norris Cole, the best known Viking alum, was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and is currently a major contributor for the Miami Heat. Some of the Vikings’ talented freshmen such as Anton Grady and Marlin Mason also have the potential to play professionally after their careers at Cleveland State have been completed.

However, a strong case could be made for the claim that the Vikings’ most valuable player over the past few years is senior D’Aundray Brown.

Brown’s contributions on the court and importance to the Vikings often go unnoticed to fans because he is not a prolific scorer or flashy player in general. Nevertheless, Brown’s intense defense, leadership on the court, and constant hustle have helped propel the Vikings into the victory column on countless occasions. The Vikings’ press—which is the key to their success—operates much more effectively when Brown, who is among the NCAA leaders in steals, is on the court.

Unfortunately, Brown’s promising career at Cleveland State has been derailed multiple times over the past few seasons because of injuries. During each of his absences, the Vikings’ performance on the court has declined dramatically.

In the 2009-2010 season, Brown suffered an eye injury that caused him to miss the Vikings’ final game in the Horizon League Tournament. The Vikings lost by seven points to a Milwaukee Panthers team who rode a great shooting performance into the tournament semifinals. Brown’s defensive intensity could have easily made a difference in that game.

Brown missed the entire 2010-2011 season with a wrist injury. The effects of Brown’s injury were not seen at first, as the Vikings raced out to a 21-3 record. However, the Vikings’ bench failed to produce all season long, and the Vikings’ starters were forced to log major minutes for much of the season. The heavy minutes took their toll towards the end of the season, as the Vikings struggled down the stretch and lost four of their final seven regular-season games. These losses cost the Vikings the opportunity to host the Horizon League Tournament, and the Vikings ultimately lost to Butler in the tournament semifinals. Towards the end of the season, Vikings coach Gary Waters was quoted as saying that the Vikings would have won the Horizon League Tournament if Brown had been on the roster. Any Vikings fan who watched the exhausted Vikings towards the end of the season would easily agree with Waters’ statement.

This season, the Vikings sprinted out to yet another successful start to the season. With Brown fully healthy and contributing lockdown defense and hustle, the Vikings won several close games early in the season and defeated several quality opponents. Beginning the year with an upset of the nationally-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores, the Vikings appeared to be poised to win the regular season Horizon League Championship until Brown suffered a groin injury against the Loyola Ramblers.

Brown’s injury sent the Vikings into a tailspin that nearly derailed their season. The Vikings lost five straight games, including two blowout losses to the Valparaiso Crusaders and Drexel Dragons, and were in major danger of falling to third place in the Horizon League and losing the opportunity to receive an automatic spot in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Without Brown, the Vikings looked nothing like the intense, focused, and crisp team that had dominated many of their previous opponents and effortlessly won buzzer-beater games. The Vikings looked lost on offense, were unable to impose their turnover-producing defensive pressure on opponents, and played nothing like the team that had dominated opponents earlier in the season. Fortunately for the Vikings and their fans, the Vikings righted their ship and managed to secure the second seed in the Horizon League Tournament after they won their two final conference games without Brown and were aided by a crucial Valparaiso win over the Butler Bulldogs.

Sure, other Vikings have put up more stats and make more headlines. However, when the impact on the play and record of the Vikings is taken into consideration, Brown’s enormous impact on the Vikings cannot be disputed. If one defines Most Valuable Player as the player who has the biggest impact on his team’s fortunes, Brown surely must be mentioned in the conversation for the Vikings’ most valuable player.

Cleveland State Vikings Use Solid Contributions By Freshmen To Defeat Detroit Titans, 77-64

by - Published February 24, 2012 in Conference Notes
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The Cleveland State Vikings and Detroit Titans squared off on Thursday evening at the Wolstein Center in a matchup with major ramifications for seeding in the Horizon League Tournament. Both the Vikings and the Titans headed into Thursday’s matchup riding drastically different five-game streaks. Picked by many preseason analysts to win the Horizon League, the Titans have recently begun to live up to their lofty preseason expectations and came to Cleveland with a five-game winning streak. In contrast, the Vikings limped into Thursday’s game looking to shake a five-game losing streak that has been the result of a groin injury to talented senior D’Aundray Brown and the Vikings’ inability to adjust without their best defender in the starting lineup.

Many of the Vikings’ recent losses have come from their inability to score points in the first half. After the Vikings fell behind by a score of 14-4 with slightly more than 13 minutes left in the first half, the Wolstein Center crowd became somewhat nervous as they understandably began to worry that the Vikings were in the process of yet again falling behind by a sizable deficit that could not be overcome in the second half. Sensing the urgency of the situation, the Vikings rallied to narrow the Titans’ lead to three points with slightly less than six minutes left in the first half. The Titans fought back and expanded their lead to nine points towards the end of the first half. Unlike in previous games, though, the Vikings refused to give in. Following a Vikings timeout with approximately one minute remaining, freshman Ike Nwamu drained a 3-pointer that cut the Titans’ lead to six points and brought the Wolstein Center crowd to their feet despite the fact that the Titans headed into the locker room with a 38-32 lead.

In the second half, the Vikings played the style of basketball that propelled them to the top of the Horizon League standings earlier in the season and wore out the Titans. The Vikings’ relentless pressure defense and hustle limited the Titans to 21.7% shooting in the second half. Surprisingly, the Titans did not exploit the fact that the Vikings’ key big men—freshman Anton Grady and senior Aaron Pogue—were in foul trouble during the second half. Eli Holman, the Titans’ talented senior center who possesses NBA-level talent, only finished with six points. On offense, the Vikings shed their recent pattern of relying on jump shots and instead patiently worked the ball around and frequently wound up with easy baskets near the basket.

After initially retaking a one-point lead with 11 minutes left on another Nwamu 3-pointer, the Vikings briefly lost the lead before retaking it for good with 7:22 left in the game. The Vikings proceeded to steadily extend their lead and ultimately won the game by a score of 77-64. With their win, the Vikings snapped the five-game losing streak that had threatened to sink the team’s chances of postseason success.

As previously mentioned, the loss of Brown has been an immense blow for the Vikings and the Vikings have struggled to replace his defense and rebounding. Tonight, the young core who will lead the Vikings next season and beyond—Grady, Charlie Lee, Marlin Mason, and Nwamu—delivered down the stretch and played some of their best basketball of the season. In fact, some of the Vikings’ best play of the game occurred when the Vikings had three freshmen on the floor. Lee’s final stat line of 12 points and 5 assists does not reflect the major impact that he had on this game, as he ran the Vikings’ offense for much of the game and did not turn the ball over while dealing with the Titans’ full-court pressure. In his second career start, Mason—who was initially slated to redshirt this season and who was pressed into action only because of an injury to Sebastian Douglas—nearly ripped off a double-double, scoring 15 points and pulling down 9 boards. Nwamu’s 8 points, two of which came on 3-pointers, all came at key moments in the game. Although Grady was saddled with foul trouble for much of the game, many of his 8 rebounds were pulled down while the Vikings were battling back into the game.

The Titans’ Chase Simon led all scorers with 17 points. Trevon Harmon led the Vikings with 16 points. Every Vikings player who played in Thursday’s game scored, providing the Vikings with a balanced attack that had been missing in recent games.

With a win on Saturday against the Wright State Raiders, the Vikings can finish no lower than third in the Horizon League standings. If the Butler Bulldogs lose to the Valparaiso Crusaders on Friday evening, the Vikings can clinch the second seed in the Horizon League Tournament with a win on Saturday. Vikings fans should be prepared for their fair share of scoreboard watching and nailbiting as the final few games of yet another hotly contested Horizon League campaign play out and last-minute jockeying for tournament seeding ensues!

Much Is At Stake In The Final Week Of Horizon League Play

by - Published February 21, 2012 in Conference Notes
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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!

Cleveland State Loses To Drexel Dragons 69-49 In ESPN BracketBusters Matchup

by - Published February 18, 2012 in Conference Notes
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The Cleveland State Vikings and Drexel Dragons squared off on Saturday morning at the Wolstein Center as part of ESPN’s BracketBusters series. Saturday’s contest marks the second straight year in which the Vikings have participated in the BracketBusters series. Last season, the Vikings dropped a hard-fought contest to Old Dominion on the road in which the now-departed Norris Cole set a new BracketBusters record for points scored when he dropped 35 points on the Monarchs.

The Vikings took the floor on Saturday morning looking to shake a three game losing streak, having lost three straight games against some of the toughest teams in the Horizon League—the Valparaiso Crusaders, Butler Bulldogs, and Milwaukee Panthers. In contrast, the Dragons headed into Saturday’s contest with a 14 game winning streak.

In an attempt to reverse the Vikings’ recent struggles and cope with the loss of senior D’Aundray Brown, who has been described by Vikings coach Gary Waters as the team’s best player, Waters replaced freshman Anton Grady in the starting lineup with Marlin Mason, another talented freshman. This move should not be viewed as a statement about the play immensely talented Grady, but rather as an attempt by the Vikings to slow down the Dragons’ three-guard attack and to provide the Vikings with more offensive firepower off the bench.

Unfortunately, this move did not work. Saturday morning is quickly proving to be no friend to the Vikings, who struggled from the outset for the second straight week in a nationally televised Saturday morning game. The Dragons stormed out to a 19-3 lead with slightly more than 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Damion Lee’s nine points helped the Dragons silence the Wolstein Center crowd.

The Vikings’ tenacious defense allowed them to claw back into the game and cut the Dragons’ lead to 8 points with approximately six minutes remaining in the first half. However, the Dragons responded with a 15-7 run to end the first half that allowed them to head into the locker room with a commanding 38-22 lead.

Lee and the Vikings’ Trevon Harmon led their teams with 13 points in the first half. No other player for the Vikings scored more than four points, who only had four players enter the scoring column during the first 20 minutes of play.

The Dragons came out breathing fire in the second half, using a dazzling display of outside shooting to rip off a 13-5 run and take a 51-27 lead in the first five minutes of the second half. The Dragons’ lead steadily grew throughout the second half, and the Vikings were down by as many as 29 points.

Despite the deficit, the Vikings refused to quit, and they used an 18-9 run to cut the Dragons’ lead to 20 points by the end of the game. Nevertheless, the Vikings lost by a score of 69-49. Saturday’s loss marked the Vikings’ fourth straight loss and their third loss in a row at home.

However, Vikings fans who are feeling uneasy about the team’s postseason chances should not panic. In his postgame comments, Waters still sounded optimistic about the Vikings’ chances for the rest of the regular season. Waters stated that the Vikings will “keep fighting until we get it right” and expressed the belief that the Vikings will be in good shape once they are able to restore the high-pressure defense that helped them race out to a successful start to the season.

The Vikings will travel to for a Tuesday evening matchup with the Green Bay Phoenix in what should be another intense Horizon League conference game. The Vikings will need to approach each of their last three remaining games with the intensity of a postseason matchup if they intend to maintain their tenuous hold on second place in the Horizon League standings and secure an automatic spot in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament.

Butler Bulldogs Hang On To Defeat Cleveland State Vikings, 52-49

by - Published February 11, 2012 in Conference Notes
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Although the rivalry between the Cleveland State Vikings and Butler Bulldogs may not be as nationally known as the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina, the intensity that is in the air whenever these two Horizon League rivals square off is just as strong. In fact, the animosity between these two teams may be even stronger than many major conference rivalries due to the fact these two teams often square off with the Horizon League’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament at stake. In 2009, the Vikings upset the Bulldogs on their floor to secure their first tournament appearance in decades. The Bulldogs exacted some measure of revenge in 2011, when they defeated the Vikings in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals on their way to winning the league’s automatic bid and their second straight appearance in the NCAA Championship Game.

Anyone who thought that the intensity of this year’s second matchup between the two teams would be diminished because the Bulldogs are somewhat of a long shot to repeat at Horizon League champions was sorely mistaken. After a disappointing loss on Thursday night to the Valparaiso Crusaders, the Vikings took the floor looking to begin another winning streak and to remain in contention for first place in the Horizon League. Coming off a road victory over the Youngstown State Penguins, the Bulldogs headed into Saturday’s morning contest looking to position themselves for yet another surprising postseason run.

After the Vikings notched a quick 4-2 advantage early in the first half, the Bulldogs used a 20-6 run to take a 10 point lead with slightly less than seven minutes left in the first half. Although the Vikings whittled away slightly at the Bulldogs’ lead, they were never able to come closer than seven points and the Bulldogs headed into halftime with a 28-18 lead. The Vikings’ Thursday night shooting woes continued into Saturday’ s contest, as the Vikings only shot 24.1% in the first half and were 0-9 from 3-point range. The Vikings would have been in serious trouble if not for the play of freshman Anton Grady, who replaced the injured D’Aundray Brown in the starting lineup and 12 points in the first half while contributing solid defense inside against the Bulldogs’ tall front line.

A concerned Wolstein Center crowd had much to cheer about early in the second half, as the Vikings stormed out of the locker room and immediately got to work erasing the Bulldogs’ lead. Powered by the 3-point shooting of senior Trevon Harmon, the Vikings used a 19-8 run to retake the lead with slightly more than 11 minutes left in the game.

The last 11 minutes played out in the usual style of Vikings\Bulldogs game, with the outcome not determined until the final buzzer and with both teams refusing to give an inch. The Bulldogs’ height advantage ultimately proved to be the difference, as they were able to pull down several key offensive rebounds late in the second half that led to important second shot opportunities for the visiting Bulldogs.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs escaped with a 52-49 victory when Grady missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer that could have tied the game for the Vikings.

Grady led all scorers with 18 points. Roosevelt Jones paced the Bulldogs with 17 points.

Although the Vikings still maintain a solid grip on second place in the Horizon League, which will allow them to receive an automatic spot in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals, Saturday’s loss means that the Vikings will need to win the majority of their remaining games if they intend to remain in second place. The Bulldogs’ win on Saturday allowed them to move into contention for third place in the Horizon League, allowing them to be in position for a favorable opening-round matchup if they continue their winning ways.

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Your Phil of Hoops

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2014 Prep School Tour

Missed a recap of an open gym workout? We have them all right here for you.

Sept. 9: Putnam Science Academy
Sept 10: Commonwealth Academy
Sept. 11: St. Andrew's
Sept. 12: Northfield Mount Hermon
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Recruiting Coverage

New Hampton has a lot of size and personnel options

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Suffield Academy looks to grow into Class A in NEPSAC

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Wilbraham and Monson has a new leader with a similar level of talent

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A new era is dawning at the Williston Northampton School on the hardwood. It includes a new head coach who is changing some things up right away.

Kent School has some pieces to compete in NEPSAC Class A

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