2007 Horizon League Tournament Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 02/27/2007
I hope that Oklahoma State, Florida State and Illinois are paying attention to the Horizon this week. I'm not talking about the horizon in the form of the NCAA Tournament. I'm talking about the Horizon League Tournament, which may have a drastic impact on exactly what the future holds for these and several other so-called bubble teams.
The smart money says that Butler, the mid-Major darling of the Hoops Hype Machine, locked up its berth in the Big Dance way back in 2006 when it popped Purdue, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Indiana and Notre Dame on neutral courts. If we accept the premise that Butler is in then trouble could sweep across the high and mighty Altar of Entitlement of the Power Conferences in the form of that dreaded and treasured staple of March - the Upset.
That's because the Big Bad Bulldogs don't scare the other puppies that play in their backyard. In fact, the Butler Boys didn't even claim the No. 1 seed in the Horizon League Tournament, which will instead have its semifinals hosted by Wright State.
The tournament starts on Tuesday with games being hosted by the higher seeds. The quarterfinals tip-off Friday at Wright State, the semifinals are there again on Saturday, and the highest remaining seed will host the championship game on Tuesday, March 6.
Both Wright State and Loyola-Chicago have taken down Butler this year in conference play (along with Illinois-Chicago) and now the Bulldogs will likely have to get through both to nab the automatic bid. That's a tall order, for sure, and one that I predicted wouldn't happen back in January.
But the Cowboys, Seminoles, Illini and several politically incorrect mascots are all hoping that I'm wrong. Here's a quick look at what's in store in the Horizon League tournament:
Wright State - I know that Butler gets all the love, but the Raiders have been the best team in the conference over the past month. They've won nine of their last 10 games en-route to a 13-3 Horizon record and the top seed. They play outstanding defense (No. 42 in the country in points allowed) and have a stellar 13-1 record on their home floor. WSU did lose to Youngstown State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, two potential semifinal opponents, on the road this year. But the Raiders beat those and their other two potential semifinal opponents (Cleveland State and UW-Green Bay) at home by an average of 17 points.
Butler - The league co-champions are going to be a tough out for anyone. Any by now you should know their deal. They are No. 6 in the nation in points allowed and in A.J. Graves they have one of the best money guards in the nation. However, they are just 3-3 in their last six games, albeit the losses coming at the hands of Loyola, Wright and Southern Illinois. Loyola will likely be their semifinal opponent - a rubber match in the series on a neutral court. Butler is 5-0 straight up and 4-1 against the spread on neutral courts this season.
Loyola-Chicago - The Ramblers were the preseason pick to dominate the league and posses its most talented player in swingman Blake Schlib. Schlib averages 16 points, five rebounds and four assists this year, and single-handedly took over the Butler game in which the Ramblers upset the No. 15 team on their home court. The trouble for ULC is that they could face crosstown rival Illinois-Chicago in the quarterfinals. UIC beat Loyola both times they played this year. No way Loyola loses three times to them.
Wisconsin-Green Bay - I really don't see anyone but the top three teams capable of winning this tournament. UW-GB would need to win three times on the road, and would have to win four games overall. It's not going to happen. But they do have a lot of experience and some decent depth, so I guess they qualify.
Detroit at Youngstown State - Detroit has won eight of the last 10 meetings and is getting points here. The team split with two blowouts this year, and I suspect a third one will be coming. Youngstown is sneaky good.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Illinois-Chicago - This will be the final dagger in a horrid hangover season for UW-M. UIC beat the Panthers by 13 last week.
Cleveland State at Wisconsin-Green Bay - The Phoenix have covered in four of the last five meetings, including two wins by an average of 12.5 points this season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Like I said, I don't see Butler getting by Loyola and Wright State, especially not on Wright's home court. I think Butler will hammer Loyola in the rubber match, but then lose a classic final against the Raiders. That result would steal a bid from the major conferences and throw Billy Packer into a tizzy.
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