2015 Horizon Conference Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/2/2015
Unleash The Madness.
The Horizon League Tournament begins on Tuesday, March 3, and is one of the first conference tournaments to begin play this month. Like the remaining conference tournaments, the Horizon plays a one-and-done, winner-take-all tournament with the league's one and only bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake.
Unlike the larger, major conference tournaments, the Horizon League tournament is not played at a neutral site. The conference's regular-season champion hosts the second round and semifinal games, and the championship game will be played at the site of the highest remaining seed.
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Tuesday's opening-round games will be played at the site of the higher seed, with No. 6 Detroit and No. 7 Illinois-Chicago hosting Youngstown State and Wright State, respectively. The winners advance to the second round games played on Friday, March 6.
Valparaiso won the regular-season title for the third time in four years and will host the second round as well as the semifinals. The Crusaders and second-place Wisconsin-Green Bay each receive a bye to the semifinals of this tournament, so they won't have to play until Saturday.
If Valparaiso wins on Saturday against Youngstown State, Detroit or Cleveland State they will host the championship game on Tuesday, March 10. If Valpo gets knocked off at any point then Tuesday's championship will be held on the campus of the top team remaining.
If the structure of this tournament sounds a little confusing and convoluted, that's because it is. The double-bye and the home-court advantage are meant to give the top seeds as much of an edge as possible to win the tournament. However, one of the top two teams has cut down the nets just once in the past three seasons.
Here is Doc's Sports Horizon League Tournament picks, with my projected tournament futures odds in parentheses:
The Favorite: Valparaiso (-130)
The Crusaders joined the Horizon League in 2008 and have now won the regular-season title in three of the past four years. They won the tournament in 2013 but fell short in the title game in 2012 and were bounced in the second round last season. Bryce Drew's group has been the most consistent team in the league all season long, and their three league losses all came either by three points or less or in overtime. All three were on the road, and this team hasn't lost a home game since falling to New Mexico back on Dec. 6. Valpo's biggest asset is its size. Four of their top seven players go 6-8 or taller, and in the Horizon League that's a massive edge. Forward Alec Peters leads the team with 16.8 points per game. But the two key players are guard Darien Walker and center Vashil Fernandez. This team is athletic and has a solid system. They will be tough to beat on their home court. But if they have a weakness it's youth. They start two freshmen and a sophomore, and these guys might not play with the urgency required for March basketball.
The Contender: Wisconsin-Green Bay (+125)
Green Bay was the No. 1 seed last year but fell short in the semifinals to eventual-champion Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Phoenix entered the season as a sound favorite to win the league title but underachieved down the stretch, losing two of their last five games. I have not been high on this team all season long, and they are just 3-7 against the spread in their last 10 games. They boast the league's best player in athletic guard Keifer Sykes. But they are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country (No. 319) at just 30.2 percent from behind the arc. Green Bay has the experience that Valparaiso lacks, trotting out three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. This team has some unfinished business after last year. But they've gone just 2-4 against the other top three seeds this season.
The Sleeper: Cleveland State (+250)
The Vikings had a chance to lock up the No. 1 seed in the league and claim home-court advantage in the tournament. But they lost their final two games, dumping a bad game at Milwaukee before losing to Valparaiso at home on Friday. Don't be fooled by this team's modest 17-13 overall record. They routinely play one of the toughest schedules of any mid-major team in the country, and five of their last seven losses were by three points or less. They are always a tough out because of their outstanding defense and quirky offensive style. This team has excellent guard play and relies exclusively on the 3-point shot. Cleveland State is kind of the anti-Green Bay, whom they swept in the regular season. The Vikings did lose twice to Valpo this year. But both were by just a single bucket.
The Spoiler: Oakland (+350)
The Grizzlies have been massive overachievers this year thanks to their inside-out duo of Khalil Felder (17.5 PPG) and Corey Petros (14.5 PPG). They quietly managed to finish above .500 despite facing the nation's No. 12 toughest schedule this year. Oakland went 18-9 ATS during the regular season, and this team has been bucking the odds all season long. The Grizz come into the tournament as winners of 11 of 14 games, although they were blown out by 20 points at Green Bay last Saturday. Oakland beat Valparaiso by 14 points in overtime back on Jan. 2 and nearly swept the Crusaders by winning on the road on Feb. 8. Also, Oakland really only plays six guys, so the tournament's format - with rest days in between the semifinals and championships - could work to their advantage.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 5 Detroit vs. No. 4 Cleveland State (8 p.m., Wednesday, March 12)
Detroit has to beat last-place Youngstown State in order to set up this matchup. But the Titans could be a little bit of a sleeper team in this tournament. They upset Valparaiso last week and have beaten three of the top four seeds this year. They also have one of the best players in the league in Juwan Howard Jr. and as a senior I can't see him going quietly. The Vikings always play better when they are in the underdog role. And they are facing a Detroit team that is No. 25 in the country in 3-point shooting. Both teams are going to be bombing away, and this one will be determined by which squad rebounds the ball better. Detroit won the most recent meeting 66-65 on Feb. 13, and Cleveland State took the first game 70-66. The Titans were surprise winners of this tournament back in 2012, and last year's champion cut down the nets from the No. 5 seed.
Horizon League Tournament Picks: This should be one of the most entertaining mid-major tournaments played in the next two weeks. I think that any one of the top four seeds has a great chance to win the title, and there are plenty of potential spoilers lurking in the lower seeds. There is absolutely no doubt that the top two seeds have the odds stacked in their favor, though, and only having to win two games tilts things drastically their way. However, No. 1 hasn't faced No. 2 in this tournament since 2011, and I don't see it happening again this year. Valparaiso has definitely been the best team in the league this year, and they have the home-court edge. But I will call for an upset in this tournament as I think they lack the overall experience to get the job done. I think Sykes and the Phoenix will find a way to get it the crown, especially if either Cleveland State or Detroit knocks off Valpo in the semifinals since that would shift the title game back to Green Bay. But it would not surprise me in the least if any one of the top four seeds emerges from this league.
Robert Ferringo keeps proving himself to be one of the best college basketball handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted 11 of 16 winning college hoops weeks and 17 of 20 winning college hoops months. He has banked nearly $10,000 in profit with his side plays this year and almost $17,000 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert's college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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