2008-09 Team Capsules
By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
One certainty for Butler this season is that Matt Howard
is going to be a serious part of the Bulldogs' offense. Despite joining a team that was dominated by seniors, Howard averaged 12.3 points per game as a freshman and scored the most points ever (417 points) by a Butler freshman. Howard, who started 26 of Butler's final 27 games, also became the first freshman in school history to score 400 points and grab 175 rebounds. The other returning players for Butler averaged a combined 7.7 points per game.
One of the things Vikings coach Gary Waters was looking for during his team's late-summer trip to Spain was a consistent third scorer. Clearly J'Nathan Bullock
and Cedric Jackson
-- who combined to average 28.7 points per game a year ago -- aren't surprises. But after those two, no other returning player averaged more than 5 points per game. Clearly there will be coaches who will simply try to shut down Cleveland State's top two. If that happens, either center Chris Moore
or guards D'Aundray Brown
or Norris Cole
will have to score.
New Titans coach Ray McCallum has significant work to do to rebuild a
Detroit program that won only seven games and went 3-21
after Dec. 1. Second team all-Horizon guard Jon Goode
(and his 19.3
ppg) is gone, but the four other Titans that averaged more than five
points per game are back. Forward Chris Hayes
is the team's leading
returning scorer (10.6 ppg). McCallum also has a pair of junior college
transfers in Xavier Keeling
and Thomas Kennedy
Last season was supposed to be spent near the bottom of the Horizon
League standings. Instead, the Flames turned out
to be the conference's biggest surprise with an 18-18 overall record and 9-9 league mark. The bad news entering '08-09:
Jimmy Collins' team won't sneak up on anybody. The good news: UIC has
its top three scorers back from a year ago and two of the league's
more interesting players. Guard Josh Mayo
averaged 17.1 ppg last season and was a first-team all-Horizon selection. Also
returning is 7-footer Scott VanderMeer
, who made a significant step in
his progress last season. VanderMeer became much more of an offensive
threat (9.3 ppg) and had nine double-figure rebounding games.
The Ramblers will test the theory that in conferences outside of the
top handful, experience is sometimes the difference between winning
and losing. If that's truly the case, then Loyola has a good
chance to improve on its 12-19 record and eighth-place finish in the
Horizon. The Ramblers return six of their top seven scorers -- and four starters. Led by senior guard J.R. Blount
(15.1 ppg), Loyola has four seniors.
In Urule Igbavboa
, Brandon McPherson
and Jake Diebler
, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew has a good group to build around. Igbavboa (11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) was second in the Horizon League in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage. McPherson and Diebler have started together in the Valpo backcourt for two full seasons. Last season, Valparaiso appeared in the postseason for the first time since 2004 when it played in the College Basketball Invitational. That said, the Crusaders have to replace their two leading scorers in Shawn Huff
and Jarryd Loyd
, who combined to score 24.6 ppg.
While the Phoenix return the bulk of their scoring, junior college transfer Chop Tang
has a chance to contribute. Tang, a native of the Sudan who attended high school in Minnesota, is
extremely strong and very athletic. The 6-6, 220-pound Tang could be a difficult player
for other Horizon League teams to defend because of that athletic
ability. In addition to leading scorers Mike Schachtner
and Ryan Tillema
, Green Bay also brings back Horizon Defensive Player of the
Year Terry Evans
and Rahmon Fletcher
, a member of the conference's all-newcomer team.
After a season filled with injuries, Wisconsin-Milwaukee will have a
different look this season. Second-leading scorer Paige Paulson
(13.3 ppg) is
gone, and so is Marcus Skinner
(7.5 ppg). Exactly how the Panthers will
look remains up in the air. While Ricky Franklin
and Deion James
to be more productive as seniors, coach Rob Jeter also recruited three
junior college players. When a coach goes for that many juco players
as Jeter did in Anthony Boyle
, Burleigh Porte
and James Eayrs
, he usually
expects an immediate impact.
Cleveland State is attracting much of the preseason attention, but
Wright State is certainly a legitimate Horizon League contender.
That's because the Raiders still have the vast majority of a team that won
21 games last season. Guard Vaughn Duggins
was a first team all-Horizon
selection while averaging 13.8 points per game. Guard Todd Brown
(12.7 ppg) also returns. In addition, Scott Grote is eligible
after transferring from Duquesne. Grote averaged 9.9 points
per game as a freshman for the Dukes.
Penguins coach Jerry Slocum has a difficult task in front of him as he
enters his fourth season at Youngstown State. Not only do the
Penguins have to recover from a season in which they went 9-21 overall
and 5-13 in Horizon League play; they also have to find replacements
for leading scorers Byron Davis
and John Barber
(who averaged a
combined 29.1 ppg). Winning at Youngstown State hasn't been easy since
moving from the Mid-Continent (Summit League) to the Horizon. In seven seasons,
the Penguins are 28-86 in league play. In hopes of changing that,
Slocum brought in eight new players. Sophomore guard
was on the Horizon's All-Newcomer team.
If I were the Horizon commish
By Andy Katz
I would improve the television contract. The Horizon League has been very competitive at the top. Butler, Cleveland State and Valparaiso all had legitimate postseason teams last season. Other teams in the league, like Wright State, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay, Detroit and Illinois-Chicago have had good runs, too. But the Horizon League gets lost amid the power teams in the middle of the country. There are good league matchups that don't get seen. Butler's games at Valparaiso, Milwaukee and Cleveland State were all "rocking" last season, coach Brad Stevens said.
Also, protecting the top seeds in the conference tournament has worked, with the best team from the regular season hosting the event, assuming it is in the final. If the bottom of the league gets better, then protecting the top seeds in the semis might need to be reviewed as well.