Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- I may not be as well informed about the Horizon League as the CHN Butler Ugroup, but I’ll do my best with a top notch match-up from that league, as in-state rivals #134 Green Bay (10-5, 3-1) and #107 Milwaukee (9-5, 5-0) meet in an important game for each team’s title hopes.
Green Bay opened the Horizon League season 3-0, including a good win at UIC on Saturday evening, but lost on Monday at Loyola Chicago. The Phoenix’s best win in the non-conference came over Marshall, and they had an embarrassing loss to Division II Rollins College early in the season. Milwaukee sits atop the Horizon standings, with two games in hand over Butler, and also picked up a good win to close the non-conference season, beating MVC leaders Bradley by double-digits.
Milwaukee has managed to put together an average offense despite a couple of significant weaknesses, as it is consistently beaten out inside. The Panthers average under 44% from inside the arc, and rarely crash the offensive boards. Unsurprisingly, they make up for their interior woes on the perimeter, as they are very frequent and effective three point shooters and commit few turnovers. Defensively, Green Bay will put its own strengths against Milwaukee’s, as the Phoenix force turnovers and defend the three, but rebound poorly and don’t do that well in stopping inside shots.
Green Bay has some offensive similarities to Milwaukee, as the Phoenix do very well from three but poorly inside. Green Bay takes less threes than Milwaukee, making its overall shooting less effective, but it makes for up this with decent offensive rebounding and some excellent free throw shooting, nearly 80% from the line. Milwaukee is a solid shot defending team, and doesn’t commit many fouls, but are among the nation’s worst in forcing turnovers, and when combined with their poor offensive rebounding, it’s likely that Green Bay will have a big possession advantage.
Senior guard Ryan Tillema has come back from injury to lead the Phoenix in scoring, hitting over 40% of his three pointers, though he’s not overly effective inside for a 6-8 player. Another senior, Terry Evans, is second in scoring, a solid inside shooter who can hit threes quite well. Troy Cotton heaves up a significant percentage of the Phoenix’s long distance attempts, and hits nearly 40% of them. Sophomore guard Rahmon Fletcher is a very effective distributor, averaging over 4 assists per game, but he also struggles with turnovers, and isn’t a great shooter. Junior forward Randy Berry leads the team in rebounding, and is very good at getting to the line, but doesn’t make a very good percentage from the field for a frontcourt player. 6-9 Mike Schachtner also gets to the line pretty often, and when he gets there he makes shots at a nearly 95% rate.
Tony Boyle is a workhorse for Milwaukee, leading the Horizon in minutes played and the team in scoring, thanks to a very nice long distance shooting touch. The junior guard hasn’t been very good inside, but doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers and gets to the line well. Horizon Player of the Week Avery Smith is a very hot-and-cold shooter, but of late he’s been hot, including scoring 28 against Loyola and 21 against Bradley. Senior guard Ricky Franklin has recently returned to the starting line-up, where he has done a solid job as a point guard, leading the Horizon in A/TO ratio while putting up 3.5 assists a game. Freshman Tony Meier is a 6-8 three point threat, but hasn’t yet found his game in the interior. Anthony Hill leads the team in rebounding with 5 a game, but doesn’t often do much offensively. James Eayrs comes off the bench to provide support in the frontcourt, another player who takes a lot of threes. Deonte Roberts is an option as a backup in the backcourt, and is one of the few players who rarely takes threes, opting to be a fairly efficient inside shooter on few attempts.
Milwaukee will need to be very judicious and effective with its shots, as it will likely find itself at a possession disadvantage to their in-state opponents. Green Bay is a group of solid defenders, but I’m not convinced that it will be able to answer the volume of three point shots the Panthers will take and make. If Green Bay is to have a chance, the keys will be getting to the line and stopping Milwaukee’s shots, but home court advantage may very well be enough to see Milwaukee through.
Winner: Milwaukee Margin: 2-6
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.