Horizon League First Round Preview
Play in the Horizon League tournament begins on Tuesday night with four games hosted by the higher-seeded team, including 5-seed Butler hosting 8-seed Wright State. While there are many who believe that the Bulldogs could once again make a run as they did last season, it's important to point out that last year's NCAA finalists found a way to earn a bye to the semifinals in the conference tournament. No such luck this time around as the Bulldogs host the Raiders, a team they swept during the regular season. Butler won the meeting at Hinkle 64-53 on February 7th, shooting 18-for-23 from the foul line and forcing 17 WSU turnovers.
Wright State has been one of the worst offensive teams in the Horizon, entering postseason play with the league's worst adjusted offensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers and also shooting 39.9% from the field. Julius Mays leads the Raiders with an average of 14.2 points per game but he was limited to just eight points while turning the ball over six times at Hinkle. Clearly Wright State will need more from him in addition to Armand Battle (18 points in the second meeting) if they're to successfully navigate a Bulldog defense that limits teams to 41.2% shooting.
Andrew Smith leads Butler in scoring with an average of 10.6 points per game and four other players average at least 7.8 points per contest, which makes sense given the absence of a go-to guy along the lines of a Shelvin Mack or Matt Howard. The key for Wright State is to keep Butler out of the lane, as the Bulldogs shoot 28.1% from three, the lowest number in the Horizon League. If Wright State can force Butler to rely on perimeter shots too score they've got a chance to leave Indianapolis with a win few expect them to get. However this has been the time of the season when Butler has found a way to play their best basketball, so that will be easier said than done for Wright State.
#10 Loyola (IL) at #3 Detroit (7 PM)
From a talent standpoint Ray McCallum Sr.'s Titans could be the best choice outside of the top two to win the Horizon League. But it's just as much about making sound decisions as it is raw skill this time of the year, and that's something that has been an issue for Detroit at times this season. The Titans did sweep the regular season series with the last-place Ramblers, winning both games by double digits. Loyola shot just 37% from the field in the meeting at Calihan Hall just over a month ago, relying on a balanced scoring attack in addition to grabbing sixteen offensive rebounds. Ray McCallum Jr., Eli Holman and the rest of the Titans are definitely talented enough to go on a run. The question now is whether or not they can go out and make good on their potential.
#7 Green Bay at #6 Youngstown State (7:05 PM)
Brian Wardle's Phoenix are playing well of late as they enter the conference tournament on a five-game win streak. That's good news as they visit the site of their worst defeat of the season, as YSU whipped Green Bay 77-47 back on January 22nd. Anything that could have gone wrong at the Beeghly Center on that Sunday afternoon did, as Green Bay shot 39.2% from the field while watching the Penguins shoot 12-for-24 from beyond the arc. Simply put the Phoenix have to defend the three-point line, as Blake Allen, Kendrick Perry and company can light it up if left alone. If Alec Brown and Brennan Cougill can control the play inside that would bode well for Green Bay.
#9 UIC at #4 Milwaukee (8 PM)
Rob Jeter's Panthers have been one of the better teams in the Horizon League when it comes to defensive efficiency and they host a UIC team that's struggled offensively with both field goal percentage (39.7%) and turnovers. If Howard Moore's Flames can't take care of the basketball or find quality shots it could be a long night for the visitors, although they were competitive in both meetings despite being swept. Milwaukee won the first meeting (at home) by two points and the second by 11 on Thursday night. UIC shot 32.3% from the field and was out-rebounded by ten in the second half of that defeat, and while Marc Brown led four Flames in double figures with 17 points they didn't get much of anything from their reserves. It's going to take more than that to knock off a Milwaukee team led by Kaylon Williams and Tony Meier.