One week left and a lot of work remains until the regular season comes
to a close. Three teams are in the running for first place. Four clubs
still have a shot at getting the sixth seed. You may be asking
yourself why's that important? Seeds four through six get home court
advantage in the first round. While the top three schools get byes
into later rounds. The second round and semifinals will be played in
Milwaukee. If the Panthers of UWM advance to the championship game, it
will host the contest. If not, then that game will be played at the
highest remaining seed.
Currently UW-Milwaukee is in first place with a 12-2 division
mark and 21-6 overall record. The Panthers are led by senior shooting
guard Clay Tucker. Tucker has been superb down the stretch and he has
been a big reason why this team has won eight in a row. The future of
Panther basketball is in 6'8 sophomore forward Dylan Page. He has been
something special in the low post for them all season long. In
conference play, Milwaukee leads the league in field goal defense
(.380). Coach Bruce Pearl has to be licking his chops as his Panthers
are a perfect 12-0 at home. They will end the season with two road
contests including a showdown at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 1 against
the Bulldogs of Butler
Speaking of Butler, they are tied for first place with the
Panthers. With the victory against Wright State on Thursday, the
Bulldogs have chalked up seven consecutive twenty win seasons. As they
look to be a lock at making the post season for its' seventh year in a
row. Butler is 11-0 at home and their two final contests are at the
Fieldhouse (Wisc. Green Bay and Wisc. Milwaukee). Butler went
unscathed through Ohio as they beat YSU, 69-60, and Cleveland State,
The Flames aren't out of it but they have to hope for a lot of
things to happen. Illinois of Chicago is 10-4 in league play and 18-7
overall. Jimmy Collins is in his seventh year at the helm and he knows
how to win the conference tourney. Last year, the Flames had a good
showing in the NCAA Tournament before being bounced in the first round
by Oklahoma, 80-73. This year Collins' club is led by Cedrick Banks
and Armond Williams. Williams has nine double doubles on the campaign
so far. The fire burns at home where they are 10-2.
In 1963, the Ramblers ran off five victories in the NCAA
Tournament to become national champion on March 23 in Louisville,
Kentucky. In 1985, Loyola was a four seed and took down Iona and SMU
before being beaten by the eventual runner up, the Georgetown Hoyas.
That year they were led by Alfredrick Hughes who went onto become the
league's all-time leading scorer. This year Loyola has a couple guys
who fit into that same Hughes-mold. Paul McMillan and Demetrius
Williams have combined for nineteen double doubles. McMillan is a
bruiser while Williams is a lean mean swatting machine. It helps that
they also have senior point guard David Bailey. Loyola has won four
straight and hopes are high for that to continue in Ramblerland.
The University of Detroit Mercy have great athleticism but
haven't put the pieces together yet to make Perry Watson a happy man.
The Titans (7-7, 14-11) are one game behind Loyola for fourth place.
Willie Green needs to continue to have the hot hand. Senior forward
Terrell Riggs needs to step up his game for the final stretch. Last
year's NIT bid was a bit of a disappointment after having such a fine
Youngstown State (4-10, 8-17) is locked up for sixth place
with Green Bay. The Penguins have lost five consecutive ballgames and
their schedule doesn't get much easier as they finish with Detroit,
and Illinois of Chicago. Coach John Robic's squad has lost twenty-nine
consecutive games on the road. They are in need of a win badly. They
finished out their home schedule with a loss on Saturday but the Pens
were 8-5 at the Beeghly Center.
Wisconsin Green Bay picked up a huge win against the Penguins
at home on Wednesday. That "w" brings the Phoenix into a tie with YSU
for the sixth spot. Get this, Green Bay in conference play has the
best scoring offense (82.2) and the best scoring defense (57.8).
That's amazing for how poorly they have played. Green Bay is currently
4-10 in the division and 10-17 overall. They finish up with two road
games (Butler and Wright State).
Rollie Massimino's Vikings have sure hit some hard times over
the past few years. Cleveland State (3-11, 8-19), however, is only a
game out of sixth place. They don't have much of a home court
advantage however due to the fact that the Convocation Center is too
big to house the Vikings.
The Raiders of Wright State don't resemble a 3-11 team but
they are. It's been a rough season for coach Ed Shilling. Seth Doliboa
and Vernard Hollins have given the Raider nation something to cheer
about all season long though. Doliboa hit for 38 in a February 15
contest versus Cleveland State. The Nutter Center will play host to
their final two conference games as the Wisconsin teams will come
calling next week.
The Horizon League has many storylines which will be on
display in the next week. For instance, the season finale between
Milwaukee and Butler on the first of March. The roof may come off
Hinkle Fieldhouse for that one. If the Raiders pull an upset over
Milwaukee, don't count them out of hosting a playoff game as the
Phoenix will have a final Saturday showdown with Wright State. Many
things can happen from now till then. I suggest everyone sit back and
enjoy those Horizon League games. It should be a photo finish.
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Vince Pellegrini Jr.