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Horizon's great teams over the years

by Vincent Pelligrini Jr

February 11th, 2003

        The Horizon League has seen many changes over the past twenty-four years. Schools have come and gone. The league has been used as a springboard for players and coaches alike.

        The league was originally known as the Midwestern City Conference in 1979 but would later change its' name to the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Finally in 2001, the division was given the name of the Horizon League. The league was strictly a men's only sports conference until 1986 when it added women's athletics to its' resume.

        Since the league's inception in 1979 there have been two teams competing every year, the Butler Bulldogs and the Loyola (IL) Ramblers.  The Detroit Titans joined the league in its' second season of play. In 1994 six teams joined the conference and five of them are still active members (Cleveland State, Illinois Chicago, Wisconsin Green Bay, Wisconsin Milwaukee and Wright State). Rounding out the league of nine is Youngstown State University who joined during the summer of 2001.

        The school which was a powerhouse in the 1980s and early 90s in the league were the Xavier Muskateers. Xavier were one of the original six in 1979. The Muskateers left the league in 1995 but not before a stretch of six straight bids to the NCAA Tournament (1986-91) and a sweet sixteen finish in 1990. To this date, Xavier is only one of two Horizon League schools to ever play in the regional semifinals (the other is Loyola, IL in 1985). Pete Gillen's club had the likes of Tyrone Hill, Derek Strong, Aaron Williams and Brian Grant. All of them went on to play in the NBA. Hill was the 1990 MCC Player of the Year and the 1989 MCC post season tournament MVP. Hill had a monster 1988-89 campaign averaging 18.9 points per game and 12.2 rebounds per game. Xavier also had a dynamic scorer in Byron Larkin, who during the 1987-88 season, scored 25.3 points per game enroute to the MCC Player of the Year honors. Pete Gillen left the Muskateers to take over at Providence College but his replacement Skip Prosser made sure that his team did not lose their magic of playing to the best of their ability.

        Just like their cousin's from Cincinnati, the Aces of Evansville used the conference as their stage to catapult themselves to receive national attention. The Aces earned back to back bids to the NCAA Tournament in both 1992 and in 1993. Evansville won 46 of their 59 games during that stretch. In 1992, Evansville was an eight seed playing UTEP in the first round of the tourney in Dayton, Ohio. UTEP won by a count of 55-50 and the Miners went on to beat number one seeded Kansas in the round of thirty-two. The Aces were led by 6'3 shooting guard Parrish Casebier, who in 1992 became the first player to lead the MCC in scoring (25.4) and in rebounding (9.5) in the same year. Casebier left school after his junior year to enter the 1993 NBA draft. Coach Jim Crews wasn't limited to two stellar seasons but he saw plenty of great moments while commanding the bench for the Aces. Crews was fortunate to have coached the 1989 MCC Player of the Year, Scott Hafner. Hafner scored 24.5 points per contest during the 1988-89 season.

        The Butler Bulldogs have just recently popped up on the national radar a few years ago. Butler has earned an NCAA tournament bid four of the last six years. But few recall some of the great players who competed during the lean years in Hinkle Fieldhouse. In 1980, 6'2 Tony Warren finished with a 60.1 field goal percentage which was good for first place among freshmen in the nation. The Bulldogs had a nice duo of 5'9 point guard Darrin Fitzgerald and 6'7 forward Chad Tucker. During the 1985-86 season they averaged a combined 38 points per game. In 1988-89, Joe Sexon finished his final year as the Butler head man. He enjoyed having a 6'6 dynamo by the name of Darrin Fowlkes who torched opponents for 18.8 points and 7.6 caroms a game. In 1990-91, Darrin Archbold was named MCC Player of the Year as he finished the season as the top free throw shooter (91.2%) in the country.

        Another exceptional shooter was LaSalle's Kareem Townes. The former prop 48 led the MCC in scoring with an average of 22.5 in his first season. As a junior, the 6'3 guard had another outstanding year as he put up 22.9 per contest. LaSalle joined the league in 1992 and would exit almost as soon as they entered but the Explorers gave the conference some wonderful memories during their short stay.

        The Ramblers of Loyola can be best recognized as 5'8 senior point guard David Bailey's team after the way he has handled his ballclub over the past few years. In 1991, however, Loyola was led by the thirteenth best scorer in the nation, Keith Gailes (25.3 ppg). Gailes always found a way to score. Also on Keith's team was Keir Rogers. Rogers, a 6'4 swingman, played alongside Gailes and picked up on some of his scoring techniques. In 1991-92, Rogers averaged 19 points and 7.2 boards a game. The Ramblers have always been known for their inside presence dating back before Kevin Sprewer. He had a breakout season in 1979-80 when he averaged close to 16 points and 10 caroms a game. Andre Moore guarded the paint area from 1983 to 1987. Moore stood at 6'9 and had a knack of finding the ball when it came off the rim. In 1987-88, 6'9 center Kenny Miller was named the MCC Freshman of the Year after becoming the first frosh to ever lead the country in rebounding.

        There have been other great teams in the Horizon League. For instance, Detroit making the NCAA Tournament in 1998 and in 1999. The Titans just didn't make it, they won their first game of the tourney each year. As the number ten seed the Titans beat St. John's 66-64 in 1998. In 1999, Detroit Mercy was seeded twelfth and they handed national power UCLA a 56-53 loss.

        Some of the great MCC players who go unnoticed because of the team's they played for weren't as good as the individual. Dayton's Chip Jones was the 1991 Freshmen of the Year after averaging 20.2 points per game. Jones was a nice surprise for the Flyers. The Billiken's coach Rich Grawer had two dynamite athletes in 1986-87 season. Roland Gray and Monroe Douglas combined to average 32.2 points per game for St. Louis. Detroit's 6'3 guard Archie Tuilos went for 19.7 points a contest for his 7-21 Titan squad during the 1986-87 campaign. One of the charter members, Oklahoma City University had a pair of six foot six future pro players in 1981. Carl Henry and Rubin Jackson combined for an average scoring of 43.8. Henry transferred to Kansas for his senior year after 1981. Jackson finished sixth in the nation in scoring (24.8 ppg).

        The future is bright for the current members of the Horizon League. Who will be the power house that Xavier University was and Butler is today? This league will only get more competitive as we are seeing some of the younger clubs come of age and make February and March a great month to watch Horizon League basketball.

E-Mail the Author: Vince Pellegrini Jr.

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