This past season was no glamor year for the Horizon League. There were no teams even close to the bubble on Selection Sunday, and Detroit ended up representing the conference as a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Once again it was a wide open league, with seven different teams at one point or another contending for a share of the conference title before Valparaiso pulled away late.
I think any discussion of the Horizon League has to start with a Butler team that struggled so badly to score this past season. I do think there are a lot of misconceptions about this Butler team - the biggest being their outside shooting. The fact that they play in Hinkle Fieldhouse and have a bunch of white players creates the misconception that they have good outside shooting. Even their best team, in 2009-10, was a mediocre outside shooting team at best (they hit 34.2% of their threes that season). This past year's team was atrocious, finishing dead last in the Horizon with a 25.9 3P% in conference play. Their 27.2 3P% over the course of the season was 5th worst in the entire nation. Yet I watched Butler play a lot this past season, and every time they'd hit two threes in a row the announcers would get excited and say some form of: "Uh oh, here they go! Butler is not a team you want to allow to get hot behind the arc!" In reality, there were few teams you should have been less scared about shooting threes than Butler. Butler's strength under Brad Stevens has always been defense and rebounding, but they do need at least some scoring to be able to get back to the Top 25.
Butler already had two good interior defenders and rebounders in Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall, and they added Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods in their 2011 recruiting class. With all of those players back, Butler should dominate the boards in the Horizon next season. Their big need is perimeter play, which was their weakness last season, and where they suffer their one serious loss to graduation: Ronald Nored (7.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.8 spg). They do have their point guard of the future in Jackson Aldridge (3.7 points and 0.9 assists in 13.7 minutes per game as a true freshman). Their big addition for next season, though, is Rotnei Clarke. Clarke only has one year of eligibility left, but he averaged 14.2 ppg in three seasons at Arkansas (and hit 41.9% of his threes while taking 9.1 of them per game during those three seasons). With his ability to score, particularly behind the arc, Clarke could end up being the most impactful transfer in the nation next season. Chase Stigall and Crishawn Hopkins are the two other key perimeter contributors who will be back next season, and their 2012 recruiting class is filled with guards, led by Kellen Dunham (Scout: 16 SG, Rivals: 141) and point guard Chris Harrison-Docks. But even if they get no contributions from those new freshmen, there's no question that Butler will be much better next season.
Valparaiso won the Horizon regular season title, though they were awfully lucky to achieve that. In conference play they were 7-1 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. They did finish second in the Horizon League in PPP margin in conference play (+0.06), though neither Sagarin or Pomeroy rated them better than the fourth best team in the conference. But they should be better next season, with no graduations from their regular rotation. Their key returner is obviously Ryan Broekhoff (14.9 ppg, 59.1 eFG%, 8.5 rpg, 2.3 apg), who was the 2012 Horizon League Player of the Year. Their other key returners are Kevin Van Wijk (14.1 ppg, 61.7 FG%, 5.2 rpg) and Will Bogan (7.2 ppg, 40.9 3P%). Of their younger players, 7'1" Hrvoje Vucic could be a very good weapon if he could develop some offense (he shot 34.3% from the field in light minutes this past season). Their biggest addition is 6'9" Bobby Capobianco, who played 9.2 minutes per game in two seasons at Indiana. They also add 6'10" Vashil Fernandez.
Detroit was the team that won the Horizon League tournament. They started the season slow and finished strong (winning 9 of their final 11 regular season games before taking the Horizon tournament), which made sense since talented big man Eli Holman had to miss the early part of the season and then took a while to get back in game shape. Holman does graduate, but star Ray McCallum (15.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.6 spg) is back with two years of eligibility. Detroit does lose two season-long starters: second-leading scorer Chase Simon (13.3 per game) and second-leading rebounder LaMarcus Lowe (5.0 per game). They also lose Donavan Foster (3.5 ppg, 1.6 apg) off the bench. Their top returners are Doug Anderson (9.2 ppg, 53.3 eFG%, 4.6 rpg) and Jason Calliste (10.2 ppg, 1.6 apg, 1.1 spg). Their best young prospect is probably Evan Bruinsma (4.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 12.1 minutes per game). Ray McCallum, Sr clearly made an effort to bring in size, with three players 6'8" or taller in his 2012 class, but none is a big time recruit so they might all be projects.
The fourth team I'm getting around to discussing is actually the team that was best in conference play (+0.12 PPP) and that was rated the best team in the conference by both Sagarin and Pomeroy: Cleveland State. In early February, the Vikings were 20-4 and actually a bubble team, but they fell apart with a brutal five game losing streak. They fell to Detroit in the Horizon League tournament and were dumped by Stanford in the first round of the NIT. They lose four starters to graduation, including leading scorer Trevon Harmon (12.6 ppg, 2.1 apg, 1.3 spg) and starting point guard Jeremy Montgomery (10.9 ppg, 3.1 apg). That said, they do return Tim Kamczyc (9.1 ppg, 46.0 3P%, 65.8 eFG%), and had two very good true freshmen from this past season: Charlie Lee (4.1 points and 2.2 assists in 17.5 minutes per game) and 6'8" Anton Grady (8.5 ppg, 53.8 eFG%, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg). Grady actually led the team in rebounds and blocks, despite coming off the bench. Shooting guard Ike Nwamu was another true freshman who showed flashes of nice play in limited minutes. Their 2012 recruiting class is led by 6'4" Junior Lomomba and 6'8" power forward Malik London. Considering how little production the team expects to get from juniors and seniors next season, Gary Waters is clearly building for the future. They won't contend for a conference title next season, but they could be awfully good in a couple of seasons.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Rob Jeter has been named as a potential head coach at several other schools, and it was actually reported a week ago (and then refuted a few hours later) that he had taken the Mississippi State job. At the time I'm typing this, he's still the head coach at Milwaukee. They have a lot to replace, though, losing two starters and their sixth man. The toughest loss is probably point guard Kaylon Williams (10.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.5 apg). Their key man next season will be James Haarsma (10.8 ppg, 58.9 eFG%, 5.4 rpg). They will need a big improvement at the point from Shaquille Boga, who was very sloppy as a true freshman (37 assists, 34 turnovers). Youngstown State is another team that loses two starters, though they will probably return their three best players: point guard Kendrick Perry (3.9 apg, 2.4 spg), sharpshooter Blake Allen (42.9 3P%, 58.1 eFG%) and big man Damian Eargle (7.5 rpg, 3.7 bpg). The player deep on the bench who is most likely to be a large contributor next season is probably rising-sophomore Fletcher Larson (7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes played). Their top recruit is 6'6" Ryan Weber.
The most likely team to make a leap next season is Wisconsin-Green Bay. They won their final five regular season games before falling to Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament, and they lose only player from their regular rotation to graduation - Steve Baker (7.3 ppg, 42.9 3P%, 2.9 rpg). Their 7'1" star Alec Brown (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.0 bpg) still has two years of eligibility left. They have another quality big in 6'9" Brennan Cougill (9.2 ppg, 56.7 eFG%, 7.0 rpg) and a sharpshooter in Kam Cerroni (7.9 ppg, 46.5 3P%, 63.7 eFG%, 82.6 FT%). The Phoenix also have a point guard of the future in Keifer Sykes (11.2 ppg, 3.3 apg as a true freshman). Their 2012 recruiting class has a pair of quality prospects: 6'7" Jordan Fouse and 6'8" Nick Arenz.
3. Wisconsin-Green Bay
4. Cleveland State
5. Youngstown State
It's hard to deny that the 2011-12 season was a success for the MAAC. Iona became the first MAAC team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 17 seasons. Now, as much as I enjoyed how Iona played and wanted them in the NCAA Tournament, the reality is that they didn't deserve it - their Sagarin ELO_CHESS was clearly the worst of any team in the Field of 68. But the Selection Committee has made a clear effort to reward teams with strong non-conference strengths of schedule, and to punish teams that had weak non-conference schedule, which was why they rewarded Iona and punished teams like Drexel.
That said, there's no question Iona had a really exciting offense powered by one of the most explosive players in the nation - Scott Machado (13.6 ppg, 40.4 3P%, 4.9 rpg, 9.9 apg). But Machado is graduating, as is the Malone to his Stockton: Mike Glover (18.3 ppg, 63.7 FG%, 9.0 rpg). They also lose guards Jermel Jenkins and Randy Dezouvre to graduation. They do get one more season from MoMo Jones (15.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.9 apg), and have a really nice shooter in Sean Armand (9.5 ppg, 46.2 3P%, 65.1 eFG%) and another returning starter in Kyle Smith (5.5 ppg, 52.3 eFG%). Of their lesser used players, the one likely to make the largest impact next season is Ra'Shad James (3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per game, with a 55.1 eFG%). 6'9" Josh Gomez is a decent prospect from their 2011 recruiting class, and their highest rated 2012 recruit is 6'5" Grant Ellis.
The team that finished in second place in the MAAC and that stole the MAAC tournament title was Loyola-Maryland. Despite that success, the reality is that they were lucky throughout the season. They were only fourth in the MAAC in PPP margin in conference play, and even after their conference tournament victory were still rated only the fourth best team in the conference by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. They should still be in good shape next year, though, losing only one player from their regular rotation: Shane Walker (9.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg). Their top returner is Erik Etherly (13.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg). Justin Drummond (10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) was a large part of the top offensive rebounding attack in the MAAC, and Robert Olson (11.1 ppg, 43.1 3P%) is an efficient scorer. They have a really nice developing point guard in RJ Williams (4.0 points, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a true freshman). Their top 2012 recruit is 6'8" Josh Fortney.
The two other MAAC teams that were better than Loyola-Maryland in conference play were Fairfield and Manhattan. Fairfield has to replace arguably their two best players: Rakim Sanders (16.6 ppg, 54.7 eFG%, 8.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.4 spg) and 7-footer Ryan Olander (8.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg). You can make a good argument that Rakim Sanders was the best player in the MAAC this past season not named Scott Machado. But while nobody on Fairfield next season will be as good as Rakim Sanders was, Sydney Johnson has a whole bunch of talent pouring into the program. He adds shooting guard Keegan Hyland, who transferred in from Gonzaga, and 2011 recruit (and 7-footer) Vincent Van Nes will play after redshirting this past season. Sydney Johnson also has a deep 2012 recruiting class led by 6'10" Josip Mikulic. Their top returners are Derek Needham (11.8 ppg, 38.9 3P%, 3.4 apg, 1.3 spg) and Maurice Barrow (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Manhattan loses three players from their regular rotation, but only one of their top five minute earners - Kidani Brutus (8.3 ppg, 40.4 3P%, 2.4 apg). Star George Beamon (19.0 ppg, 42.7 3P%, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 spg) has one year of eligibility left, and they have a really nice player to build around in Emmanuel Andujar (8.5 ppg, 53.3 eFG%, 5.7 rpg, 3.2 apg as a true freshman). Their key interior player will be Rhamel Brown (7.9 ppg, 59.8 FG%, 4.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg). Their top 2012 recruits are point guard CJ Jones and swing forward Shane Richards.
Both Marist and Niagara are potential darkhorses with all five starters returning. I really like Niagara's young core, though. They started three freshmen in 2011-12, led by Juan'ya Green (17.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.9 spg) on the perimeter and Ameen Tanksley (8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) inside. Their two other starters were both sophomores, so Joe Mihalich has a core he can build around for the next few years, potentially contending for a MAAC title down the road. I don't think he can win one next season, though.
This past season was a successful one for the Missouri Valley. The conference that had so much success in the early-to-middle portion of the last decade earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. And both Wichita State and Creighton were very good teams that were nowhere near the bubble on Selection Sunday. In my opinion, college basketball is better when the Missouri Valley is strong. There is a lot of history in the league and the crowds are great. Because it's in the midwest and none of the teams are too close to Chicago, it just doesn't get as much national media attention as it deserves.
Wichita State won the Missouri Valley regular season title, and they were the best team over the course of the season, though things ended on a sour note. Two of their four worst shooting performances (by eFG%) of the season came in their final two games - a loss in Missouri Valley tournament to Illinois State and a shocking three point loss to VCU in the NCAA Tournament. This program heads into rebuilding mode now. Their four leading scorers and (arguably) best players are all gone, as well as a player who was the team's sixth leading scorer off the bench. The biggest loss is star Toure' Murray (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.3 apg), while two other huge losses are Joe Ragland (13.4 ppg, 50.4 3P%, 68.0 eFG%) and 7-footer Garrett Stutz (13.5 ppg, 55.9 eFG%, 7.8 rpg). The two returners that played extensive minutes are Demetric Williams (5.4 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Carl Hall (8.4 ppg, 57.8 FG%, 5.0 rpg). The two most efficient members of their 2011 recruiting class were shooting guard Tekele Cotton and power forward Jake White. They do have a whole bunch of nice talents coming in, led by Malcom Armstead, who averaged 9.4 points and 4.4 assists per game in two seasons at Oregon. Their 2012 recruiting class is led by Fred Van Vleet (Scout: 24 PG) and small forward Deontae Hawkins. As long as Gregg Marshall stays with the program he will continue to bring in that type of talent and he will continue to have his team competitive, but it's impossible to lowe Murray, Stutz & Ragland, plus two other key contributors, without taking a step back for one season at least.
Creighton got great news when Doug McDermott, arguably the best shooter in college basketball, announced he would be back for another season. McDermott finished 6th in the nation with a 65.4 eFG%, but he did it while taking 33.3% of his team's shots while on the floor. Of the five guys in the nation that had a better effective field goal percentage, none took more than 23.9% of their team's shots while on the floor. The only graduation from the regular rotation is Antoine Young (12.1 ppg, 4.5 apg). They will have one more year with big man Gregory Echenique (the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year), sharpshooter Jahenns Manigat (46.8 3P%, 66.1 eFG%) and savvy guard Grant Gibbs (team-leading 5.0 apg). They have two more good young shooters that should play well in expanded time next season: Ethan Wragge and Avery Dingman. Another good prospect is 7-footer Geoff Groselle. Their biggest need for next season is a true point guard, which is the one thing that Creighton's explosive offense lacked this past season. Austin Chatman, who had 1.9 assists in 11.8 minutes per game as a true freshman, is a potential starting point guard. Andre Yates, from their 2012 recruiting class, is another point guard. The highest-rated 2012 Creighton recruit is shooting guard Isaiah Zierden, yet another guard with shooting range on a team chock full of quality outside shooters.
There was a long way back from Creighton and Wichita State to the rest of the conference. There was a four-way tie for third place at 9-9. The most intriguing of those four teams for next season is Illinois State. The Redbirds beat Wichita State to make it to the Missouri Valley tournament title game where they took Creighton to overtime. In the NIT they beat Ole Miss in overtime before losing to Stanford in yet another overtime. And they return absolutely every player from their roster, led by Jackie Carmichael (13.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Tyler Brown (13.7 ppg, 45.4 3P%, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg). They have another nice shooter in Jon Ekey (9.0 ppg, 40.7 3P%, 4.9 rpg) and an up-and-coming point guard in Nic Moore (10.0 ppg and 3.9 apg as a true freshman). They have two more point guards coming in their 2012 recruiting class: Anthony Beane and Aaron Simpson. With everybody back, it's hard to see how Illinois State doesn't get quite a bit better.
Northern Iowa was the other Missouri Valley team to make the NIT, and they also made it to the second round - beating St. Joseph's and falling to Drexel. Like Illinois State, they're in a position to be improved next season. They lose just one player to graduation: Johnny Moran (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 spg), and have several players coming back. First, they get back 6'8" Nate Buss (one of their top 2010 recruits) and 6'8" Chris Olivier (a 2011 recruit), who both missed the 2011-12 season with injuries. The core of next year's team will be rising-seniors Anthony James (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Jake Koch (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 rpg). Seth Tuttle (9.6 ppg with a 66.3 eFG% as a true freshman) is a rising star in the Missouri Valley, and Chip Rank (6.1 ppg, 45.2 3P%, 63.3 eFG%) is a sharpshooter. Shooting guard Matt Bohannon and point guard JeVon Lyle are two other 2011 recruits who took redshirts and have four years of eligibility left. Northern Iowa lacks the star power of a team like Creighton, but they should be awfully deep next season.
Missouri State was a team that faded late, losing their final five games of the season. And they will be rebuilding with their three most important players gone: Kyle Weems (15.6 ppg, 40.4 3P%, 7.2 rpg), Caleb Patterson (12.2 ppg, 52.1 eFG%, 81.3 FT%) and starting point guard Michael Bizoukas (4.0 ppg, 5.4 apg). Their top prospect for the future might be rising-sophomore Christian Kirk (3.7 ppg, 50.0 FG%, 3.2 rpg). They also have a deep recruiting class coming in. Yet another team that finished 9-9 was Evansville. They lose two starters to graduation: Denver Holmes and Kenny Harris (12.3 and 12.2 ppg, respectively). They do get another season from star Colt Ryan (20.5 ppg, 43.8 3P%, 4.2 rpg), have an explosive scorer in Ned Cox (9.2 ppg and 3.0 apg off the bench), and have a nice prospect in Ryan Sawvell (6.2 ppg, 62.6 FG% and 4.0 rpg as a true freshman). Their top 2012 recruit is 6'4" shooting guard Adam Wing.
A dark horse team is Drake, a team that got no attention but that reached 9-9 in conference play and the second round of the CIT. Also, despite losing two key players off their bench (Kurt Alexander and Kraidon Woods, who both played more than 15 minutes per game), they get two key players back who missed the 2011-12 season with injury: 6'11" Seth Van Deest and 6'8" Reece Uhlenhopp. Van Deest started 29 games and was Drake's third leading scorer in 2010-11. Their key returners are Rayvonte Rice (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.9 spg), Ben Simons (16.4 ppg, 42.5 3P%, 3.4 rpg) and Jordan Clarke (6.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.4 spg). I don't think they have the talent at the top to contend for an at-large bid, but they're going to be awfully deep and will likely be a Top 100 team.
2. Illinois State
3. Northern Iowa
4. Wichita State