Tag Archives: IUPUI Jaguars

The Wild and Wacky World of Horizon League Hoops

When the Horizon League schedule began at the end of 2017, all signs pointed to essentially everything staying pretty much the same as they had last season. Oakland and Northern Kentucky would be duking it out for the top spot. Wright State would continue to lurk as a contender. And Milwaukee would expound on its surprise Motor City Madness run from last year and compete in the top half of the league.

Also, Green Bay would hover somewhere near the middle of the standings, while most of the bottom of the conference from last year, as well as new addition IUPUI, would remain looking up at the better schools.

This isn’t exactly how things have gone in the early going. In fact, it seems as if the Golden Grizzlies have switched places with one of the bottom-rung teams. And few would have guessed that team would be Youngstown State.

The Penguins, who languished throughout the entire non-conference slate without a win against a Division I school, were essentially written off before the Horizon League began play. That was probably a major oversight over everyone’s part, as YSU rattled off three straight wins to begin league play. The 3-0 start is the first time Youngstown State has ever been at that mark since joining the conference.

It’s been more than 16 years since YSU joined the Horizon League. That’s a pretty big deal.

While the Penguins have connected with some surprise punches, the Raiders were sort of the wild-card in the league mix. The goal in Year Two of the Scott Nagy Era at Wright State was to get the team closer to the top of the heap.

And so far, it looks as if the Raiders may be a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the conference, joining Youngstown State and NKU in the ranks of the undefeated among Horizon League foes.

For the Norse, the defending Motor City Madness champs, the road to stay on top has been a rather difficult one early. Northern Kentucky already had a tough go of it on the road trip to Michigan, barely squeezing by Oakland, 87-83, and winless Detroit Mercy, 56-54.

And the Grizzlies? They seem to be stuck in neutral, with only one win in the early conference going. The close loss to the Norse was sandwiched in between a surprise loss the Green Bay and the 86-81 overtime setback at the hands of Wright State.

The Wisconsin trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee does still look to be a grueling trek for any Horizon League school, but neither the Phoenix nor the Panthers are setting the world on fire. Green Bay, since besting Detroit and Oakland, have dropped three straight, including getting swept on its Ohio trip by both YSU and Cleveland State. Milwaukee, at the same time, sits at 2-2.

And finally, there’s UIC, which was favored as an early contender. A close 65-61 loss against Wright State was negated by an 86-51 drubbing by Northern Kentucky.

It’s pretty clear that through the early games, in spite of three undefeated teams at the top, no on school has truly dominated, and that could mean some wild shifts in the standings in the coming months. Given how poorly the Horizon League performed as a whole during the non-league slate, it’s likely going to be a long up-and-down slap fight leading up to Motor City Madness.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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Departures, Arrivals and Uncertainty Shake Horizon League Fans

If you are a fan of a Horizon League member school and expected to have a rather boring off-season, you have probably been surprised.

Realistically, there wasn’t supposed to be much going on, aside from Cleveland State and Youngstown State, which each hired new basketball coaches.

But as it has been with mid-major conferences across the country, the Horizon League found itself in the riptide of change elsewhere.

That elsewhere turned out to be the Missouri Valley Conference, which itself was a part of a snowball that started rolling when the American Athletic Conference invited Wichita State to come aboard. The MVC, in turn, decided it was a school short and looked around for somebody to invite.

For Valparaiso, it became an opportunity to leave the Horizon League. For the remaining schools, it became a time to panic, at least as far as scrambling around to fill the scheduling holes were concerned.

Realistically, the conference didn’t need to really do anything, given how late in the school year it was when Valpo left. The Horizon League still has nine school, and even commissioner Jon LeCrone, when talking about conference expansion in a video conference, did not appear to have a sense of urgency to add another member by the start of July.

So it was curious to find rumblings of the addition of a new school started to grow louder, with fans speculating on a wide range of possibilities, from Robert Morris to Grand Canyon, the latter intimating a westward shift for the conference if it happened.

In the end, however, LeCrone, with the unanimous approval of the Horizon League’s presidents and chancellors, invited IUPUI, in what only can be described as the basketball equivalent of trading a cow for some magic beans.

You can cut through the entire PR spiel about the virtues of IUPUI, and you can certainly go ahead and avert your eyes from the presentation that IUPUI apparently broke out in support of its bid. The league absolutely could have waited a year to expand. And it didn’t.

The good news is that for teams that were slated to struggle at the bottom of the basketball standings next year, congratulations, you have competition. The Jaguars were a meager 14-18 overall and 7-9 in the Summit League, capping the season off by getting hammered at the conference tournament, 90-62, by Omaha.

And next year doesn’t look all that promising, either, losing their top three scorers, Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary and Kellon Thomas, to graduation. In fact, IUPUI hasn’t been a factor since Ron Hunter left for Georgia State.

The only real benefit to IUPUI’s arrival would be that once the agreement with Olympia Entertainment ends, the Horizon League can look into moving the men’s and women’s basketball tournament to Indianapolis, the conference’s home base. Then again, this could have already happened, but clearly Olympia’s pitch to have the tourney in Detroit was too great a pull.

Beyond hoops, the move throws an even bigger question mark on the Horizon League’s commitment to baseball. With Valparaiso out, the conference is now left with only six schools that sponsor the sport. And with no clear urgency on the Horizon League’s part to address that concern, fans of the remaining baseball teams are left to wonder if their school should be seeking an associate membership elsewhere.

After all of this, you have to wonder what’s in the cards for the Horizon League in the future. LeCrone’s idea of expansion still appears steadfast, but what schools would that include? Does he go west and invite Grand Canyon and New Mexico State? Or does he stick close and bring Robert Morris and Fort Wayne into the fold?

No matter what happens, fans are hoping than anything is better than the current situation.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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These X-Factors Can Make the Difference in the Summit League

There was not a large degree of separation in the Summit League last year.  The two top seeds in the conference tournament, Fort Wayne and South Dakota State, had challenges in the first round.  Teams need incoming players and x-factors to step up, and make a difference in games.  So who might those guys be?

Denver – Daniel Amigo

Rodney Billups wants to change Denver basketball.  His plan is to take a roster of players recruited for a slow Princeton offense, and turn it into a program with a fast up-tempo style of play.  It will take some time, and there are not many that think he can turn the Pioneers into anything successful this early in his tenure.

Billups thinks oft-injured center Daniel Amigo can be the difference maker for the Pioneers in 2017, and could be due for a breakout season with the Pioneers.  It is difficult to factor in how much of an impact Amigo can make for the Pioneers, as he has only played in 28 games over two seasons.  A quality big man could go a long way for the Pioneers in transitioning to their up-tempo offense and could help jump them a few spots in the Summit League.

The Pioneers are expected to be in the bottom third of the conference.  If Amigo can stay healthy, and defend the the post, and get the Pioneers some inside looks, the Pioneers could move up to the top half of the conference.

Fort Wayne – Mo Evans

It may sound crazy to have an All-Conference player as an x-factor for a team.  Mo Evans sat out a bulk of the conference season in 2016 due to an academic issue.  Guys coming back like this do not have a great history of coming back to be a leader.  Jon Coffman has stated that Evans is ready, but we will have to wait and see if Evans’ teammates can see him as a leader.

The one fault the Mastodons had in 2017 was their lack of depth.  With Evans in the lineup, the ‘Dons may have finished their season in the NCAA tournament.

IUPUI – Ron Patterson

One could just assume that a transfer from Syracuse could just come in and dominate the Summit League no matter what school he transferred to.  Patterson has an interesting offensive skill set that could possibly make him Newcomer of the Year in the Summit League.  The Jaguars were competitive in 2016 because of their scrappy defense.  Patterson is replacing Marcellus Barksdale, one of the best perimeter defenders in the Summit League over the last couple of years.  Replacing Barksdale’s minutes, Patterson will need to be able to defend Summit League’s best perimeter players and start the Jaguars transition defense.

North Dakota State – Deng Geu

The Bison struggled with depth and athleticism at center last season, and the void for that was sitting on the bench, redshirting.  Geu spent 2015-2016 redshirting and getting ready for 2016-2017.  The Bison did not have a center that could run the floor last season when they were having problems setting up their weave offense.  If Geu can come in and defend and score on the Summit’s best post players like Mike Daum, Tre’Shawn Thurman, and Matt O’Leary, the Bison have a chance at winning the Summit League again.

Omaha – Daniel Meyer and Zach Pirog

The Mavericks had problems last season when needing to count on their post players off the bench.  Starter Tre’Shawn Thurman has the potential to be an All-Conference player, but Thurman got into foul trouble early on in several games last season.  The progress of Meyer and Pirog coming off the bench and giving big contributions could make or break the season for the Mavericks.

Meyer is your classic banger down low in the post, but struggled on defense in his sophomore season.  Pirog is the opposite.  His length gives post players a different look over Meyer, but the 6’10” center lacked the post moves to be a threat off of the bench last season offensively.  If these two players developed in the off season, the Mavericks could be a serious threat in the Summit League.

Oral Roberts – Head Coach Scott Sutton

Sutton does not have a lot to work with this season.  Every game is going to be a teaching moment for his young team, and there will be several of these moments.  If he can get through the regular season without a health issue, we should all be impressed.

South Dakota – Triston Simpson

The Coyotes struggled with consistency…everywhere…last season.  There was not a load of depth on the roster, and Craig Smith often did not know who to go to off the bench last season.  Smith has almost guaranteed Iowa transfer Trey Dickerson the starting spot at point guard.  Their freshman backup point guard Triston Simpson scored 20 points in 19 minutes off the bench in the Coyotes’ lone exhibition game.  If Simpson can provide consistent scoring and energy off of the bench, then he can become one of the Coytotes’ biggest asset to late season run in the conference tournament.

South Dakota State – Michael Orris

Never known as an offensive minded point guard at Northern Illinois or Kansas State, Orris will have to be an efficient point guard on offense in TJ Otzenberger’s run and gun offense.  It is difficult to gauge how effective Orris can be in the Jackrabbits’ offense, but now he is their starting point guard.  Orris will have to defend the conference’s best point guards Tra-Deon Hollins, Mo Evans, and Kellon Thomas in order for the Jackrabbits to win the Summit League.  That is a tall order.  If he can bother those point guards, South Dakota State could have a advantage in their most important conference games.

Western Illinois – Mike Miklusak

The Leathernecks need a third scorer behind Garret Covington and Jabari Sandifer.  As the most inefficient scoring team and least consistent, the Leathernecks need a scorer with some consistency.  As a 46-percent shooter, Miklusak can be efficient, but Billy Wright’s playing time for Miklusak has been inconsistent.  The inconsistent minutes has been because of injuries Miklusak has suffered over his career, not entirely because of Wright’s incompetence.

Even as a senior, Miklusak will have some competition for minutes.  Freshman Jeremiah Usiosefe will be competing with him for minutes at the wing position, and Usiosefe made four threes in the Leathernecks’ exhibition game without missing any.

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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Every Summit League Team’s Case on Why They Can Win the Conference

The Summit League preseason rankings and awards were unveiled a few weeks ago.  You probably did not agree with them, and that’s okay!

That is not how the regular season will shape up.  Those are not all the players that will end up earning those regular season awards.  Injuries will happen at the worst possible times.  A transfer that sat out last year will make an impact that’s larger than expected.

Last season, the Summit League was a tough fought race until the very end.  There was not a lot that separated Omaha at number three and South Dakota at number eight.

The most important teams that will matter at the end will be whoever wins the regular season and, if not the same team, whoever else wins the Summit League tournament.  So what is every team’s case as to why they have a chance at winning the Summit League this season?

Here is everyone’s point of view sorted by the Summit League preseason rankings.


Fort Wayne

Hi, we’re Fort Wayne.  We used to be IPFW, but we rebranded ourselves to feel like we have our own new identity, apparently.  We may have lost last year’s conference player of the year, but we have Mo Evans coming back.  Before we were forced to sit out Evans for the second half of the year, due to academics, he averaged 17 points and five assists per game.  We’re positive he is back and ready to play and has learned from his mistakes.

Evans is an all-conference caliber player, and maybe even the best point guard in the league.  We’re going to be teaming up him in our back court with sophomore John Konchar, who could feel a little fire in his eyes after not receiving the attention of South Dakota State’s Mike Daum for best sophomore, or even the best player in the league.

Our run-and-gun offense is one of the best offenses this league has seen in a while, and we’re confident that only two teams in the league have defenses that are capable of slowing us down.  Our biggest fault last season was our depth.  Last year we were only able to go with seven competent players by the end of the season.  This year, we are going to be able to go ten deep with our offense.

South Dakota State

We may have lost three guards that were very important to our offense, but we have a slightly new offensive scheme.  We have also recruited players that we believe fit best with our system.  Also, our best player’s nickname is “The Dauminator.” What more do you want?

North Dakota State

With a lack of center, our weave offense may have struggled to score last year, but that is fine.  We’re returning just about everyone.  We have lost our starting two guard, Malik Clements, to an injury, but we have a stellar “next one up” philosophy.  We’re always confident about replacing the players we have lost.

We have confidence in our redshirt freshman center Deng Geu to be a future star in our league, and with a post presence on offense, we really can be a threat this year to win the regular season championship.  With a healthy and athletic center, we may even be able to go up against the best post players in the league like Mike Daum and Tre’Shawn Thurman.

The Jackrabbits were in the rankings ahead of us because of how good Mike Daum is.  While Daum could very well be the best all around player in the conference, it takes an entire team to get through the season and conference tournament.  David Richman preaches a team concept to us, and we are not just based on one guy.

IUPUI

Does anyone else have a former Syracuse player?  Nope, did not think so.  Our offense should be more well-rounded this season, and we still plan on having the same scrappy defense that we did last season.

Did anyone else sweep IPFW, we mean Fort Wayne, in the regular season last year?  No?  Okay, that is what we thought.

Omaha

Everyone is downgrading us because we lost two second team all-conference players who combined for 35 points a game.  We still have last year’s NCAA leader in steals in Tra-Deon Hollins, and we have Marcus Tyus coming back who averaged 14 points per game as a junior to replace a bulk of the lost scoring.

We may have a relatively new roster, but there are only two players on our active roster that have never played in an NCAA Division I basketball game.  Where else are you going to find that experience in the Summit League?  We’re taking on five Power 5 teams in our non-conference schedule, because we are that confident in our team.  It has nothing to do with financials.

We were picked seventh in the preseason rankings last year and we ended up in third.  You guys are silly.

Oral Roberts

We were picked to finish sixth in the Summit League rankings?  Wow, you guys think higher of us than we do.  Look at how much Scott Sutton is worth as a coach… Thanks!

South Dakota

We were probably the worst defensive team in the Summit League last year.  Our offense functioned about as well as a production of The Island of Doctor Moreau.  It is all going to be cool now, though.  We got rid of three-fourths of our team, and we have a whole new crew that look like a legitimate basketball team.

Denver

We’re out here in the coolest city in the Summit League.  We’ve got a brand new head coach, Rodney Billups, who is going to take our methodical Princeton offense to a fast-paced velociraptor offense.  Billups claims our oft injured center Daniel Amigo is healthy and more suited for this new offense than the Princeton one.  No one is prepared for Amigo.  He could be the Summit’s best-kept secret.

Western Illinois

Garrett Covington is one of the best all-around scorers in the Summit League.  We think.  I mean, look at how many points he scored.  Please don’t make your, “Well if he weren’t on a terrible team,” arguments.  We have Covington and a bunch of guys that were pretty good in high school.  Rankings are useless.

 

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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The best chances for Summit League teams to upset the Power 5

Other than winning a conference tournament, and then knocking off a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, there is really nothing better for smaller schools than beating a Power 5 school on the road in the non-conference schedule.

South Dakota State, South Dakota, and Western Illinois were all able to pick up wins last season against Power 5 schools, and others game close.  Will any Summit League teams be able to pick up the upset this season in November or December?  Here is a look at some of the Summit League’s best chances of picking up an upset this season.

Fort Wayne at Arkansas – November 11th

This may seem like a bit of a trap game for the Razorbacks.  Some Arkansas fans may be thinking that the Summit League favorite, Fort Wayne, is nothing to really worry about as a low major team.  The Razorbacks will be an experienced team with three seniors and six juniors on the roster, but the Mastodons have experience as well with three scholarship seniors and four juniors.

With no true point guard on the Razorbacks’ roster, Arkansas will be trying to figure themselves out in the first game of the year.  Having a problem of trying to figure out ball movement and rotations is not exactly a problem you want to have when you’re introducing three junior college players and a transfer from Colorado.

The Mastodons may also be spending a little time trying to figure themselves out in this game, but they will have a senior point guard leading the charge, Mo Evans, who averaged 17 points and 5 assists per game.  Usually when a Power 5 team faces up against a mid-major team, they have the advantage of size of depth.  Even though the Mastodons prefer to play a smaller style of play, which could be an advantage against the Razorbacks, they do have some size to match up with the Razorbacks.

Mike Anderson’s team did lose to three mid-major teams last season, including their second home game of the year against Akron.

South Dakota at Nebraska – December 3rd

South Dakota may or may not have problems this season with ten newcomers on the roster.  Okay, they are more than likely going to have problems with that.  The Coyote roster is an upgrade in talent with what they had last year on the court.  Luckily for the Coyotes, Craig Smith will be facing up against his old boss, Tim Miles, when the Coyotes go up against the Huskers in Lincoln.

Smith knows what to expect from Tim Miles and he knows what to expect in the atmosphere in Lincoln.  Like usual, there are not many people with high expectations for the Huskers this season.  The Huskers graduated Shavon Shields, who 16.6 points and 6 rebounds per game last season, and their leading scorer, Andrew White, transferred to Syracuse.  The Huskers have a young and unproven team, and they do not have a well-known leader on the team.

South Dakota also has four Nebraska-native players on the roster that will be wanting that win in their home state.  The Huskers have also lost to four non-Power 5 schools in the last two seasons, so they are not exactly invincible in games like this.  South Dakota was able to pick up a win at Minnesota last season, who was dealing with as much turnover as Nebraska will be dealing with this season.

IUPUI at Illinois – December 6th

Is Illinois still a Power 5 school?  The Fighting Illini do have some scorers on the team, but against a scrappy IUPUI defense, the team could have problems getting those scorers the ball without a true point guard on the team.  Their one real point guard, Tracy Abrams, has sat out the last two seasons with injuries. Illinois had two other players who only played in eight games last season because of injuries.  Wait, I said that wrong.  Their 6’11” center, Michael Thorne, only played in eight games due to injuries.  The other player only played in eight games because he was too busy trying to make a deal to avoid a felony charge.

With injuries and court cases, there is no telling what the Fighting Illini could be.  IUPUI’s Jason Gardner has recruited transfers and actually mature upperclassmen that can help his team right away.  Their transfers got to use last season to gel and get seasoned together, and this season they will be a serious contender for the Summit League title.

This game may actually be a mock interview for Jason Gardner at Illinois.

Western Illinois and Omaha at Kansas State

No, no, they’re not combining Omaha and Western Illinois to take on the Wildcats in Manhattan.  Kansas State will take on two Summit League in the first few days of the basketball season, and each team could give the Wildcats issues.  One should keep in mind, that while the Wildcats look like they could be in for a long season, Kansas State has not lost a home game to a non-Power 5 school since 2014.

While Bo Ryan’s autopilot was broken and set with a final destination for the bottom of the ocean, Western Illinois was able to pull off an upset at Wisconsin on the first night of college basketball in the 2015-2016.  The Leathernecks will try their luck to knock off the Wildcats on the opening night of this season.

Bruce Weber’s defense likes to create chaos and confusion to their opponents.  The Leathernecks, who placed in last in the Summit League in 2016, may be adjusted to this as they play most of their possessions as if they are being led by chaos of The Joker.  Really, it is hard to gauge how seriously to take the Leathernecks in this game.  Many people are still trying to figure out how they were able to upset Wisconsin last year.  There are a team of analysts working in 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week still trying to figure it out.

The Wildcats’ like to play a slower paced game, which could be a problem for them if they cannot control the tempo against one of the highest paced teams in college basketball, the Omaha Mavericks.  Kansas State will be playing their young back court against two starting senior guards of Omaha. The Mavericks may be able to control the pace of the game with Tra-Deon Hollins in the back court.  Hollins lead the nation in steals in 2015-2016, and will be responsible for leading the offense this season.

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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