All eyes are on the Motor City as the Horizon League comes to town for the first edition of #MotorCityMadness.
The favorites are the Valparaiso Crusaders.
Valpo is coming off a 16-2 conference season that made it only the fifth team to finish with two losses or less in the Horizon League regular season. Four of those five teams have gone on to the NCAA tournament. Unlike in the past when Valpo would have earned the right to host the tournament, this year the tournament moves to a “neutral floor” at Joe Louis Arena. Not hosting won’t hinder Valpo, they are far and away the best team in this tournament.
Valpo is anchored by junior forward Alec Peters, who averaged 17.9 points per game during the conference season along with 8.3 rebounds a game. Peters is an inside and outside threat. Standing 6’9″, he has no issues scoring inside and moving the ball in transition. That being said, he has been the most effective from behind the three-point arc, shooting 45 percent.
Peters has had help in senior point guard Keith Carter, who dished out 132 assists on the year while scoring 10.1 points per game during the conference season. No other Crusaders averaged more than ten points per game this season. Valpo is built on defense and is sixth in the nation as a team, allowing their opponents only 61 points per game. Valpo has two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez holding down the paint. Fernandez had 94 blocks and 15 steals this season along with 139 defensive rebounds, in order to stop Valpo teams will need to get Fernandez into foul trouble.
The number two seed is the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are one of the two de facto home teams in this tournament, having their campus just 30 miles up the road from Joe Louis Arena.
OU is led by Horizon League Player of the Year Kay Felder. This season, Felder has averaged 24.4 points per game and has led the nation in assists with 9.4 per contest. Felder can do it all and has been impossible for anyone to slow down all season. Felder, despite being only 5’9″, has climbed NBA draft boards and could end up foregoing his senior year for the NBA.
Oakland is not just the Kay Felder show. OU has four other players who average more than 10 points per game. One of those players in redshirt sophomore Jalen Hayes, who is an electric finisher with tons of athletic ability. He does most of his scoring inside and is capable of throwing down monstrous dunks.
The Golden Grizzlies also have Martez Walker, a redshirt sophomore who transferred in from Texas after he was released due to some off-the-court issues. Walker has done alright for himself, averaging 11 points per game and freeing up space for Felder and Hayes by forcing defenders to cover him. Walker is not a player that you can let get free outside the arc as he shoots 45 percent from downtown. Most of his three-point attempts have come when he is left open in the corner of the court, and he’s able to drift to the outside.
OU also features senior center Percy Gibson and senior guard Max Hooper, who each score more than 10 points per game. Hooper is a three-point specialist who has yet to shoot a two-point field goal all year. Beyond those five players, the only guys that get substantial time are Sherron Dorcy-Walker and Nick Daniels. Outside of Hooper, all of the Oakland players named above are Michigan natives. Felder, SDW, Gibson and Walker all attended Pershing High School together and were on varsity at the same time. With OU having so many Detroit kids, you have to think they have a bit of home court advantage. It is also worth noting that OU is the country’s highest scoring team with 87 points per game.
Although Wright State finished third in the conference, it doesn’t seem like much of a contender. It’s a well-coached squad that plays good fundamental basketball and likes to slow down the tempo. Their leading scorers are Mark Alstork and JT Yoho, each with 12 points per game. Head coach Billy Donlon is hands down the best X’s and O’s coach in the Horizon, that being said his squad lacks talent.
Don’t expect much from WSU, I don’t expect them to be playing Monday night.
Milwaukee might be the biggest underachiever in the Horizon League this season. The Panthers have a starting five that can go head-to-head with anyone in the country. The Panthers finished fifth in the Horizon League but they earned wins over Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Minnesota during the regular season. The Panthers are led by senior forward Matt Tiby, a Horizon League first-team selection who averaged 15.6 points and eight rebounds per game during the regular season.
The Panthers are a big team. Four of the seven rotation players for Milwaukee are 6’5″ or taller, and all of them can step out and shoot the threes. JJ Panoske, a 6’10” senior forward, shoots 41 percent from downtown and 6’5″ junior guard Cody Wichmann shoots 51 percent from three-point land. This being said, the Panthers live and die with the three-point shot. If the Panthers get hot from downtown, they could find themselves cutting down the nets in Detroit. If they make a run, watch for point guard Jordan Johnson to have a good tournament. The junior was selected to the Horizon League Second Team with 12 points and 8.2 assists per game, good for second in the country.
The Phoenix, like WSU, finished high in the standings but don’t have a great shot to win in Detroit. Green Bay scores a lot, in fact, they are fourth in the country in scoring with 85 points per game. The flaw with Green Bay is defense. They don’t play it. The goal for green pay is to push the tempo and hope to outscore the opposition. Green Bay has two key players from the back-to-back NIT runs left on the roster. Senior Jordan Fouse was selected to the Horizon League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team. This season, Fouse has 12 points per game to go along with 44 blocks and 69 steals.
If Green Bay makes a run, Fouse needs to do more on the offensive side of the ball. The second piece remaining from the back-to-back NIT teams for Green Bay is Carrington Love. Love spent the last few years as the backup to star Kiefer Sykes. Love has proved thus far that he is just as talented. Love averaged 18 points per game and was named to the Horizon League First Team and the All-Defensive Team, haveing 78 steals and nine blocks on the year.
The home team located just nine miles from Joe Louis Arena might have the most talent of any team in the Horizon League. The Titans score a lot, 83.8 points per game, good for 8th in the nation. What they don’t do is play any defense. Detroit ranks 339th in the country in scoring defense. Down the stretch, Detroit has improved slightly on the defensive side of the ball. If they want to make a run they need to put together four straight strong defensive games in a row.
Detroit’s star player is Paris Bass. Bass, a 6’8″ forward with NBA aspirations, has 18.7 points per game to go with 7.7 rebounds. Bass is an adamant scorer that can slash his way to the rim or step outside and shoot the three. Bass, however, has the tendency to play one-on-five with the opposing team. When Bass gets this selfish streak, the Titans tend to lose.
The Titans also have 6’7″ forward Chris Jenkins, who like Bass can slash inside and shoot the three well. Jenkins had 12.6 points per game during the regular season including a big game vs. Oakland last Friday where he put up 12 points in under four minutes. In between Bass and Jenkins is 6’6″ forward Jaleel Hogan. The sophmore is stronger than an ox and has a big body that allows him to push anyone around in the paint. Look for Hogan, who had 10 points per game during the regular season, to score over players much bigger than him.
At shooting guard, Detroit will start 6’6″ senior Anton Wilson, who is currently averaging 14.3 points per game and is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. If Anton can score one three-pointer in the tournament he will become the third best three-point shooter in Detroit Titan history. Wilson is deadly from the corners and the bend in the arc. If he is left open and can get going he can fill up a stat sheet. The Titans will most likely start senior point guard Carlton Brundage. Brundage, a former national top 100 recruit, has gotten hot as of late. He has been a spark plug and a rebounding machine for the Titans in the second half of the season.
Outside of the starting five, Detroit will use a short bench consisting of Josh McFolly, a freshman point guard, who was selected to the All-Freshman Team. McFolly is undersized but can shoot long threes and score inside. McFolly will be brought into games to try and speed up the tempo. Detroit will also sub in 6’7 “redshirt freshman forward Aaron Foster-Smith, who can step outside and shoot the three but is prone to bad fouls. The final sub is 6’8” forward Gerald Blackshear, a strong rebounder who is young and still developing but has shown he can rebound and defend in the paint. Detroit may also use junior guard Jarod Williams, but as of late, he has not been a major factor.
Others to Watch
Rob Edwards, freshman, Cleveland State
Edwards, a Detroit native who played his high school basketball at Cass Tech, had 12 points a game during the regular season. Edwards is back home, look for him to go out fighting.
Cameron Morse, sophomore, Youngstown State
Morse, a sophomore from Flint, Michigan, put together a great season. Morse averaged 20 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range. Morse, who was selected to the Horizon League Second Team, will face off with high school teammate Anton Willson Saturday.
Dikembe Dixson, freshman, UIC
Dixson, the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, is his team’s only hope of upsetting WSU. Dixion currently averages 19.9 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.
Green Bay over CSU
MKE over NKU
UIC over WSU
DET over YSU
MKE over GB
DET over UIC
OU over DET
Valpo over MKE
OU over Valpo
Email Karic at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Karic_Jones
Images courtesy of DetroitTitans.com