Horizon League Power Rankings (1.17.12)

A month has passed since our last power rankings so there’s plenty of ground to cover.  The Horizon League is 13th in the nation in RPI due to just one top 50 win (Cleveland St. over Vanderbilt) which can only be described as disappointing.  Fortunately for fans of Horizon League teams, the conference season has been filled with great games.  But who’s the best team in the league today?  Is it Cleveland State, the team with the highest RPI?  Is it Milwaukee, the team with the best conference record? Or is it Butler, the two time national champion runner-up? Let’s start from the bottom:

10. Loyola – 0-7 in conference and not a single win over a team above .500.  There’s not much to be proud of for the Ramblers. The silver lining? They already have five wins! There’s no chance they can make it to double digit wins.  That would require five conference victories, and there’s a far greater chance they end up with ZERO…  Tough rookie season for Head Coach Porter Moser.

9. UIC – Starting the conference season 2-5 is something Flames fans aren’t particularly excited about.  But they’re only two overtimes away from being 4-3, and the Flames are noticeably improved over a season ago.  The Flames are horrendous shooters for the most part, but Darrin Williams has been a solid post presence despite averaging less than 24 minutes per game.

8. Detroit – Ray McCallum doesn’t deserve to return as head coach in 2012, but he’s likely saved by his son’s star power.  Ray McCallum Jr. is looking more and more like a four year player for the Titans as he has yet to develop a consistent jump shot to go along with his outstanding athleticism.  If the Titans are going to turn this thing around, they’ll need to adjust their offense considerably.  Every possession that doesn’t touch the monster hands of Eli Holman should be considered a failure.

Freshman Keifer Sykes has been a pleasant surprise for Coach Wardle.

7. Green Bay – The Phoenix have been much better than I expected despite only being the seventh team on this list.  Their worst conference loss has been by just seven points to Detroit.  Brian Wardle has had a solid sophomore season as coach of the Phoenix and freshman guard Kiefer Sykes has been impressive as of late.

6. Wright State – The Raiders come in ahead of the Phoenix despite dropping their most recent contest.  It’s hard to believe they were able to beat Valpo by 18 points only to turn around and lose their next game at Milwaukee by 20.  If this team wants to join the top half of the league, they’ll need someone else to help Julius Mays shoulder the load.

5. Youngstown State – The Penguins are much improved over a season ago. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as they’re going to go.  They are very careful with the ball offensively, but perimeter defense has been their achilles heel.  With such a poor defense, I can’t see them making a run in the Horizon League tournament.

4. Butler – The Bulldogs have played very uncharacteristically for a Brad Stevens led ball club.  They aren’t making threes. They are playing average defense. And they can’t seem to make a free throw to save their life.  Still you can’t discount a team with this much experience and talent.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs get hot just at the right time.

3. Valparaiso – Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff have been stars for Valpo.  Both will earn post-season awards as juniors for their offensive skills.  Unfortunately, Valpo’s defense as a whole leaves much to be desired.  Fortunately, they seem to match up well with Milwaukee and Butler.  They’ll need to continue their offensive dominance if they hope to make the NCAA’s for the first time since 2004.

2. Cleveland State – The Vikings have spent the entire season as the favorites to win the Horizon League title, but it appears they have plenty of competition in Valpo, Butler and Milwaukee.  They continue to play the passing lanes like All-Pro defensive backs and they’ve only allowed 70+ points three times all season.  Unfortunately for them, they’ve all ended in losses.  Balanced scoring has been their M.O., but who will take the last shot in a close game?

Ryan Allen's stellar defense has been the key to Milwaukee's 6-1 start.

1. Milwaukee – Your Milwaukee Panthers are #1 in the Power Rankings for the first time all year, and they deserve it.  Star defender Ryan Allen has led a Panther defense that has been the best in the conference; recently holding Wright State to just 38 points.  The problem hasn’t been stopping the opponent.  The problem is simply when the shots aren’t falling.  They shoot more three pointers than almost any team in the nation, despite the fact that, simply put, they aren’t that good at consistently making threes.  It remains to be seen if their horrid free throw shooting will cost them a chance at the NCAA tournament.


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