- Ky McKeon
(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Worst Conference Ever??? – The Horizon League was decidedly “down” this year, the first year without former conference power Valpo since 2007. KenPom’s AdjEM algorithm ranked the Horizon 26th out of the 32 conferences in Division 1, by far the worst in the 17-year KenPom era. While it’s easy to scapegoat IUPUI in this situation, the newest (and controversial) Horizon addition, the fact remains that five schools finished below the Jaguars in the standings and three of those schools ranked in the bottom 50 of KenPom’s team rankings.
No Magic in Motor City – Detroit was picked to finish 4th in the preseason polls (and by 3MW) despite coming off a poor 2016-17 year thanks to the seemingly wealth of talent in coach Bacari Alexander’s coffers. Stud senior forward Jaleel Hogan was back, impact transfers Kameron Chatman and Roschon Prince were coming to town, and 2016-17 Freshman of the Year Corey Allen was ready to take the next step. Well first, Alexander was accused of verbal abuse, then injuries forced Chatman and Allen, among others, to miss several games, and finally Hogan was declared academically ineligible for the second semester. Not exactly a titanic year for the Titans.
The King is the Norse – Northern Kentucky is the ONLY Horizon League team ranked in the top 100 of KenPom’s AdJEM ratings and ran rampant over the conference on its way to a 15-3 league record. NKU looks poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season – and it’s only been eligible for the Tournament for two seasons. Eat your heart out, William & Mary.
The Tourney is all played at the Little Caesar's Arena in Detroit (the Pistons play there).
What to Watch:
Oakland was picked by many to win the Horizon League in the preseason, and some even thought it would happen by a comfortable margin. Illinois transfer and All-League performer Kendrick Nunn gave the Golden Grizz the most talented roster in the conference. Defense let the Grizz down this year and now Oakland will be without star guard Martez Walker after the senior broke his foot on February 9th. Greg Kampe’s squad is injury-ridden outside of Walker, too, heading into the conference tournament. A potential second round bout with NKU could prove to be the end of Oakland’s season.
Wright State was probably the biggest surprise in the Horizon this season, finishing 14-4 behind the performance of stud freshman forward Loudon Love. The Raiders’ success can be attributed to their stout defense, a unit that ranked 46th in the country per KenPom and 2nd behind NKU in the Horizon. Wright State swept the season series with NKU, an impressive feat, but strangely fell to Milwaukee twice, a team it could play in the second round. Scott Nagy’s crew can hang with anyone in the league and are a quiet threat to upend the heavy favorite Norse.
Low seeds have traditionally fared well in the Horizon League Tourney. Since 2012 only two 1-seeds have gone on to win the title and the 2-seed hasn’t won since 2007.
Who Will Win:
- Northern Kentucky: The Norse seem to be head and shoulders above the rest of their conference compatriots. NKU should roll over the winner of Youngstown St. / Cleveland St. and then will (presumably) faced a very banged up Oakland squad. If Wright State makes the championship to square off against the Norse, it’s hard to believe NKU getting clipped three straight times by the same team.
If Not Them, Then:
Wright State: As mentioned above, the Raiders are the only team outside of Oakland to take down NKU this season, and they did it twice. Defense becomes increasingly important in a tournament setting and the Raiders have one of the nation’s best.
UIC: Don’t sleep on the Flames! UIC just dropped back-to-back games to conference leaders NKU and Wright State, but prior to that the Flames were on a tear, winning eight of nine to shoot into 3rd place in the HL standings. UIC has one of the best players in the conference in Dikembe Dixson and a gaggle of athletes to hang with any team in the league. If they can figure out their offensive woes, UIC could be a dangerous team over the next few days.