Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Conference Calling's 31 in 31 Series: 2012-13 Horizon League Preview

The Conference Calling 31 in 31 preview series will examine each of the NCAA Division I auto-bid conferences (so no Great West or independents), one per day, leading up to college basketball's opening day on November 9. 


The Horizon League doesn't have Butler to kick it around anymore.

A string of five straight regular-season titles, outright or shared, was snapped when the Bulldogs struggled through last season. Still, the Atlantic 10 wanted the cachet of bringing in a two-time NCAA runner-up and Butler was interested in being part of a league that can rate more than one tournament bid. So, a quickie marriage was consummated in a hurry and the rest of the HL threw a wild celebration.

Now, the reality of a new lower profile sets in. Some casual fans have heard of Ray McCallum of Detroit, but it takes the truly hardcore to discuss the merits of Ryan Broekhoff, Alec Brown and Kendrick Perry.

Can any of those stars topple McCallum and his coach/father Ray Sr., or are the McCallums headed back to March Madness as repeat champions?

Read on after the jump.

1. Valparaiso
--Bryce Drew is a Valpo icon as a player, and if he keeps winning Horizon titles, he may become one as a coach, too. The Crusaders had to replace 60% of their scoring last year, and this season they have nearly everyone back.

"Everyone" includes Horizon POY Ryan Broekhoff and fellow All-Horizon first-teamer Kevin Van Wijk. The two ranked third and second, respectively, in the Horizon in TS% and fourth and second in eFG%. Broekhoff also led the league in rebounding, ranked third in threes made and ninth in steals. Then, he nearly messed around and made the Australian Olympic team. Van Wijk led the league in free-throw attempts with 201, but only averaged 23 MPG. If Drew gives him 30, he and Broekhoff could rank one-two in rebounds.

The backcourt is four-headed and underrated. Will Bogan provides the deep threat (41% from the arc). Erik Buggs ranked in the top 10 in assists and steals, but as a shooter, he's painful to watch. Matt Kenney finished top-25 in rebounding, assists, steals and blocks while averaging just over seven PPG. That's all-around game. Ben Boggs is a killer free-throw shooter (81% career) who could also provide underrated rebounding and playmaking.

Beef off the bench is now available in the form of Indiana transfer Bobby Capobianco (6'9", 250) and Jamaican freshman Vashil Fernandez (6'10", 220). Capobianco's a burly rebounder, but never showed consistent scoring ability at IU. Fernandez is touted as a defensive presence.

Cal transfer Alex Rossi is considered a strong shooter, but only got 16 minutes of PT to prove it. His 6'6" frame will help him swing from frontcourt to backcourt.

Valpo could use another deep threat aside from Broekhoff and Bogan, but otherwise the team remains the strongest in the Horizon. The Crusaders led the league in FG% offense and defense, and could easily do it again.

2. Green Bay
--If you think Green Bay looks dangerous this season, just wait. There's still only one senior on a roster that had to, and did, grow up fast last year. At an average height of 6'5", the Phoenix are also a huge team by mid-major conference standards.

Of course, that average height is bolstered by the presence of All-Horizon center Alec Brown, a supremely skilled 7'1" junior that could start for nearly any team in America. He crushed nearly any notion of a sophomore jinx by carding 13.8/8.2 with three blocks per game last season, also shooting 77% from the line. Brown unleashed eight dub-dubs last season, highlighted by a 22/14 night against Marquette, ranked 11th in the nation at the time. A 16/10 average would not be out of the question this season.

Brown gets great backcourt support from sophomore point guard Keifer Sykes and junior shooter Kam Cerroni. Sykes didn't turn 18 until Dec. 30. He dropped 17 points and seven assists in a narrow loss to Valpo the next day and didn't look back. After hitting voting age, Sykes averaged nearly 15 points and five assists a night. Cerroni led the league at 46% from the arc and his 82% at the line would have ranked third had he taken enough attempts. Look for Cerroni to break double digits as he gets more than 24 MPG.

Senior enforcer Brennan Cougill is back to throw his 6'9", 265-pound frame around one more time. Cougill is an even more efficient inside scorer and defensive rebounder than the anorexic-by-comparison Brown and bolsters that skill with decent three-point range. His assist percentage was also better than any player on the team except Sykes. On any other Horizon team, Cougill would be an all-league candidate. He may be one anyway if he can play 30-plus minutes, and a 25-pound weight loss over the last two years should help in that regard.

Junior wing Daniel Turner (6'6", 220) has started 35 games in two years, but is coming back from an ACL tear. He can struggle offensively, but is a vicious rebounder. LaSalle transfer Cole Stefan (6'4", 193) is a deadly shooter who becomes eligible at the semester break. His highlight to date is a five-trey night against Dayton. Juco guard Sultan Muhammad was a 14/6 guy at South Suburban College in Chicago despite standing only 6'1". These three provide great lineup flexibility for coach Brian Wardle, letting him go big (Turner), athletic (Muhammad) or for the spread-out floor (Stefan).

The freshman class also added serious length in 6'8" Nick Arenz, 6'7" Jordan Foust and 7'2" Ryan Bross.

It's difficult to rate the Phoenix ahead of Detroit, but losses on the interior represent a vulnerability for the Titans. The interior is the one place you can't be vulnerable against teams like Valpo and Green Bay. Look for the Phoenix to be near the front of the pack all season.

3. Detroit
--If Broekhoff and Van Wijk are the muscle of the Horizon, Ray McCallum is the face. Rated as a late first/early second-round NBA draft pick, McCallum has the all-around game to drag the Titans wherever he wants to go. An able point guard at four assists per game and 1.8 A/T, Little Ray also has the ability to create his own shot, which he put up more frequently than any player in the HL. If he can shore up his shaky 24% three-point stroke, there will be no one in the league capable of totally stopping him.

He'll be missing some key support pieces, however. LaMarcus Lowe and Eli Holman were quality Horizon big men, and Chase Simon was a consistent No. 2 scoring threat. In their place, the Titans welcome back 6'9" senior Nick Minnerath, who went down with a knee injury in his fifth game last season. As a junior in 2010-11, Minnerath was a 60% true shooter producing 11 points and five boards per game. He was off to an even stronger start when he went down last year, but he did struggle against the Titans' only real competition in that span (two points, four fouls against Notre Dame).

Junior Jason Calliste should step into Simon's role as McCallum's perimeter sidekick, a spot he already filled on occasion last year. Calliste made 34% from deep and 76% from the line, his two most frequent haunts. Senior forward Doug Anderson is the other returning starter, bringing back 9.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 81% free-throw shooting. He was one of the only Titans to show out against Kansas in the NCAA tournament loss, scoring 15 points in only 13 minutes. Unfortunately, it took him that long to foul out, too.

Veteran depth consists of junior glue guy Evan Bruinsma (6'8", 214), who is very productive in small doses, and sophomore guard P.J. Boutte (5'8", 151), a perimeter defensive specialist.

The new guys will have to make an impact for the Titans to have any bench at all. 6'6" freshman wing Anton Wilson (Flint, Mich.) could start immediately. Wilson was being recruited by Baylor, Memphis and Iowa, to name a few, especially after a 30-point outburst against perennial power Oak Hill Academy. Western Michigan transfer Juwan Howard, Jr. scored over nine points a game and shot almost 80% from the line as a freshman. (Sidenote: does it make anyone else feel damn old when the guys you grew up watching have kids in college? Ugh.)

Three juco transfers stand at least 6'8" and should get quick minutes in relief of Minnerath and Anderson. Most promising is Ugochukwu Njoku, a 6'10" Nigerian who carded 8.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 4.6 BPG at Oakland CC. Njoku's countryman, 6'11" Olumide Solanke, produced 8.2/7.2 with 1.6 blocks a night at Arkansas Baptist JC.

If Minnerath, Anderson and the Nigerians can replace the rebounding and shot-blocking muscle lost with Lowe and Holman, look for the Titans to be co-favorites with Valpo for the HL's tournament bid. If not, the coach's kid is going to have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

4. Youngstown State
--It had been 11 years since Youngstown State had a winning season before last season's 16-15 ledger. The good news is that the Penguins return their top three scorers. The bad news is that coach Jerry Slocum's tight rotation didn't allow many reserves to get any experience, and the fourth-leading returnee played 9.6 MPG.

For being named after cold-weather birds, the Penguins can get hot from three-point range quickly. They led the HL with 38% three-point shooting and 270 makes, both top-30 figures nationally. Their two most prolific shooters, guards Kendrick Perry and Blake Allen, return.

Perry showed that he could score from anywhere, carding .482/.355/.706 shooting percentages. The Horizon's leading scorer also found time to rank fourth in assists per game and lead the league in total steals (74) and A/T ratio (1.9). His all-conference credentials are unimpeachable. Allen drained nearly 43% from the arc, contributing approximately 13 points, three boards and three assists a night. His role may expand if YSU's newcomers disappoint.

6'7" junior Damian Eargle ranked third nationally with 3.7 blocks per game and third in the Horizon at 7.5 RPG. His shot is shaky, but none can critique his defense. As essentially the entire post game, though, he may still see enough shots to push 15 PPG. 6'9" junior Josh Chojnacki and 6'8" sophomore Fletcher Larson will serve as interior understudies. Look for 6'10" freshman Bobby Hain and 6'7" juco Kamren Belin to compete as well. Belin is intriguing as a stretch-four (49% from deep).

The wing position will be contested between sophomore Shawn Amiker (6'4", 175) and freshman Ryan Weber (6'6", 200). Weber was one of Indiana's top 20 recruits according to ESPN. Another interesting name is sophomore walk-on Larry Johnson Jr., the 6'4" son of Grandmama.

Perry is one of the HL's two or three best players, and he's got very able support from Eargle and Allen. Those three will need some help, though, and some of the new kids will certainly have to figure in that. If Slocum doesn't see what he wants from his newcomers, look for the starters to once again play tremendous minutes. If that leads to injuries, the Penguins won't be marching anywhere in March.

5. Milwaukee
--The Panthers have a lot of holes to fill. Three starters and two key reserves either graduated or transferred. Sensational defense kept Milwaukee in the mix last season, and coach Rob Jeter will look to ride that trait again. Opponents shot only 29% from long range last season, a stat that will be difficult to repeat with the lack of veteran depth in the backcourt.

Senior Paris Gulley is a killer outside the arc (40%), but roadkill inside it (28%). Jeter has indicated a desire to see greater defensive effort from Gulley. Juco transfer Jordan Aaron is expected to take over for school assist king Kaylon Williams at the point. At 5'10", Aaron is a quicker player than the 6'3" Williams, but he won't be nearly as helpful on the glass. Jeter may have the opportunity to push the tempo a bit with Aaron running things.

Sophomore Evan Richard didn't contribute much offensively, and juco import Bobo Niang is said to be better on defense than offense.

The cupboard is much fuller up front. Senior James Haarsma may be an all-conference candidate if he betters last season's numbers (10.8/5.4/.525 FG%). At 6'7" and 230, Haarsma's a load on either end's glass and can stretch a defense out to the arc (.425 from deep last year). Junior forward Kyle Kelm (6'9", 215) isn't quite as efficient a scorer as Haarsma yet, but Jeter believes he has the potential to produce both inside and out.

Seniors Demetrius Harris, Ryan Haggerty and Christian Wolf bring experience, while 6'10" redshirt freshman J.J. Panoske can provide a pick-and-pop jumper if he shows enough inside grit to crack the rotation.

The Panthers' season will come down to how much better Aaron can make his teammates. Kaylon Williams had that ability, and his size was a nuisance for opponents. Aaron will have to thrive on his quickness in a conference with several other small, quick guards. If the Panthers get to pick up the tempo a bit, they'll at least be entertaining to watch.

6. Loyola-Chicago
--Nearly every team ahead of Loyola in these rankings has serious backcourt talent. The Ramblers have a group with something to prove, led by Iowa transfer Cully Payne at the point. Payne carded nearly nine points and four assists for the Hawkeyes in 2009-10, being named to several Big Ten all-freshman teams. If he can improve his shot to 40% or so overall and 35% from deep, he'll take a lot of pressure off All-Horizon forward Ben Averkamp.

Averkamp is a 15-7 man who maintains a positive A/T ratio even while scrapping for rebounds or points in the paint, where swiping hands are everywhere. He's grown up tremendously from being a passive freshman to a vocal leader who can act as another coach on the floor. If anyone from the bottom half of the league can break through and beat out one of the returning All-Horizon first-teamers (they're all back), it's Averkamp.

Senior Jordan Hicks has struggled with injuries his entire career, playing only 41 games over the past three seasons. If he stays healthy, he can be a 12-and-5 man capable of playing sturdy defense, as well. Sophomore guard Joe Crisman lost his legs late last season under a 32-MPG workload, making only 6-of-31 from the arc over his last 10 games. Newcomers like freshmen Jeff White and Devon Turk and juco transfer Kody Williams should add some depth, getting Payne and Crisman some rest. Williams is the most likely backup for Payne.

Sophomore Christian Thomas is a capable scorer from mid-range and in, and his decent rebounding percentages (8.2 OR%, 14.8 DR%) belie his 6'5", 207-pound frame. More freshmen will seek to help up front, with ESPN two-star prospects Jeremy King (6'10", 210), Matt O'Leary (6'8", 210) and Nick Osborne (6'8", 220) leading the way. O'Leary dropped more than 11 PPG on Loyola's summer tour of Italy and is expected to provide some outside shooting.

Averkamp has grown with the program, and Payne is used to much bigger stages than this. Beyond those two, questions remain about Hicks' health, Crisman's stamina and the new players' impact. If the newcomers succeed as hoped, the other two questions should take care of themselves and Loyola could contend for a top-four finish. If not, the basement's not out of the question.

7. UIC
--Like Youngstown, UIC returns the top end of its production. In the Flames' case, that means four of the top five scorers. Also like the Penguins, the Flames' guards will lead the way. Gary Talton and Danny Barnes were the team's top two scorers. Talton is the distributor and the more reliable foul shooter, while Barnes is the gunner and a better defensive playmaker.

Forward Hayden Humes and wing Marc Brown are both dangerous long-range marksmen as well, but the 6'8", 215-pound Humes is the only reliable inside scorer among the returnees. As one of the league's top 10 rebounders and a solid mid-range player, Humes would be expected to get to the line more than 43 times, but that's all he managed last year. He'll need to double or even triple that figure this season, and if he does, 15 PPG could be doable. Brown seized a starting job for his defensive skills, and he's also highly dangerous in transition.

The only veteran big man on the roster is 6'10" sophomore Will Simonton. A solid shot-blocker and rebounder if he gets the minutes, Simonton couldn't shoot his way out of a paper sack. Newcomers may have to prop up the post game, led by 6'9", 260-pound UCF transfer Josh Crittle. Immediately eligible due to UCF's recruiting sanctions, the Bellwood native came home to play his senior season. He should put up respectable numbers in the Horizon.

Freshman bigs Matt Gorski (7'0", 245) and Jake Weigand (6'8", 224) should also see action quickly. If either hits the ground running, Simonton may not even get an upgrade from last season's six MPG.

Another immediately eligible transfer is Joey Miller, a 6'3" sophomore guard from Eastern Illinois. Miller was a 10 PPG/3 APG man playing for his dad at EIU. When Mike Miller was fired, Joey was allowed to transfer and play immediately (call it the Zeigler Exemption).

UIC brings back the nucleus of a struggling team, and the senior leadership of Talton and Barnes will be crucial to any climb up the standings. It'll be hard to compete against big teams like Green Bay and Milwaukee, however, if none of the bigs can assert themselves. Potential exists for a top-half finish, but a lot will have to happen.

8. Cleveland State
--The Vikings return only 43 of last season's 215 starts, and 33 of those are tied up in one player. The good news is that two reserves are expected to become leading players in the Horizon this season.

Post player Anton Grady (6'8", 215") and point guard Charlie Lee (5'9", 160) are expected to step into the starting five and play inspired ball for CSU. Grady is touted as an all-league candidate, even being chosen a second-teamer by the Horizon's media voters. Grady played only 21 MPG, but carded 8.5/6.4 in that time, ranking sixth in the league in rebounding. He also placed in the top five in blocks, and should be one of the Horizon's most feared inside players on both ends.

Lee got 17 MPG and used them well, finishing in the league top 10 in both assist percentage and steal percentage. Given starter's minutes, he could contend with just about any of the Horizon's stable of strong point guards.

Senior forward Tim Kamczyc was the single most efficient scorer in the Horizon last season, leading with a .657 eFG% (11th nationally) and a .675 TS% (fifth in America). Coach Gary Waters will expect a few more shots and points out of Kamczyc this season, and a slight dip in efficiency may be inevitable. It'd be hard for him to get much better, right?

A few veterans return to support the top three, but not many have seen hefty minutes. Redshirt sophomore guard Sebastian Douglas has suffered through a serious car accident and torn knee ligaments sandwiched around 15 games' worth of potential excitement. If healthy, he may challenge for the spot next to Lee.

Sophomore wing Marlin Mason shot nearly 50% from the floor in 12.5 MPG with decent rebounding percentages. Look for him to spell Kamczyc on those rare occasions Kamczyc rests. Junior bigs Ludovic N'Daye and Devon Long need to show they can handle substantial minutes.

A large and deep recruiting class will figure heavily on the depth chart. Canadian wing Junior Lomomba was expected to at least be the team's sixth man before breaking his foot in the CSU summer league, a setback that will sideline him until late November. When he's back, he'll play. 6'9" 260-pounder Aaron Scales rejected offers from the likes of Wichita State and Cincinnati, not to mention de-committing from Missouri, to join the Vikings. He can score with his back to the rim and crash the glass strongly. Guards Bryn Forbes and Josh Ivory can both stroke the jumper, but Forbes usually does his best work off screens.

Coach Gary Waters has a great class coming in, and they'll need to learn fast. Shooting guard and power forward are positions that are crying out for someone to fill them, and unless Douglas is healthy, there's not a veteran handy to fill them. Next season, the Vikings lose only Kamczyc, so look for a power move in 2013-14.

9. Wright State
--A lot of players left Wright State after last season, but coach Billy Donlon says he has back all the players he wanted to keep. So, we can infer that the program took out its trash? Stay classy, Billy. The Raiders lost one guy who certainly wasn't trash, that being guard Julius Mays. Mays stayed for one season, won Newcomer of the Year, then decided to bail again for defending national champion Kentucky.

11 players averaged at least 10 MPG last season, and six of them return. Tops on the list is 5'9" sophomore guard Reggie Arceneaux, the returning leader in scoring, assists and steals. He has to turn his 0.8 A/T ratio inside out to run the offense effectively. Big men Cole Darling (6'8", 200) and A.J. Pacher (6'10", 245) like to spend a little too much time on the perimeter, firing a combined 93 threes last season and making 26 for a 28% success rate. Darling struggled as a secondary option behind Mays, and Pacher averaged 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Darling's shooting and Pacher's defense will both be needed to get WSU out of the basement.

Juco wing Jerran Young, a former Nebraska commit, averaged 16 and 8 last season and may contribute immediately. Freshman point guard Bobo Drummond's line read 13.8/4.1/6.2/2.9 in his senior year, and he may be more of a true distributor than Arceneaux. If Donlon doesn't mind going tiny with his backcourt, he could play the 5'11" Drummond right next to Arceneaux. Juco transfer Miles Dixon started his career at Houston Baptist, where he averaged 7.1/2.5/1.7 as a freshman. He may be the one who starts at the two.

Another Newcomer of the Year performance will be needed by somebody, or else Arceneaux or Darling will have to play at an All-Horizon level. Otherwise, it's hard to envision Wright State being anywhere but at the bottom of the Horizon this season.

In this section: each team's most compelling non-conference game, weighted for visibility and chance of a win.
Cleveland State: Dec. 23 at Akron
--Akron has a 7-footer with a soft rep in Zeke Marshall. Anton Grady doesn't have a soft rep, so can he overcome that four-inch height deficit?
Detroit: Dec. 28 at Temple
--The Titans don't get one last shot at Butler, but they do get to take on one of the Bulldogs' new foes. 
Green Bay: Dec. 19 vs. Marquette
--The Phoenix will be hoping for some home cooking as Marquette's twin towers Chris Otule and Davante Gardner try to muscle around Alec Brown. Brown will try to replicate last year's success and throw in a win for good measure.
Loyola-Chicago: Dec. 15 vs. Mississippi State
--The 50th anniversary of the "Game of Change" could be celebrated with a winnable game.
Milwaukee: Dec. 5 vs. Buffalo
--The Bulls are a MAC dark horse, Milwaukee's a Horizon dark horse, we'll have more dark horses than the Preakness. The Mexico game against Rider would be one to watch if Nurideen Lindsey was eligible.
UIC: Dec. 8 vs. Colorado State
--Maybe it's not likely to be close, but it's an NCAA tournament team coming to Chicago.
Valparaiso: Dec. 29 at Murray State
--A mid-major everyone knows now against one that they need to know.
Wright State: Nov. 24 at Utah
--Utah's retooled, sure, but they were the worst major-conference team in America last season. A Horizon also-ran can dream, can't it?
Youngstown State: Nov. 12 at Georgia
--Come to see Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, stay to watch Kendrick Perry. #freesuperstar

Not pictured: my daughter's pipe-cleaner sculpture of Alec Brown.
G/F Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso (6'7", 215, Sr.)
--Okay, maybe he's not dominant on the offensive glass. That's about as close as we can come to finding a wart on his game.
C Alec Brown, Green Bay (7'1", 225, Jr.)
--Is it an upset if Brown beats out both Broekhoff and McCallum for POY? Maybe, but we're still calling it. Brown for POY.
G Ray McCallum, Detroit (6'2", 188, Jr.)
--38% or better from the three-point arc could make him a lottery pick. And he's not the kind of guy to sit back and ignore his flaws.
G Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State (6'0", 160, Jr.)
--Didn't have a single game of more than four turnovers last season. 
F Kevin Van Wijk, Valparaiso (6'8", 230, Sr.)
--Averaged 5.2 fouls per 40. If he can cut that down to even four, he's a 30-minute man and potential double-double every night.

F Ben Averkamp, Loyola (6'8", 235, Sr.)
--53 and 23 in three games against Detroit last season, plus he dropped 19 and 7 on Kansas State.
F Brennan Cougill, Green Bay (6'9", 265, Sr.)
--If he says he's going to the basket, you say "Yes, sir." 19 and 19 against Idaho last season.
F Damian Eargle, Youngstown State (6'7", 215, Sr.)
--Ended last season with 25 and 7 against Detroit. And that was when the Titans had veteran bigs.
F/C Anton Grady, Cleveland State (6'8", 215, Soph.)
--Summer knee injury has slowed him a bit, but he should be back to full strength well before conference play.
G Keifer Sykes, Green Bay (5'10", 161, Soph.)
--If he avoids last year's slow start, the Phoenix have some opportunities for resume wins.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alec Brown, Green Bay
COACH OF THE YEAR: Porter Moser, Loyola
--Most likely second-division team to make a run, and Moser's brought in some good size and depth.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Cully Payne, Loyola
--A Big Ten refugee should have no problem adapting to the Horizon, especially one that was actually producing in the B1G.

No comments:

Post a Comment