Here's the second, in the series I'm planning to work on previewing some, if not all of the other Conference tournaments going on that Zag fans might want to know more about.
For prior previews click on the links
Horizon League Tournament Preview 2013
Location: First Round: campus sites. Quarterfinals and Semifinals: at regular season champion (Valparaiso). Championship: at highest remaining seed
2012 Tournament Champion: Detroit
2013 Regular Season Champion: Valparaiso
Favorites: Valparaiso (24-7 overall, 13-3 Conference), Detroit (20-11 Overall, 12-4 Conference)
Don’t Rule Out: Wright State (19-11, 10-6)
Dark horse: Green Bay (16-14, 10-6)
The Others: Illinois-Chicago (16-14, 7-9), Youngstown State (16-14, 7-9), Loyola Chicago (15-15, 5-11), Cleveland State (14-17, 5-11), UW-Milwaukee (8-23, 3-13)
First Round Matchups
Milwaukee at Green Bay
Cleveland State at Illinois-Chicago
>Loyola-Chicago at Youngstown State
Teams with byes until 2nd round
Teams with Double Bye
Formerly the home of a number of solid basketball schools including the Butler Bulldogs, the Xavier Musketeers, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, Dayton Flyers, Saint Louis Billikens, and even, briefly, the Marquette Golden Eagles, the Horizon league is now a watered-down version of what it used to be. After its recent run of NCAA tournament success, Butler decided to follow the path of some of these other former members and join the ever-expanding Atlantic-10 conference. As a result, the nation’s familiarity with the Horizon League, while already low, is likely to dwindle into the future barring a rise in consistent good play by the remaining members.
Since 1998, 6 different schools have won the Horizon League Tournament, though with Butler’s departure, of the 9 current schools remaining, 5 of them can claim to have represented the conference in the big dance. While Butler claimed 9 titles, Milwaukee won 3 in that span, with UIC and Detroit picking up 2 titles each. Current defending tournament champion Detroit defeated Valparaiso to claim the auto-bid last season, and it’s most likely the two will face off again for the same prize once more.
Valpo comes in with a 4-game winning streak and a 14-2 record over their last 16 games. However, the Crusaders’ last loss came to the second-place Detroit Titans 84-74 at home on February 16th, splitting the season series 1-1. While they have a solid overall record, without winning the auto bid, Valparaiso is unlikely to pick up an at large-berth into the tournament due to weak overall numbers. Their non-conference schedule was best highlighted by wins over Murray State, and Eastern Kentucky (In Bracketbusters), and included losses to quality teams such as Saint Louis, New Mexico, and Oakland.
Detroit comes into the Horizon tournament just 4-3 over their past 7 games, though they have tested themselves in that span with non-conference games against Wichita State and Temple (both losses). Like Valpo, Detroit did not pick up enough signature non-conference wins that would give them an at-large berth should they fail to win the tournament - with their best win against (now 23-5) Akron. However, should the Titans make the dance, their experience could allow them to pull an upset, as Detroit’s non-conference schedule tested them in losses to solid large-conference teams Miami, Pitt, Syracuse, and St. John’s. Detroit also features a player whose appearance makes him well-known to those who have watched the team play, even without knowing his name. Nick Minnerath features tattoos all over his body, which give him the appearance of a Chris "Birdman" Andersen clone. The 6’-9" senior has battled back from drug addiction earlier in his life and a torn ACL last season to produce solid numbers this year, including a 36 point game against Valpo. I’m sure he’s the type of player, like our Kelly Olynyk, that opposing fans love to hate.
While other schools besides Valpo and Detroit might be able to pull off an upset, I think it’s unlikely, especially since the Horizon League does not use a neutral court format for the entire tournament. Look for Detroit or Valparaiso to be dancing this Month.