Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 9:02 PM
A Horizon League team has reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons in the form of Butler. But, the Braves are a longshot to even reach the Big Dance this year as the Horizon League begins its conference tournament Tuesday Night.
Fifth-seeded Butler must win a home game tonight against Wright State…then a quarterfinal game Friday Night against the winner of Tuesday’s Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Illinois Chicago game…then a semifinal Game Saturday Night against host school Valparaiso…and finally a championship game against the winner of the other half of the bracket. It’s not exactly four games in four days…but it’s four games in a week, with none at home.
We begin what’s going to be almost a daily series of conference previews with a look at the Horizon League. Both the West Coast Conference and Ohio Valley begin play Wednesday Night, so we’ll be back tomorrow to crunch some numbers in those leagues. More mid-majors follow this week. Then everyone else, including all the elite conferences will follow next week. We’ll do our best to provide important information that will help you do-it-yourselfers make smart selections…while not giving away TOO much so we can protect the value of our own releases. If you see us holding back in a certain matchup, there will be reasons!
Let’s start today’s report with the final Horizon League standings.
Cleveland State 12-6
Youngstown State 10-8
Wisconsin-Green Bay 10-8
Wright State 7-11
That three-way tie for third place turned out to be very interesting…because those teams are locked into first round games against the worst three teams in the conference. Detroit won the tie-breaker, and a virtual bye against a horrible Loyola squad. Milwaukee is in the same boat with Illinois-Chicago. Butler drew the short end of the stick with a Wright State team that at least has a chance to be competitive. It just isn’t Butler’s year!
In many of our conference tournament previews, we’ll take a look at Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology report to see how Big Dance issues may be impacting each event (bubble teams, seeding, etc…). That won’t be an issue here. Only the Horizon tournament champion will get a bid. No teams this year have a strong enough resume for an at-large bid. And, the Horizon representative may be seeded as low as 14th or 15th depending on how the brackets work themselves out. Valpo gets to host the postseason tournament…but they don’t have a resume that would earn a decent seed.
The respected computer rankings we’ve been following all year only have Valp as the fifth best team! The computers think Cleveland State is the class of the conference based on their full body of work. Here are the current computer rankings according to Ken Pomeroy (college stat guru) and Jeff Sagarin (USA Today)…
Cleveland State (76 in Pomeroy, 78 in Sagarin)
Butler (128 in Pomeroy, 128 in Sagarin)
Wisconsin-Milwaukee (133 in Pomeroy, 120 in Sagarin)
Detroit (135 in Pomeroy, 139 in Sagarin)
Valparaiso (145 in Pomeroy, 133 in Sagarin)
Youngstown State (168 in Pomeroy, 166 in Sagarin)
Wisconsin-Green Bay (173 in Pomeroy, 168 in Sagarin)
Wright State (218 in Pomeroy, 208 in Sagarin)
Illinois-Chicago (293 in Pomeroy, 279 in Sagarin)
Loyola-Chicago (286 in Pomeroy, 281 in Sagarin)
Things should get very interesting later in the week. Tonight’s first round is likely to weed out the four worst teams. Then we have six teams who just aren’t that far apart in the big picture. Valpo will get a boost playing at home (and having a bye into the semi’s). But, it’s clear that anybody higher than Valpo in the computer ratings could easily survive the week. This may not be a history-making year for the Horizon…but the conference tournament is going to be a lot of fun.
Studying offensive and defensive efficiency rankings (points allowed adjusted for tempo and quality of opponent) has been helpful in marquee matchups this season. Let’s run the numbers for this week’s games.
TUESDAY’S FIRST ROUND (efficiency rankings) (bottom team is host)
Loyola-Chicago (10) (291 on offense, 251 on defense)
Detroit (3) (72 on offense, 215 on defense)
Wisc-Green Bay (7) (201 on offense, 154 on defense)
Youngstown State (6) (123 on offense, 222 on defense)
Ill-Chicago (9) (266 on offense, 294 on defense)
Wisc-Milwaukee (4) (184 on offense, 95 on defense)
Wright State (8) (297 on offense, 106 on defense)
Butler (5) (233 on offense, 41 on defense)
BYES INTO THE SEMIFINALS (quarters and semi’s played at Valpo)
Valparaiso (1) (113 on offense, 187 on defense)
Cleveland State (2) (99 on offense, 76 on defense)
You regulars know we highly emphasize DEFENSE when handicapping a tournament. It’s very hard to play great offense a few games in a row. Top defenses always play good defense. Defense never slumps! The fact that Butler is the class of this conference on defense by a mile will give them a shot to crash the Dance party. Cleveland State also ranks well by Horizon standards. Those are the only two teams in the top 90 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency numbers. We think one from that pair is most likely to win this event…and we’ll be looking to back them at value prices in the later rounds.
Valparaiso is a disappointing 187th on defense, which is a big negative in an event like this. Had their bye only been into the quarters instead of the semi’s, they would have been very vulnerable. They’re STILL pretty vulnerable all things considered. You don’t often see a #1 seed in a tournament grade out so poorly in key numbers.
We may or may not be stepping out in the Horizon League tonight. That will depend on information from our sources regarding how coaches may choose to play the last 10 minutes in likely blowouts. The regular college card has interesting matchups like Michigan State-Indiana, Florida-Vanderbilt, and Xavier-Saint Louis. The NBA is back from the All-Star Break with a nine-game card as well, and we know which head coaches usually come out of the break breathing fire.
February 28th is the next-to-last day in February (leap year!), which means you need to be building bankroll for MARCH MADNESS!
You can ride the gravy train right here at the website every day. Game day releases go up a few hours before first tip. Remember that will mean DAY selections on weekdays later on in some of these postseason events. You can sign up for the rest of the colleges or all basketball through the NBA Playoffs by calling 1-800-323-4453. Maybe you dragged your heels after the Super Bowl because the Big Dance seemed so far away. IT’S CLOSING FAST SO MAKE YOUR MOVE!
Here’s the preview schedule for us the rest of week here in the NOTEBOOK:
WEDNESDAY: West Coast (including St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, and BYU), and the Ohio Valley (with Murray State). There’s a very good chance that teams from at least one of these conferences will be making important headlines in the Dance. (Get your Murray Dance Studio jokes ready!)
THURSDAY: Missouri Valley (can Wichita State keep its eye on the ball?) The conference tournament may lack its usual zing this year…but Wichita is poised to be this year’s Butler come Dance time. They currently grade out better than the last two Butler teams did at this stage of the season!
FRIDAY: Colonial (a few danger teams), Southern, and Metro-Atlantic. We historically find a few sleepers in these events because Vegas oddsmakers are so consumed by the big Saturday schedule.
SATURDAY: Sun Belt (with surprising Middle Tennessee), and the Big Sky. Talk about sleepers! Some of our biggest edges come in the least talked about conferences.
Needless to say…IT’S TOURNAMENT TIME! Make a fortune this week and all through March with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!