Conference Catchup: With Butler gone, no clear favorite in Horizon

by | College Basketball Blogger
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Ray McCallum and Ray McCallum Jr. have their sights set on another Horizon title. (US Presswire)  
Ray McCallum and Ray McCallum Jr. have their sights set on another Horizon title. (US Presswire)  

Well, the timing of this spring conference primer couldn't have been more perfect. The day before it's set to go live, Butler gets its copycat on and follows VCU on the way to the Atlantic 10 for the 2012-13 season.

It wasn't supposed to go like this. Originally, Butler would bide time in its final year of the Horizon for the upcoming season. But there would be none of that, no sir.

Why wait? This will be an increasingly common tactic as schools hop leagues. Whereas before hefty exit fees served as stone walls prior to schools leaving -- and really, what's your excuse? -- most everyone is seeing that getting to where they're going as soon as possible is the "right" choice.

Why delay the awkwardness, you know? Ever been in one of those relationships that just drags on two months longer than it needs to? In this case, two months was in fact a year. If the school can afford it, go. And so Butler did.

With that, we've got a nine-team Horizon. Let's look at what's happened in this league outside of the bomb Butler dropped Tuesday, and what we should expect going forward.

Offseason headlines

1. Butler's out: This just became the No. 1 offseason story line for this league. If you'd like a behind-the-scenes tidbit on this, just know: In preparation for this column, I actually rang Brad Stevens early Tuesday morning. He didn't pick up, but I left a voicemail alluding to how I needed to know a few things about his team for the upcoming year, etc. Later on, he texts me a few things, but doesn't tip his hand about the move. Brad: close-to-the-vest, always. He knew, but didn't let it out, whereas many coaches would have.

2. Oakland on the way?: The Oakland Grizzlies currently sit in the Summit League, and they'd make a good fit. They want in. Neither Oakland, the Summit nor the Horizon are getting public with this right now, but this is the quick fix that's both sensible and works. It also demonstrates how everything rolls downhill and affects college hoops, even when conference shifting began long ago, far away, with football-intentioned decisions.

3. No coaching changes: The Horizon was good at keeping its leaders around. Kudos to the brass at the programs who struggled for sticking with their guys for another year, and equal credence to those who managed to hold on to their coaches, when some naturally grow a wandering eye and an extra ear, should job opportunities come about in late winter.

Big question that remains

How wide open is the league now?

Fairly, even if Detroit is the favorite. Butler would've been the preseason pick, but now the Titans, who made the 2012 tournament (lost to Kansas in the Round of 64) return the league's best player in Ray McCallum Jr., and Valpo should be right there in the chase. It was the Crusaders who had the league's best record (14-4 in Horizon play) last season. Bryce Drew's team is most dangerous because it loses no seniors of impact. All talented, productive, efficient players from last season are back. These two are now clearly the favorites in the nine-team Horizon.

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: None.

Could've gone but stayed: Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit)

Transfers

Coming: Cole Steffan (Green Bay from La Salle), Juwan Howard, Jr. (Detroit from Western Michigan), Joey Miller (Illinois-Chicago from Eastern Illinois), Chris Brown (Cleveland State from Oregon State), Cully Payne (Loyola from Iowa), Valpo: Bobby Cappobiano (Valpo from Indiana), Vashil Fernandez (Valpo from Jamaica). LaVonte Dority (Valpo from South Florida).

Going: Justin Edwards (Valpo), Jay Harris (Valpo), Hrvjoe Vucic (Valpo), Chim Kadima (Loyola-Chicago), Denzel Brito (Loyola-Chicago), Ike Nwamu (Cleveland State), Lonnie Boga (Milwaukee), Ja'Rob McCallum (Milwaukee), Cale Zuiker (Youngstown State), Nate Perry (Youngstown State), Jarvis Williams (Green Bay), Clayton Heuer (Green Bay), Terry Johnson (Green Bay), Julius Mays (Wright State), Alex Pritchett (Wright State), John Balwigaire (Wright State), Jason Cuffee (Wright State), Vance Hall (Wright State).

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Valpo's Bryce Drew didn't lose a single productive player to graduation. (US Presswire)  
Valpo's Bryce Drew didn't lose a single productive player to graduation. (US Presswire)  
Cleveland State: This team started 20-4 with four seniors and a junior last season and missed the NCAAs ... again.

Detroit: Now the favorite since Butler is out. Ray McCallum is the coach, and his same-named son is the star. Titans made 2012 tourney, remember.

Green Bay: Returning six players with at least 10 games started under the feet will be a good thing. Dark horse team, in my humble opinion.

Illinois-Chicago: You know the worst part about going 8-22? Losing four seniors.

Loyola-Chicago: One-win team in the Horizon next year has a mountain to climb, to say the least.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee: School hired Andy Geiger as its athletic director. He was formerly at Ohio State. He'll make decent scratch at his new digs.

Valparaiso: Bryce Drew's named got tossed around for other jobs, most specifically Mississippi State. But he's back, building a strong program.

Wright State: You see it above, but bears repeating: This team was hacked by transfers. Lost five guys -- as many as any school except San Francisco.

Youngstown State: Junior guard Kendrick Perry will carry the workload for the Penguins. Senior F Damian Eargle is the other key component.

Early guess at the top five in the league

1. Valpo
2. Detroit
3. Green Bay
4. Milwaukee
5. Cleveland State

Early guess at the all-conference team

G: Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit)
G: Kendrick Perry (Youngstown State)
F: Ryan Broekhoff (Valpo)
F: Ben Averkamp (Loyola-Chicago)
C: Alec Brown (Green Bay)

Final thought
I think, despite losing its most notable team, this league will be very competitive and one of the more fun ones to follow next season. That group of five I listed above in my order-of-standing prediction? Could be a jumbled mess, and that's a good thing, because all those teams will be competent-to-good next year. As a whole, the talent in this league gets older -- it doesn't leave via the draft or a conglomerate of outgoing seniors. Yeah, there's a crop of transfers, but most of the players jettisoning didn't have bright futures in this league.

Going forward, the league won't be the same without Butler (who was one of only three founding members from 1979 left in the league; Detroit and Loyola-Chicago being the other two), but it can still be relevant, have charm and produce a team capable of winning a game or two in the NCAAs..

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