Tag:Horizon Tournament
Posted on: March 7, 2011 9:09 pm

Butler vs Milwaukee: A Horizon final preview

The Horizon League final tips off on Tuesday night between two extremely talented teams who shared the conference regular season championship. Milwaukee and Butler tied in the regular season, but thanks to a tiebreaker, the game will be held on Milwaukee’s home court, providing a tremendous advantage for the Panthers. After defeating the Bulldogs twice already this season, Milwaukee seeks the season sweep and a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons. 

Milwaukee (19-12, 13-5) comes into the game as the host and the winner of both regular season battles. Still yet, they are also seen as the underdog in most people’s minds. The Panthers finished the season strong, winners of 9 of their final 10 games and finishing with a flourish that took the team from an overall losing record into a tie for the conference championship. The Panthers are led by Anthony Hill, a senior forward who took advantage of increased playing time in his final season to lead the team to its strong finish. Hill is averaging 15.6 points and 7 rebounds a game and has found particular success against Butler. In both games versus the Bulldogs this season, Hill has dominated the interior, averaging 20 points and propelling his team to victory. However because of Butler's recent NCAA tournament success and Milwaukee's struggles early in the season, most consider the Bulldogs to be the favorite, even on the Panthers' home court.

Butler came into the season with the highest of expectations. After its Cinderella run to the national championship game last season, the Bulldogs were expected by many to be one of the dominant powers in the country and stay in the Top 25 all season. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Butler was never able to take advantage of its difficult early non-conference schedule and at no point has looked like the team that dazzled the nation last season. However the Bulldogs are playing their best basketball of the season when it matters most. They have won 8 straight and are getting consistent performances from their two stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Now it comes time to get over the hump and beat a Milwaukee team that exploited Butler's defensive woes in their two earlier meetings. The loss at home in Hinkle Fieldhouse to the Panthers means that this game will be played in Milwaukee. Even if Butler loses, it could potentially sneak into the NCAA field, probably as one of the last four in the play-in games in Dayton. But a victory makes the NCAA berth automatic and gives the Bulldogs a chance to get a seed that can create some more March magic.

There will probably be no more competitive game in Championship Week between two talented teams with more at stake than Butler and Milwaukee. Both are capable of beating any team in America on a given night, but neither is certain to make the NCAA Tournament with a loss. Butler will have to do something it has rarely had to attempt in the past few years, win a conference tournament championship away from home. Milwaukee will seek to make history with a team that looked unsalvageable just a little more than a month ago. It should be quite a memorable battle.

HORIZON tournament bracket

Posted by MATT JONES

Posted on: February 28, 2011 6:17 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2011 4:57 pm

Horizon League Tournament Preview

Nowhere in the country is the margin between good fortune and bad luck thinner than in the Horizon League. The first conference tournament in America to kick off also gives us one of the more unique scenarios in Championship Week. Three teams have stood out above the pack all season in conference play, Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland State. All three finished with a 13-5 conference record and thus each took a share of the conference title. However due to the tiebreaking process and the vagaries of the Horizon Tournament seeding, Milwaukee and Butler will get a two-round bye into the tournament’s semifinals.

The decision to switch to the new format of seeding, in which the best teams are given a better chance of actually representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament is part of a trend we are seeing all around the smaller tournaments in college basketball. And normally it makes sense, as the best teams usually have a distinct advantage over their opponents. But this year, when all three of the top teams finished the regular season tied, it seems downright cruel.

The No. 1 seed in the tournament is Milwaukee and it will have home court advantage throughout the proceedings. The Panthers came into conference play reeling at 5-7, after taking a number of embarrassing losses. But after losing on the road to Valparaiso, Milwaukee reeled off 9 wins in its last 10 games, finding a rhythm based upon the balanced scoring of its entire team. The Panthers are led by Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle, but in each game a different player has stepped up to help steal big victories, such as on the road against Butler and Cleveland State. The most important thing Milwaukee did the entire season was win the tiebreaker at the end, ensuring that a win in the semifinals will keep the Panthers from having to travel to Indianapolis for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Even thought it is the No. 2 seed overall, some experts are still predicting that Butler could sneak into the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large (I disagree). The Bulldogs have been largely disappointing, but have two of the three best players in the conference in Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. Butler has risen from the ashes with seven straight wins to play its way into a number of mock brackets. Because of the bye it receives, it will likely face a semifinal game against Cleveland State that could determine its NCAA fate.

Cleveland State is the unlucky team without the bye, but it does have the advantage of potentially being the best overall team with the best overall player in the conference. Norris Cole is a dynamic scorer, averaging 21.6 points a game and he finished the season on a flurry. He scored 27 points or more in 4 of the last 6 games and has become unguardable by his Horizon League opponents. If the Vikings are to win the tournament, they will likely need to beat both Butler and Milwaukee on the road, after two games against lesser opponents at home. It will be a tall order.

Both Valparaiso and Detroit could play the role of spoiler and each has victories over the top three in the conference. Neither can win the overall title, but both could beat Milwaukee in the semifinals.

PREDICTION:  The winner of Butler-Cleveland State will have to overcome the Horizon tiebreaker and win on the road in Milwaukee. Because both teams are better than the Panthers, whichever one makes the final, makes the NCAA Tournament. 


  1. Norris Cole:  Cleveland State
  2. Shelvin Mack: Butler
  3. Matt Howard: Butler

Conference RPI:  11

Kenpom.com Conference Rating:  11

Sagarin Conference Ranking: 10


NCAA Tournament Locks:  None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams:  Butler 

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance:

Milwaukee: 2006 (lost to Florida in 2nd Round)

Butler:  2010 (lost in National Championship to Duke)

Cleveland State: 2009 (lost to Arizona in 2nd Round)

Valparaiso: 2004 (lost in first round to Gonzaga)

Detroit: 1999 (lost in 2nd round to Ohio State)

Wright State: 2007 (lost in first round to Pittsburgh)

Green Bay: 1996 (lost in first round to Virginia Tech)

Loyola: 1985 (lost in Sweet 16 to Georgetown)

Youngstown State: Never been to NCAA Tournament

Illinois-Chicago: 2004 (lost in first round to Kansas)

Posted by MATT JONES

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