The 2013-14 season in the Horizon League promises to be one of transition. Loyola (IL) has left for the Missouri Valley Conference and Oakland has joined from the Summit League. Traditional powers Valparaiso and Detroit lost a lot to graduation leaving their status in flux.
That’s going to be open up opportunities for new teams to rise to the top of the standings. After six teams played in some postseason tournament in 2012-13, the Horizon should be stacked once again. It’s tough to sort everything out, but here are three bold predictions about the league. (My best guess at projected standings are at the bottom of this post.)
1) Wright State will be an NCAA tournament contender - I’m not surprised that WSU hasn’t released its men’s basketball schedule yet, because it must be a pain to find teams that actually want to play Billy Donlon’s club. The Raiders bring back 86 percent of their possessions minutes from a team that ranked 117th in KenPom last season. They’re only going to get better. If WSU wants to move into a group with other elite mid-majors and make a push for an at-large bid or at least serious NIT consideration they’ll have to improve offensively, but another offseason for point guard Reggie Arceneaux should help. It wouldn’t hurt if Tavares Sledge could improve enough offensively so that he could stay on the court and help senior forward Jerran Young on the offensive glass too. Overall this is a loaded roster that is poised to take over the Horizon League mantle.
2) Oakland’s first season won’t be easy - There seems to be an idea amongst the national media that Oakland is going to move from the Summit to the Horizon and start winning titles. I’m not sure when this decision was made, but I doubt it’ll be the case. The Grizzlies are an excellent mid-major program, but finished 16-17 a season ago and ranked 210th in KenPom. Yes, OU does return 81 percent of its possession minutes, including former Providence guard Duke Mondy and inexhaustible sharp-shooter Travis Bader, but the team has serious issues defensively. Oakland’s overall profile looks a lot like Youngstown St. for instance and Penguins finished tied for fifth in the Horizon last season (and beat Oakland in the postseason). I’m not saying it’s impossible for Oakland to win the title, but it’d take a big leap to pass teams like Wright St. and Green Bay that have built for this moment.
3) One Big Ten transfer will play great, one won’t make a difference - There are actually three Big Ten transfers that are eligible to play in the Horizon this season – Kelsey Barlow (Purdue to UIC), Trey Lewis (Penn St. to Cleveland St.) and Carlton Brundidge (Michigan to Detroit). If I had to guess I’d bet that Barlow is going to be the one that thrives this season. The 6’5″ Barlow was excellent two seasons ago at Purdue with a 106.2 offensive rating while using 20.8 percent of the team’s possessions. Then his relationship with Matt Painter went downhill. Barlow has Big Ten talent. If Howard Moore gets Barlow integrated into UIC’s attack – which considering the play of Gary Talton and Josh Crittle last season seems likely – the Flames should have a high-major talent to base their offense around. Lewis played at PSU, but has to crack a deeper CSU rotation. The boom-or-bust guy here though is Brundidge, who was once a 4-star recruit (106th nationally according to Rivals) but didn’t play at Michigan and will probably be asked to carry a huge load at Detroit. If he can handle it though there’s an opportunity for him to be the Horizon League’s breakout player this season.
There’s a lot more to watch in the Horizon League this season. Valparaiso and Detroit both return about a quarter of their possession minutes from teams that reached the NCAA tournament and NIT respectively last season. How Bryce Drew and Ray McCallum deal with the fallout will be fascinating. A young Cleveland St. team could also surprise some people, especially as Anton Grady returns and the raw, but talented Ismaila Dauda joins the team. Both should give CSU, which already has talented guards like the Horizon’s Newcomer of the Year in 2012-13 Bryn Forbes, more options up front. It’s a tough league to predict. I’m going to try anyways.
Predicted Standings (final record):
- Wright St. (12-4)
- Green Bay (11-5)
- Cleveland St. (9-7)
- Youngstown St. (8-8)
- Oakland (8-8)
- Valparaiso (7-9)
- Detroit (7-9)
- UIC (6-10)
- Milwaukee (4-12)
This is the second in Big Apple Buckets’ intermittent series on conferences we most certainly don’t cover on a regular basis. You can see our WAC predictions here. Also, HLN played a big role in our online streaming article earlier this offseason.