Horizon-WAC Spotlights



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We've come to the last two 'main board' conferences that have yet to appear in SPOTLIGHT coverage here in the NOTEBOOK. Tonight we'll look at the Horizon League and the Western Athletic Conference to get you ready for their Thursday Night schedules.

We'll continue to focus very heavily on college hoops for the coming days and weeks. Fridays will be reserved for the NBA because those schedules are so busy. And, we'll obviously have comprehensive Super Bowl coverage next weekend. Otherwise, buckle your seat belts and get ready for the wild ride to MARCH MADNESS!!

Let's start with the Horizon League, where Butler once again hopes to make headlines in the Big Dance, while a slew of teams are hoping to earn a second berth from the league. Current computer ratings are suggesting Butler might be the only squad in this conference who would earn an at-large bid. Somebody may have to take out Butler in the conference tournament! Maybe our study of defenses will give us some insights into that.

As we've done in all of our SPOTLIGHT reports, we focus today on two-point defense. We think that's the single best indicator stat for quality in this sport. If you guard the basket, you'll have success. If you don't, you have to do EVERYTHING else well to have a chance. Few teams can pull that off. Well, frankly, NOBODY can pull that off unless they're a team of superstars that can dodge a bullet or two in March. Defenses wins championships'at the conference and national levels.

HORIZON: 2-POINT DEFENSE (league record thru Tue)
Detroit: 46% (5-4)
Butler: 47% (9-0)
Wright State: 47% (5-4)
Loyola-Chicago: 47% (3-6)
Illinois-Chicago: 48% (1-8)
Wisconsin Green Bay: 49% (7-3)
Cleveland State: 50% (5-4)
Wisconsin Milwaukee: 50% (4-5)
Youngstown State: 51% (2-8)
Valparaiso: 53% (5-4)

A few things jump out here:

*Butler does rank high on the defense chart within the league, but 47% is actually a horrible mark if you're thinking of going deep in March. You regulars saw some of the very low numbers for quality teams in major conferences. Butler is WAY off that pace despite playing in a soft conference. If Butler is allowing 47% vs. this schedule, what will it allow in big games in the Dance? Probably in the 50's. That means they have to shoot lights out from long range to win'which nobody does six games in a row on neutral courts. This Butler team can play with anyone on any given night, but they're not well suited for a deep run.

*Defenses on the whole are very weak in this conference. In past years, we've sung the praises of the Horizon for being better than the media was suggesting. We probably won't be making that case this year. Real conferences don't have half their teams at 49% or worse in internal defense.

*Who has the best shot of joining Butler in the Dance? Our chart says Detroit. The standings say Wisconsin-Green Bay. We're not very optimistic about either truth be told. The consistency just isn't there. Somebody may get hot in the conference tourney. We're currently on pace for a year where Butler is the only team that matters. Kind of like Memphis in the Calipari era in CUSA.

Tonight's schedule:
Loyola-Chicago at Detroit
Illinois-Chicago at Wright State

Butler at Wisconsin Green Bay
(Oh'it's happened again! Once more we're featuring a conference immediately before the two top teams in the standings play each other. This game will be televised by ESPNU, meaning you'll get a rabid home crowd excited about the chance for an upset. Great test for Butler'and a chance for Green Bay to prove itself to the selection committee. Butler won the first meeting 72-49, so there's some proving to do!)

Moving to the WAC'

WAC: 2-POINT DEFENSE (league record)
Utah State: 43% (5-2)
Fresno State 44% (4-3)
Louisiana Tech: 46% (6-1)
Nevada: 48% (4-3)
Idaho: 48% (1-6)
Boise State: 48% (1-7)
San Jose State: 49% (4-3)
New Mexico State: 50% (5-2)
Hawaii: 50% (2-5)

Louisiana Tech is currently in first place with that 6-1 record. Utah State is the team we respect most though. They play the best defense in the league, and they'll get a chance at home to atone for a road loss at Tech early in league play. If Utah State wins that game when it happens, we'll probably see the Aggies back atop the standings.

Other WAC notes:

*This is also likely to be a one-bid conference unless somebody besides Utah State wins the postseason tournament. Utah State is the Butler of the WAC! Though, they do it with tougher defense. We should also mention that Utah State knocked off BYU earlier this season. It didn't get much run at the time. With BYU entering Wednesday Night's game at New Mexico enjoying a 20-1 record'it's starting to loom much larger! That win will definitely help Utah State get respect when the selection committee is working out the brackets.

*As we've mentioned before, some of the lesser conferences are so weak that you can post a good record with a soft defense as long as you have other strengths. New Mexico State must be doing a lot of other things well to sit at 5-2 while allowing 50% on two-pointers. It's very tough to maintain that through two rotations of the schedule though. We do expect the final standings to be more in line with the defensive numbers than we're seeing now.

*Hawaii is just 3-10 against the spread this year, one of the worst ATS teams on the board thus far. And, they've only played three true road games! Clearly Vegas is overestimating home court edge for the Rainbows. Note that Hawaii lost a road game to Utah State by 40.

*San Jose State has seen 10 of its 13 board games go over, a reflection of good offense and soft defense that's caught oddsmakers a bit flat footed.

Tonight's Schedule:
Fresno State at Idaho
Hawaii at San Jose State

Saturday's Schedule:
New Mexico State at Louisiana Tech
San Jose State at Utah State
Hawaii at Nevada
Fresno State at Boise State

That wraps up our Thursday report. Back Friday to talk some NBA. We may be involved tonight with the NETWORK service in pro hoops with that great TNT doubleheader (Boston at Orlando and Dallas at Phoenix). And, that huge Wisconsin/Purdue game on ESPN in the colleges definitely has our attention. Check to see if we have another TV EXTRAVAGANZA on tap by calling 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on our red hot CASHLINE and BLUE RIBBON services when you call.

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We hope our recent SPOTLIGHT coverage has helped you get up to speed in all the regular board conferences. We'll certainly make another run-through in a few weeks for the 'BCS' conferences and maybe a few others. And, when the conference tournaments arrive, we'll preview each event with the final regular season numbers in this key stat.

Whether we're talking college hoops, pro hoops, football, or baseball, you know you have to visit the NOTEBOOK every single day so you know WHAT'S REALLY HAPPENING IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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