Horizon Tourney Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

BUTLER ON THE BUBBLE
IN COMPETITIVE HORIZON LEAGUE

The first postseason tournament of 2011 starts TONIGHT with First Round games in the Horizon League. That's the conference that sent Butler all the way to the championship game this year. But, it's also a conference that will have trouble getting much representation in the Big Dance this year!

*Butler is currently sitting on the #12 line at ESPN's Bracketology update. That's right on the bubble because #13 and worse usually go to automatic bids.

*Nobody else in the Horizon is shown as getting in right now.

*Wisconsin-Milwaukee is actually the host team for the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds because they won a three-way tie-breaker for the #1 seed. If they win their semifinal (their first game), they'll host the championship game as well.

Therefore…if Butler wins, there will only be one bid for a Horizon team. If Wisconsin-Milwaukee wins, that could easily knock Butler down to the wrong side of the bubble. If somebody besides Milwaukee wins, that could also leave Butler on the outside looking in.

NO PRESSURE!

The schedule starts tonight with these games. Note that #1 Wisconsin-Milwaukee and #2 Butler get byes into the semifinals. That's a horrible hose job for #3 Cleveland State, who finished in a three-way tie for first place but has to win FOUR games to go the distance instead of just two.

TUESDAY'S GAMES (superior seed hosts the game)
Illinois Chicago (10) at Cleveland State (3)
Wisconsin-Green Bay (7) at Wright State (6)
Loyola-Chicago (8) at Detroit (5)
Youngstown State (9) at Valparaiso (4)

The winners of the first two games will meet Friday Night in Milwaukee, as will the winners of the last two games. The Cleveland State/Wright State half of the bracket feeds into #2 Butler. The Valpo/Detroit half of the bracket feeds into #1 Milwaukee.

Let's run through some important numbers to see how the tournament might play out…

HORIZON MARGIN AVERAGES
Cleveland State: +6.7
Butler: +6.2
Valparaiso: +3.4
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: +1.8
Wright State: +0.9
Detroit: -0.5
Wisconsin-Green Bay: -0.6
Loyola-Chicago: -0.9
Illinois-Chicago: -8.6
Youngstown State: -10.2

It's VERY odd to have the top seed finish fourth in margin averages. That tells you how lucky Milwaukee was in close games, and sets the stage for somebody else to sneak through. Milwaukee could conceivably be a small home dog or a pick-em in a championship meeting with Butler or Cleveland State.

Note how closely bunched the teams in the middle are. As long as the bottom two are weeded out as huge underdogs this evening, we'll have a very competitive final six moving to Friday action.

HORIZON TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Cleveland State: 47%
Valparaiso: 47%
Butler: 49%
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 49%
Detroit: 49%
Wisconsin-Green Bay: 49%
Loyola-Chicago: 49%
Illinois-Chicago: 49%
Youngstown State: 50%
Wright State: 54%

You can see why this conference is so competitive. Two teams are at 47% defense (which is poor for a top team in a conference), and then almost everyone else is at 49%! Very little separates the teams who will be competing for the crown on this side of the ball. That's great if you like competitive basketball. But, it's bad news if you're trying to make a case for multiple Dance invitations. This conference doesn't play great defense. And, too many teams are inconsistent shooting the ball.

HORIZON ADJUSTED PACE FACTORS (slowest to fastest)
Wright State: 62.5 possessions per game
Butler: 64.8
Loyola-Chicago: 65.8
Illinois-Chicago: 66.0
Wisconsin-Green Bay: 66.2
Cleveland State: 66.7
Valparaiso: 66.9
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 67.3
Youngstown State: 69.9
Detroit: 70.7

We're going to include Pace Factor in as many conference previews as we can because teams with experience at slow basketball often do well in playoff environments. Coaches treasure every possession in big games like this. Teams who are used to doing that have an edge over faster teams who are out of their comfort zone in slower games.

Butler is the slowest of the contenders. And, of course, they have a lot of recent experience in playoff style basketball vs. very good teams! Milwaukee is the third fastest. That may NOT be a problem at home though. Home teams can influence the tempo. Most tournament games are played at neutral sites, at naturally drift slower. Fast hosts have the power to bust through that. Will Milwaukee pull it off?

Note that we're pulling key numbers from the expansive statistical database at Ken Pomeroy's highly regarded college basketball site (kenpom.com).

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS FROM TREYS (from low to high)
Detroit: 21%
Wisconsin-Green Bay: 22%
Illinois-Chicago: 22%
Valparaiso: 26%
Loyola-Chicago: 28%
Cleveland State: 29%
Butler: 30%
Wright State: 32%
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 33%
Youngstown State: 35%

You regulars know we focus on “two-point basketball” in the postseason. Treys blow hot and cold, meaning it's very hard to string together victories if you're a team that relies too much on shots from behind the arc. Trey-heavy teams can be Cinderella's for a game or two when the shots are falling (like Cornell last year). Champions tend to have a bigger inside presence.

You can see the main contenders are in the lower half of that listing. At least Milwaukee will be playing in a familiar environment. Tough to see history being made from the Horizon in the Dance this year though based on the numbers we've seen so far.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL

*Wisconsin-Milwaukee: home floor, and a knack for beating Butler. Milwaukee swept the season series vs. the big name foe. But, they weren't consistently impressive. They only beat Wright State by one, Valpo by three, and they actually lost to Loyola on their home court.

*Butler: +6.2 margin average, used to slow pace, and tied for third best 2-point defense (even if it's not a strength this year). To be the team you've got to beat the team. Butler is the team until somebody takes them out in a tournament.

*Cleveland State: +6.7 margin average and tied for best at 2-point defense. But, having to win four games to earn the title could prove to be a killer. As a #1 or #2 seed they'd be our pick.

*Valparaiso: +3.4, tied for best 2-point defense, and not overly reliant on treys. Nobody's talking about Valpo since they finished outside of the three-way tie for first. They will have a defensive edge over Wisconsin-Milwaukee if they meet in the semi-finals.

*Everyone else will need to string together some hot shooting games. There aren't many stat combinations suggesting great darkhorse material. Teams who are used to slow paces don't have great defenses. There really aren't any scary defenses in the whole conference. Any darkhorse will have to “outshoot” what it's defense is allowing.

That wraps up our outline of this week's Horizon Tournament. We'll be following this schedule in the NOTEBOOK over the next few days:

WEDNESDAY: Missouri Valley Preview
THURSDAY: Colonial Preview
FRIDAY: West Coast Preview and Horizon Update
SATURDAY: Sun Belt Preview

Then next week we'll take you through the major tournaments, and the remaining mid majors in a jam packed basketball BONANZA!

If you haven't signed up yet with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, this is obviously the time to do so. MARCH IS HERE! We have great rates for the rest of the season. You can take care of business here at the website with your credit card. Or, if you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

If you prefer to try things out for awhile, game day selections can be purchased online a few hours before first tip. Don't forget later this week and early next week that there are DAY GAMES on WEEKDAYS in many of the tournaments. Stay on top of the schedule, and maximize the opportunities that split sessions offer for your bankroll management.

Back tomorrow as our college basketball coverage continues. Link up with JIM HURLEY RIGHT NOW so you can MARCH TO VICTORY!

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.

19
Nov

Today’s Hot Plays