Mutka: Passing of the torch in Horizon League?
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent March 4, 2012 11:40PM
Valparaiso's Erik Buggs splits through Detroit's P.J. Boutte and Eli Holman to the basket in the second half Thursday evening at Valparaiso University. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 6, 2012 8:10AM
Don’t like the way your conference shapes up? Be patient, it will evolve.
Look around, it’s a never-ending scenario. To keep it simple I’ll stick to the Horizon League, fresh from its weekend invasion of Valparaiso University’s turf to determine its automatic March Madness representative.
If Charles Darwin had quit turning apes into men to reincarnate as a basketball coach, he might find conference politics tougher to deal with than evolution. The Horizon League has changed more often than Donald Trump builds monuments to his collosal ego.
What we saw over the weekend was the continuing evolution of a fraternity which was first christened as the Midwestern City Conference in 1979 by Butler, Evansville, Loyola, Oral Roberts, Xavier and Oklahoma City. Only Butler and Loyola remain from those charter members.
Seldom did a year go by without growing pains, some by addition, others by subtraction. At various times Notre Dame (associate member), St. Louis, Dayton, LaSalle, Marquette and Duquesne belonged to the league, which reinvented itself in 1985 as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, then morphed into the Horizon League in 2001.
Coincidentally, seven of the 10 Horizon schools used to belong to the Mid-Continent Conference, including charter member Valparaiso, which bolted in 2006. In denial over the rupture, the nearly ruined Mid-Continent baptized itself as the Summit League. Confusing, isn’t it?
Belated revenge? Valparaiso was 0-3 this season against its former Mid-Con colleagues, losses being to Oakland, IUPUI and IPFW.
Thanks to Butler’s postseason success (back-to-back Final Four appearances), the Horizon’s recognition level remains high, but its current RPI status is No. 14 among Division I conferences. Before being eliminated in the semifinals, Cleveland State carried the highest RPI at 78. Bye, bye Vikings. Hello Valparaiso, which is ranked No. 20 in the Mid-Major poll.
Two Horizon members have competed in the NCAA in past years, but not this month. Victories by Butler and Detroit on Friday gave the league five 20-game winners for only the second time ever, but the relatively senior-less league will have to settle for such tidbits as the Not Invited Tournament. That’s the NIT, which once dominated college basketball. In fact, given a choice nearly half a century ago teams (Loyola, for example) opted for it instead of the NCAA.
All is forgiven? Detroit’s Eli Holman’s troubled past is no mystery to Indiana basketball fans.
Coach Tom Crean, now helping them forget the aftermath of coach Kelvin Sampson’s dismissal during the 2007-08 season, granted Holman a release after he “created a disturbance” in the IU basketball office.
Holman departed for Detroit after apologizing. There he rejoined McCallum, who had been one of Sampson’s assistant coaches.
The 6-10 center’s presence was part of a mini-revolt which cost coach Dan Dakich any chance of losing the “interim” label. It ended with booted guard Aaron Bassett transferring to Ohio University, Jordan Crawford bolting for Xavier and Eric Gordon turning pro.
Reinventing himself, Holman led the undersized Horizon League in rebounds two years running, but trouble continues to find the senior from Richmond. He started the season on indefinite suspension after a mid-September incident at a Phi Kappa Theta fraternity party. Brad Harbison, a student, told the Varsity News that Holman broke his nose in two places and chipped two of his teeth.
Holman sat out 10 games, which has jeopardized his chances of playing in the NBA, but McCallum stands by the troubled star.
“Eli’s been great,” he said. “He got his degree in December and has handled his situation very well. He’s been a team player.”
Keeping a low profile, Holman has started only twice but is one of seven Titans logging more than 22 minutes a game. He continues to produce (7.1 rpg) being among five averaging double figures for the Titans, who take a 21-13 record into Tuesday’s title game with VU.
Detroit is gunning for its first NCAA appearance since back-to-back efforts in 1998 (beat St. John’s, lost to Purdue, 80-65) and 1999 (beat UCLA, 56-53, lost to Ohio State, 75-44).
“When we started this journey our mission was to win the tournament,” McCallum said. “Now we’re 40 minutes away.”
If they upset the favored Crusaders, who have demolished Butler twice in the last eight days, McCallum’s son, Ray Jr., will be in the thick of things. Saturday he willed the Titans to victory, but I wonder how much he has left in his tank after three games in five days, capped by an exhausting 39-minute harvest of 26 points, six rebounds and five assists against Cleveland State.
“His determination, his competitive spirit, his drive has been great,” said McCallum of the sophomore player closest to his heart.
As father and son, they live and breath for hoops. All the way back to the cradle, it seems.
“Poor kid,” McCallum quipped. “From the time he was born he’s had a basketball in his hands.” Laughing, he added, “regulation size.”
Shifting winds: In case you’re wondering, Valparaiso has now beaten arch-rival Butler four straight times. That hasn’t happened since 1971-74 when the Crusaders won five straight in the old Indiana Collegiate Conference. Partisans owe former coach Bill Purden a debt of thanks, but Butler still leads the series 67-35.
Valparaiso is gunning for its first NCAA bid since the 2004 team won the Mid-Continent Conference tournament. The Crusaders came out of nowhere back then, needing successive victories in the last three days to finish the regular season above .500, then beating Oakland, UMKC and IUPUI for the automatic bid. Gonzaga left the Mid-Con champs sleepless in Seattle, ousting them 76-49 in a first-round mismatch.