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Mutka: Phoenix living up to preseason Horizon hype

Hayden Humes Dave Sobolewski

Hayden Humes, Dave Sobolewski

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Change is inevitable, but not neccessarily welcome. Ask any old-timer. Chances are he’ll be delighted to remind you of the good old days.

In the Horizon League, Butler’s departure raised shock waves two years ago. Loyola exiting for the Missouri Valley Conference? Not so much.

Now a part of the reconstructed Big East, Butler reminds those who embrace the status quo how fragile college alliances can be when TV revenue and egos destroy old rivalries, trivialize geographical ties, skyrocket travel and stress the student part of student-athletes.

If you need examples of recent defections: Texas A&M and Missouri in the SEC, Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten (next year) and Notre Dame in the ACC should suffice.

Of course, Horizon League patrons can’t complain about being sabotaged by Butler. After all, its current members (excepting Detroit) presided over the destruction of the late, unlamented Mid-Continent Conference.

Bringing in Oakland from the Summit League, which morphed from the MCC, offset Loyola’s farewell to stabilize Horizon membership at an acceptable, but not ideal nine schools.

Basketball is the driving engine for the Horizon, which includes only two football programs: Youngstown State and Valparaiso (using the term loosely). Conference hostilities will break out in less than a month so here’s my progress report in order of expected finish:

Green Bay (5-2) — The Phoenix are living up to its preseason hype, having beaten Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers over the weekend. They’re presided over by all-conference guard Keifer Sykes, who recently reached 1,000 points and also leads the team in assists.

Guard Carrington Love is also scoring in double figures. Intimidating 7-foot-1 Alec Brown (11.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and 6-7 swingman Jordan Fouse, who is picking off nine rebounds a game, rank 1-2 in blocked shots.

Opponents are shooting just 38 percent against Green Bay. Coach Brian Wardle’s team, which goes goes nine deep, also handed Harvard its only loss and nearly upset No. 8 Wisconsin.

Wright State (5-6) — The Raiders return 11 players from a 23-13 season, including double-figure scorers 6-6 JT Yoho, 6-10 A.J. Pacher and Miles Dixon. Reggie Arcenaux, who made the HL all-tournament team, averaged 4.5 assists over a recent four-game stretch. Kendall Griffin and Matt Vest are established starters.

Seven players have started for the high-octane Raiders, who go nine-deep. They’re averaging 75 points and shooting nearly 50 percent as a team.

Their only major question is the fate of 6-9 Tavares Sledge, who was arrested last month and has been indefinitely suspended. Sledge started 23 games last season.

Youngstown State (7-4) — Only eight points away from being 9-2, the Penguins hitch their sled to four-year starter Kendrick Perry. The preseason player of the year leads them in scoring, assists and steals.

Bobby Hain is YSU’s leading rebounder (7.2) and provides double-figure scoring. Three fifty-percent marksmen bring the team’s average up to .456 and helped it win the Kenesaw State tournament. The unselfish Penguins are averaging nearly 18 assists a game.

Bishop Noll grad Ronnye Beamon comes off the bench. The freshman appeared in seven of YSU’s first 10 games.

Valparaiso (6-5) — Can the Crusaders three-peat? Not likely unless five freshmen grow up fast. Talented rookies Alec Peters, Jubril Adekoya and Lexus Williams have combined for 23 starts, but seniors LaVonte Dority and Bobby Capobianco have provided strong leadership.

Dority is averaging 16 points while Capobianco has embraced the role of sixth starter, the fifth-year veteran recently breaking out against Mercer (23 points, 10 rebounds) and St. Louis (14 points, 8 rebounds).

Seven-footer Moussa Gueye, a fifth-year senior from Senegal who transferred from Alabama, is challenging for the league lead in blocked shots. and is becoming more assertive on the boards.

Milwaukee (9-2) — The rejuvenated Panthers surpassed last year’s win total with a recent 73-67 victory over Bradley. Their impressive blastoff includes four road wins, but the conference grind may wear them down.

Four starters are averaging at least 12 points, headed by 6-8 forward Matt Tiby (14.7 ppg, 6.9 rebounds). Minutes are piling up on a depth-less team. Two starters played 40 minutes against Northern Iowa. Tiby continues to lose minutes because of foul problems. Milwaukee’s only dependable sub is 6-10 J.J. Panoske. The stressed Panthers also miss injured Thierno Niang.

Cleveland State (4-5) — The road-weary Vikings played five of their first eight games away, including a triple-overtime loss to Drexel and a near-miss 68-61 defeat at No. 3 Kentucky.

Their eight-man rotation starts with Bryn Forbe (20 ppg) and pint-sized guard Charles Lee, who has missed two games with a knee injury. Trey Lewis heads a solid bench, which contributed at a 23-point pace. Anton Grady has rebounded from a medical redshirt year (knee) to average 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Detroit (4-5) — The Titans are stressed without Horizon League player of the year Ray McCallum, who joined the Sacramento Kings after leading the Titans to a 20-13 season and an NIT berth.

Leadership is entrusted to team captains Juwan Howard, who transferred from Western Michigan, and 6-8 Evan Bruinsma. Howard springs from dazzling basketball genes. His father, a former Michigan Fab Five star, toils for the Miami Heat and his mother was a Miss Michigan Basketball runnerup. He hit double figures in Detroit’s first nine games and is averaging 16.9 points.

Bruinsma recently posted career highs of 32 points and 14 rebounds in a triple overtime loss to Stony Brook. His binge included a school record 20 of 22 free throws. He is Detroit’s top rebounder (8.4).

Poor shooting (40.1 percent) has plagued the Titans, who were recently hammered by UConn, 101-55, and have lost twice to unbeaten Toledo.

UIC (3-6) — Too many eggs in one basket could be bothering the cracking Flames, who rally around Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow’s 17.4 scoring. Recently he notched 30-plus points in back-to-back losses and leads the team in assists and rebounds.

Barlow’s supporting cast includes Marc Brown (12.9 ppg) and 6-8 Hayden Humes, a Valparaiso High product who broke out of a slump with season-highs of 14 points and seven rebounds in a 73-70 loss to Loyola. He had been averaging just 5.4 points before the outburst.

UIC’s opponents have a combined 50-27 record.

Oakland (2-7) — The Grizzlies’ record, which includes losses to North Carolina, No. 18 UCLA, California and No. 19 Gonzaga, is misleading. Their labor-intensive future schedule includes trips to Indiana and No. 1 Michigan State.

Opponents are shooting 49.3 percent against the Grizzlies, who are a minus 8.8 on the boards despite Corey Petros 7.9 average. Travis Bader is scoring at a 22-point clip.



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