As Butler took down Milwaukee on tonight for the Horizon League Championship the league part of the season officially concluded. That means it's time to start looking forward to next season. What follows is a team by team breakdown of the 10 programs in the conference with some projections for next season and some things that are meant to spark conversation.
The main things you'll see below a team are its returning minutes, returning points, returning and possessions. Then there's a little blurb about next season. There's at least one team that I think is going to surprise a lot of people next season, and they're not from Chicago. With that little preamble let the games begin!
10. UIC Flames -
Returning Minutes: 46.07% (9/10)
Returning Points: 35.82% (9/10)
Returning Possessions: 39.79% (9/10)
Notes: These UIC numbers assume that Dipanjot Singh decides to stay for his final season of eligibility and Zavion Neely gets his academics in order. Even with those two players the Flames are going to be hard pressed to climb out of the Horizon League basement. Recruits like Morgan Park's Jerome Brown and 6'11 center Will Simonton will help the process, but they'll be freshman and need time to develop. Things are going to go backwards before they go forward for the Flames.
9. Wright State Raiders -
Returning Minutes: 44.05% (10/10)
Returning Points: 29.44% (10/10)
Returning Possessions: 29.51% (10/10)
Notes: The loss of four key seniors is going to gut the Wright State roster. Amongst players that will remain only A.J. Pacher used more than 20% of the team's possessions when he was on the floor. The Raiders are bringing in two impressive front court recruits in Tavares Sledge and Alex Pritchett, but youth will be an issue.
8. Loyola Ramblers -
Returning Minutes: 56.75% (8/10)
Returning Points: 52.53% (8/10)
Returning Possessions: 56.09% (8/10)
Notes: Loyola's front court will still be a strength as Ben Averkamp and Walt Gibler are a strong 1-2 punch in the post. It's the back court that'll be the big question. Gabe Kindred showed a spark this season off the bench. Will he be the Ramblers' full time starter next season? The return of Jordan Hicks is another storyline to follow. If he can stay healthy he can make a big-time impact on the court and help left the Ramblers out of this position in the standings. Loyola has two 6'4 guards coming, junior college player Colin Beatty and Munster's Joe Crisman.
7. Green Bay Phoenix -
Returning Minutes: 69.31% (4/10)
Returning Points: 60.07% (5/10)
Returning Possessions: 58.80 (7/10)
Notes: How will the loss of Rahmon Fletcher affect Green Bay's offense? That's the big question here. A lot of the loss will be made up by the development of Alec Brown, but someone will have to get him the ball and space the floor. The Phoenix look primed to be a contender in the league in two years.
6. Youngstown State Penguins -
Returning Minutes: 80.40% (3/10)
Returning Points: 78.62% (2/10)
Returning Possessions: 83.74% (2/10)
Notes: Losing only Vytas Sulskis is going to give the Penguins a chance to be the 2011-12 season's version of Valparaiso. Damian Eargle is a valuable forward that can be an all-conference type performer. Ashen Ward will be a senior and Kendrick Perry will benefit from another year of experience. This is a team that if they work hard this offseason could really surprise some people and go from a joke in the conference to one of the toughest outs.
5. Valparaiso Crusaders -
Returning Minutes: 66.30% (5/10)
Returning Points: 61.64% (4/10)
Returning Possessions: 67.20% (4/10)
Notes: Brandon Wood and Jay Harris give this team a solid backcourt, even with the graduation of Howard Little. The question is going to be in the front court where Ryan Broekhoff will be asked to carry a heavy load. Junior college power forward Richie Edwards will get a chance to make an impact quickly. The Crusaders are one of two Horizon League teams that will be heavily impacted by the decision of Notre Dame (IL) H.S.'s Max Bielfeldt. (The other is UIC.)
4. Milwaukee Panthers -
Returning Minutes: 66% (6/10)
Returning Points: 58.03% (7/10)
Returning Possessions: 62.24% (5/10)
Notes: Rob Jeter did a great job getting his team to buy into the team philosophy and build a winner during the second half of the season, but gone now are a ton of points in seniors Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle. The Panthers don't have a real back-to-the-basket type forward to replace Hill, so the offense is probably going to look a little different next season. Kaylon Williams gives Milwaukee one of the best point guards in the Horizon League and Tony Meier is a tough match up at forward. Also, Milwaukee has one of the best incoming recruits in the conference in point guard Shaquille Boga. It's possible that another incoming freshman, J.J. Panoske, gets some playing time in the front court as well.
3. Cleveland State Vikings -
Returning Minutes: 82.22% (2/10)
Returning Points: 69.84% (3/10)
Returning Possessions: 70.30 (3/10)
Notes: Saying goodbye to Norris Cole, the Horizon League Player of the Year, isn't going to be easy. The Vikings are going to need to find a way to not only replace a source of points, but also their best playmaker. The thing is, behind Cole this team is loaded. The majority of the team will be juniors and seniors and it'll be time for players like Jeremy Montgomery and Aaron Pogue to take over. The return of D'Aundray Brown will also give this team another lock-down defensive presence. Cleveland State also has three notable incoming recruits in power forward Anton Grady, point guard Charles Lee, and shooting guard Ike Nwamu. This is a program and Gary Waters isn't going to let it slip.
2. Detroit Titans -
Returning Minutes: 100% (1/10)
Returning Points: 100% (1/10)
Returning Possessions: 100% (1/10)
Notes: The Titans will return every player on their roster for next season. A year of development for Ray McCallum Jr. should help improve his court sense and prevent some of the turnovers that was the only real weakness during his freshman season. Hopefully another year of playing together will give this team some more cohesion. The Titans often appeared like they didn't have an offensive strategy during Horizon League play. They'll need to find one for the times teams don't let them get out and run.
1. Butler Bulldogs -
Returning Minutes: 61.70% (7/10)
Returning Points: 58.43% (6/10)
Returning Possessions: 60.57% (6/10)
Notes: Butler loses Matt Howard to graduation, but the Bulldogs stil have Shelvin Mack and Andrew Smith on their roster. They are the two of the most talented players in the Horizon League and should form a solid backbone. The development of Khyle Marshall will be important for the front court. Also built into this prediction is that a stronger dose of Chase Stigall will be good for Butler as well. The Bulldogs also have some key recruits coming in including Australian point guard Jackson Aldridge. Expect the Bulldogs to be right back at the top in 2011-12.