32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Horizon

By Kevin Sweeney

Last season, the Horizon league was one of the most exciting conferences in college basketball.  It combined some of the best offenses in college basketball (3 of the top 10 scoring offenses in all of college basketball) and some stingy defenses (Valparaiso and Wright State were top 40 scoring defenses).  Matchups between superstars, like Alec Peters and Kay Felder, were must-see TV. While there are some new storylines to follow in the Horizon this year, it should still be fascinating to watch it unfold.

Picks:

  1. Valparaiso
  2. Green Bay
  3. Oakland
  4. Wright State
  5. Youngstown State
  6. Detroit
  7. UIC
  8. Cleveland State
  9. Milwaukee
  10. Northern Kentucky

Champions: Valparaiso- Valparaiso has turned into a perennial mid-major power, having won at least 20 games in 6 out of the past 9 seasons. Last season was a historic one, as the Crusaders won 30 games for the first time in program history.  However, they had their bubble burst on Selection Sunday after being upset by Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament and were forced to settle for an NIT berth.  Now, the Crusaders will look to get back to the Big Dance, despite losing 3 starters and head coach Bryce Drew.  However, this task will be made much simpler by the presence of Alec Peters, one of the most complete players in college basketball.  The senior chose to stay at Valpo for his senior season, rather than graduate and transfer, and he will be expected to do pretty much everything for the Crusaders.  Combine Peters with other returning pieces like Shane Hammink and Tevonn Walker, and Valpo should once again be a Horizon League powerhouse.

Dark Horse: UIC- There are a lot of question marks about this UIC team, but the potential for them is ridiculous. 2nd year head coach Steve McClain has injected some outstanding talent into this roster, thanks to recruiting expertise developed as an assistant at schools such as Indiana and Colorado.  Sophomore Dikembe Dixson is already one of the best players in the conference, averaging 19.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Dominque Matthews showed promise early last season before being forced to redshirt due to an injury.  Tai Odiase, a junior, led the nation in blocks last season and has an improving offensive game.  Now, McClain brings in a 5-man freshman class that includes multiple 3-star recruits and players with high-major offers. The Flames will certainly be a young team, but they should make great strides from last season’s 5 win campaign.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Alec Peters-Valparaiso
  • F: Dikembe Dixson-UIC
  • F: Jalen Hayes-Oakland
  • G: Chris Jenkins-Detroit
  • G: Cameron Morse-Youngstown State

Player of the Year: Alec Peters- Peters is an incredibly talented player who can effect the game in so many ways, especially at the mid-major level. Even at 6-9, the height of most mid-major centers, Peters is able to drain 3’s at a 44% clip and handle the ball as well as many guards.  However, he has no problem playing in the post and fighting for rebounds & position inside.  He was able to average 18.4 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game despite having his name circled, highlighted, and in size 100 font on every opposing team’s scouting report.  Peters has the talent to be playing anywhere in the country, and could contend for some of college basketball highest honors this season.

Newcomer of the Year: Stevie Clark (Oakland)- Clark has taken a long road to get to Oakland.  The former 4-star recruit attended Oklahoma State before being kicked off the team and transferring to Arkansas Baptist, a junior college, for one season.  Now, he looks to help Oakland replace Kay Felder, arguably the best player in program history.   Clark, a 5-11 point guard, brings to the table a lot of the same traits that Felder did. He is lightning-quick with a good 3-point stroke and the ability to take over games.  He should put up big numbers in Greg Kampe’s uptempo system, and his play will be a huge factor in just how good Oakland can be this season.

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