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Previewing the Madness: The Horizon League

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It doesn’t get much more entertaining that the Horizon League. Its a balanced league that always has a handful of quality basketball teams that play competitive, emotionally draining games. You want an example? Just last week, last place Loyola (IL) took league champion Valpo to overtime on Valpo’s home court.

This season was no different. Detroit was the trendy pick to win the conference in the preseason, but they got off to a slow start to the year. Milwaukee and Cleveland State both looked like they were getting ready to run away with the league before a collapse in February dropped them off the pace. Valpo took control of the conference in the final weeks, but it was late-season surges by Butler and (you guessed it) Detroit that have caught notice.

Will this, once again, be Butler’s year to shine, or will a new top dog emerge in what has quickly become a guilty pleasure of so many basketball fans?

The Bracket

Where: Campus sites for the first round, Valpo for the quarters and semis, at the higher seed for the final.

When: Feb. 28th-Mar. 6th

Final: March 6th, 9 p.m., ESPN

Favorite: Valparaiso

I don’t have a choice but to go with Valpo here. The Crusaders have arguably the best front line in the conference. Kevin Van Wijk is a load on the block and one of the best in the country at getting to the foul line while Ryan Broekhoff provides a nice compliment on the perimeter with his ability to not only step out and knock down the three but to rebound on both ends of the floor. With a couple of playmakers in the back court and a handful of guys that can hit a three, Valpo is a good team when they keep the floor spread and allow those two to operate.

And if they lose?: Cleveland State

My pick to win the league all season long has been Cleveland State, and while they struggled late in the season, those losses can be directly attributed to the loss of D’Aundray Brown, the point man on their press and the Viking’s second-leading scorer on the season. The good news? The Vikings finally figured out a way to win without Brown in the last game of the regular season. The better news? Brown should be back in the mix in the tournament.

Sleepers: Am I allowed to call Butler a sleeper? Because late in the season, the Bulldogs finally found their stride offensively, scoring and shooting just well enough that they were able to win fight straight at one point in late February. The loss to Valpo in the regular season finale cost them the No. 2 seed, however, as the Bulldogs now have to win four straight games from the No. 5 spot. Detroit, like Butler, had a great finished to the regular season, winning five of their last six games and eight of their last ten. Ray McCallum is talented enough to carry the Titans. And don’t forget about Milwaukee, a staunch defensive team.

Studs

Ray McCallum, Detroit: A former top-75 recruit, McCallum was the catalyst for Detroit this year, averaging 15.1 ppg and 3.9 apg while playing the role of the catalyst for Detroit.

Alec Brown, Green Bay: A 7’1″ center, Alec Brown has become a double-double machine and may be a legitimate first-round pick in a year or two.

Ryan Broekhoff, Valpo: The league’s fourth-leading scorer, leading-rebounder and a sharpshooter from beyond the arc. Not a bad combo.

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: Perry is the most-dynamic back court player in the conference, averaging a league-high 16.2 ppg and 3.9 apg.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.