Ray McCallum, J.J. Moore, James Robinson

Horizon League Conference Tournament Preview

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The Horizon League will take on a bit of a different look this season, as Butler left the conference for the Atlantic 10 this past summer. The top two seeds — Valparaiso and Detroit, in this case — will still have a double-bye into the semifinals, but now, since there are only nine teams in the league, the three-seed Wright State will have a first-round bye, taking on the winner of the 6-7 game.

Valpo and Detroit are the leagues two best teams, and I don’t think many would complain about a rematch between those two in the final. The split this season, with the road team winning both games after wild, second half comebacks. Wright State was picked to finish last in the preseason, but the Raiders ended up finishing tied third in the Horizon League standings, which earned head coach Billy Donlon Coach of the Year honors. Green Bay, the four-seed, tied with WSU for third, but they may end up being the more dangerous team in the tournament thanks to a pair of all-league players in sophomore Keifer Sykes and junior seven-footer Alec Brown.

One other team to keep an eye on is Youngstown State. They finished 7-9 in league play, but they won at Georgia and at George Washington in November. But their star Kendrick Perry is battling a knee injury he suffered in practice Feb. 20th. He’s doubtful for their first round game.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: First round hosted at the higher seed, the quarters and semis hosted by the No. 1 seed, and the final to be played at the highest remaining seed.

When: March 5, 8-9, 12

Final: March 12, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Favorite: Valparaiso

The Crusaders were the best team in the Horizon League this season, winning 14 of their last 16 regular season games — including a 22 point pounding of Eastern Kentucky in BracketBusters — after a loss to Loyola (IL) in their conference opener. Valpo is led by a pair of forwards in Ryan Broekhoff (15.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg), the 2012 Horizon League Player of the Year, and Kevin Van Wjik (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Valpo has been the most efficient and best shooting team in the conference during league play, which should continue as they play every game on their home floor.

And if they lose?: Detroit is the most talented team in the conference, but also the most enigmatic. Ray McCallum (19.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 5.2 rpg) was the league’s Player of the Year and is the kind of dynamic, athletic point guard that doesn’t often end up in the Horizon League. Throw in Doug Anderson’s acrobatics and the now-healthy Nick Minnerath (15.1 ppg), and the Titans have plenty of weapons offensively that thrive in their uptempo style. But will they defend well enough in March? Detroit was 177th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.

Sleepers: Wright State surprised the league this season by playing the best defense in the conference and controlling the pace of the game. Given the history of the head coaches at Wright State, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Green Bay has some talent on the roster, but they got worked by Valpo twice, who they are scheduled to meet in the semis should they get that far.

Studs:

Doug Anderson, Detroit: Ray McCallum is the star, the coach’s son and the former top 75 recruit, but Anderson is the Horizon’s must-see TV. This is why.

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: He’s the conference’s second-leading scorer (16.9 ppg), leader in steals (2.0 spg), an the biggest reason why the Penguins can make a run.

Kiefer Sykes, Green Bay: Alec Brown gets the attention because he’s 7-foot-0, but the 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard (15.4 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.2 rpg) is the best player for the Pheonix.

CBT Prediction: Detroit upsets Valpo in a thrilling title game.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.