Citing homesickness, guard JayQuan McCloud left the Murray State program in mid-October before he’d even had the opportunity to suit up in a game for Steve Prohm’s program. According to a report Saturday, the North Chicago (Illinois) Community HS product has found his new school.
As a high school senior the 6-foot-4 McCloud averaged 18.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. The Panthers lose two senior guards at the end of the current season, Evan Richard and Steve McWhorter, with McWhorter (14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) currently leading the team in both points and rebounds.
The Horizon League drew most of its attention from the college basketball general public in 2013-14 for regular-season champion Green Bay’s early exit from the league’s conference tournament. Considered by many to be the heavy favorite to make the 2014 NCAA Tournament after a 14-2 regular season mark in the conference, the Phoenix ultimately fell short in the semifinals as some analysts used the Green Bay loss — and subsequent NIT appearance — as an opportunity to blast the conference tournament method of NCAA Tournament selection.
While Green Bay was one of the better mid-major teams in the country during the regular season last year, they fell to Milwaukee at home in the tournament. But with four returning starters, the Phoenix are favored to win the league this season.
Even with the departure of senior center Alec Brown, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, head coach Brian Wardle still returns Horizon League Player of the Year favorite in senior point guard Keifer Sykes as well as forward Jordan Fouse,who might be the league’s best defensive player. Green Bay will miss the skill level of Brown on the interior, but they might actually have more interior depth this season as 6-foot-9 senior and double-figure scorer Greg Mays returns and Wardle recruited a few big bodies to bolster the rotation of big men that he can use.
Challenging Green Bay this season will Cleveland State, who has multiple all-league candidates, including senior point guard Charlie Lee, junior big man Anton Grady and junior guard Trey Lewis. Senior forward Marlin Mason acts as a stretch four and 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Aaron Scales can play this season and gives the Vikings another big body on the interior.
The most intriguing team in the Horizon League this year could be Valparaiso, who returns 6-foot-10 rim protector Vashill Fernandez along with three talented sophomores — point guard Lexus Williams, forward Alec Peters and forward Jubril Adekoya — and Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson. Bryce Drew’s ballclub went a surpring 9-7 in the league last season despite starting Adekoya, Peters and Williams as true freshmen.
Billy Donlon loses five of the top six scorers from a Wright State team that fell short in the conference tournament finals a season ago, but the Raiders return 5-foot-9 senior point guard Reggie Arceneaux along with 6-foot-6 sophomore J.T. Yoho and guard Crishawn Hopkins. Wright State had 10 players average double-figure minutes last season, so expect Donlon to go to his seven-man recruiting class early and often for depth.
Defending conference tournament champion Milwaukee will not represent the Horizon League again in the NCAA Tournament. This isn’t a bold prediction, but a truth, as the Panthers are ineligible for postseason for low APR scores. But three starters still return for Milwaukee, led by senior point guard Steve McWhorter and junior big man Matt Tiby and Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs should add some scoring punch on the wing.
Detroit has the pieces to surprise in the Horizon this season as senior wing Juwan Howard Jr., returns after a breakout junior season. If the son of the former Fab Five member can get some help from Colorado transfer Chris Jenkins or 6-foot-8 sophomore Paris Bass, the Titans could compete sooner than later. Bass, in particular, will be one to watch after sitting out last season.
Oakland now faces life in the post Travis Bader-era, as the NCAA’s all-time leader in three-pointers has graduated and moved on. The Golden Grizzlies will now have to rely on the inside-outside combination of senior big man Corey Petros and returning Horizon League Freshman of the Year Kahlil Fielder at point guard. St. John’s transfer Max Hooper, who shot 40 percent from three-point range in his final season in New York, will get a shot at replacing the prolific Bader.
PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
One of the most dynamic point guards in the country, the 5-foot-11 senior puts up numbers all over the floor and usually rises to the occasion when Green Bay has a big game. A freak athlete with outstanding leaping ability and quickness, Sykes is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in his junior season. The only thing missing on the resume for the senior is a trip to the NCAA Tournament and he’s focused on leading four returning starters to the Big Dance in 2014-15.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-HORIZON LEAGUE TEAM:
Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit – The son of former NBA veteran and Fab Five member Juwan Howard, the 6-foot-5 senior had a breakout junior season, averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and also leading the Titans in assists.
Corey Petros, Oakland – A 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior, Petros is a load to handle on the interior and averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season on 57 percent field goal shooting.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso – The 6-foot-9 sophomore had a huge impact as a freshman, averaging 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on some impressive shooting splits for a player his size (49% FG, 77% FT, 38% 3PT).
Trey Lewis, Cleveland State – The Vikings have multiple all-league candidates but Lewis averaged 13.6 points per game as a sophomore and if the 6-foot-3 guard improves his shooting percentages, that number could climb greatly.
Less than a month after representing the Horizon League in the NCAA tournament, falling to No. 3 Syracuse in the Round of 64, the Milwaukee Panthers learned Wednesday that they will not have the opportunity to return in 2014-15.
The school announced that its appeal of sanctions related to substandard Academic Progress Rate (APR) figures was denied by the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance, resulting in the basketball program being banned from postseason play in 2014-15. As a result Rob Jeter’s team will also be prohibited from participating in the Horizon League tournament.
“The academic success of our student-athletes will always be the top priority in the Milwaukee athletic department,” UWM Athletic Director Amanda Braun said. “We are aware that problems did occur in the past, but we have faced them and made changes and are accepting the consequences from the NCAA. Well before we even started the appeals process, we began implementing new processes to help all of our student-athletes have more success in the classroom.”
According to the school the program will have to replace four hours of practice time with four hours of academic support, and they’ll be allowed five days of practice during the season instead of six. During the current four-year window, which ended with the 2012-13 season, schools are required to have an APR score of at least 930. Milwaukee’s score of 908 obviously fell short of that mark.
Of Milwaukee’s top five scorers from this season three have eligibility remaining: guard Steve McWhorter (7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.0 apg; will be a senior next season) and forwards Austin Arians (11.1, 3.5) and Matt Tiby (12.0, 6.5). Both Arians and Tiby will be juniors in 2014-15.
We all remember the Cinderella stories from March Madness. The George Masons, Hamptons, and Northern Iowas, these are the teams that can ease a smile out of the most hardened and jaded NCAA antagonist. We love the NCAA tournament because these sleeper squads make the postseason seem democratic.
The selection committee, sequestered in various hotel suites, is the sporting equivalent of the Wizard of Oz, but Cinderellas level the field, and we’ve listed the six teams, all higher than a seven seed, that have the potential to make the tournament’s second weekend.
No. 13 Tulsa (vs. No. 4 UCLA; then either No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin): A first-round match-up against UCLA, a team that rendered the vaunted Arizona defense toothless, appears catastrophically poor for Danny Manning’s squad, but the Golden Hurricane is also a sound defensive squad, one that forces turnovers at a pretty rapid rate (20.4 percent). The team also keeps opponents off the glass, and UCLA isn’t known for securing additional possessions. Should Tulsa advance to the round of 32, the team also matches well with either VCU or Stephen F. Austin.
A large percentage of Tulsa’ scoring comes from the free throw line, and the Lumberjacks foul quite frequently (52.5 percent defensive free throw rate). VCU defends ferociously and shoots a fair number of threes, but since the Rams will likely miss guard Melvin Johnson, VCU will be without their most efficient perimeter option (39.5 percent). Tulsa can withstand VCU’s trademark ball pressure because the Golden Hurricane have a sticky handle in the midst of ball hawks (16.6 turnover rate, ranked within Ken Pomeroy’s top sixty).
No. 14 Western Michigan (vs. No. 3 Syracuse; then either No. 6 Ohio State/No. 11 Dayton): America should be ready to meet Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan’s 6-foot-11 center. The big makes 55.9 percent of his twos, and while WMU hasn’t played Syracuse during the past two seasons, the Broncos have faced a very similar defense. During WMU’s four games against Eastern Michigan, a team coached by ex-Cuse assistant Rob Murphy and one which uses a 2-3 zone, Whittington made 53 percent of his attempts within the arc.
Both of their second round opponents aren’t great at defending the interior — Ohio State and Dayton allow teams to make close to 50 percent of those shots — which is a bonus for a Western Michigan team which is one of the best at converting their twos, ranking twelfth nationally. The other two Broncos who use a high percentage of WMU’s attempts, David Brown and Connar Tava, are efficient up to 19 feet from the basket.
No. 9 George Washington (vs. No. 8 Memphis; then either No. 1 Virginia/No. 16 Coastal Carolina): Memphis is not a good match-up for the defensive-oriented Colonials. The Tigers turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions (that’s bad), don’t get to the free throw line (not great), and are a poor perimeter shooting team (another box checked) — all attributes which are pluses on George Washington’s defensive resume.
Assuming the second round tilt is against Virginia, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense would be an interesting test for the Colonials. The return of Kethan Savage (and if he can play meaningful minutes) and the emergence of Nemanja Mikic are both crucial for a Sweet 16 birth. Lacking the presence of another perimeter threat, opponents could concentrate solely on Mikic last season, but the addition of Maurice Creek has helped boost Mikic’s clear looks.
No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (vs. No. 7 Connecticut; then either No. 2 Villanova/No. 15 Milwaukee): St. Joe’s Langston Galloway is coming off a torrid shooting performance in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but the team’s frontcourt will be the focus against UConn. Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and DeAndre Bembry should take advantage of the foul-prone Husky bigs — DeAndre Daniels is the only forward who plays substantial minutes and does not accumulate more than six or more fouls per 40 minutes (an issue for both Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan). The likelier second-round game will be against Villanova, and the ensuing Holy War rematch, one dominated by the Wildcats earlier this season, could be a classic.
No. 11 Nebraska (vs. No. 6 Baylor; then either No. 3 Creighton/No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette): Even though Nebraska isn’t an offensive juggernaut, Baylor’s defense provides large gaps for point production — only one other at-large squad had a worse defensive efficiency rate than Scott Drew’s team (North Carolina State). Even though Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long pose a potential threat, Creighton should emerge from that first-round tilt. Nebraska was embarrassed by the Bluejays earlier this season, but this is a much different Huskers squad (for starters, Deverell Biggs is no longer bogarting shots) and the emergence of Terran Petteway is a match-up problem for CU.
No. 14 Mercer (vs. No. 3 Duke; then either No. 6 Massachusetts/No. 11 Iowa/No. 11 Tennessee): Mercer is the epitome of a Giant Killer. The Bears shoot a high percentage both within and beyond the arc, and those attempts are spread amongst a handful of players, each of whom either make a plethora of twos or threes (Bud Thomas and Anthony White, however, make both). There is an offensive balance to this team — no one Bear truly dominates touches — which could be an problem for a Duke team possessing some defensive issues.
Duke traditionally defends the three-point arc well, but two-point field goals are easy to achieve. Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzsewski, this is an even weaker defensive team than the one which lost to Lehigh in the 2012 tournament. Iowa and UMass also have suspect defenses, and while Tennessee is defined by their stingy leanings, the Vols don’t force many turnovers. Against a team that doesn’t miss often, a failure to pressure the ball and simply allow them to run their offense could prove disastrous.
One of the more entertaining aspects of Selection Sunday is to watch the reaction of programs seeing their name come up on the television screen. While making the tournament can be the minimal expectation for some teams, for others those few seconds on TV mean a little bit more.
Here are a few reactions from Sunday:
Cal Poly, which entered the Big West tournament with an 10-19 record before winning three straight to take the conference’s automatic bid, will be making the school’s first-ever Division I NCAA tournament appearance. And as expected the Mustangs are off to Dayton, needing a win over Texas Southern to earn a shot at Midwest Region top-seed Wichita State. (Video credit: SLO Tribune)
Harvard’s making its third consecutive appearance, and they’ll take on five-seed Cincinnati in an East Region matchup in Spokane on Thursday. Having been down the road before, the Crimson went with a more subdued reaction to seeing their name on the screen. (Video credit: Harvard Athletics)
Also among the more subdued reactions was that of Colorado, which is making its fourth consecutive appearance under head coach Tad Boyle. The Buffaloes didn’t have to wait long to hear their name called either, as they’ll play nine-seed Pittsburgh in a South Region matchup. (Video credit: Boulder Daily Camera)
Milwaukee held a viewing party for its team, and the Horizon League tournament champions will be headed to Buffalo for their NCAA tournament opener. The 15-seed in the East, Rob Jeter’s Panthers will play two-seed Villanova on Thursday.
Mercer is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, and they’ll play three-seed Duke in a Midwest region matchup in Raleigh. The fans in attendance even broke out the “I Believe” chant after learning of their team’s next game. (Video credit: Mid-Georgia Telegraph)
And lastly there are the Arizona managers, who decided to have a little fun after finding out (officially) that their team would be the one-seed in the West:
Names you need to know: Jordan Aaron, 5-foot-10 senior guard (14.9 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.5 apg), Kyle Kelm, 6-foot-9 senior forward (12.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 apg), Matt Tiby, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward (12.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 2.0 rpg), Austin Arians, 6-foot-6 sophomore forward (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Stats you need to know: Milwaukee led the Horizon League in three-point percentage defense (32 percent) and also shot 32 percent from three-point range.
Tendencies: Milwaukee is pretty average in terms of tempo on the offensive end and they don’t pressure the ball all that much, but they are a Horizon League best 32 percent in three-point percentage defense. The Panthers turn the ball over a bit too much (14 times a game) and can take some bad shots, but when they play patiently they can be a dangerous team with four double-figure scorers.
Big wins, bad losses: Milwaukee owns solid non-conference wins at Davidson and at home against Northern Iowa. In Horizon League play, the Panthers went 2-1 against top-3 league opponents Green Bay — with both wins coming on the road — and Wright State. Milwaukee only played one top-25 team all season and lost 78-52 at Wisconsin.
How’d they get here?: The Panthers won four Horizon League Conference Tournament games — at three different campuses — beating Detroit, 83-73, in the first round at home, Valparaiso, 74-57, at Green Bay, No. 1 seed Green Bay, 73-66, in overtime at Green Bay and No. 3 seed Wright State, 69-63, at Wright State.
Outlook: Milwaukee isn’t headed for a great seeding of any kind, but after winning four consecutive games — the last two on the road — in the Horizon League Conference Tournament, the Panthers won’t be fun to face at all compared to your typical 15 or 16 seed.
How do I know you?: In 2005, the Panthers made an unlikely Sweet 16 run behind former head coach Bruce Pearl, who also led Milwaukee to a 2003 NCAA Tournament bid. Current Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is also a former Panther head coach from 1999-2001. Milwaukee last made the NCAA Tournament in 2006, in head coach Rob Jeter’s first season as head coach, and beat Oklahoma in the first round.