An attempt at deciphering the top of the Horizon League

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On Monday night, Valparaiso lost in overtime to Green Bay 81-80, dropping them a game behind Cleveland State in the loss column and, essentially, into a tie with Butler and Milwaukee for second place in the Horizon League.

It creates an incredibly complicated situation because the top two teams in the league standings get an a double-bye into the league tournament’s semifinals. As of today, here is what the league standings look like:


The determining factor for who gets the double bye could very well end up being Thursday night’s matchup between Cleveland State and Milwaukee, which will be played at Cleveland State.

If the Vikings beat the Panthers, they will lock up the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament by beating Green Bay at home on Saturday. Milwaukee will drop a game out of second place, meaning that Butler will get the No. 2 seed if they can beat Loyola (IL) on Saturday. Butler and Valpo will be tied in the standings, and since they split their regular season matchups, the tie-breaker becomes the record against the best team. Butler swept Cleveland State. Valpo split.

That’s fairly clean cut compared to the mess that arises if the Panthers win on Thursday. If that happens and all four teams involved finish at 13-5 in conference play, the first tie-breaker is the record of head-to-head matchups between the four teams, which looks like this:

  • Milwaukee: 4-2
  • Valpo: 3-3
  • Butler: 3-3
  • Cleveland State: 2-4

Milwaukee split with Valpo, swept Butler, and would have split with Cleveland State, meaning the Panthers would be the No. 1 seed. Cleveland State would have split with Milwaukee, got swept by Butler, and split with Valpo, putting them at 1-4 and in the No. 4 slot.

Valpo and Butler would both have a 3-3 record — Valpo split with all three teams, while Butler swept Cleveland State and was swept by Milwaukee. In this scenario, since the second tiebreaker goes to record against the team highest in the league standings, Valpo would be the No. 2 seed while Butler would miss the double-bye and be slotted into the No. 3 seed.

(Note: The Horizon League website doesn’t say whether the second tie-breaker for Valpo and Butler in this scenario comes against the team that won the original tie-breaker [Milwaukee, which would give the tie-breaker to Valpo because they split with the Panthers while Butler was swept] or the next team in the Horizon standings, which in this case would be the winner of Friday’s game between Detroit and Wright State. But since both Butler and Valpo swept Detroit, regardless of who wins the tie-breaker will be decided by records against Wright State. Butler split, while Valpo swept. Again, advantage Crusaders.)

Complicated, right?

What’s more, this scenario assumes that all four teams will win out, and if the Horizon League has proven anything to us this year, its that no win should be assumed. And honestly, I don’t have the energy to figure out (and you probably don’t have the energy to read about) the thousands of scenarios should, say, Cleveland State beat Milwaukee and lose to Green Bay.

Wild finishes to conference races are what makes college basketball great.

And this year’s Horizon League is exhibit A.

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