Horizon League Preview: Can Alec Peters lead Valparaiso back to the NCAA tournament?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Horizon League.

Despite being one of the premier mid-major teams in the country last season, Valparaiso was upset by eventual conference tournament champion Green Bay as they fell short of their ultimate NCAA tournament goal. The Crusaders eventually lost in the NIT title game to George Washington and head coach Bryce Drew departed for Vanderbilt, but Valpo can still lean on Alec Peters for his final season in 2017-18.

Peters and new head coach Matt Lottich will lead Valparaiso this year as the Crusaders are still the favorites to win the regular season title in the Horizon League. Besides Peters, guard Tevonn Walker is a tough player and senior wing Shane Hammink could step up as a scorer. Replacing center Vashil Fernandez and his rim protection will be the key.

Oakland must replace departed point guard Kahlil Felder which is why they’re hoping that JuCo transfer Stevie Clark recaptures the magic that made him a top-100 commit for Oklahoma State. All-league forward Jalen Hayes is also back along with talented wings Martez Walker and Sherron Dorsey-Walker. The Golden Grizzlies will definitely score but will they get stops?

Another uptempo team with talent is Green Bay as the Phoenix return eight of its top 10 players from last season’s NCAA tournament. Senior Charles Cooper should be their primary option and Khalil Small is another returning option to put up points. Finding a point guard and new defensive stopper to replace Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse will be key.

Detroit has a new head coach in Bacari Alexander and brings back some scoring punch with Chris Jenkins, Jaleel Hogan and Josh McFolley. The Titans should have one of the best frontcourts in the league but they have to replace the production of Paris Bass. UIC returns Freshman of the Year Dikembe Dixson and solid defensive center Tai Odiase as they have the league’s top recruiting class to add to a young and talented lineup. The Flames could be a surprise team if everything comes together. Wright State brings in a new coach in Scott Nagy as he inherits a roster that can compete early. Mark Alstork is his go-to guy and junior Grant Benzinger is a talented shooter and Illinois graduate transfer Mike LaTulip could be a wild card.

Junior guard Cameron Morse leads Youngstown State as the conference’s returning leading scorer should put up big numbers. The Penguins have to improve defensively as they gave up over 85 points per game last season. Northern Kentucky could also be a surprise team as three double-figure scorers return (LaVone Holland, Drew McDonald and Cole Murray). A sophomore, McDonald is particularly intriguing and the key to the Norse as their best post option.

Cleveland State brings back promising freshman Rob Edwards and senior Demonte Flannigan but there isn’t much more in returning production. New head coach LaVall Jordan takes over at Milwaukee as the team will look completely different from last season’s 20-win campaign. Cody Wichmann is the team’s most experienced returning player and he averaged 4.8 points per game while not starting a game last season.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alec Peters, Valparaiso

A third-team NBCSports.com preseason All-American, Peters has been a prolific scorer throughout his college career as he put up 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for the Crusaders last season. Peters shoots 44 percent from three-point range and, at 6-foot-9, can rebound and defend a bit inside. He’s a dynamic offensive talent and the best mid-major player in the country.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Cameron Morse, Youngstown State: A monster sophomore season saw the guard score 23.3 points per game in league play.
  • Dikembe Dixon, UIC: As a true freshman the wing averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game but he has to improve his shooting percentages.
  • Charles Cooper, Green Bay: The junior guard will take on a bigger role this season after averaging 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
  • Jalen Hayes, Oakland: The junior forward led the league in rebounding at 8.8 per game to go along with 13.1 points on 52 percent shooting.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HorizonLeague

PREDICTED FINISH

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