|Posted by Brian Dickmann on February 26, 2016 at 4:45 PM|
Photo via Associated Press
It’s been 7 years since the Horizon League has had multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2009, #3 seed Cleveland State upset #2 seed Green Bay in the conference tournament semi-finals at Hinkle Fieldhouse before knocking off #1 seed Butler in the championship game to earn the league’s automatic bid.
Cleveland State (25-10), which featured current NBA player Norris Cole and other solid mid-major players such as Cedrick Jackson, J’Nathan Bullock, and Aaron Pogue, was a 13 seed in that year’s tournament and upset #4 seed Wake Forest in the First Round before falling to Arizona in the Second Round.
Butler (25-4) earned an at-large as a #9 seed and fell to LSU, 75-71, in the First Round.
Since then, obviously Butler has moved on to the Atlantic 10 and now to the Big East. The closest the Horizon League has come to having two teams in the Big Dance was 2014 when Green Bay won the regular season championship but lost at home in overtime during the conference tournament semi-finals to Milwaukee.
That loss was the final blow to Green Bay’s at-large hopes and dropped the Phoenix to 24-6. A week later, Green Bay’s #58 RPI was not good enough and the Phoenix were officially one of the last four out according to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
This year’s Valpo team has a similar record at 26-5 and an RPI in the mid 40s. Many people believe the Crusaders could make the tournament even if they falter at the conference tournament in Detroit where they have a double-bye to the semifinals as the #1 seed.
But of their 5 losses, 3 have come against teams that are 150+ in the RPI including being swept by Wright State and a bad road loss at Ball State, a team that won the MAC West Division with a 19-11 overall record but is still 150+ in the RPI rankings.
Obviously RPI doesn’t tell the whole story but unfortunately it is a major factor in what the Selection Committee decides on Selection Sunday.
Green Bay’s 2014 team had 5 regular season losses: home vs Wisconsin (#3 RPI), neutral court vs Harvard (#44 RPI), and at Eastern Michigan (#87 RPI). Not resume busters by any stretch. The killers were losses at home against UWM (RPI #134) in the regular season as well as, ironically, at Valparaiso (#195 RPI). The Phoenix tournament loss to UWM gave them three 150+ RPI losses.
As far as wins go, this year’s Valparaiso team is 3-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over IPFW (#68) and at Oregon State (#31) as well as a season split with Belmont (#81). The other loss came at Oregon (#4) in what would have been a huge resume builder.
2014 Green Bay was 3-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over Tulsa (#79), Virginia (#10), and Cleveland State (#91).
The Crusaders are hurt this season by the Horizon League having a very down year. There are no other top 100 teams in the conference this season with the closest being Oakland at RPI #117. This hurts Valpo’s chances of gaining more resume building wins as well as hampers the Crusaders own RPI ranking when beating up on teams like Northern Kentucky, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, and UIC, all of which have RPI’s of 260 or higher.
Valparaiso needs to win their semifinal game at the Horizon League Tournament on Monday in order to even stay in the conversation for an at-large and even then it may be too late. The Crusaders appear on the latest edition of ESPN's Bubble Watch so they are at least still in the conversation.
Sure, it’s easy to say the Phoenix shouldn’t have tripped up against UWM twice in 2014 or that Valpo should have been able to beat Wright State at least once this season, but there is a bigger problem. The Horizon League is moving backwards.
Depending on which source you use, the conference is ranked anywhere from 17th (RealTimeRPI) to 20th (Warren Nolan, CBS Sports) overall this season out of 32 conferences, easily its worst performance in recent memory. Prior to this season the Horizon League was routinely ranked in the 11-14 range as one of college basketball’s best mid-major conferences.
As Horizon League fans, making the conference a multi-bid league should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. More bids means more revenue for the league and its members which means more money for its men’s basketball teams.
More money for men’s basketball means more money for investing in the programs and for recruiting, which means better players and better teams.
Butler’s back-to-back NCAA Championship game runs have been a boon to the conference, but those dollars (in the form of NCAA Tournament units) will soon run out.
For the league’s sake, hopefully the Crusaders can get lucky and swipe an at-large bid if disaster strikes and Valpo loses at Joe Louis Arena.
But based on what happened to Green Bay in 2014, don’t count on it.
Categories: Motor City Madness