Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Horizon League Conference Preview: Life Without Butler

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Ryan Broekhoff looks to lead Valparaiso to a Horizon title this season. (Ray Acevedo)

Favorite: Valparaiso

The Horizon League will be in search for a new standard-bearer following the departure of the Butler Bulldogs to the Atlantic 10 Conference. In the near-term, the most likely contender is Valparaiso. Bryce Drew, famous for his buzzer-beating shot to send No. 13-seed Valparaiso to victory in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament, took over the helm for his father in 2011 and led Valpo to a regular season championship. The Crusaders look to be the favorites again after graduating only two seniors, who averaged 1.4 and 0.4 points per game, respectively.

Dark Horse: Youngstown State

Youngstown St. finished a distant 6th in the 2011-12 regular season standings. However, the Penguins return their top three scorers in 2012, including stand-out guard Kendrick Perry, the league's top scorer at 16.8 ppg. Cleveland State, Milwaukee, and Detroit will challenge Valparaiso with their talent alone, but the experience of Youngstown St. makes them a true dark horse candidate in a relatively weak field.

POY: Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso

Broekhoff looks poised to edge out Detroit's Ray McCallum, Jr. for his second straight Player of the Year honor. The 6-7 power forward from Australia averaged 14.9 ppg and led the league with 8.5 rebounds per game in his junior year. By the way, he also shot 39 percent from 3-point range. Broekhoff nearly made it to the final cut for the Australian national team this summer and has continued to develop all facets of his game. If he continues to make strides in his senior campaign, look for him to make noise on the national scene and potentially find his way into the first round of the NBA draft.

Coach of the Year: Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago

Bryce Drew won the honor of Horizon League Coach of the Year in his first season with Valparaiso. I'm guessing the pattern will continue with Loyola's first-year head coach Porter Moser. The Ramblers have received positive reviews for their hire of the former St. Louis associate head coach. Kansas head coach Bill Self said:
"Porter is very familiar with Chicago and has already gained some valuable head coaching experience at a young age. He is someone whom [St. Louis head coach Rick] Majerus gave a lot of responsibility to because of his abilities. He is a great fit for Loyola and the University. Alums and fans will love having him as their head coach."
Porter will begin with a team that returns three of its five leading scorers from last season, along with a strong recruiting class. In fact, he recently attracted University of Kansas recruit Milton Doyle (one can assume that Self helped direct Doyle to the Ramblers, given his positive opinion of Moser). After Loyola finished dead last in the Horizon League with a 1-17 conference mark, there's plenty of room to improve and impress.

Newcomer: Junior Lomomba, Cleveland State

Cleveland St. scored a big recruiting victory with Lomomba. The Vikings beat out the likes of Baylor, Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Xavier for the 6-4, 175-pound small forward from Madison, Wisc. ESPN's scouting report gives Lomomba three stars and calls him a slasher, writing, "Junior runs the floor and attacks from the wing in transition and has no problem finishing through contact on a regular basis." With Cleveland St. losing its three leading scorers from 2011-12, there should be plenty of opportunity for Lomomba to get playing time and make a name for himself right away.

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