With the conference tournament set to begin next Tuesday, February 28, tonight’s Horizon League games are extremely important for seedings. There is a mad scramble for the No. 2 through No. 6 seeds that likely won’t be fully settled tonight. The coveted No. 2 slot means a direct ticket right into the tourney semifinals and No. 3 through No. 6 guarantee first round home floor and with a win, a second round home game as well. There’s a lot of incentive to win for eight of the league’s ten teams so here’s a game-by-game look at what’s at stake tonight. I give an opinion on the games where I feel there may be a slight edge.
Detroit @ Cleveland State
– Just two weeks ago, the Vikings were on a five game winning streak and in the driver’s seat for the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed. Their unexpected 59-41 home loss to Valparaiso that night started a horrendous five-game losing streak (both SU and ATS) that has them clinging to hopes of the No. 2 seed. To make that happen, CSU must win against Detroit and Saturday against Wright State, and have Valparaiso win Friday at home against Butler. Cleveland State could finish as high as No. 2 or they could find themselves at the mercy of the tie breakers and possibly without a home game. Detroit is also in the hunt for the No. 2 spot as they now control their own destiny. A win tonight over Cleveland State coupled with a win on Saturday at Wright State and the Titans gain the double-bye into the tournament semis. Their pair of wins over Butler made this possible because if they end in a 12-6 tie, Detroit wins the tie-breaker. Opinion: UNDER…See this game taking on a playoff type atmosphere and expect CSU HC Gary Watters who’s without second leading scorer D’Aundray Brown again to try and muck this one up turning into a slower paced slugfest.
Wright State @ Youngstown State
– For YSU this game is huge. If they can defeat Wright State tonight (something they’ve done only once in their L13 meetings), and then win on Saturday at home against Detroit, they would host one and possibly a pair of home games in the first two rounds. If they split, the scenarios are too many to list right now but if they lose both, they’d be on the first round road. Wright State is already slotted to open the Horizon tournament on the road no matter how they finish so they are in the spoilers role here tonight and at Cleveland State on Saturday. Opinion: None
Wisconsin-Green Bay @ Loyola-Chicago
– Starting with Loyola here it’s pretty simple. They will open on the road no matter what they do tonight and Saturday but they could finish 9th instead of 10th. Should they win their last two games and tie Illinois-Chicago for last place, Loyola would receive the No. 9 slot due to the season split between the two and then their 0-1 record vs. Valpo as opposed to UIC’s 0-2 mark against them. For Green Bay, they still have an outside shot at gaining a first round home game but they must win out to do so. The opportunity is enhanced because the schedule is kind to them as they play last place Loyola tonight and at second to last place Illinois-Chicago on Saturday. Opinion: None
Wisconsin-Milwaukee @ Illinois-Chicago
– As stated above, the Flames will either enter the tourney as the No. 9 or No. 10 seed which has them on the road facing either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. All the Panthers know for sure is that if they beat Illinois-Chicago tonight they'll play host to a first-round conference tournament game at the Klotsche Center. That’s plenty of motivation and opportunity for Milwaukee which is currently a -5 point favorite in this game. Like Wisconsin-Green Bay, UWM is on the Chicago trip for their final two games which gives them the chance to climb into the No. 3 or No. 4 hole which would guarantee them another game versus one of the lowly Chicago schools. Opinion: Wisconsin-Milwaukee -5…UIC has nothing to play for here since their emotional effort would figure to be here on Saturday in their final home game. Milwaukee on the other hand has a great amount of motivational reason to be focused and HC Rob Jeter’s quote would seem to emphasize that: "We're just going to try to focus on Thursday. We have to do whatever we can to get this one."
Butler @ Valparaiso
(Friday night) - On Tuesday, Valparaiso clinched its first regular-season Horizon League title and the No. 1 seeding for the tournament with a victory over Loyola so there’s nothing at stake for them here. It won’t even be there final home game because they’ll host the tournament semifinals. If Butler wins this game and Cleveland State defeats Detroit tonight then it’s a done deal, the Bulldogs will be the No. 2 seed either outright or by virtue of winning the tie-breaker between them and Cleveland State. However, if Detroit wins out and finishes in a tie with Butler, they would become the No. 2 seed with Butler sliding to the No. 3 slot. Opinion: Butler (Line figures to open around Valparaiso -1). Butler is playing head and shoulders above where they’ve been for most of the season while the Crusaders are in a semi-funk going 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS in their L4G. HC Brad Stevens was quoted as saying “We’re not done yet” after their rout of UIC Tuesday night and the way their defense has played since the second half of the Cleveland State game February 11th, I believe him.
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