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Horizon Conference Tournament
Butler Still the Team to Beat
Who could forget last seasons run by Butler, all the way to the NCAA Championship game only to lose to the mighty Duke Blue Devils. While mo one is calling for a repeat performance by Butler, in the Horizon Conference tournament, Butler is still the team to beat. They finished 1st, tied with Cleveland State as far as conference records go at 13-5, but they beat Cleveland State twice during the regular season. Winning the Horizon tournament won't be a walk in the park for Butler as they'll now have a huge bulls eye on their backs however they should have the upper hand.
For starters, tournament games in the Horizon conference are not played on neutral courts. The higher seeded team gets the home court advantage which means to knock off the champs, the rest of the conference will have to do so on the road at Butler. The only Horizon League team to win at Butler this year was Wisconsin Milwaukee who beat Butler both times they played this year.
We like to look at who's hot and who's not come tournament time, for obvious reasons. No better time to be hot than right now. No worse time to be cold than right now. Just looking at win loss records, you'd peg Cleveland State as the biggest threat to Butler. However Cleveland State finished the season losing 4 of their last 7 games and is playing further below their regular season level (a full 5 points) than any other Horizon League contender.
Two teams stand out as legitimate threats to Butler. The first, and likely biggest threat would be Wisconsin Milwaukee. Wi-Mil won 9 out of their last 10 games and is playing at a level a full 2 or 3 points higher than their regular season rating. This team is scorching hot at just the right time and they beat Butler twice this season. As mentioned above, they were the only Horizon team to win at Butler.
Valparaiso maybe be worth a mention not only because they beat Butler earlier in the year but also because our score prediction model has them coming closer to Butler on a neutral floor than any other Horizon League team (a 2 point margin.) But Valpo struggled down the stretch losing 3 of their last 5 and is also playing far below their regular season rating entering the tournament.
We ran our model to see how the top 5 Horizon League teams would do against Butler on a neutral floor. Here are the results.
Butler 70 Cleveland State 66
Butler 74 Wisconsin Milwaukee 66
Butler 71 Valpo 69
Butler 67 Wright State 60
Butler 77 Detroit 69
Again, that is on a neutral floor. Add two points to Butler and subtract two from their opponent to get the margin if the game were played at Butler. Based on those results, it looks as though Butler will be tough to beat. We love the way Wisconsin Milwaukee is playing and love to ride hot teams but doubt they can beat Butler 3 times in one year. Look for spots to play them along the way however. The other contenders, Valpo and Cleveland State simply aren't playing their best ball entering the tournament. They both would be good teams to possibly find spots to play against.
We're not going out on much of a limb here, but the analysis above explains why. It looks to us like Butler will win the Title and get a chance to defend their great run of a year ago in the Big Dance.
Horizon Conference Tournament Schedule
Tuesday, March 1
G1 - #10 UIC at #3 Cleveland State vs. -7:00PM EST
G2 - #7 Green Bay at #6 Wright State - 7:00PM EST
G3 - #9 Youngstown State at #4 Valparaiso - 8:00PM EST
G4 - #8 Loyola (IL) at #5 Detroit - 7:00PM EST
Second Round - Friday, March 4 (Milwaukee)
G5 - UIC/Cleveland State winner vs. Green Bay/Wright State winner - 6:00PM EST
G6 - Youngstown State/Valparaiso winner vs. Loyola/Detroit winner - 8:30PM EST
Semifinals - Saturday, March 5 (Milwaukee)
G7 - #2 Butler vs. Game 5 winner - 6:00PM EST (ESPNU)
G8 - #1 Milwaukee vs. Game 6 Winner - 8:30PM EST (ESPNU)
Championship - Saturday, March 5 (at higher seed)
G9: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner - 9:00PM EST (ESPN)
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