2015-16 Horizon League Preview: Valpo the favorite to repeat as champs

Valparaiso sophomore Tevonn Walker. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

College basketball’s first games of the 2015-16 season are just one month away. With preseason in full swing, here is a look at how the Horizon League shapes up.

 

1. Valparaiso

Notable departures: None

Projected starters: Lexus Williams, Tevonn Walker, Darien Walker, Alec Peters, Vashil Fernandez

Valparaiso sophomore Tevonn Walker. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Valparaiso sophomore Tevonn Walker.
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

 

Valparaiso is stacked and unquestionably the team to beat in the Horizon League this season. The Crusaders have the pieces to be one of the best mid-majors in the nation, and don’t be surprised if they crack the Top 25 at some point.

Valparaiso won the Horizon League last year with a deep rotation and returns its entire roster. Junior forward Alec Peters will be arguably the conference’s best player, and veteran center Vashil Fernandez is possibly the top interior defender.

At guard, the Crusaders have a slew of options with seniors Darien Walker and Keith Carter and sophomore Tevonn Walker, one of the league’s top freshmen last year.

The Crusaders do not have a terribly tough non-conference schedule in terms of matchups — their marquee games are against Oregon, Oregon State and Iona. However, the schedule will test their endurance early on with seven games in 12 days to start the season.

 

2. Oakland

Notable departures: Corey Petros, Dante Williams, Ralph Hill

Projected starters: Kahlil Felder, Nick Daniels, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Jalen Hayes, Percy Gibson

Oakland loses star big man Corey Petros, but three key returning players along with a few eligible transfers make the Golden Grizzlies Valparaiso’s biggest threat for the conference title.

Junior Kahlil Felder is the league’s premier point guard, and forward Jalen Hayes was one of the conference’s top freshman last year.

The Golden Grizzlies already have deadly shooters Nick Daniels and Max Hooper, and they add Texas transfer Martez Walker, who shot 35.3 percent from deep for the Longhorns.

Two more power-conference transfers, Sherron Dorsey-Walker and Percy Gibson, separates Oakland as a top-two team in the Horizon.

 

3. Milwaukee

Notable departures: Steve McWhorter

Projected starters: Jordan Johnson, Akeem Springs, Austin Arians, Matt Tiby, J.J. Panoske

Milwaukee senior Matt Tiby. (Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Milwaukee senior Matt Tiby. (Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

 

Despite losing starting point guard Steve McWhorter, Milwaukee will be a dangerous team this season with everyone else returning.

Seniors Matt Tiby and J.J. Panoske anchor a strong frontcourt while slashing guard Akeem Springs will take over primary scoring duties out of the backcourt.

The Panthers also welcome wing Austin Arians back into the mix. Arians, who redshirted last season, averaged 11.1 points two seasons ago, when Milwaukee made the NCAA Tournament.

 

4. Wright State

Notable departures: Reggie Arceneaux, Chrishawn Hopkins

Projected starters: Joe Thomasson, Grant Benzinger, Steven Davis, JT Yoho, Michael Karena

If you like sleepers, hop on the Wright State bandwagon now. After an injury-plague 2014-15 season piloted the Raiders to 20 losses, this year’s team has the pieces to contend for one of the Horizon League’s top spots, if it can stay healthy.

Senior forward JT Yoho played in only 16 games due to injury last season, but he led the Raiders with 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.

Senior guard Joe Thomasson is coming off an impressive junior year where he posted 10.0 points and 3.2 assists per game. His fellow backcourt mate, sophomore sharpshooter Grant Benzinger, finished the 2014-15 on a tear, looking like a possible future Horizon League scoring champion.

Joining Thomasson and Benzinger is Rhode Island transfer Biggie Minnis, who started 17 games for the Rams last season.

 

5. Detroit

Notable departures: Juwan Howard Jr., Brandan Kearney

Projected starters: Matthew Grant, Jarod Williams, Anton Wilson, Paris Bass, Patrick Ackerman

Detroit loses highly talented scorer Juwan Howard Jr. but returns its other four starters.

The Titans have lots of production to replace with Howard gone. However, losing such a big presence could open up opportunities for last year’s supporting cast to blossom.

Forward Paris Bass had a terrific freshman season and is the team’s top returner in points, rebounds and blocks. Bass is 6-foot-8, and he can step out and knock down a 3-pointer here and there. This kid could be a sleeper for the All-Horizon League team.

The Titans also have a slew of guards, led by Anton Wilson and Chris Jenkins, both of whom can stroke it from the outside.

 

6. Green Bay

Notable departures: Keifer Sykes, Greg Mays, Alfonzo McKinnie, Daeshon Francis

Projected starters: Carrington Love, Charles Cooper, Jordan Fouse, Jamar Hurdle, Kenneth Lowe

Green Bay loses a stud in Keifer Sykes, along with a few other key players. Additionally, the Phoenix lost successful, young coach Brian Wardle, who departed for Bradley during the spring.

With new hire Linc Darner, Green Bay will employ a faster style of play. The new coach also inherits a pair of talented players to help ease the transition.

Senior guard Carrington Love played second fiddle to Sykes but quietly had strong sophomore and junior years. Last season, he averaged 10.0 points and 3.1 assists.

Senior Jordan Fouse can do a little bit of everything for this team. Last year he recorded 7.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals per contest.

Darner also made a few good pickups on the recruiting trail in junior college guard Charles Cooper and forward Jamar Hurdle.

UIC

7. UIC

Notable departures: Jay Harris, Ahman Fells, Marc Brown, Jason McClellan

Projected starters: Paris Burns, Dominique Matthews, Lance Whitaker, Dikembe Dixson, Tai Odiase

Photo: UIC Athletics

First-year UIC coach Steve McClain. (Photo: UIC Athletics)

 

A new era at UIC begins with several new faces on new coach Steve McClain‘s roster.

Although the Flames lose their three best players, McClain’s first recruiting class advances the roster’s overall talent. However, this group of freshmen will likely not be capable of too much success from the start as first-year players.

6-foot-7 forward Dikembe Dixson chose the Flames over ACC program Wake Forest to lead the new class. Junior college wing Najeal Young and Chicago native Dominique Matthews should also play significant roles this season.

UIC also returns an electric but sometimes erratic guard in senior Paris Burns and a dominant defensive presence in sophomore center Tai Odiase.

 

8. Cleveland State

Notable departures: Trey Lewis, Anton Grady, Charlie Lee, Marlin Mason, Kaza Keane

Projected starters: Myles Hamilton, Andre Yates, Terrell Hales, Jeron Rogers, Vinny Zollo

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. After back-to-back years contending for the league title, transfers decimated coach Gary Waters‘ roster.

Guard Trey Lewis bolted for Louisville, and forward Anton Grady left for Wichita State. Additionally, point guard Charlie Lee graduated.

The Vikings’ top returning scorer is guard Andre Yates at 6.1 points per game. They also add Kennesaw State transfer Myles Hamilton, who averaged 6.2 points and 2.3 assists two years ago for the Owls.

That backcourt duo will give Cleveland State a fighting chance, but this team will not contend again for the conference crown.

 

9. Youngstown State

Notable departures: Marcus Keene, DJ Cole, Shawn Amiker, Osandai Vaughn, Shaun Stewart

Projected starters: Cameron Morse, Brett Frantz, Matt Donlan, Sidney Umude, Bobby Hain

Youngstown State loses four starters, so expect yet another season near the bottom of the conference.

The lone bright spot for the Penguins is senior forward Bobby Hain. Hain averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds last season, and he will be the top dog on this year’s team.

 

10. Northern Kentucky

Notable departures: Tayler Persons, Chad Jackson, Jordan Jackson, Daniel Camps, Anthony Monaco

Projected starters: Tyler White, Lavone Holland II, Deontae Cole, Jake Giesler, Jalen Billups

The Horizon League newcomers return a talented, experienced duo in center Jalen Billups and guard Tyler White. Billups shot an impressive 69.6 percent from the field while averaging 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. White is an outside threat at 37.7 percent from deep.

Even so, the Norse will be in for a tough inaugural year. This team went only 7-7 last season in the Atlantic Sun.

 

 

All Horizon League Team

Kahlil Felder, Oakland

OU’s offensive system inflates Felder’s stats a bit, but the junior is still the best point guard around in the Horizon League.

Joe Thomasson, Wright State

Thomasson is a 6-foot-4 guard, which gives him great vision over defenders and great length when guarding.

Jordan Fouse, Green Bay

Fouse is your ultimate glue-guy. He’s 6-foot-7 with great passing skills.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso

Peters is on his way to becoming a Horizon League legend, especially if he can lead the Crusaders to another NCAA Tournament appearance.

Bobby Hain, Youngstown State

He may play on an unremarkable team, but the 6-foot-10 forward is the one Penguin worth watching.

Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year

Alec Peters, Valparaiso

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