Ultra Early Horizon League Preview: Cleveland State and Green Bay atop early projections

Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

The Catch and Shoot’s Ultra Early Season Preview for 2014-15 continues with a look at the Horizon League. Cleveland State, which finished second in the conference last season, is poised to be the favorite with all five starters returning. Defending regular season champion Green Bay is not far behind, and Detroit is poised to make a jump in the standings.

1. Cleveland State

Key losses: Jon Harris, Devon Long

Key returners: Bryn Forbes, Trey Lewis, Anton Grady, Charlie Lee, Sebastian Douglas, Marlin Mason

Key additions: Andre Yates

Photo: Cleveland State Athletics
Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

Cleveland State won 21 games last season after finishing the regular season on a tear. Now the Vikings return all five starters and a good chunk of their bench, making them the early favorite.

The Vikings’ backcourt could be one of the best at the mid-major level next season. They return leading scorers Bryn Forbes (15.6 ppg, 42.4 3P%) and Trey Lewis (13.1 ppg, 3.4 apg) and point guard Charlie Lee (9.8 ppg, 4.1 apg). This trio can light it up in any given game.

On the front line, Cleveland State returns starters Anton Grady and Marlin Mason. Grady averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds last season while Mason posted 5.9 points and 4.2 boards per game. Mason could also step out for an occasional 3-pointer, making 15 of 31 (48.4%) from deep.

 

2. Green Bay

Key losses: Alec Brown, Vincent Garrett

Key returners: Keifer Sykes, Greg Mays, Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse, Kenneth Lowe, Lamin Fulton, Alfonzo McKinnie

Key additions: None

Green Bay loses star center Alec Brown and wing Vincent Garrett, but the Phoenix return the pieces to contend for a second-straight Horizon League title. Reigning Player of the Year Keifer Sykes (20.3 ppg, 4.9 apg) returns, and he should once again be the best player in the conference. Sykes has a solid guard alongside him in Carrington Love, who averaged 7.9 points and 2.5 assists as a sophomore.

Though Brown is gone on the inside, forwards Greg Mays and Jordan Fouse return. Mayes, a 6’9″ forward, recorded 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season as a junior. As the Phoenix’s main inside presence next year, he could be a double-double type of guy.

Two other big men, Kenneth Lowe (4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 60.5 FG%) and Alfonzo McKinnie (4.1 ppg), could be in for big seasons as they take on larger roles.

 

3. Detroit

Key losses: Evan Bruinsma, Ugochukwu Njoku

Key returners: Juwan Howard Jr., Matthew Grant, Jarod Williams, Carlton Brundidge, Anton Wilson, Patrick Onwenu

Key additions: Shyheim McClelland, Patrick Ackerman, Chris Jenkins

Detroit has a star to build around next season with Juwan Howard Jr. returning for his season year. Howard averaged 18.3 points and 2.2 assists last season, making him an All-Horizon League First Team candidate for next season.

Howard does not have a second star to work with, but he does have a solid, balanced supporting cast. The Titans return two other starters and all of their important bench players. They also add Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman, junior college transfer Shyheim McClelland and freshman Chris Jenkins, who redshirted this season.

Guards Matthew Grant and Jarod Williams put together impressive freshman seasons, as did guards Carlton Brundidge and Anton Wilson with their sophomore years. In other words, if these players improve as expected during the offseason, Detroit’s backcourt could be loaded. Wilson in particular could be in store for a big junior season. He averaged 7.0 points and shot 40.2% from beyond the arc last year.

The Titans bring in a true point guard in McClelland, something they did not have last year. McClelland averaged 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists at Mesa Community College.

The Titans’ frontcourt is their big question mark with Evan Bruinsma and Ugochukwu Njoku graduating. They add size with 6’11” Ackerman and 6’7″ Jenkins, and they return 6’8″ Patrick Onwenu.

 

4. Milwaukee

Key losses: Jordan Aaron, Kyle Kelm, Thierno Niang

Key returners: Matt Tiby, Austin Arians, Steve McWhorter, Malcolm Moore, J.J. Panoske

Key additions: Akeem Springs

Photo: Milwaukee Athletics
Photo: Milwaukee Athletics

It’s a shame Milwaukee is ineligible for the 2014-15 postseason because the Panthers return some good talent. They lose top two scorers Jordan Aaron and Kyle Kelm but return just about everyone else from a team that made the 2014 NCAA Tournament. They also add Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs.

The Panthers return Austin Arians, who is coming off a breakout sophomore season, and Matt Tiby who made a huge impact last season after transferring from Kirkwood Community College. With these two, Milwaukee has arguably the best starting frontcourt in the Horizon League. Arians averaged 11.1 points while shooting 46.6% from the field and 36.7% from 3-point range. Tiby posted 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.

Milwaukee will also have one of the conference’s more efficient point guards in Steve McWhorter. McWhorter dished out 4.0 assists per game last season and had a 24.4% assist rate, per KenPom.

Backcourt scoring and outside shooting are the Panthers’ two big question marks entering next season.

Although being banned for the postseason could cause a lack of motivation, for inspiration the Panthers could look at Connecticut, which was banned in 2013 and then won the 2014 national title. Not that Milwaukee could win the 2016 national title, but working for future success could help keep the Panthers focused.

 

5. Valparaiso

Key losses: LaVonte Dority, Jordan Coleman, Moussa Gueye, Bobby Capobianco

Key returners: Alec Peters, Lexus Williams, Jubril Adekoya, Keith Carter, Vashil Fernandez, Clay Yeo

Key additions: E. Victor Nickerson, Max Joseph, Tevonn Walker

Valparaiso loses a fair share of talent but manages to return enough pieces to possibly compete for a top-three spot in the league standings in 2014-15. Leading scorer LaVonte Dority is gone, as is his backcourt mate Jordan Coleman. Moussa Gueye, a shot-blocking specialist who was also good for a few points and rebounds, and fellow forward Bobby Capobianco also depart.

The Crusaders return their impressive freshman trio of Alec Peters, Lexus Williams and Jubril Adekoya. Peters is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 12.7 points with 38.3% 3-point shooting last year. Williams (6.5 ppg, 2.4 apg) and rising junior Keith Carter (5.7 ppg, 2.3 apg) will make a solid duo in the backcourt. Adding junior college transfers Max Joseph and Tevonn Walker and Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson will give them some additional depth among their guards.

Adekoya and rising senior Vashil Fernandez will be the two main guys in on the front line. The 6’10” Fernandez averaged 4.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in just 19.3 minutes per game as a junior.

 

6. Oakland

Key losses: Travis Bader, Duke Mondy

Key returners: Corey Petros, Kahlil Felder, Dante Williams, Tommie McCune, Mitch Baenziger, Ralph Hill

Key additions: Max Hooper

Oakland loses one of the best 3-pointers shooters of all-time in Travis Bader and a talented combo-guard in Duke Mondy. But the Golden Grizzlies return Horizon League Freshman of the Year Khalil Felder and talented big man Corey Petros. They also add sharpshooter Max Hooper, a St. John’s transfer.

Felder led the Horizon League in assists last season with room to spare, dishing out 6.4 dimes per game. He ranked No. 7 nationally in assist rate, per KenPom, and scored 9.5 points per contest.

Petros had his best and most consistent season at Oakland last year as a junior. He averaged 13.3 points on 57.6% field-goal shooting and 8.2 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Mitch Baenziger could be in for a breakout junior season with Bader graduating. Baenziger played only 15.9 minutes per game last season, averaging 4.1 points and shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc.

6’6″ forward Ralph Hill started giving the Golden Grizzlies valuable minutes late in the 2013-14 season, and that should continue in 2014-15.

 

7. Wright State

Key losses: AJ Pacher, Miles Dixon, Cole Darling, Jerran Young, Matt Vest

Key returners: JT Yoho, Reggie Arceneaux, Chrishawn Hopkins, Kendall Griffin, Tavares Sledge

Key additions: Grant Evans, Joe Thomasson, Michael Karena

Wright State loses five of its top six scorers, including its top four. Overall, the Raiders are losing 62.4% of their scoring and 56.5% of their rebounding.

The Raiders backcourt will still be respectable with Reggie Arceneaux, Kendall Griffin and Chrishawn Hopkins returning. Arceneaux posted 7.1 points and 2.2 assists per game last season while shooting 46.5% on 3-pointers. Griffin and Hopkins combined for 10.4 points and 4.2 assists per contest.

Wright State also returns 6’6″ forward JT Yoho, who averaged 7.9 points and shot 36.7% from beyond the arc.

The Raiders bring in a combo-guard who should have an immediate impact in Joe Thomasson. Thomasson, a junior college transfer, averaged 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists at State Fair Community College. He also shot 40.9% from long range.

 

8. Youngstown State

Key losses: Kendrick Perry, Kamren Belin, Ryan Weber

Key returners: Bobby Hain, DJ Cole, Marcus Keene, Shawn Amiker, Fletcher Larson

Key additions: Sidney Umude, Bryce Nickels, Shaun Stewart

Youngstown State loses only three players, but all were major parts of their team last season. Kendrick Perry was an all-conference first teamer, and Ryan Weber and Kamren Belin were the Penguins’ two next-best scorers. Weber and Belin were also the second- and third-best rebounders on the team, respectively.

The Penguins return potential stars Bobby Hain and DJ Cole, in addition to reserves Marcus Keene (6.5 ppg) and Shawn Amiker (5.6 ppg). Hain averaged 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in his first year as a starter, and Cole posted 8.3 points and 4.6 assists per game as Perry’s mate in the backcourt.

Youngstown State will also have to rely on some of its newcomers. Junior college transfer Shaun Stewart averaged 21.7 points and 3.1 assists last season, and he should get some immediate playing time in the backcourt with Cole. Incoming freshman big men Bryce Nickels and Sidney Umude are both three-star recruits, according to ESPN.com. Nickels and Umude will provide some much-needed size to help out Hain and reserve forward Fletcher Larson.

 

9. UIC

Key losses: Kelsey Barlow, Jordan Harks, Hayden Humes, Will Simonton

Key returners: Marc Brown, Jake Wiegand, Pat Birt, Jay Parker, Gabe Snider, Lance Whitaker, Markese McGuire, Ahman Fells

Key additions: Tai Odiase, D’Juan Miller, Grant Sims

Photo: UIC Athletics
Photo: UIC Athletics

UIC was the worst thing in the Horizon League from wire to wire last season, and the Flames are once again expected to struggle in 2014-15. They lose leading scorer Kelsey Barlow (14.8 ppg, 3.9 apg), leading rebounder Jordan Harks (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 60.5 FG%) and stretch-forward Hayden Humes (7.0 ppg, 34.3 3P%).

The pressure will be on shooting guards Marc Brown and Pat Birt to carry the scoring load next season. Brown averaged 11.3 points last season as a junior, good for second-best on the team. He also shot 34.7% from beyond the arc. Birt was one of the Flames’ few bright spots last season as a freshman. He struggled early on, but finished the season averaging 6.3 points and shooting 38.7% on 3-pointers.

UIC could have a sneakily good point guard tandem with junior college transfer D’Juan Miller joining the program and Jay Parker returning. Miller is only 5’8″, but he was effective at the JUCO level, averaging 17.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals. Parker spent part of last season hurt, but he averaged 2.7 assists in only 18.5 minutes per game as UIC’s backup point guard. Parker is also a very pesky defender.

The Flames also get 6’4″ wing Lance Whitaker back. Whitaker, who the Flames had high hopes for entering his freshman season, missed all but three games due to injury.

Jake Wiegand returns for his junior year to lead UIC’s front line. Wiegand posted 7.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per outing last season with a double-double against San Diego. He could get some help up front from incoming freshman Tai Odiase.

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