2014-15 Horizon League Preview: Can Keifer Sykes, Green Bay Repeat?

The Horizon League could have one of the more exciting mid-major title races of any conference. Defending regular season champion Green Bay returns reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes, but Cleveland State also returns its core from a team that finished second in the conference last season.

 

1. Cleveland State

Key losses: Bryn Forbes, Jon Harris, Sebastian Douglas

Key returners: Trey Lewis, Anton Grady, Charlie Lee, Marlin Mason

Key additions: Kaza Keane

Even with Bryn Forbes transferring to Michigan State, Cleveland State remains the favorite in the Horizon League this season. Only without Forbes, the Vikings will have less separation from the league’s other contenders.

Although Forbes was the most talented member of the Vikings’ backcourt last season, the combination of junior Trey Lewis (13.1 ppg, 3.4 apg) and senior Charlie Lee (9.8 ppg, 4.1 apg) forms arguably the Horizon League’s best duo of guards. Cleveland State also adds Illinois State transfer Kaza Keane, who averaged a team-best 3.2 assists as a freshman but was recruited over and received less playing time as a sophomore. Keane is eligible immediately after receiving a waiver from the NCAA.

Junior Anton Grady (10.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) returns as one of the conference’s best big men, as does senior Marlin Mason (5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg). Mason started all 33 games last season and 14 games as a sophomore.

The question mark with Cleveland State is the lack of depth. Unless Creighton transfer Andre Yates, junior college transfer Vinny Zollo and a few freshmen can give quality minutes, the Vikings will be left with a very thin rotation.

 

2. Green Bay

Key losses: Alec Brown, Vincent Garrett

Key returners: Keifer Sykes, Greg Mays, Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse, Kenneth Lowe

Key additions: Kerem Kanter

Photo: Mary Langenfield / USA Today Sports
Photo: Mary Langenfield / USA Today Sports

Green Bay lost all-conference big man Alec Brown, but with reigning Conference Player of the Year Keifer Sykes returning, the Phoenix can once again contend for a conference title. Sykes is hands down the best player in this league. He averaged 20.3 points on 46.9% shooting along with 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds — not bad for a guy generously listed at six feet.

Although Brown and part-time starter Vincent Garrett are gone, Sykes still has a plenty good supporting cast. 6-9 forward Greg Mays (10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 58.6 FG%) continued to improve during his junior season and will be one of the conference’s better big guys this year. Along with junior Jordan Fouse (6.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 spg), the Phoenix will have arguably the conference’s best front court. As Fouse enters the upperclassman part of his career, he could become a double-double type of player.

Sophomore Kenneth Lowe gives Green Bay another respectable big. Lowe played 16.1 minutes per game as a freshman, averaging 4.2 points on 60.5% shooting.

The backcourt does not have as much depth with Garrett and Lamin Fulton gone. Junior Carrington Love (7.9 ppg, 2.5 apg) will assume starting responsibilities at the other guard spot.

The Phoenix had more talent last season, but they will once again be a very tough out in the Horizon League.

 

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: Paris Bass

Detroit is ready to once again contend for the Horizon League title. The Titans lost starting forward Evan Bruinsma and defensive force Ugochukwu Njoku. But they return a great scorer in Juwan Howard Jr. and a slew of guards that, as a whole, can form the best backcourt in the conference.

Anton Wilson is coming off a breakout sophomore season where he averaged 7.0 points in 22.7 minutes per game and shot better than 40% on 3-pointers. Matthew Grant and Jarod Williams were both effective as freshmen, averaging 7.9 and 7.7 points, respectively. Carlton Brundidge, a former Michigan Wolverine, recorded 7.5 points per game in his first year of eligibility with the Titans. Former Colorado guard Chris Jenkins could also have an immediate impact.

Couple that group with Howard, a 6-5 wing who broke out last season and averaged 18.3 points, and Detroit can do some serious damage.

However, the Titans’ are very thin in the front court. Senior Patrick Onwenu is the only big man returning, and he was not very effective last year, shooting 39.6% from the field. Detroit needs him to be more efficient at the rim.

6-7 redshirt freshman Paris Bass will be relied on to produce in his first season.

 

4. Milwaukee

Key losses: Jordan Aaron, Kyle Kelm, Malcolm Moore

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

Key additions: Akeem Springs, Jimmy Stamas

Milwaukee will not make consecutive appearances at the NCAA Tournament thanks a one-year postseason ban for a low APR score. But that does not mean the Panthers will not be competitive in the Horizon League. The Panthers lost their top-two scorers, Jordan Aaron and Kyle Kelm, but they return three key players and a few role players from last year’s NCAA Tournament group.

Senior Steve McWhorter, who had a major impact with Milwaukee in his first season after transferring from Indiana State, is back to run the show as the team’s point guard. McWhorter didn’t handle point guard duties when he was with the Sycamores. But adjusted well past season and nearly had a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. He had a solid line across the board, posting 7.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.

McWhorter’s backcourt mates, Aaron and Malcolm Moore are gone. But once again head coach Rob Jeter has a transfer joining his backcourt in Akeem Springs. Springs averaged 7.7 points as a freshman at Northern Illinois. Junior JeVon Lyle and junior college transfer Jimmy Stamas will give the Panthers’ some backcourt depth.

The Panthers return power forward Matt Tiby and small forward Austin Arians, both of whom were major contributors last year. Tiby averaged 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds while Arians recorded 11.1 points and shot 36.7% from long range.

Junior forward J.J. Panoske has struggled his first two seasons, but Milwaukee will need him to step up his game. With Kelm gone, the Panthers need all 6-10 of Panoske.

 

5. Valparaiso

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

Key returners: Alec Peters, Jubril Adekoya, Keith Carter, Vashil Fernandez

Key additions: E. Victor Nickerson, Darien Walker

Valparaiso has a lot of minutes to replace in its backcourt. The Crusaders graduated leading scorer LaVonte Dority and part-time starter Jordan Coleman. In addition, Lexus Williams, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman point guard, tore his ACL during a preseason workout and will miss the entire 2014-15 season.

The only returning member of the Crusaders’ backcourt is junior Keith Carter, who averaged 5.7 points and 2.3 assists mainly playing off the bench. Junior college transfer Darien Walker will be a major addition for Valpo. Walker averaged 13.4 points on 50% shooting at John A. Logan College, and the Crusaders will need his scoring from the second guard position.

The Crusaders can balance their lack of depth at guard with a pair of big man who can play on the perimeter in Alec Peters (12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson (5.8 ppg). Peters was one of the conference’s top freshmen last season, and Nickerson brings Atlantic 10 experience.

Valpo also has a pair of competent inside presences in senior Vashil Fernandez (4.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg) and sophomore Jubril Adekoya (5.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Fernandez was an imposing defensive force, ranking No. 52 nationally in block percentage, per Kenpom.

 

6. Wright State

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

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

Key additions: Joe Thomasson, Michael Karena

After finishing third in the Horizon League each of the last two seasons, Wright State will have a fall from grace this year. The Raiders lost five of their top six scorers, including their top four.

Fortunately for head coach Billy Donlon, the Raiders were a deep group last season and still return some solid players, which should prevent them from tumbling all the way down the standings.

Wright State has a trio of seniors returning to the conference’s most experienced backcourt. Reggie Arceneaux posted 7.1 points and 2.2 assists per game. He also led the Horizon League in 3-point percentage at 47.3%. Kendall Griffin (5.1 ppg, 2.1 apg) is the team’s top returner in minutes per game, but he played in only 23 games to due injury and illness. Chrishawn Hopkins (5.3 ppg, 2.1 apg) completes the trio.

The Raiders also add guard Joe Thomasson from State Fair Community College. Thomasson averaged 14.2 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 40.9% from beyond the arc last season.

Wright State’s only noteworthy forward returning is junior JT Yoho (7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 36.7 3p%). But fewer than 22% of Yoho’s shots came at the rim last year, according to hoop-math.com, so the Raiders need someone to step up as an inside presence. That someone could be 6-10 forward Michael Karena, a junior college transfer who averaged 4.0 points at South Plains last year.

 

7. Oakland

Key losses: Travis Bader, Duke Mondy, Mitch Baenziger

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

Key additions: Max Hooper, Jalen Hayes, Nick Daniels

An era ended at Oakland this past spring with Travis Bader‘s graduation. The Golden Grizzlies will have a lot of scoring to replace with the NCAA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers gone.

In addition to Bader, Oakland lost guard Duke Mondy. However, the Grizzlies’ backcourt remains in respectable shape with rising star Kahlil Felder returning. Felder was an easy choice for Horizon League Freshman of the Year last season. The young point guard averaged 9.5 points and 6.4 assists.

While he is nowhere near being a Travis Bader, St. John’s transfer Max Hooper gives Oakland a strong perimeter threat. Hooper drilled 25-of-62 (40.3%) from deep for the Johnnies last year.

Talented redshirt freshmen Nick Daniels also joins the Golden Grizzlies’ backcourt. Daniels would have received plenty of playing time last season, head coach Greg Kampe said, but a broken foot in the preseason kept him out for the entire year.

On the front line, the Golden Grizzlies return one of the conference’s premier big men in senior Corey Petros (13.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Petros has been a key player for Oakland throughout his career, but last season he found more consistency, making him even more valuable. The 6-10 center has a solid mid-range game, shooting 53.9% on 2-point jumpers last year.

Seniors Dante Williams and Ralph Hill and junior Tommie McCune join Petros to join a deep front court. Redshirt freshman Jalen Hayes, who sat out with mononucleosis, could also work his way into the rotation.

 

8. Youngstown State

Key losses: Kendrick Perry, Kamren Belin, Ryan Weber

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

Key additions: Shaun Stewart, Osandai Vaughn, Bryce Nickels, Sidney Umude

With its top three players from last season gone, including mid-major star Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State has its work cut out. The Penguins lost 56.9% of their scoring and only have a small handful of proven players returning.

The Penguins remain strong at point guard with senior DJ Cole (8.3 ppg, 4.6 apg) returning. Two-guards Shawn Amiker and Marcus Keene are also back. Amiker posted 5.6 points per game on 61.1% field-goal shooting. Keene averaged 6.5 points per contest as a rookie but missed the final eight games of last season after being suspended for punching a teammate during practice.

Youngstown State also adds junior college transfers Shaun Stewart and Osandai Vaughn to its backcourt. Both put up impressive numbers last year.

Although they lost Kamren Belin and Ryan Weber from the front line, junior Bobby Hain (11.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 50.9 FG%) will give the Penguins an imposing inside presence. Youngstown State’s only other returning big man is senior Fletcher Larson, who averaged just 1.5 points and 1.5 boards last year. Freshmen forwards Sidney Umude and Bryce Nickels will have minutes available. ESPN rated both as three-star recruits.

 

9. UIC

Key losses: Kelsey Barlow, Hayden Humes, Jordan Harks, Pat Birt

Key returners: Marc Brown, Jake Wiegand, Jay Parker, Gabe Snider, Markese McGuire

Key additions: Jay Harris, D’Juan Miller, Paris Burns, Jason McClellan, Tai Odiase, David Ramon

UIC will have its hands full replacing 52.8% of its scoring, 44.8% of its rebounding and 56.4% of its assists. The Flames lost leading scorer Kelsey Barlow, starting forwards Jordan Harks and Hayden Humes, and Horizon League All-Rookie Team selection Pat Birt.

Although Barlow put up the best numbers of anyone on the team last season, his departure could actually turn into some addition by subtraction. Barlow often tried to take games over on his own, taking away from the team game coach Howard Moore stressed throughout the season.

With a large batch of newcomers coming in, this has the potential to be another very rough season for UIC as this group gets to know one another. But if the Flames do a better job of allocating roles and finding chemistry than they did last year, it is possible for them to climb out of the Horizon League’s cellar — though not far out of the cellar.

Moore returns a solid scorer in senior guard Marc Brown (11.3 ppg) and a lightning-quick point guard in senior Jay Parker (3.7 ppg, 2.7 apg). Junior college transfer D’Juan Miller gives the Flames another solid but undersized option at the point, with Wagner transfer Jay Harris (10.3 ppg, 38.6 3P%) providing a perimeter threat.

Junior Gabe Snider could be in for a breakout season in the Flames’ backcourt. Snider averaged just 3.6 points per game last year but drilled 43.1% of his 3-pointers. During the team’s offseason trip to Canada, Snider posted 14.4 points per contest over five games.

Up front, junior Jake Wiegand (7.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) provides a solid anchor with junior college transfer Jason McClellan and freshmen Tai Odiase and David Ramon joining him.

 

 

Horizon League All-Conference Team

Keifer Sykes, Green Bay

Trey Lewis, Cleveland State

Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit

Bobby Hain, Youngstown State

Corey Petros, Oakland

 

Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year

Keifer Sykes, Green Bay

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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