Cleveland State at Wright State (Horizon League)
Ervin J. Nutter Center - Dayton, OH
7:00 PM EST
Teams in most conferences are just now finishing their city games, guarantees and D-II walkovers. Not the Horizon, it's gone full-bore into league season and has pretty much completed its quest for national credentials. The results were pretty impressive: a 54-52 noncon record and just three of 10 teams under .500, with eight wins over the eight biggest conferences. On a mid-major comparison level, the HL has winning records against the MAC (10-9), Missouri Valley (5-3) and CAA (1-0). If there's a Butler-Cleveland State title game again (and it would help if both teams win their BracketBusters), I don't know how the Selection Committee could keep one of them out.
Simply put, the Horizon League is the only mid-major conference that's taken care of its business in the past two months.
One of the hidden feel-good stories of the league in these past few weeks has been the reemergence of Wright State. The schedule was brutal, including having the dreaded HL Wisconsin trip in early December, and the Raiders limped out to an 0-6 record. The loss of Vaughn Duggins
(a 14-ppg man last season) to a hand injury after four games kept the point totals at rock bottom. But after the losses at Green Bay
, Wright's defense kicked in. Winning six of the last seven games, Brad Brownell's team has allowed 60 points just once, and has not let an opponent crack 47 during a current four-game win streak. The main weapon is the turnover -- the Raiders force 16.8 per game, at a rate of 26 percent.
They'll need that kind of effort tonight, as well as a strong home crowd, to stifle the hot Vikings. Gary Waters' squad, which dropped a close one against Butler
in its last league tilt, will be trying to keep from starting out 1-2 in the conference. But Cleveland State has proven its mettle in hostile environments (Syracuse!
), can force turnovers too (17.8 topg), and has a POY candidate in 6-5 senior J'Nathan Bullock
(14.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg). To put the team's 10-4 (1-1) record in context, this is as many wins as the Vikings had in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, before the team doubled up with last year's 21-13 NIT breakthrough. Next up could be a first NCAA appearance since the Sweet 16 year of 1986.Basketball State Preview/Box