Rivals.com College Basketball Staff Writer
We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we're working backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
Butler has advanced to the national championship game in each of the past two seasons, but that doesn't necessarily make the Bulldogs prohibitive favorites to win the Horizon League.
The departures of former Horizon player of the year Matt Howard and second-round pick Shelvin Mack will require Butler to make major changes to its lineup this season. Senior guard Ronald Nored is the only remaining Bulldog who played more than one minute in both NCAA finals.
Butler is counting on breakthrough seasons from junior C Andrew Smith and sophomore F Khyle Marshall to help compensate for the losses of Howard and Mack.
Keep in mind that Butler wasn't the top seed in last season's Horizon tournament when it began its remarkable postseason run. Butler finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first in the league standings with UW Milwaukee and Cleveland State. Milwaukee, which was the top seed, lost 59-44 to Butler in the league tournament final.
Although Butler has won at least 26 games in each of the past five seasons, Detroit likely would've been the popular preseason pick to win the league title before the Titans suffered a major loss of their own.
F Eli Holman took an indefinite leave of absence last month, and his status for the season remains unclear. Holman averaged 11.8 points and 9.6 rebounds last season to earn second-team all-league honors. The combination of Holman and sophomore guard Ray McCallum would have given Detroit arguably the two best players in the entire league.
Without Holman in the lineup, Detroit won't be nearly as dangerous.
Milwaukee also has a reasonable chance to win the league, though the Panthers must replace first-team all-league pick Anthony Hill and second-team selection Tone Boyle.
Valparaiso went 23-12 last season but suffered a major offseason loss when first-team all-league G Brandon Wood transferred to Michigan State. And the departure of first-round pick Norris Cole should prevent Cleveland State from repeating its 27-win performance from last season.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Detroit G Ray McCallum NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: UW Green Bay C Brennan Cougill (6-9/265, Jr.; junior college transfer who began his career at Iowa)
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH 1. Butler
3. UW Milwaukee
4. Cleveland State
6. UW Green Bay
7. Wright State
8. Loyola (Ill.)
9. Youngstown State
MAKING A LIST Best frontcourt: Butler
Best backcourt: Detroit
Coach on the rise: UW Green Bay's Brian Wardle Coach on the hot seat: Youngstown State's Jerry Slocum
Program on the rise: Detroit
Program on the decline: UIC
Most underrated player: Cleveland State G Trevon Harmon (6-1/185, Sr.)
FACTS AND FIGURES New coaches: Porter Moser at Loyola (had been assistant at Saint Louis), Bryce Drew at Valparaiso (promoted from assistant)
Regular-season winner last season: UW Milwaukee
Tourney winner last season: Butler
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 11th in 2010-11, 10th in 2009-10, 11th in 2008-09
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2011, Butler as a No. 8 seed advanced to the NCAA final
2012 conference tournament: Feb. 28, March 2-3, March 6, campus sites