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October 19, 2010

League preview: Horizon

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

14. Horizon

By Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

Butler may have lost the main player responsible for last year's NCAA title game appearance in Gordon Hayward. The Bulldogs, though, somehow managed to keep an even more important part of that history-making team.

Their coach.

Even though he would've been the No. 1 candidate for almost any coaching vacancy throughout the country, Brad Stevens made it clear he had no intentions of leaving the program he has guided to two 30-win seasons in three years.

Stevens' loyalty proved to be a huge coup for the Bulldogs, whose improbable run to the championship game -- Butler beat Michigan State, Kansas State and Syracuse along the way -- captured the hearts of basketball fans throughout the country.

Even though they lost to Duke 61-59 in the final, the Bulldogs clearly established themselves as one of the top programs in the country. The question now: Can they do it again?

Hayward's decision to leave school early and enter the NBA draft may make it difficult for Butler to repeat the feat this season. But if we learned anything in the past year, it's not to count out Stevens, 33, and the Bulldogs -- especially with standout G Shelvin Mack and veteran F Matt Howard in the lineup.

Look for Detroit and freshman G Ray McCallum Jr. to challenge Butler for the league title. Detroit returns three starters from a team that finished 20-14 last season, but none are as talented as McCallum Jr., who passed on offers from Florida, UCLA and Arizona to play for his father, who is Detroit's coach.

Cleveland State and Valparaiso also should be solid.

ALL-LEAGUE FIRST TEAM
F Eli Holman, Detroit (6-10/255, Jr.)
F Matt Howard, Butler (6-8, 230, Sr.)
G Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit (6-1/185, Fr.)
G Rahmon Fletcher, Green Bay (5-10/165, Sr.)
G Shelvin Mack, Butler (6-3/215, Jr.)
ALL-LEAGUE SECOND TEAM
F Walt Gibler, Loyola (6-7/230, Jr.)
F Cory Johnson, Valparaiso (6-7/225, Sr.)
G Norris Cole, Cleveland State (6-2/170, Sr.)
G Vaughn Duggins, Wright State (6-3/195, Sr.)
G Brandon Wood, Valparaiso (6-2/190/Jr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Shelvin Mack, Butler
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: G Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit

ORDER OF FINISH
1. Butler
2. Detroit
3. Cleveland State
4. Valparaiso
5. Wright State
6. UW Milwaukee
7. UW Green Bay
8. Loyola (Ill.)
9. Illinois-Chicago
10. Youngstown State

MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: Detroit
Best backcourt: Butler
Most underrated player: G Norris Cole, Cleveland State
Coach on the rise: UW Green Bay's Brian Wardle
Coach on the hot seat: Youngstown State's Jerry Slocum

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Billy Donlon at Wright State (promoted from assistant), Howard Moorer at Illinois-Chicago (had been Wisconsin assistant), Brian Wardle at UW Green Bay (promoted from assistant)
Regular-season winner last season: Butler
Tourney winner last season: Butler
League RPI rank in each of past three seasons: 14th in 2009-10, 12th in 2008-09, 11th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2010, Butler advanced to national title game as a No. 5 seed
2011 conference tournament: March 1-8, campus sites



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