The dust has settled on an incredible weekend of games in the Horizon League and with three days off until the next contest, it's time to take some inventory of what we learned.
Whether it was the 3-point display in Oakland on Thursday night, a pair of near buzzer-beaters in Valparaiso on Friday/Sunday or Milwaukee's dismantling of Green Bay at the Resch Center on Saturday, the Horizon League provided plenty of fireworks in a week that was integral to tournament seeding.
Cleveland State made the biggest splash over the last four days with road victories at Oakland and Wright State, two places where Valparaiso has lost. Charlie Lee was sensational this week and single-handedly kept the Vikings in the game at Wright State by scoring 17 of Cleveland State's 21 points late in the game.
The Vikings could've easily lost both games, but instead are now the team everyone is looking up at in the Horizon League, even though they're still in second place. The schedulers in the league office didn't do Green Bay any favors this season, giving the Phoenix four road games in their last five contests. The lone remaining home game is a Feb. 20 tilt against Valparaiso.
The game of the year will be played this Saturday when Green Bay travels to Cleveland State. If Green Bay wins the game, the Horizon League tournament will almost assuredly be in Wisconsin. If Cleveland State wins the game, that can make matters a bit more complicated depending on what Valparaiso can do in the final five games of the season. With games against both Green Bay and Cleveland State remaining on the schedule, it's far too early to count the Crusaders out of the title mix.
The reason Valparaiso is still alive in the race is because of this week's surprise star: seldom-used freshman Clay Yeo. I tweeted back on Nov. 26 that is was only a matter of time before the Triton product had a breakout game. Injuries and sickness kept that prediction from coming true until Sunday afternoon when Yeo hit the game-winner to beat Oakland. As impressive as Yeo's offense was, the freshman bottled up Oakland sharpshooter Travis Bader and held the NCAA all-time 3-point leader to 1-of-8 shooting when Yeo was on the floor. Impressive for a guy who had played 37 minutes of conference action heading into the game.
Many fans questioned why Oakland didn't call timeout after Yeo's 3-pointer. There was still 7.4 seconds left on the clock, but as Coach Greg Kampe tweeted on Monday afternoon, Oakland didn't want to give Valparaiso time to setup its defense or have the Crusaders foul. If Oakland had been trailing by two points, Kampe most definitely would've called a foul. Another element to the play was that with Duke Mondy out, the Grizzlies were down to one primary ballhandler and my guess is that Lloyd Neely wasn't Kampe's first choice to bring the ball up the floor.
Valparaiso has just one conference game this week, but it's a big one. The Crusaders travel to Milwaukee (or as some fans refer to the U.S. Cellular Arena: the ARC North) for a key game. A win gives Valparaiso a two-game lead on fourth place with four games remaining. A loss and the Crusaders fall right back into the pack.
I'll end this post with an apology. In my preview of the Detroit/Valparaiso game, I inferred that the Titans were spiraling out of control after losing four key players from last season, two of which were somewhat unexpected. Detroit proved me wrong this week with two strong victories (at Valparaiso, vs. Youngstown St.) and are suddenly in position to climb up the standings. I'd love to be at Oakland this Friday for a love match been the Titans and the Grizzlies.
The Horizon League tournament begins in 22 days and right now it looks like there are still eight spots open. Get your popcorn ready, this should be a fun ride.