Based on early results, the Horizon League race is wide open and may have more contenders than pretenders.
Valparaiso, the overwhelming favorite in the league's preseason poll, limped out of the gate with a home loss to Loyola before rebounding Friday with a victory over Cleveland State. The Ramblers, selected to finish seventh in the preseason, proceeded to lose at home against Youngstown State.
The Crusaders (11-5, 1-1) trail surprising Wright State and Detroit, each off to a 2-0 start in league play. At 11-4 overall, Wright State has the program's best start since 1992-93.
So much for the "expert" prognostications.
"Our league is very good," Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. "Whoever wins the league, it's not going to be easy.
"Our goal is to just worry about ourselves and keep getting better."
It starts tonight in Chicago, where Valpo plays its first Horizon road game against surprising UIC (10-5, 1-1), which had an eight-game winning streak early in the season but has lost four of its last five, including a 60-50 loss Monday at Cleveland State.
With the loss of Butler to the Atlantic 10, the Horizon Leauge now has just nine teams, resulting in an unbalanced schedule. Instead of the old Thursday-Saturday format, league games are now spread throughout the week.
So while the Crusaders hit the road for a short trip to Chicago this afternoon, they'll be operating on four days of rest compared to the Flames, which played two days earlier in Cleveland.
"But they'll be extremely motivated," Drew said. "I don't think it's anything that we're going to get used to this year. I think if we add more teams next year, this will be a one-year deal.
"There's not a routine and we can't get used to it."
Drew would like to see more consistency out of his team, particularly his guards. Seniors Matt Kenney and Will Bogan are prime examples.
Against Loyola, Kenney played 21 minutes but scored just two points on 1-for-3 shooting. He came back and played much more aggressively against Cleveland State, scoring 14 points in 25 minutes.
Bogan was 0-for-3 and failed to score in 13 minutes against Loyola. But he came back with a team-high 13 points in 33 minutes against Cleveland State, hitting three of four 3-pointers.
Kenney is averaging 7.3 points in Valpo victories and 4.4 in losses. Bogan has averaged 5.7 points in wins, 2.4 in losses.
Drew knows a few points here and there will make a difference in the balanced Horizon League. In the first week alone, three games came down to the final possession.
He said it's his job to realize who has the hot hand on a particular night between Bogan, Kenney, Ben Boggs and LaVonte Dority.
"Sometimes guys are going to play better one night than they do on other nights," Drew said. "We want to make sure the effort is there every game and in practice.
"Sometimes the ball just doesn't go in. Will had just as good of looks against Cleveland State that just didn't go in against Loyola. Certain nights, it's certain players and other nights others have stepped up."
Bogan sat out the Cleveland State game with a toe injury, but Drew said he returned to practice and will play against UIC.
The Flames are led by senior guards Gary Talton (12.5 ppg) and Daniel Barnes (12.2 ppg), and junior forward Hayden Humes (11.2 ppg), a 6-foot-8 Valparaiso High graduate who is second on the team in 3-point shooting (39.4 percent).
"He's very hard to defend because he's big and strong and shoots the ball well," Drew said. "We have a difficult matchup with Hayden because he can shoot the ball so well and he'll also go down into the post to score."