2023 Horizon League Tournament Preview

by Nelly's Sports

Monday, Feb 27, 2023
Horizon League Tournament Preview

The Horizon League has undergone plenty of changes in recent years and this year features 11 teams in an adjustable bracket with the top five teams already placed in the quarterfinals. Those games will take place Thursday, March 2 in home venues for the stronger seeds, with the 6-11 seeds facing off Tuesday night on campus venues before being reseeded into the final eight. The semifinals and final will be in Indianapolis March 6-7.  

Last season Wright State won the Horizon League tournament as a #4 seed and the #1 seed has won the conference tournament title just once in the past seven seasons. Three #4 seeds and three #2 seeds have taken the title in that span. 

The Horizon League can claim past NCAA Tournament success as former member Butler was the national runner-up in both the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments. Cleveland State and Milwaukee also turned in NCAA Tournament wins in the 2000s as technically five Horizon League teams have made the Sweet 16 since 2003. 

The Horizon League has not reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Final Four run in 2011 but last season Wright State won in a 16/16 First Four pairing before losing to Arizona in the Round of 64. This year the Horizon League will likely be looking at a #16 seed and the possibility of a First Four appearance again unless the #1 seed Youngstown State captures the title as they would likely be at least a #15 seed in most scenarios.  

While the Horizon League lacks probable NCAA Tournament sleepers, it is a conference with a few high-profile players. Detroit’s Antoine Davis is the #2 scoring player in Division I men’s basketball history averaging nearly 25 points per game over 111 contests as he heads towards his final game(s). Dayton transfer Dwayne Cohill had a terrific season leading top seed Youngstown State while Marques Warrick (Northern Kentucky) and Jarred Godfrey (Purdue Fort Wayne) also were top performers as there are several standout guards in the conference. 

#1 seed Youngstown State grades as the top team in the conference and is the only top 150 caliber team nationally in this group. The Penguins went only 15-5 in conference play however as the occasional upset defeat occurred. The offense posted 82.2 points per game in league play, but the defense has been vulnerable for this veteran team and an upset loss to continue to recent challenges for the #1 seeds in this conference tournament is possible. 

Three teams wound up 14-6 in Horizon play and Milwaukee takes the #2 seed via tiebreaker though most power ratings don’t have Milwaukee in the top five in this conference. After a disappointing season last year with minimal contributions from lottery pick Patrick Baldwin, Milwaukee with a coaching change to Bart Lundy, doubled its win count this season. Milwaukee looks overseeded by the season composite numbers but they went 5-1 vs. the other top three teams in the conference with an up-tempo pace and good numbers beyond the arc on both sides of the ball. 

Cleveland State winds up as the #3 seed after losing the season finale with Milwaukee. The Vikings have won five of the final six including home wins over Youngstown State, Wright State, and Northern Kentucky. Cleveland State has arguably the most balanced team in the conference as the only team in the top three of the offensive and defensive rankings in the league. 

Northern Kentucky is the #4 seed and the top defensive team in the conference. The Norse lost by one-point in the conference championship game last season, and this is a group that allowed just 62.3 points per game with a deliberate pace of play. Northern Kentucky is one of the top teams in the nation at creating turnovers and is an offense that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. Northern Kentucky has one of the better non-conference wins out of the Horizon beating Cincinnati in November and the Norse did win the home meeting with Youngstown State in December in a double-overtime game. 

Oakland is just 13-18 overall this season but climbed to 11-9 in Horizon play to earn the #5 seed and a ticket to the quarterfinals though they will play at Northern Kentucky in that game. Oakland hosted Northern Kentucky in the season finale and lost by nine but did win 64-63 in January on the road in that pairing. Oakland took on an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule filled with power five foes which could pay dividends in a tournament setting. 

While playing an extra game is a clear disadvantage, the Horizon League has IUPUI and Green Bay at the bottom of the standings and those are two of the worst teams in the nation this season. That means Wright State and Robert Morris should have favorable paths to advance to the quarterfinals while Detroit and Purdue Fort Wayne will face off in a difficult 8-9 draw to make their long term chances in this tournament dramatically more difficult. 

#6 Robert Morris looks like the team with the most potential to make a sleeper run. They will face #3 seed Cleveland State if they win over IUPUI to start the tournament and while they lost both meetings in the regular season, they were both close games. Robert Morris is 7-4 in the past 11 games and beat Youngstown State by 19 last week, while for the conference season owns better average scoring differential than #2 seed Milwaukee. The Colonels were the #2 defensive team in the conference making a big jump this season after two tough seasons since making the move to the Horizon for the 2020-21 season. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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