Tonight is the night you’ve all obviously been waiting for. No, not a new episode of Miami Ink although that’s what I’ll be watching, because nothing turns me on like well-muscled men with the potential for hepatitis. But those of you with Sirius satellite radio or a broadband connection (or both, if you like to party) can spend the evening catching the hot first-round action in the Horizon League tournament.
The Horizon League, I just learned ten minutes ago, is the home of the number #15 Butler Bulldogs, as well as eight other colleges with incongruous logos and mascot names. The League itself has been crowned with an icon that I know I’ve seen in the yellow pages advertising either a computer training center or a drug treatment facility.
The one thing to consider when filling out your Horizon League bracket (stop snickering…that’s not a joke) is that much like Sigourney Weaver in Copycat, these teams freak the hell out when they leave home. Since the current tournament format was instituted in 2003, the home team has gone 10-2 in the first round. Not only that, but overall this season the road record for the conference is a wretched 41-84. Agoraphobia is a bitch. And so am I for referencing a movie that starred Harry Connick Jr.
The top three seeds in the conference—Wright State, Butler, and Loyola, respectively—have received byes to the later rounds but tonight’s slate features three matchups that are sure to keep you riveted to your computer screen, or at the very least, toggling between the game and the UP! All Night comment thread.
#7 U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at #6 U of Illinois-Chicago
I find it a bit disturbing that UIC’s team is called the Flames because there’s something morbid about naming your team after the catastrophe that once leveled your city. Although if they’d like to commemorate the most recent Chicago disaster, they should be rechristened the UIC Grossmans.
UIC also has three players on their roster who list their hometown as “Serbia” as well as a junior with the best name in the entire conference, forward Ebenezer Noonoo.
Onto UW-Milwaukee which is in fact pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”. The Panthers started the season as the nation’s most inexperienced team, with a collective 9 D1 starts, ALL of which belonged to Paige Paulson during his two seasons at Northern Illinois. Do you see where I’m going with this? The Panthers are 2-14 on the road this year…but look at all the experience they’ve gotten!
These teams played last week, with UIC (the home team, natch) taking the victory. I’m taking the Grossmans in a big way.
#9 Cleveland State at #4 University of Wisconsin- Green Bay
First, Cleveland State’s mascot looks like an angry colon polyp. And much like colon polyps, most of the CSU players are relatively benign. Not a single Viking was named to any of the Horizon League’s All Conference teams.
The UW-GB Phoenix, on the other hand, are led by two All-Conference Second Teamers, Ryan Evanochko and Mike Schachtner. Evanochko has over 1000 points in his career and is #15 on the Phoenix’ all-time scoring list. See? Throw those facts out at the bar and you’ve guaranteed that you’ll have the whole bowl of Chex-Mix to yourself.
Given the CSU Polyps’ 3-11 tournament record in the past twelve years, their two losses to the Phoenix this year, and their road-team status, I’m going with UW-GB. And just for that, I’ll probably have wicked diarrhea.
#8 University of Detroit-Mercy at #5 Youngstown State
First, I believe the full name of the #8 seed is University of Detroit-Have Mercy On Our Souls. Their website proudly announces that the Titans finished the regular season with a two-game win streak. Well, if you don’t count the loss to Butler that actually ended their season. A technicality, really.
Youngstown State prides itself on having the lowest tuition of any public institution of higher learning in Ohio. And along with the bargain education comes Quin Humphrey, a senior guard who led the Horizon League in scoring for the second straight year. Also, Penguins head coach Jerry Slocum earned his 600th career win last week and should reach 601 tonight.
I resisted the urge to make any Happy Feet jokes about the Penguins, but did get confused by the t-shirt they sell on their website that reads “Welcome to Penguin Country”. Right. In Ohio. This is the Youngstown city seal. Apparently the penguins are hiding behind those bundles of wheat.
Wikipedia also shared this bit of information about Penguin Country: Harry Burt, a Youngstown, Ohio candy maker invented the first Good Humor chocolate bar, which featured ice cream on a stick. Burt created the product after discovering that his daughter had difficulty eating an Eskimo Pie.
So. Many. Jokes. Must…resist. I’m picking the Penguins tonight, playing in their first postseason game since 1995.
As for the top seeds, #3 Loyola will play Friday, taking on the winner of the UIC-UWM game. The preseason favorite Ramblers (whose mascot, disappointingly, is a wolf instead of an anthropomorphic Jeep) are playing well this year. They had their first 20 win season since 84-85 and won at Butler for the first time since 1989.
The Jeeps lost both regular season games to UIC but won both contests against Milwaukee.
I personally hate the #2 Butler Bulldogs, stemming from the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament where they absolutely teabagged my Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Deacs were being outscored to 43-10 at the half and I proceeded to drink until I forgot how to read.
Butler is currently ranked #15 with a 26-5 record. Their roster is entertaining because beside each player’s stats, it lists their hometown, high school, and last college, an obvious tie-in with the university’s motto: “Butler: Let Us Be Your Safe School”.
And, finally, we’re at the #1 Wright State Raiders (who have a coyote as their mascot). The Raideroyotes are led by senior guard DaShaun Wood, Horizon Conference Player of the Year. Wood averages 19.4 points per game and is a candidate for the Francis Pomeroy Naismith Award for the best college player under 6 feet tall. If I’m DaShaun, I’m not sure I’d want to bring home the Francis Pomeranian Wee Man trophy…but if I lost, I’d probably still cry myself to sleep on my tiny little pillow.
If Loyola can get past UIC in the second round, that’ll set the stage for a nice Loyola-Butler matchup on Saturday. They split the season series, but I’m giving Loyola the win. That pits the Ramblers against Wright State in the championship, where the winner earns an NCAA berth, an Adobe InDesign tutorial, and a drug treatment plan like no other.