INDIANAPOLIS -- Two-time defending national finalist Butler University was voted the preseason favorite to capture the 2011-12 Horizon League men’s basketball championship, marking the third straight season the Bulldogs were tabbed in the top spot in voting by the League’s coaches, media and sports information directors.
Detroit, who narrowly finished second to Butler in the balloting, placed three players on the Preseason Horizon League First Team, led by Player of the Year selection Ray McCallum.
Each of the top four teams in the balloting received at least one first-place vote, with Cleveland State edging Milwaukee for third in the poll. Valparaiso took fifth, just ahead of Green Bay. In seventh, Youngstown State matched its highest position in the poll since joining the Horizon League, while Wright State and Loyola were separated by 12 points in eighth and ninth, respectively. UIC rounded out the poll.
McCallum spent part of the summer as the youngest member of USA Basketball’s 2011 World University Games team, playing in all eight contests as Team USA went 7-1. Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens served as an assistant on the team.
The sophomore is the first Detroit player to earn Preseason Player of the Year accolades since Rashad Phillips collected the honor prior to the 2000-01 season.
Joining McCallum on the first team were teammates Eli Holman and Chase Simon; Simon and McCallum are the leading returning scorers (13.5 ppg) in the Horizon League, while Holman paced the conference in rebounding (9.6 rpg) in 2010-11. Holman was the lone big man on the first team as Cleveland State guard Trevon Harmon (13.2 ppg) and Milwaukee point guard Kaylon Williams (5.4 apg) earned places on the team.
The second team was filled by four front-court talents, as Williams’ Milwaukee teammate, forward Tony Meier (12.0 ppg, 44.3 three-point percentage) led the second team selections. Centers Alec Brown of Green Bay (10.2 ppg, 2.1 bpg) and Butler’s Andrew Smith (8.5 ppg) joined Loyola forward Ben Averkamp (12.0 ppg). Valparaiso guard Ryan Broekhoff (10.3 ppg, 44.8 3-pt percentage), who competed in the World University Games with Australia this summer, was the lone guard on the second team.
Butler, who was part of the historic three-way tie for the regular-season Horizon League championship before running through the Horizon League Tournament en route to a second straight national championship appearance, returns four key components - Smith, guards Chase Stigall, Ronald Nored and forward Khyle Marshall - from last year’s national runner-up. In total, the Bulldogs return eight letterwinners from last year’s team.
Detroit will lean heavily on McCallum for its scoring and distribution needs, after the sophomore earned Horizon League Newcomer of the Year honors in 2010-11 after averaging 13.5 ppg and 4.9 apg. The Titans return all of their letterwinners from a year ago, a season in which five players - McCallum, Simon (13.5 ppg), Holman (11.8), Nick Minnerath (11.2) and Chris Blake (10.9) averaged 10 or more points per game.
Cleveland State returns four starters from last year’s Horizon League co-championship team, but will need to replace the League’s Player of the Year in Norris Cole. 2009-10 All-Defensive Team pick D’Aundray Brown returns after missing last season due to injury to supplement the efforts of Harmon, Jeremy Montgomery (11.6 ppg) and Aaron Pogue (8.2 ppg).
Milwaukee, who claimed the No. 1 seed in the Horizon League Tournament and the League’s automatic NIT bid in 2010-11, boasts the combination of Williams and Meier. Williams paced the League in assists last year, fueling the Panthers’ run to the co-championship. Meier’s inside-outside game allowed him to average 12.0 ppg and finish second in the League in three-point shooting.
Valparaiso breaks in new head coach Bryce Drew, who slides down the bench to replace his father, Homer. Broekhoff returns as the League’s top marksman, hitting 44.8-percent of his three-point attempts. Richie Edwards, who was the third player in the Horizon League to appear in the World University Games, playing for New Zealand, will make his Valpo debut.
Green Bay will be playing more up-tempo basketball this season, looking to take advantage of the 7-foot-1 Brown’s athleticism. The big man set a new Phoenix freshman record with 67 blocks last season.
With four returning starters from last year, hopes are high at Youngstown State. Damian Eargle will anchor the Penguins inside after averaging 11.3 ppg and ranking 10th in the NCAA with 3.0 blocks per game.
After losing its top four scorers to graduation, Wright State Head Coach Billy Donlon will guide the sixth-youngest squad in the NCAA this season. On the Raiders’ summer trip to Italy, freshman Reggie Arceneaux was the lone player to finish in double figures in all four games.
Porter Moser takes over the coaching reigns at Loyola as the Ramblers move into a renovated Gentile Arena. Jordan Hicks (11.7 ppg) returns after missing two-thirds of the season due to injury, adding to the production of Averkamp and Walt Gibler (9.4 ppg).
With nine newcomers, Howard Moore’s UIC squad saw the most turnover in the League. Moore will turn to seniors Darrin Williams (4.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Paris Carter (4.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) to lead the young squad.
The regular season will begin on Monday, Nov. 7, when Valparaiso travels to Arizona in the 2k Sports Classic benefitting Coaches versus Cancer for a 9 p.m. ET tip on ESPNU. The League schedule will tip off with on Thursday, Dec. 1, with eight League teams in action.
The 2012 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship is slated for Feb. 28, March 2-3, 6. The regular-season champion will host the second round and semifinals, with the highest remaining seed hosting the championship game live on ESPN or ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET as part of “Championship Week.”
2011-12 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll
Cleveland State (2)