INDIANAPOLIS -- After winning the Horizon League regular season title last year, Green Bay has been voted to repeat as the Phoenix are the preseason favorite to capture the 2014-15 Horizon League men’s basketball championship. Defending Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes (Chicago, Ill./Marshall) was tabbed the Preseason Player of the Year in voting by the League’s coaches, media and sports information directors.
Green Bay captured 32 of the 41 first-place votes cast finishing with 357 total points and claim first place in the poll. The Phoenix are led by Sykes, who has a chance to become the first back-to-back Horizon League Player of the Year since Rashad Phillips of Detroit (1999-00, 2000-01).
Last year, Sykes ranked third in the League in scoring (20.3), second in assists (4.9) and eighth in steals as he led the Phoenix to 24-7 record, including 14-2 in the Horizon League.
Joining Sykes on the preseason first team are Detroit’s Juwan Howard, Jr., Corey Petros of Oakland, Trey Lewis from Cleveland State and Valparaiso’s Alec Peters.
Howard is the only player in the League that is his team’s returning leader in points (18.3), rebounding (5.3) and assists (2.2). Petros led the League in rebounding last season at 8.2 per contest and averaged 13.3 ppg while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor. Lewis, the only junior on the first team, is the Vikings leading returning scorer at 13.1 ppg and ranked among league leaders last season in assists and three point field goals made. The lone underclassman on the first team, Peters averaged 10.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg, while shooting 49.0 percent from the field in his rookie campaign.
The second team features four juniors and a sophomore with Cleveland State’s Anton Grady, Green Bay’s Jordan Fouse, Milwaukee’s Matt Tiby, Youngstown State’s Bobby Hain and Oakland sophomore Kahlil Felder making up the team.
Grady was a member of the 2012 All-Newcomer Team and a preseason second team selection last season. He averaged 10.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg. Fouse is the League’s leading returner in steals (68, 2.2 spg) and second leading returner in blocked shots (48, 1.5 bpg). Tiby is the 2014 Tournament champion’s leading returner in scoring (12.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.5 rpg). Hain, along with Oakland’s Petros, is one of just two returning players in the conference to average over seven rebounds and 11 points per game last season. Felder, the reigning Freshman of the Year in the Horizon League, led the League and all NCAA freshman last season with 212 assists (6.4 per game).
Green Bay lost Defensive Player of the Year Alec Brown, but brings back almost every other starter from last season’s team that won the regular season title with a 14-2 record. In addition to Sykes and Fouse, the Phoenix also have starters Greg Mays and Carrington Love back. The Phoenix return 74.1 percent of their rebounding and 81.6 percent of their assists from last season, both top marks in the League.
Cleveland State is second in the poll. The Vikings were the only other team besides Green Bay to receive first place votes finishing with nine. CSU brings back a League-best 118 combined starts last season. In addition to Lewis and Grady, the Vikings also return senior guard Charlie Lee and senior forward Marlin Mason.
With a young nucleus returning, Detroit has been picked third in the preseason poll. The Titans return a League-best 74.1 percent of its scoring from last season. In addition to Howard, Detroit has back sophomore guards Matthew Grant and Jarod Williams.
Valparaiso will also be counted on to make a push back to the top of the League. Last year the Crusaders were faced with replacing a nucleus that had won back-to-back regular season championships. Valpo responded by finishing fourth in the regular season. This year, Valpo will have to replace two of its top three scorers from last season, but have capable players in Peters and junior guard Keith Carter.
Wright State was hit hard by graduation, but was still picked fifth in the conference. The Raiders lost their top four scorers from a year ago and rank last in the Horizon League in both percentage of points returning (34.9%) and total minutes played last season (2,820). The Raiders are counting on senior Reggie Arceneux (League’s top returning three-point shooter at 46.5%), junior Chrishawn Hopkins and sophomore TJ Yoho to replace the scoring lost.
Oakland is seventh in the preseason poll as the Golden Grizzlies will have to replace the most prolific three-point shooter in NCAA history in Travis Bader. Oakland was just one of three teams to have two players on the preseason all-league teams. In addition to Felder and Petros, senior forward Dante Williams and junior forward Tommie McCune were regular contributors for Oakland last season.
Youngstown State came in eighth in the poll. The Penguins will face the heavy task of having to replace last season’s leading scorer and three-time First-Team All League selection Kendrick Perry. Overall, YSU lost its top three scorers from last season, but do return Hain and senior guards D.J. Cole and Shawn Amiker. Cole is one of the league’s top returners in assists (4.6 apg) and steals (39), while Amiker showed the ability last season to help fill the scoring void losing Perry creates.
UIC rounds out the poll as the Flames hope to improve from last season’s campaign. The Flames welcome back
senior guard Marc Brown, who was UIC’s second leading scorer last season at 11.3 ppg. Also back for UIC is junior forward Jake Wiegand who averaged 7.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg. The Flames welcome six newcomers to this year’s team.
The regular season will start on Friday, Nov. 14, with seven teams in action. Horizon League play begins on Jan. 2, with four games -- Milwaukee at Cleveland State, Valparaiso at Oakland, Youngstown State at UIC and Detroit at Wright State.