INDIANAPOLIS -- After winning the Horizon League regular season title last season, Valparaiso has been voted to repeat as the Crusaders are the preseason favorite to capture the 2016-17 Horizon League men’s basketball championship. First Team All-League selection and All-American candidate Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) was tabbed the Preseason Player of the Year in voting by the League’s coaches, media and sports information directors.
Valparaiso captured 35 of the 39 first-place votes in the poll. The Crusaders are led by Peters who ranked in the top-five in the League in several categories last season including scoring (17.9), rebounding (9.2), free throw percentage (.836), three-point field goal percentage (.464) and three-point field goals made per game (2.5).
Valparaiso is coming off of a program-record 30 win season, including a 16-2 mark in the Horizon League.
Joining Peters on the preseason first team are Oakland’s Jalen Hayes, Cameron Morse of Youngstown State, UIC’s Dikembe Dixson and Charles Cooper from Green Bay.
Hayes led the League in rebounding (9.4) while tabbing 10 double-doubles against conference opponents and ranking second on his team in scoring (15.7). Morse ranked first in scoring (23.3) throughout the conference and was second-most in average minutes (36.9). Dixson tabbed Freshman of the Year honors after leading UIC in scoring (23.3) and rebounding (7.3). Cooper was an integral member on Green Bay’s Horizon League tournament championship squad ranking second in points (15.1) and rebounds (6.0).
The second team features a few new faces with Wright State’s Mark Alstrork, Detroit Mercy’s Chris Jenkins, UIC’s Tai Odiase, Cleveland State’s Rob Edwards and Valparaiso senior Shane Hammink making up the team.
Alstork posted team-high numbers last year in scoring (14.2) in his first year in a Wright State uniform. Jenkins was a versatile player for Detroit Mercy a year ago ranking third on the team in scoring (11.6) and second in rebounding (4.8). Odiase was an All-Defensive Team selection and complimented Dixson on the glass (7.3) and in points (10.1). An All-Freshman Team honoree, Edwards set a single season Cleveland State record for minutes played as a freshman (994) while leading the team in points (13.1). Hammink was Valparaiso’s sixth man a majority of last season before starting 10 of the final 11 games.
Valparaiso welcomes new head coach Matt Lottich to the helm as the Crusaders are coming off of a record season and NIT tournament championship runner-up finish. The team returns two starters and eight overall letterwinners but will look to replace Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez in the middle.
Oakland’s Kay Felder, the 2016-17 Player of the Year, was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and was a key contributor to last year’s team that led the nation in scoring offense (86.4). Taking second in the poll, the Golden Grizzlies return three starters, seven letterwinners and add nine newcomers.
At No. 3, Green Bay will look to six seniors to lead the team this season after the graduation of All-League honorees Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse. The squad will carry a lot of depth that they hope will ignite them on another Horizon League Championship run.
UIC took the fourth spot in the poll and brings back four starters this season including its top three scorers from a year ago. The Flames led the League in blocked shots (5.6) and were second in field goal percentage defense (.429).
After making it to the tournament championship last March, Wright State tabbed fifth in the rankings. The Raiders were at the top of the conference in field goal percentage (.473) and turnover margin (+3.7).
Detroit Mercy was voted in the sixth spot in the poll as the squad returns three starters and eight letterwinners in head coach Bacari Alexander’s first season. The Titans were near the top of the League in several categories last season while being third in scoring offense (83.7), second in field goal percentage (.471), first in three-point filed goal percentage defense, and second in steals (6.8).
Northern Kentucky edged out Cleveland State to take the seventh spot as the Norse have three double-digit scorers returning and eight newcomers added to the team. Cleveland State has its three top point scorers in conference action back and three starters.
Youngstown State and Milwaukee rounded out the men’s basketball preseason poll. The Penguins welcome back 10 letterwinners and three starters from last year’s squad. The Panthers topped the League in assists (16.4), three-point field goals made (9.5) and assist/turnover ratio (1.6) in 2016.
The Horizon League men’s basketball regular season will begin Thursday, December 29 and kick-off with eight of the ten teams in action.
The 2017 Little Caesars Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship will take place in Detroit, Mich. at Joe Louis Arena and will include all ten teams in a five-day format from Friday, March 3 to Tuesday, March 7. The 2017 Championship will mark the last year at Joe Louis Arena before the Little Caesars Arena opens.