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Horizon League Tournament bracket, preview, and schedule: Storylines galore and Wright State dominance, per usual

The first conference tournament tips off on Thursday

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 13 Wright State at Bowling Green Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wright State has done it again. For the third season in a row, the Raiders are the Horizon League champion, although they’ll have to share that title with Cleveland State.

The Vikings, who are in the midst of a wild turnaround, will receive the 1 seed and Wright State the 2, due to the bizarre league tiebreakers.

This, attached with red-hot play from teams that have All-League talent in Detroit Mercy, Oakland, and Northern Kentucky, makes this tournament wide open. The 1 seed has only won it once in the last seven years.

Bracket:

Schedule:

Note: The first round and quarterfinals will take place on campus sites. The semifinals and finals will take place in Indianapolis. All rounds are reseeded and game times are Eastern.

First Round (Thurs., Feb. 25), ESPN+

Game 1: No. 12 Robert Morris vs. No. 5 Detroit Mercy, 7 p.m.
Game 2: No. 11 UIC vs. No. 6 Youngstown State, 8 p.m.
Game 3: No. 10 Purdue Fort Wayne vs. No. 7 Green Bay, 8 p.m.
Game 4: No.9 IUPUI vs. No. 8 Milwaukee, 8 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Tues., March 2), ESPN+

Game 5: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs. No. 1 Cleveland State, 7 p.m.
Game 6: Second Lowest-Remaining Seed vs. No. 2 Wright State, 7 p.m.
Game 7: Highest-Remaining Seed vs. No. 4 Northern Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Game 8: Second Highest-Remaining Seed vs. No. 3 Oakland, 7:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Mon., March 8), ESPNU & ESPN2

Game 9: Highest-Remaining Seed vs. Lowest-Remaining Seed, 6:30 p.m. ESPNU
Game 10: Second Highest-Remaining Seed vs. Second Lowest-Remaining Seed, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

Finals (Tues., March 9), ESPN/ESPN2

Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m.

The Favorite

Wright State (18-5, 16-4): The Raiders seem to always be in this position under Scott Nagy On the bright side, the 1 seed seems to be cursed in this league, and the Raiders are not that. And they still get to host their one home game.

It will be hard to find a better front-court in college basketball than Grant Basile and Loudon Love. When one isn’t on their A-game, the other is getting a double-double and going off. They’ve each been the team’s scoring leader in the past 10 games. Basile is a top-75 offensive player in the country, averaging 13.9 points per game and shooting 62.3% from the field. Love averaged a double-double with 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds.

But even when defenses focus on the paint, their three-point shooting is deadly, ranking 36th in the country. Tanner Holden is a potential first-team All-Horizon player, averaging 15.7 points per game. A common trend in all their conference losses, though, is that the leading scorer gets 16 or fewer points. Also, all but two of Wright State’s league wins were by double digits and nine were by 20-plus.

The Dark Horses

Cleveland State (16-7, 16-4): OK, the 1 seed can’t really be a dark horse. Cleveland State just isn’t the favorite. The Vikings have been hit with a ton of adversity. Heading into last year, almost the entire roster transferred, but they still finished a solid 7-11 in conference play. In the second game of this year, Cleveland State allowed Ohio to go on a 40-0 run, the longest in NCAA history. The Vikings finished in first place of the Horizon League. Torrey Patton has led the way for CSU, scoring double digits in nine of the last 10 games. D’Moi Hodge dropped 40 against Purdue Fort Wayne back in December, and Al Eichelberger had loads of preseason talk but hasn’t been the same since an early season injury. Along with all the firepower, they’re one of four teams to beat Wright State. They know what to do.

Detroit Mercy (11-9, 10-6): Antoine Davis is playing the best ball of his career, and that’s simply something that other Horizon League teams do not want to hear. In every game since the start of January, he has scored 20-plus points. Cal Baptist transfer Bul Kuol has scored in double digits in the past six, and the Titans are 11-2 in 2021. They are top 50 in effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting, and free-throw shooting. To add to all of this, they have four role players who are ranked in offensive rating. They will open against a Robert Morris team that they swept this weekend; the Colonials haven’t exactly been scoring too many points since All-League player AJ Bramah left the program.

Northern Kentucky (13-10, 11-7): The Norse always find themselves in the race come March. They just gave Wright State their toughest series of the year, beating them in game one and keeping it close in game two. Freshman Marques Warrick is the clear Horizon League Freshman of the Year, averaging 15.9 points per game and shooting a stellar 82.1% from the charity stripe. Fellow guard Trevon Faulkner is the team's go-to-guy, averaging 16.6 points per game and upping his average yearly. The Norse would have been the league’s NCAA Tournament representative last year...can they get it done again?

The Long Shots

Oakland (10-17, 10-10): Greg Kampe is always one of those coaches that can surprise you come March. The Grizz turned it around in conference play after a brutal non-conference, and Jalen Moore has become an all-league player. They’re also one of those rare teams that beat Wright State.

Youngstown State (14-11, 9-11): The Penguins were picked toward the top of the Horizon League and struggled out of the gates. They’ve won six of seven, though, and have also beaten Wright State. They’re hot at the right time.

Players to Watch:

Loudon Love, Wright State (16.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 56.4% FG%)
Grant Basile, Wright State (13.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 62.3% FG%)
D’Moi Hodge, Cleveland State (10.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 39.9% FG%)
Torrey Patton, Cleveland State (13.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 46.6% FG%)
Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy (22.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, 41.3% FG%)
Noah Waterman, Detroit Mercy (10.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 51.2% FG%)
Bul Kuol, Detroit Mercy (15.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 45.2% FG%)
Adrian Nelson, Northern Kentucky (8.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 68% FG%)
Marques Warrick, Northern Kentucky (15.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 46.1 FG%)
Trevon Faulkner, Northern Kentucky (16.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 41.6% FG%)
Jalen Moore, Oakland (18.0 PPG, 8.2 APG, 38.4% FG%)
Naz Bohannon, Youngstown State (16.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 51.7 FG%)
Elyjah Goss, IUPUI (9.9 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 47.6% FG%)
Marcus Burk, IUPUI (22.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 49.8% FG%)
Amari Davis, Green Bay (17.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 41.8% FG%)

Prediction:

Wright State will defend its regular-season championship and mow its way to the conference title game, beating Detroit Mercy by 15-18.