As the Horizon League schedule begins Friday, here is what you should know before the games begin:
Valparaiso Crusaders - The Crusaders start league play with a 13-2 record. Alec Peters leads the team in scoring averaging 19 points per game while shooting an impressive 53 percent from the field and an outstanding 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc. The 6-10 big man Vashil Fernandez is grabbing 6.1 boards per game and is creating havoc on opposing teams trying to get to the basket, blocking more than three shots per game. The Crusaders have an RPI of 72*, but are going to need to continue to win and likely take the conference tournament to make the dance because their Strength of Schedule of 214 does not help their resume.
Green Bay Phoenix - Green Bay enters conference play with a 10-3 record behind NBA-bound guard Keifer Sykes who leads the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game as well as assists with 3.6 per game. The Phoenix did well with their nonconference scheduling, including going on the road to play a highly ranked Wisconsin Badgers team even if it ended in a loss. I believe having a tough matchup early on in the year will help them later this season. With an RPI at 30 and SOS at 53, don't be surprised to continue to hear about this team.
Wright State Raiders - Currently at 8-6, Wright State comes into league play off a brutal loss to Ohio State by 45. That aside, the Raiders have a winning record mostly based on the play of junior JT Yoho who is scoring nearly 17 points per game and pulling down 6.9 rebounds per game. The Raiders have a RPI of 117 and a SOS of 116.
Detroit Titans - Led by Juwan Howard Jr. (18.9 points per game), Detroit is a possible dark horse in the conference. Though they are only 6-7 on the year, the Titans have proven they can play with big mid-majors like Wichita State (loss by 9). Look for Detroit to pull of some big wins in conference. They currently have an RPI ranking of 173 and SOS sits at 89.
I strongly believe this conference has two top dogs in Green Bay and Valparaiso, but I would not be surprised to see Detroit, Wright State and Youngstown State all try and play the spoiler. This is a one-, or maybe two-deep NCAA Tournament conference, especially since Green Bay has captured national attention.
Continue to watch star players Sykes and Peters. The Green Bay star grabbed everyone's attention after he almost pulled off the dunk of the year over Wisconsin's 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, and Peters continues to light it up from deep.
*All RPI and SOS numbers from RealTimeRPI.com as of Dec. 30. Records are current as of Dec. 30.