One factor that is making this such an exciting season of Horizon League basketball is that seemingly any team can beat an opponent on any given night. This shows how deep the talent of the league is, which makes it even more exciting and unpredictable for the fans. Coming into the last night’s game as the H-League’s hottest team, did anyone expect Wright State to get blown out at Oakland? Or how about the Raiders putting the first blemish on Valpo’s league record just days earlier? What a pleasant surprise Northern Kentucky has been. The Norse are more than holding their own as they are tied for sixth with a 4-5 conference record, which already includes two road wins. And don’t discount the young UIC team at 0-9. Despite taking some blowout losses, three of their league defeats were by four points or less, or in overtime. If these close games and surprise winners are any indication of what is to come, we should be in for a great Horizon League Tournament come March.
Let’s compare the H-League with another premier mid-major conference, the Missouri Valley Conference. Through league games played on January 29th this season, the Horizon League has had three overtime games compared to one for the Valley. Both conferences have had exactly 11 games decided by five points or less, and both have had road teams win 20 games in each league. But big-time routs have been less common in the H-League. Only two games have been decided by 30 points or more, with the Valley having had four such games. The bottom five teams in the Valley only combine for 10 wins, while the same bottom-half teams of the H-League have 13 wins. On the flip-side, the top three teams in the H-League have 6 conference losses, while the top three in the Valley only have 4 losses. Although these differences may not seem earth-shatteringly different, they are noticeable given that every team has played only nine league games thus far. It proves that the Valley is more top-heavy, and less-balanced than the Horizon League. The Missouri Valley still has a better chance at putting more than one team in the NCAA Tournament. Evansville and Southern Illinois are putting together respectable resumes to state their cases, while Wichita State should be a lock despite struggling at times in their non-conference schedule. The only way the H-League puts two teams in the dance is if Valpo loses in the conference tournament, as the Crusaders should be a lock assuming they finish at least 15-3 in conference play.