Dixson’s Shooting Numbers Prove How Much His Game Has Improved

Prior to the game in mid-December at DePaul, in which he only played six minutes, UIC superstar sophomore Dikembe Dixson was averaging 22.2 points per game. More Image result for uic flamesimpressively, he was shooting the ball immensely better than last season, when he won the Horizon League Freshman of the Year. His field goal percentage was up nearly 11% at 47.7%. What is most interesting about this is that he was attempting only 14.4 field goals per game, compared to shooting nearly 3 more attempts per game last season. Fewer attempts plus a higher percentage equals a massive increase in offensive efficiency. From downtown, Dixson was shooting 36.7% (an increase of 6.3%). His free throw percentage stood at 78.6% (up over 12%). Not only was he shooting the ball well from the charity stripe, but he got there 9.1 times per game in those first nine contests. If he kept that pace up, he would be leading the nation in free throw attempts per game and would be among the leaders in free throws made. And keep in mind he was doing all of this while playing nearly five minutes less per game than last season.

Anyone who increases their shooting percentages by that much must have worked extremely hard in the off-season because that explains how these numbers could soar so much. Repetition, repetition, and repetition is how players become better shooters, by taking lots of focused shots in a competitive environment.  Another explanation is that Dixson was able to take better shots because he has much more talent around him than he did last season. The Horizon League’s top recruiting class took the offensive onus off of Dixson’s shoulders. As a result, this made the Flames more difficult to defend because they have so many scoring threats, while Dixson remained the apex of the offense. This season, he was able to play more of his natural positions of swingman or, at the collegiate level, the stretch four.  Last season, he had to run the point and handle the ball much more. Dixson’s great ability to drive to the basket and finish strong has been evident ever since he has been at UIC. But the fact that he went from a mediocre shooter to a very good one shows determination. He will undoubtedly use that same resilient mindset to recover from the season-ending injury he suffered early in the win over DePaul. Don’t be surprised if Dixson comes back as a better and even more complete player than he was in the first nine games of this season. For the rest of the Horizon League, that is a scary thought.

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Horizon League is as Deep and Wide Open as Ever…Definitely

Just when we thought we had the Horizon League figured out, upsets galore occurred making the perceived weak look strong, and the thought-to-be mighty look meek. It essentially began on Thursday January 12th, when the winless (in the league) Milwaukee Panthers shocked a suddenly slumping NKU Norse team, who just weeks earlier was ranked third in our league rankings. The next night, the Detroit Mercy Titans traveled north on I-75 to outlast the first place Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Junior forward Jaleel Hogan was instrumental in the improbable Titan victory, carrying his team with a 39 point and 11 rebound performance for the ages. Then, for at least a day, things seemed to normalize. Wright State overcame a halftime deficit to defeat the again upset-minded Panthers. Valparaiso eventually kicked it into high gear to win at Cleveland State, and UIC needed OT to stay firmly in the league’s upper echelon by beating the seemingly always underperforming Youngstown State Penguins. Then came a Monday that no one saw coming. The 5-0 Green Bay Phoenix had a chance to assert themselves as the league’s Image result for horizon league basketballundisputed top dog. What happens? Valpo blows them out. Detroit Mercy is supposed to come down from their euphoric state and fall to Youngstown State, right?  Wrong.  The Titans have a deep bench and appear to be gaining confidence every day, making them a dangerous team to play come March.  And most shockingly, Oakland should have bounced back after their Metro Series loss and steamrolled Cleveland State.  But, you guessed it, another visitor had a career night at the expense of the Golden Grizzlies. This time it was Detroit native Rob Edwards, as the Vikings handed Oakland their second straight loss at home.

What is the moral of this wacky and inexplicable Horizon League extended weekend?   That this league (and its NCAA Tournament berth) is essentially anyone’s for the taking. It might just come down to who peaks at the right time and, like in the Oakland / Detroit Mercy game, who wants it more.  The only teams right now that I cannot see winning Motor City Madness are Youngstown State, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee. The Penguins cannot stop anyone defensively, the Vikings cannot rebound the ball and have a lack of interior talent, and the Panthers simply cannot put enough points on the board.  But then again, I never would have thought Oakland would lose both of those games at home. Maybe Northern Kentucky’s superior post scorers, Drew McDonald and Carson Williams, will get the Norse to their first NCAA Tournament. Or maybe one of the nation’s youngest teams, the UIC Flames, will finish at a fiery pace, all without their superstar Dikembe Dixson. Maybe Green Bay is bound to repeat as tourney champs with their experienced, high-scoring squad. Or maybe the cream will indeed rise to the top, and the two predicted best teams of Oakland and Valpo will square off in the championship game. Maybe Mark Alstork and Steven Davis will put the Raiders on their backs and do what last year’s team couldn’t.  Or maybe Detroit’s College Team will close down Joe Louis Arena the storybook way, with the hometown team winning. That was a lot of maybes. But one thing is for sure: These next several weeks of the Horizon League basketball season will be exciting, memorable, and completely unpredictable.

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Valpo’s Peters Makes Wooden Award Top 25 List

Valparaiso senior forward Alec Peters is one of just two players from mid-major conferences to make the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list. Gonzaga’s (West Coast Conference) Nigel Williams-Goss is the other. Peters is also just one of seven seniors to get the honor. The list will be whittled down to 20 next month. The John R. Wooden Award is awarded annually to the best college basketball player at the NCAA Division 1 level.

Peters is currently tied for second in the nation in scoring at 24.2 points per game. He is also averaging 10.4 rebounds per game, and is fourth in the nation with 111 made free throws. Valparaiso is currently 12-4 and 2-1 in Horizon League play.

Peters being a senior might be a slight advantage, as seniors have won the award the past three years, most recently with Oklahoma forward Buddy Hield.

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Photo Recap: Oakland Gets by NKU in Hard-Fought Game

I attended today’s (12/31/16) game at the O’Rena between Northern Kentucky and Oakland. It was an exciting and physical game. Normally, it is just my writing that fills up this website. But today, I took some pictures that I thought everyone would enjoy. So here’s a photo-recap.

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Walker Dominates in Second Half as Valpo Outlasts UIC

Junior guard Tevonn Walker scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to help Valparaiso stave off repeated comeback attempts by UIC and win 70-59. The momentum started to shift in UIC’s favor with about 15 minutes left in regulation, as they were trailing 38-30.  First, junior forward Kyle Guice made a great pass from the perimeter to Flames big man Tai Odiase, who slam dunked it. Then, freshman Tarkus Ferguson nailed a three from the wing. Ferguson then proved how great offense can lead to stellar defense, as he then stole the ball at the top of the key, which led to a layup for him and cut the Flames deficit to just one point. But then Walker started to carry the Crusaders and

Tevonn Walker

Valpo junior guard Tevonn Walker. Photo courtesy of valpoathletics.com

take the game over, scoring their next 8 points, which included two three-pointers from the wing. Walker was equally comfortable driving and finishing at the basket, as no UIC defender could quell his quickness. One could say that Walker nearly pitched a perfect game, as he was 8-9 from the field, 5-5 from the free throw line, and only had two turnovers.

 

The first half was a bit sloppy with both teams combining for 17 turnovers, which included several traveling violations on each team.  Walker also did a nice job defensively, as he drew two player-control (charging) fouls. Aside from taking a charge himself, Odiase also had 3 of his game-high 4 blocked shots in the opening half. There was not very much transition offense, as both teams set-up their offensives in the half court.  Valpo senior Shane Hammink scored only 4 points in the game and had a frustrating first half, which culminated in a technical foul, after he tossed the ball in the air when he was called for traveling in the backcourt.  UIC guards Ferguson and Godwin Boahen continued their excellent rookie campaigns, as they combined for 29 points on 11-21 shooting from the field. They also combined for 8 turnovers, which is not really that bad considering how often they handle the ball.

UIC’s biggest lead was 14-9 early in the game. But once Valpo took the lead a few minutes later, they held onto it for good. This was a physical game and the officials did a great job in calling it fairly. A good example was when UIC’s Clint Robinson and Valpo’s Alec Peters were going for a rebound on UIC’s side of the court. Veteran referee Lamont Simpson signaled a foul and then pointed to the other side of the court, meaning that it would be Valpo’s ball. But he promptly corrected himself that the foul was on Peters, and the ball would go to UIC. This shows how even the best college basketball officials can have momentary memory lapses. Speaking of Peters, the likely All-American went just 5-15 from the field, which including air-balling two three-pointers. UIC did a good job in clogging the lane and making it difficult for him to get to the basket. But he still finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists, which is an impressive stat-line for anyone.

This game marks the 16th consecutive win for Valpo over UIC. But it is clear that UIC is only getting better with every game, as they are the third youngest team in Division 1 college basketball. One cannot forget that UIC’s best player, Dikembe Dixson, did not play and is done for the season with a knee injury. Valpo continues to show their lack of depth, which is likely to catch up with them as the season wears on. But Walker’s play has to be encouraging for Crusaders fans, as he clearly had his best game of the season, which happened to be when his team really needed him. And don’t forget about the play of redshirt freshman center Derrik Smits, who had career-highs in points (11) and rebounds (6). He stepped up big in the absence of injured senior forward Jubril Adekoya.

Both teams are off until next Friday night when each will host one of the Horizon League’s Michigan teams. Valpo (11-3, 1-0) will host Oakland, in what should be an epic battle of the league’s two top teams.  UIC (7-7, 0-1) will host struggling Detroit Mercy.

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Upper-Hand Rankings: Post Non-Conference 2016 Edition

1. Oakland (10-3):

The Golden Grizzlies are currently leading the Horizon League in scoring defense (67.9 ppg) and field goal defense (39.1%). This is impressive for a team that has been largelyImage result for oakland basketbal Logo known for its offensive prowess in recent years. Oakland is the only team in the Horizon League who can claim to not have a bad loss, as Nevada, Northeastern, and Michigan State are all very likely to be NCAA Tourney teams. On the flipside, Georgia is their only really good win, as the rest of their wins were against teams they definitely should have beaten. Stevie Clark is fitting in well at point guard and Martez Walker is their go-to scorer at 17.6 ppg. But what is most impressive (and maybe a little unexpected) is the frontcourt play of Isaiah Brock and Xavier Hill-Mais. This freshman and sophomore are combining for over 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Coupled with, Mr. Reliable, Jalen Hayes, the Golden Grizzlies have the best frontcourt in the Horizon League.

2. Valparaiso (9-3)

A recent home loss to Santa Clara will definitely not help the Crusaders hopes for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tourney. But solid wins over Alabama, BYU, and Rhode Island will.Image result for valpo basketbal Logo The problem with the Crusaders is that they do not have a deep bench at all. Case and point, in their aforementioned loss, they only had 4 bench points out of 80 points. Alec Peters and Shane Hammink have combined to score nearly 55% of their team’s total points. Peters has been even better than expected this season. Not only is he putting up All-American numbers (26.4 ppg, 10 rpg), he may just win the Wooden and Naismith Awards. But it is their lack of depth that will hurt the Crusaders as the season wears on.

3. Northern Kentucky (9-4)

The one team that might have the brightest future in the Horizon League is this Norse team. Forward Drew McDonald might just be an All-League First Team selection, if he canImage result for northern kentucky basketbal Logo keep his play up. And how about true freshman Carson Williams, who is averaging 59% from the field, which is good for third in the league. The Norse are controlling the tempo in games, as they are outrebounding opponents by nearly nine rebounds per game. They are stout defensively and take good shots themselves. Don’t be surprised if Northern Kentucky grabs their first NCAA Tourney bid sooner rather than later.

4. UIC (7-6)

Superstar forward Dikembe Dixson is done for the season with a knee injury. In the game against DePaul in which he got injured, the Flames banded together to earn the thrilling win. Could that be foreshadowing for the rest of the season?  I think so. The freshmen trio Image result for uic Basketball Logoof Marcus Ottey, Godwin Boahen, and Tarkus Ferguson had already been getting a lot of productive minutes. And now they will get even more. Look out for the Flames next season.  But you had better not forget about them in this one! And don’t forget about the overwhelming favorite for Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year in Tai Odiase, who is likely to have a big conference season after playing extremely well in the last few games.

5. Wright State (9-4)

The Raiders are currently the only Horizon League team to be averaging over 3,000 fans per game at home games, and those fans have seen a very good team. Mark Alstork has Image result for wright state Basketball Logobeen outstanding in averaging over 20 points per game. What has helped his point total go up so much is that his free throw percentage is 16% better than last season. But will Alstork turn pro after this season?  And what a comeback story Steven Davis has been, averaging over 15 ppg after missing all of last season. The Raiders are looking good, albeit with a fairly weak non-conference schedule.

6. Green Bay (6-6)

Given what they accomplished at the end of last season, the Phoenix have underperformed Image result for green bay Basketball Logoa bit so far this season. To be fair, they have played a fairly difficult schedule. For the most part, they’ve lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to, and beat the teams they were supposed to beat. Trevor Anderson will contend for Horizon League Freshman of the Year. Kerem Kanter has been extremely efficient by averaging over 10 points and 4 rebounds per game, despite averaging less than 16 minutes per game. Even if they haven’t played up to par thus far, Linc Darner’s teams are known for peaking in March.

7. Youngstown State (6-7)

With hopes that this might be the season where the Penguins might finally turn it around, they are back in a familiar place in the bottom half of the league. Cameron Morse is doing what he does best…scoring the basketball with 22 points per game. Unfortunately for the Penguins, both he and Matt Donlan are shooting the ball significantly worse from the fieldImage result for Youngstown State Basketball Logo than they did last season. Junior point guard Francisco Santiago is picking up some of that slack, as he is having a career year in practically every statistical aspect. If the Penguins cannot make the leap to the upper-half of the league standings, it will be their lack of consistent frontcourt play to blame.

8. Detroit Mercy (2-10)

The Titans are not playing as poorly as their record would indicate. They played very well in their last loss to an excellent Fort Wayne team. The Titans have a budding star in true freshman Corey Allen, who is leading the Horizon League in three-point shooting at nearly 52%. Allen and sophomore guard Josh McFolley may prove to be the best backcourtImage result for detroit mercy basketball combo in the league. With Chris Jenkins playing better lately and Jaleel Hogan having a career season, the Titans will not be a pushover to anyone in the league.  The Titans are currently drawing the fewest number of fans for home games in the league, at just 1,111 per game. Hopefully, that number will increase significantly in the New Year.

9. Cleveland State (4-8)

Image result for cleveland state basketballIt may be a new season, but the Vikings are suffering from the same old shooting woes. They are last in the league in field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and are second-to-last in points per game.  Their team defense numbers do not look as good as expected, likely because the Vikings played a tough non-conference schedule. As expected, sophomore Rob Edwards in their go-to guy averaging over 15 points per game. The Vikings are in rebuilding mode for another season.

10. Milwaukee (4-9)

The Panthers are dead last in the league in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. But Image result for milwaukee panther basketballthey are doing some things right, such as taking care of the basketball, as they lead the league in fewest turnovers per game. Sophomore Brock Stull has been playing well with about 10 points and 6 rebounds per game, and looks to be a solid player to build this program around over the next couple of years.

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Williams’ Buzzer-Beater Caps Amazing Michigan Road Trip for Northeastern

Senior guard T.J. Williams hit nothing but net on a fade-away 13 foot jumper to give the Northeastern Huskies a thrilling 61-59 win at Oakland. That was a fitting way for the game to end, as the Huskies controlled the tempo throughout. They held Oakland, who led the Horizon League in field goal percentage (47.3) and with 83.6 points per game, to just 34.9% from the field. Williams played all 40 minutes and was by far the best player on the floor today, finishing with game highs in points (22), rebounds (11), assists (6), and steals (5). Williams is also one of the nation’s most improved players, as he is averaging 21.5 points per game (only 6.8 ppg last season). Despite losing star senior forward Alex Murphy early in the first half to a knee injury, Northeastern was still able to hold off Oakland’s late second half comebacks.  But when one man goes down, another one tends to step up. In this case, it was freshman forward Maxime Boursiquot who had a career game with 16 points and 8 rebounds. He shot a very efficient 8-15 from the field.

Image result for northeastern basketball logoNortheastern (7-5) has to be feeling good about themselves, after winning at Michigan State on Sunday night, and now beating a very good Oakland (9-2) team. If they can stay healthy, it is clear that the Huskies are on a trajectory to reach the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1991. The Huskies have played a tough non-conference schedule, and their five losses were by a combined 17 points. In other words, they are even better than their record would indicate.

As stated before, Oakland is an excellent offensive team. But the Golden Grizzlies just could not penetrate the Huskies 2-3 zone, which also bothered them on their three-point attempts. Oakland’s starting forwards Jalen Hayes and Isaiah Brock played well on both ends, combining for 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Hayes also added a team high 18 points. With Martez Walker and Sherron Dorsey-Walker struggling shooting the ball (1-15 combined from the field), Coach Greg Kampe did a lot of substitutions, hoping the find the right combination. Chris Palombizio and Nick Daniels each had 9 points off the bench, including some big three’s late in the game. But even as the Golden Grizzlies had a chance to steal the game, it was clear that they were outplayed for the vast majority of the game by the Huskies.

What is really amazing about Northeastern’s awesome Great Lakes State road trip is that both MSU and Oakland were undefeated at home, prior to playing the Huskies. MSU was 5-0 and Oakland was 6-0. Northeastern can rest up until they open Colonial Athletic Association play on New Year’s Eve, as they host William & Mary.

Oakland plays tomorrow at Michigan State. In the spirit of college football bowl games, this year’s intrastate showdown should be dubbed the “Last Loss Was to Northeastern Bowl.” And there’s really no shame in being a part of that bowl game.

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