2021 Horizon League tournament preview: Cleveland State, Wright State the favorites
Photo: 24/7 Dayton Now

The first conference tournament of the 2020-21 college basketball season will get underway tonight in the Horizon League. All 12 teams are eligible for this year's tournament with Cleveland State and Wright State sharing the regular-season title.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the sports landscape, college basketball had to make some adjustments, including the seeding, with the league using formula it created to ensure that teams who played a full schedule weren't penalized.

Tournament schedule

The top four seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals, where they will host games on their home floor with the fifth through eighth seeds hosting first round games. The semifinals and final will be played at Indiana Farmers Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

First round

February 25

All games on ESPN+

#12 Robert Morris at #5 Detroit Mercy, 7PM 

#11 Illinois-Chicago at #6 Youngstown State, 8PM

#10 Purdue Fort Wayne at #7 Green Bay, 8PM

 #9 IUPUI at #8 Milwaukee, 8PM

Quarterfinals

March 2

All games on ESPN+

Lowest remaining seed at #1 Cleveland State, 7PM

Second-lowest remaining seed at #2 Wright State, 7PM

Highest remaining seed at #4 Northern Kentucky, 7PM

Second-highest remaining seed at #3 Oakland, 7:30PM

Semifinals

March 8

6:30PM on ESPNU & 9:30PM on ESPN2

Final

March 9

7PM on ESPN or ESPN2

The favorites

Cleveland State is the top seed after exceeding preseason expectations where they were picked to finish seventh. The Vikings won their first nine league games thanks in large part to the top defensive turnover rate while also holding their opponents to 30.2% from the three-point line.

Guards Torrey Patton (14.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and D'Moi Hodge (10.4 ppg) lead the Cleveland State offense. However, the team struggles from beyond the arc, shooting just 30% while registering a dismal 66.4% free-throw percentage.

Hodge is part of a formidable Cleveland State backcourt/Photo: Cleveland State athletics
Hodge is half of a formidable Cleveland State backcourt/Photo: Cleveland State athletics

Wright State captured at least a share of the regular season championship for the third year running. The Raiders led the league in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding percentage.

Much of this is due to the duo of center Loudon Love and guard Tanner Holden. Love (16.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg) was named Horizon League Player of the Year while Holden (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) was also named to the Horizon League all-league first team.

The Raiders also boast a trio of shooters from three-point range in Grant Basile (48.7%), Jaylon Hall (46.6%) and Tim Finke (41.2%) to give coach Scott Nagy a tremendously balanced squad.

The contenders

Oakland was awarded the third seed and are carried by junior point guard Jalen Moore (18.4 ppg, 8.4 apg). The Golden Grizzlies are third in the Horizon in offensive efficiency, but just tenth in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to shoot 55% from two-point range and 38% from three.

Fourth seed Northern Kentucky has won the conference tournament three of the last four years and come into this year's event on the back of winning eight of their last ten games, powered by the backcourt threesome of Trevon Faulkner (16.6 ppg), Marques Warrick (15.9 ppg) and Bryson Langdon (10.3 ppg).

Fifth seed Detroit Mercy is also hot, having won 10 of their last 12 games, only losing twice to Wright State in that span. Guard Antoine Davis leads the Horizon in scoring at 23.4 ppg, complimented in the backcourt by Bul Kuol (15.5 ppg). The Titans are the second highest scoring team in the league at 76.6 points per game.

Davis leads a potent Detroit Mercy attack/Photo: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press
Davis leads a potent Detroit Mercy attack/Photo: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press

Who will win the tournament?

Wright State seem to be the clear favorite despite being seeded second. The Raiders lead the league in scoring (81.5 ppg), rebounding (42.1 rpg), assists (15.5 apg) and blocks (3.61 bpg). They have a terrific balance on the offensive end with Love and Holden and Nagy is a very experienced coach.

Detroit Mercy looks to be the pick on the other half of the bracket. The Titans are playing great basketball at the moment, Davis is a lethal scorer and they are the only team in the league to exceed 80% from the free throw line (80.1%). 

It will be tough for Cleveland State to get through this tournament. Despite having a fantastic season, there's too many teams that can outscore the Vikings, who will need to keep the games low-scoring and rely on their defense if they are to reach the NCAA Tournament. Interestingly, since 2016, when the league went to a neutral-site format, the #1 seed has not won the tournament.

Never count out Northern Kentucky, the new league powerhouse or Oakland, who beat Wright State on January 2nd. Still, expect Wright State and Detroit Mercy to battle it out for the league's automatic bid to the field of 68.

Prediction: Wright State def. Detroit Mercy

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