Longtime Oakland coach Greg Kampe ushers Grizzlies into new home in Horizon League, where they should be immediate contenders. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press)
Our latest "32 In 32" conference preview sheds further light on the Horizon League, which remains at nine teams in the wake of Loyola's departure to the Missouri Valley, welcoming longtime Summit League power Oakland into its family. The Grizzlies are jumping ship at the right time, as they bring mounds of talent into their new home for competition against their eight newly-minted foes. Here's how we see the conference playing out:
1) Oakland - Greg Kampe, now entering his 30th season at the helm of the Grizzlies, trails only Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski in terms of longest tenure at his program. Kampe's leadership is contagious, as Oakland is always in the mix of their conference's championship race no matter what their overall record may be. This year is no different, with senior guard Travis Bader joining 6-10 junior center Corey Petros to form one of the best inside/outside scoring duos in the Midwest. Providence castoff Duke Mondy comes back for his senior season to run the point once more after averaging five assists per game a year ago, with sharpshooters Ryan Bass and Dante Williams leading a supporting cast that also includes former West Virginia transfer Tommie McCune.
2) Valparaiso - Bryce Drew and the reigning Horizon League champion Crusaders lose five of their six leading scorers, but they reload once again to remain among the contenders this season. One-time South Florida expatriate LaVonte Dority returns for a full season after regaining his eligibility last December, and seven-footer Moussa Gueye is a graduate transfer who can play immediately following a successful run with Anthony Grant and Alabama. Senior forward Bobby Capobianco seeks to build off an efficient junior year in which he shot 55 percent from the field, and the Valpo attack will gain a valuable wing presence next season when E. Victor Nickerson is eligible after sitting out following his transfer from Charlotte.
3) Wright State - Billy Donlon returns all five starters for the Raiders this season, and Wright State will be much better off with the extra experience. After being limited to 22 games, senior forward Cole Darling returns for a full season in which he will once again attempt to be the team's leading scorer and rebounder. Miles Dixon will likely into the starting lineup at some point this season to join senior Matt Vest and point guard Reggie Arceneaux in the backcourt, with 6-6 senior forward Jerran Young serving as a rising star on the wing.
4) Detroit - The Titans are taking somewhat of a step back now that Ray McCallum has been drafted by the Sacramento Kings and Jason Calliste has transferred, but Juwan Howard Jr. will lead the charge in the wake of four starters departing. Senior Evan Bruinsma will be critical for Detroit up front this season, as will a backcourt where sophomore Anton Wilson must improve his 1.8 points per game as he mentors three freshmen and Michigan transfer Carlton Brundidge.
5) Youngstown State - Shooting guard Kendrick Perry will serve as the hub of the wheel for the Penguins as he enters his senior season, and will have junior DJ Cole alongside him at the point once again after the Kansas product averaged over six points and three assists per game as a part-time starter last year. Burgeoning big man Kamren Belin and sophomore forward Bobby Hain will be relied upon heavily in a somewhat undersized Youngstown State frontcourt.
6) Green Bay - Alec Brown, the 7-1 center who was instrumental in helping the Phoenix defeat Marquette a year ago, is back for his senior season amid a young Green Bay team who will seek to get as much mileage as it can out of sophomore wing Jordan Fouse, who now becomes the team's second option on offense. Junior forward Greg Mays will also have an increased role, as will former Saint Peter's guard Lamin Fulton, as he returns to Division I after a year at Northwest Florida State College.
7) Cleveland State - Former Rutgers coach Gary Waters is still going at the helm of the Vikings, who return four starters and six of their top seven scorers from a group that finished 14-18 last year, with just five victories in Horizon League play. Sophomore forward Anton Grady is back from a medical redshirt caused by a knee injury six games into the year, and is joined up front by swingman Marlin Mason and muscular senior center Devon Long. In the backcourt, 5-8 point guard Charlie Lee and sweet-shooting sophomore Bryn Forbes hope to propel Cleveland State to greater success.
8) Illinois-Chicago - In the absence of each of the Flames' three leading scorers, senior wing Hayden Humes becomes the team leader on the heels of a season in which the one-time Toledo transfer shot 40 percent from three-point range. Junior guard Marc Brown leads a backcourt that welcomes five freshmen into the ranks.
9) Milwaukee - Combo guard Jordan Aaron, a 5-10 dynamo from the Bronx, brings his fourteen points, four assists and two three-pointers made per game into his senior season for the Panthers, who also return sophomore swingman Austin Arians to a team that is building for bigger and better things. Senior forward Kyle Kelm could have an expanded role as he likely enters the starting lineup for coach Rob Jeter.