#HLMBB Tournament Staff Picks: First Round

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Few arguments in the First Round

March February Madness is here! Tonight is the start of the 2021 Horizon League Tournament and the first eliminations among teams that opted to finish this strange season will begin. A panel of HoriZone Roundtable writers and podcast staff made their first round picks and told us why they think they’ve got the perfect bracket.

In the first round of games, there weren’t many disagreements about the picks. Check out what Bob McDonald, Matt Dudek, Kyle Craven, Alec Kwait, Marc Weems, Horizon Boy and I had to say about tonight’s slate:

Detroit Mercy vs. Robert Morris

In the first game to tip off, fifth seed Detroit Mercy hosts Robert Morris in a rematch of last week’s season finale. The Titans went 9-1 in the second half of the season, with the lone loss coming in a weekend split with Horizon League co-Champion Cleveland State. Robert Morris has had a much more tumultuous end to the season, going 1-11 and losing star A.J. Bramah to the transfer portal. Our voters expect both teams to continue on their current trajectories.

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Detroit Mercy
Robert Morris

How can Detroit Mercy win?

The Titans come into the Horizon League Tournament as one of the league’s hottest teams. After a two week pause in the middle of the season, the Titans went 10-2 the rest of the season. Guard play becomes increasingly important come tournament time, and the Titans have one of the league’s best in all conference first teamer Antoine Davis. He is one of the nation’s most prolific scorers, as he averaged over 23 points per game in the regular season.

With an impressive supporting cast consisting of Bul Kuol, Noah Waterman, and Matt Johnson; look for Detroit to have no issue with a struggling Robert Morris.

Alec Kwait

How can RMU win?

Even though I’m not a huge believer in the adage that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, it’s panned out in a couple of instances where I wouldn’t have expected it this year (IUPUI vs. Milwaukee and especially CSU vs. PFW.)

The Colonials have also pulled off most of their wins without their “ideal” lineup in place (vs. Milwaukee without Dante Treacy and Jon Williams, vs. Oakland without A.J. Bramah.) Obviously they will once again be without Bramah this weekend. Despite the final margins, RMU looked better in game two last week. I expect Andy Toole to make the most of the week of planning.

Devil’s Advocate

Youngstown State vs. UIC

Early in the year, the idea of UIC playing in a 6-11 matchup in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament might’ve been hard to believe because the thought of the Flames dropping to a six seed. After COVID stoppages and injury woes, UIC wound up falling all the way to the eleventh seed while Youngstown State went through a late-season surge with six wins in the team’s last seven games. Once again, momentum has the overwhelming support of our panel and the vast majority picked YSU.

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YSU
UIC

How can Youngstown State win?

I think YSU gets the win behind a group effort. They’ve seen UIC already this year and without a last-second game-winning shot, YSU would’ve swept the series. Also, Darius Quisenberry being fully healthy again makes a huge difference. Everyone on offense and defense is back to where they should’ve been all year long.

Marc Weems

How can UIC win?

There’s no GOOD reason for UIC to beat YSU in the first round of the tournament. So with that in mind, call it a hunch.

YSU and UIC are the two teams who have had the most inconsistent rosters all season. I think Teyvion Kirk has the experience to lead them to victory along with Michael Diggins. Diggins being the super athlete he is could be an X factor in this game paired with Rob Howard down low. And never count out Jamie Ahale getting hot from 3.

The Flames simply have the right pieces and a young rising star coach in Yaklich to do some damage against the Penguins.

Matt Dudek

Green Bay vs. Purdue Fort Wayne

Green Bay gets the seven seed in the Horizon League Tournament and takes on a Purdue Fort Wayne team that much like its fellow double-digit seeds enters the league tournament on the heels of an awful second half of the season. Green Bay hasn’t been on a big win streak like Detroit Mercy or Youngstown State, but has been fairly steady since an 0-5 start to Horizon League Play. Our panel isn’t as concerned with Green Bay not dominating down the stretch, and thinks they’ll be able to dispose of PFW easily.

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Green Bay
PFW

Green Bay just has way too much firepower. I know, I know. This is coming from the guy who didn’t put one Green Bay player in his top 15 (1st, 2nd or 3rd team) but I swear I got nothin but love for the Phoenix!

They sort of have the formula to be a good post-season team. They play good defense. They play great as a team, especially when it comes to hitting the glass. They do a good enough job moving the ball – but when it comes down to the “must win” situations, they have their guy. Last year’s Freshman of the Year and a second-teamer this year, Amari Davis is a bonafide stud. I think Green Bay sends Purdue Fort Wayne back home easily.

Kyle Craven

How can Purdue Fort Wayne win?

While the first season in the Horizon League for Purdue Fort Wayne has been rather rough, their showing in the last weekend alone should remind everyone that the Mastodons can get hot at any time. Naturally, PFW three-point shooting has been its long-time calling card under head coach Jon Coffman.

At the same time, specifically in the win against Cleveland State, the Mastodons have also proven they can be aggressive in the paint, with Dylan Carl, Ra Kpedi and Cameron Benford shouldering the load. 

Bob McDonald

Milwaukee vs. IUPUI

The 8/9 game features a Milwaukee team that’s been sliding since its second series against 9-seed IUPUI. Meanwhile, the Jaguars enter the game after going 5-3 since that series. The panel overwhelmingly picked the Jaguars to keep the second half surge going.

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Milwaukee
IUPUI

How can IUPUI win?

With the Panthers taking three out of four games over the Jaguars in the regular season, I LOVE IUPUI in Chapter V of the Battle of the Cats. When senior Marcus Burk gets hot, IUPUI is nearly unstoppable. Nobody in this conference tournament’s first round can take over a game quite like Marcus Burk and I don’t see him going down easy in his senior campaign. 

Alongside stud seniors Jaylen Minnett and Elyjah Goss, these Jaguars are out for blood. Byron Rimm and crew are going to leave it all on the court. This contest should be a cat scratch ‘til the end with Baldwin’s ballers Te’Jon Lucas and DeAndre Gholston providing a hell of a fight. I’ll take IUPUI to win straight up.

It’s a Jaguarantee!

Horizon Boy

How can Milwaukee win?

If not for the way Milwaukee defended him in three of the four matchups, there’s a pretty good chance the coaches would’ve seen eye-to-eye with our First Team All-League pick for Marcus Burk. In Milwaukee’s three wins over the Jaguars, Burk shot just 14-for-49 or 28.6 percent from the field with an effective field goal percentage of 35.7. If you take out the three Milwaukee losses, Burk’s effective field goal percentage jumps five points from an already impressive 57.8 to an incredible 62.9.

The biggest key to beating the Jaguars is stopping Marcus Burk. It’s not an easy task, but the Panthers have figured out how to do it three times already.

John Parker

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