Danger lurks in the Horizon League
With two regular season games left to play, the UW-Green Bay men's basketball team have locked up the Horizon League.
Under the direction of Head Coach Brian Wardle, the Phoenix (22-5 overall; 12-2 in conference play) have already earned a double-bye to the semifinal round of the Horizon League tournament on March 8.
As the top seed in the Horizon League, the road to the NCAA tournament will go through Green Bay's Resch Center. Bad news for the rest of the league. Bad news for the team that could see UW-Green Bay opposite their school's name on selection Sunday.
The Phoenix are the exact description of a team most single digit seeds would love to avoid in the NCAA tournament.
What makes the Phoenix dangerous? They are well coached, and have NBA potential talent at the point guard and center positions. Junior point guard Keifer Sykes is the engine of the train. Sykes is averaging a team high 20.3 points and 5 assists per game this season. Sykes scored 21 in a win over Virginia (currently ranked 12 in the AP top 25) and 32 in a three-point loss to Wisconsin. Neither the Cavaliers or Badgers had a player on their team who could consistently stay in front of the lightning-quick point guard who NBA scouts have taken notice of.
One of Sykes' favorite targets after he breaks down a defense with penetration is 7'1" senior center Alec Brown. Brown is not overly physical, but has an array of post moves, blocks shots, and can extend the defense with a smooth stroke from 15-20 feet. Brown is averaging a respectable 16 points per game while shooting 42% from three-point range.
Sykes and Brown may be the marquee names on the Phoenix roster, but they are by no means the only players with enough skill to compete against the "big boys". Greg Mays is a 6'9" forward who averages just over 10 points per game, while sophomore guard Carrington Love balances Sykes' efforts with 7 points and 3 assists per game.
The Phoenix aren't necessarily deep, but they are balanced, protect the ball, shoot it well from all over, and have a pair of matchups that will cause any team fits.
Currently ESPN and CBS Sports have the Phoenix penciled in as a 12 seed. In the 2013 NCAA tournament the 12 seed beat the 5 seed in 3 of the 4 matchups.
In order to make the NCAA tournament, the Phoenix will likely need to win the Horizon League tournament - so there is still work to be done.
But should the Phoenix advance as projected, you can bet they will not go down easily in the big dance - just ask Bo Ryan and Tony Bennett.