I’m ranking and previewing the nine teams of the Horizon League leading up to the start of the 2012-2013 season. Rankings are based on a host of tempo-free and other factors. I invite your take in the comments section below.
Last season: Although they were hampered by roster problems, especially early on, the Titans got better as the season progressed and otherwise returned most of their lineup. Their 22-win season was capped by a huge road win over top-seeded Valparaiso in the Horizon League Tournament Championship that earned Detroit an NCAA Tournament berth where they were bouced by Kansas, 65-50, in the first round.
They ranked first overall in the conference in offensive efficiency (1.071 points per possession) and sixth in defensive efficiency (1.003 ppp).
This season: Nick Minnerath, who missed all but five games last season after a season-ending ACL injury, is back along with one of the league’s best point guards in Ray McCallum Jr. and two other starters. However, the departure of big role players in the low post leaves a big hole to fill.
Coach: For Ray McCallum Sr. coaching has become a family affair as his son embarks on his third season as father Ray’s starting PG. The Elder McCallum (66-57) is now in his fifth season as Detroit’s head coach and again has secured a strong corps of JUCO recruits to fill out his roster. He hasn’t lost more than 14 games in each of the last three seasons, and I’m sure he doesn’t intend on starting now.
Returning minutes: 55.38% (6th) Returning possessions: 55.75% (6th) Returning scoring: 57.34% (6th) Returning starters: 3/4 (depending on how you count Minnerath who started in five of five last season)
1. Ray McCallum Jr. (36 games last season/36 starts/1.11 points per possession) - Can you believe he’s only just going to be a junior? McCallum Jr., who passed over high-major offers to play for his dad, was last season named to the All-Horizon League team, and was chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year by the media earlier this month for the second straight season.
The scoring, driving, go-to point guard played more minutes (83.9 percent), got more possessions (24.5 percent) and took more shots (419) than any other Titan last season, even though he was the youngest starter on the floor. Now, as an upperclassman who has gained all the respect of those newer to the team, his numbers can only increase.
McCallum will have the ball in his hands a lot, and that’s not bad. McCallum ranked seventh in the Horizon in assist rate last season (25.3 percent) and third in assist to turnover ratio (1.8). He was also second in offensive rating (111.1) among Horizon League players that earned at least a 24-percent possession rate last season.
2. Doug Anderson (36/31/1.18) - Anderson may best be known around the league as a walking highlight reel, but the 6-6 senior is also an efficient scorer. He’s much more than just a gimmick.
Anderson last season posted a higher offensive rating (114.2) than McCallum Jr. and clocked a 53.3 percent effective field goal rate with his work jamming in the lane. Teams that let Anderson sneak away with a chance to score on transition will be surely punished.
3. Nick Minnerath (5/5/0.98) - It’s been a long road to Nick Minnerath’s final year of eligibility. The former JUCO standout became a full-time starting journeyman in the lane alongside Eli Holman in the 2010-2011 season with offensive numbers that threatened to eclipse that of Holman, but he was sidelined just five starts into last season with a knee injury.
Minnerath returns but without Holman to lead the Titans’ front court, which includes whomever McCallum Sr. tabs to fill the vacated center position.
4. Jason Calliste (36/34/1.14) - Calliste has toiled in the shadow of McCallum Jr. for two seasons now as a starter. The underrated 6-2 two-guard is entering his senior season. He led the Titans in my individual scoring efficiency rankings with 1.14 points scored per possession and showed a skill for putting himself at the stripe last season.
Calliste sunk 56 of 163 (34.3 percent) from range last season.
1. Eli Holman (26/2) - The reigning Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year missed some time last season after a team suspension, but rebounded well. He still made good on high preseason expectations by leading the league in offensive rebounding rate (15.1 percent). Holman ranked seventh in the Horizon League in block rate (6.7 percent) and fifth in defensive rebounding rate (21.4 percent).
McCallum Sr. found it hard to fill that kind of defensive void last season, and he’ll have the same trouble this year with Holman’s fill-in, LaMarcus Lowe, also gone. Back to the drawing board.
Holman briefly was signed to the Houston Rockets for summer league play, and he saw action in one game, but has since signed on to play professionally in Israel.
2. Chase Simon (36/36) - Simon started 102 games as a Detroit Titan, and he’ll be missed as much for his doggedness on the wings as for his leadership on the floor. The Detroit native has continued his career in basketball by signing with the Aris basketball club out of Greece.
3. LaMarcus Lowe (35/35) - Lowe was Holman’s stand-in last season underneath, and he more than ably handled the job. The 6-11 senior pulled down blocks at a rate only exceeded in the Horizon League by Youngstown State’s Damian Eargle and played the glass hard.
Lowe has signed on with a professional team out of Rotterdam, Holland.
1. Anton Wilson - McCallum Sr. had an advantage over other recruiters when it came to getting a commitment from highly sought-after Wilson: He represented Detroit basketball. Wilson passed on offers from the likes of Iowa, Baylor, Memphis and Boston College to play near where he grew up, in Flint, Michigan.
The 6-5 guard/wing will be an offensive weapon from behind the arc. He downed eight three-pointers in a contest his senior year in North Carolina en route to a 30-point outing, and I bet he’s tired of hearing about that. He’ll get significant minutes as a freshman and could easily start in Chase Simon’s vacated spot. In last week’s exhibition win over Ryerson, Wilson drilled four of six from downtown in 18 minutes on the floor but did not start.
2. Juwan Howard Jr. - After sitting out last season, per NCAA rules, the Western Michigan transfer adds even more depth at the two and three spots on the floor. As a 6-6 reserve for the Broncos, Howard saw 56.9 percent of WMU’s minutes off the bench and gained a reputation as a shot blocker and rangy but streaky shooter.
3. Jermain Lippert/Olumide Solanke/Ugochukwu Njoku - The way I see it all three of these incoming JUCO transfers will challenge for the open big man position, and all three probably will see major minutes. Solanke (6-11) and Njoku (6-10) are originally from Nigeria, and Lippert (6-8) hails from Germany originally.
In Detroit’s preseason exhibition against Ryerson last week Njoku got the start and played six minutes, Solanke saw three minutes off the bench and Lippert garnered 10 minutes of floor time off of the bench. They scored a total of three points, had no blocks and grabbed a combined eight boards. Nothing crazy.
Marquee matchups (full schedule here):
1. At St. John’s on Nov. 13 - The world will be watching on ESPN as the Titans try for back-to-back wins over Steve Lavin’s Red Storm. St. John’s returns only five contributors total to their 13-win team from last season and will be challenged to put together anything resembling a solid season in the Big East. A win here is a confidence builder and a publicity and recruiting tool.
2. At Syracuse on Dec. 17 - Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo might not be back, but the Orange are still going to be among the Big East’s best in their final season representing the conference (they’re joining the ACC). Syracuse was ranked ninth in both the AP and ESPN preseason polls released last week.
This game is part of the Gotham Classic and will be televised on ESPNU. Hey, exposure is exposure, right?
3. At Pittsburgh on Dec. 1 - Jamie Dixon has added lots of talented depth to his team that doesn’t plan on missing out on the NCAA Tournament this season. They too are leaving the Big East after this season for the ACC, and Detroit has the chance to spoil the show.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
1. The backcourt. McCallum and Calliste are embarking on their third season together in the Detroit backcourt, and they’re well supported by a bench that includes scrappy 5-8 sophomore guard P.J. Boutte and highly-recruited freshman two-guard Gabriel Dos Santos. Wilson and Howard also will help out in the backcourt.
Over the past several seasons the Titans, led by an athletic backcourt have led the league in up-tempo play, which peaked in the 2010-2011 season with an average of 71.1 possessions per game. That’s super fast basketball, and they should be well equipped to return to such figures this season.
2. Free throw rate. Getting to the free throw line is important, more important even than free throw shooting, and Detroit’s leaders in that metric — McCallum Jr., Calliste, Lowe and Anderson — are well represented on this season’s roster. Only Lowe is missing.
3. Upperclassmen. They make up over half of the roster, and their leadership will be key. Other Horizon League teams wish they were so lucky this season.
1. Lots of rebounding to replace. Part of what made the Titans so efficient on the offensive end last season involved crashing the offensive glass hard. They were the best in the Horizon in offensive rebounding rate with an offensive board in 37.1 percent of their chances, but two of their most efficient in that category — Holman and Lowe have departed. Someone has to step up.
2. The big man job. Based on their one exhibition game so far, McCallum Sr. hasn’t yet decided who will take over the vacated spot. For now a committee of newcomers is doing the Lord’s work in the low post. No one has shown the talent that Holman and Lowe did.
3. Tough non-conference schedule. Not only are St. John’s, Syracuse and Pittsburgh on there, but Miami, which earned preseason top 25 votes in both polls, Temple, Akron and Drake also made the list. Those are seven potential losses and seven potential reasons Detroit’s confidence may not be riding too high come conference play.
Like Milwaukee, my data didn’t support ranking Detroit as has as the Horizon League’s media voters had in the preseason poll, which tabbed them second.
This team will have a totally new identity with Holman, Simon, and Lowe gone. Afterall, they ranked sixth among all Horizon League teams in terms of returning minutes, possessions and scoring. McCallum Jr. and Minnerath make for great centerpieces, but this is not the same team that challenged Valparaiso last season.
Still, Detroit has lots of talented pieces and good depth in many spots that will keep them firmly in the league’s upper half.