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With Alec Peters out for the rest of the year, Shane Hammink will need to step up for Valparaiso. (Courtesy Valparaiso Athletics)

MARK MADNESS | Mark Adams previews the Horizon League Tournament

It's tournament time!

With all eyes on the conference tournaments starting this week, here's a look at top contenders for the Horizon League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Spoiler alert: Valpo versus Oakland wouid be my dream matchup.

Favorites

OAKLAND

  • Key question: Can the Golden Grizzlies rely on defense to earn an NCAA berth?
  • Key players: Jalen Hayes (17.9), Martez Walker (16.9) and Sherron Dorsey-Walker (14.4) average double figures in scoring . Hayes, Dorsey-Walker and Stevie Clark all average more than one steal per game while Isaiah Brock adds 2.0 blocks per game.
  • Record: 24-7, 14-4 Horizon League (No. 1 seed).
  • League tournament opener: Saturday vs. Friday's Cleveland State-Youngstown State winner.
  • Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Georgia, 86-79.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 13 in assists (17.2).
  • Horizon ranks: No. 1 field-goal defense (40.3%), 3-point defense (31.4%), assists (17.2), scoring margin (9.0), steals (8.2), blocks (5.2) and assist/turnover ratio (1.2); No. 2 in scoring offense (79.4), scoring defense (70.4) and field goal shooting (45.6%).

VALPARAISO

  • Key question: Who is able to score enough to top the Crusaders?
  • Key players: The loss of Peters for the rest of the season is a blow. The Crusaders will need Shane Hammink and Tevonn Walker to step up. This is a talented team with a smart rookie coach in Matt Lottich.
  • Record: 24-7, 14-4 Horizon League (No. 2 seed).
  • League tournament opener: Saturday vs. Friday's Detroit Mercy-Milwaukee winner.
  • Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Alabama, 68-60.
  • NCAA ranks: Valparaiso No. 5 in free throws (78.2%); Alec Peters No. 7 in scoring (23.0), No. 13 in defensive rebounds (7.55) and T14 in double-doubles (167).
  • Horizon ranks: No. 1 in scoring defense (69.3) and free throw shooting (78.2%); No. 2 in field-goal defense (41.4%), scoring margin (7.1) and rebound margin (4.7).

Contenders

GREEN BAY

  • Key question: Will great coaching and a balanced attack carry the Phoenix into the NCAA Tournament?
  • Key players: Charles Cooper (14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game) leads a balanced attack for Green Bay. The next five top scorers average 9 ppg-13 ppg.
  • Record: 18-12, 12-6 Horizon League (No. 3 seed).
  • League tournament opener: Sunday vs. No. 6 seed UIC.
  • Horizon ranks: No. 1 in scoring offense (80.4); No. 2 in steals (7.7) and turnover margin (1.1).

NORTHERN KENTUCKY

  • Key question: Can the league's most improved team the last two seasons run off with an NCAA bid?
  • Key players: Drew McDonald shoots over 49% field goal and 40% three-point range and leads four double-figure scorers for this dangerous contender.
  • Record: 21-10, 12-6 Horizon League (No. 4 seed).
  • League tournament opener: Sunday vs. No. 5 seed Wright State.
  • Horizon ranks: No. 1 in field goal shooting (45.8%), rebound margin (5.1); No. 2 in 3-pointers made (8.5) and 3-point defense (32.7%).

WRIGHT STATE

  • Key question: Can Mark Alstork reward new head coach Scott Nagy in his first season at Wright State? There is pressure to win now. Billy Donlon won 22 games and lost in the HL championship game and was let go.
  • Key players: Alstork leads the way in scoring (18.0) while Steven Davis, Justin Mitchell and Grant Benzinger add offensive firepower.
  • Record: 20-11, 11-7 Horizon League (No. 5 seed).
  • League tournament opener: Sunday vs. No. 4 seed Northern Kentucky.
  • Horizon ranks: No. 1 in 3-point shooting (38.2%) and 3-pointers made (8.8); No. 2 in free-throw shooting (76.4).

Other wins vs. Power 5 & Big East

  • UIC beat DePaul, 80-75.

Other NCAA leaders

  • Individual: Tai Odiase, UIC — No. 6 in blocks (2.9); Cameron Morse, Youngstown State — No. 9 in scoring (22.8); Corey Allen, Detroit Mercy — No. 10 in 3-point shooting (45.2%).

Tournament schedule

FRIDAY

  • No. 7 Detroit Mercy vs. No. 10 Milwaukee, 5:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 8 Cleveland State vs. No. 9 Youngstown State, 8 p.m. ET

SATURDAY

  • No. 1 Oakland vs. Cleveland State-Youngstown State winner, 5:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 2 Valparaiso vs. Detroit Mercy-Milwaukee winner, 8 p.m. ET

SUNDAY

  • No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 6 UIC, 5 p.m. ET
  • No. 4 Northern Kentucky vs. No. 5 Wright State, 7:30 p.m. ET

MONDAY

  • Semifinals: 7 and 9:30 p.m. ET

TUESDAY

  • Championship: 7 p.m. ET

Projected automatic bid

OAKLAND


Mark Adams is ASN's lead basketball analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @EnthusiAdams.

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