The Valparaiso Crusaders are the favorites to grab their first NCAA tournament bid since 2004 when they take on the field at the 2013 Horizon League Tournament. The Crusaders won the regular season title, and they join Detroit as teams with a bye to the semifinals. The rest of the league will be faced with the prospect of winning four games in a week, with the exception of Wright State (who gets a bye to the quarterfinal).
Valpo found itself in the exact same position in 2012, as it rolled through the conference schedule to a 14-4 record. However, it was Detroit who would grab the automatic bid as it took down the Crusaders in the championship game.
Detroit has a good shot at defending its title this year, as it is much improved over the the squad that needed to win four straight to go dancing last season. The Titans and Crusaders are the favorites to meet in the title game once again.
On top of the byes, regular season success is vitally important in the Horizon League as the first round games are hosted by the higher seeds. After that, the quarters and semis are at the No. 1's site (Valpo), with the championship game played on the home court of the highest remaining seed.
Mar. 5 (first round), Mar. 8, 9 (quarterfinals/semifinals), Mar. 12 (championship)
Valparaiso and Detroit are the first pair of Ken Pomeroy top-100 teams in the tournament since 2011, and the first two not involving recently-departed Butler since 2009. At No. 65, the Crusaders have the slight edge over No. 77 Detroit, and that is amplified if the two meet on Valpo's home court in the championship. Pomeroy's log5 estimations give the Crusaders a 60.4 percent chance to take home the title.
Detroit does face longer odds at 28.8 percent, but they do have recent history on their side. On top of beating Valpo on its home court in the championship last season, the Titans look down the Crusaders on the road just three weeks ago. Detroit is also the hottest team in the league, as it won seven of its last eight league games in conference play to grab second place.
Wright State could sneak in and grab a surprising bid. It's already into the quarters, where it will face either Youngstown State or Loyola. It narrowly beat Loyola Chicago twice and split with Youngstown State, so meeting Detroit in the semis will be no guarantee. However, if Wright State can get there, it did beat Detroit on the road in January.
Loyola may be the lower-half team most likely to rise up and steal a bid. It tied for seventh, but was the fifth-highest rated team according to Pomeroy. The Ramblers already defeated Valpo this season, so they have the ability to rise up and take down the better teams in the league.
Would take a miracle
Wisconsin Milwaukee is far and away the lowest-rated team in the Horizon, checking in at 295 on kenpom.com. The Panthers finished eighth (out of nine teams) in both conference offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. They had the lowest free throw and defensive rebounding percentages along with allowing the highest effective field goal percentage.
Just one starter finished with an above average offensive rating (Austin Arians). Milwaukee's most voluminous shooter (Jordan Aaron) was 12.5 percent worse than average offensively. It truly would be a miracle for the Panthers to come out of the tournament with an automatic bid.