It’s another veteran team for the Panthers, who lose only one starter and have Player of the Year candidate Joah Tucker, a 6-foot-5 senior forward. The unknown will be how the team responds to new coach Rob Jeter, an assistant at Wisconsin the last four seasons and a former assistant at UW-Milwaukee. Jeter inherits four starters from Bruce Pearl -- who went to Tennessee -- but UWM must move forward without leading scorer Ed McCants. The Panthers were the first Horizon team in four years to win both the regular-season and league tournament. Still, look for a newcomer to make a difference, such as 6-5 Kevin Massiah, formerly of Western Kentucky and Schoolcraft Community College in Michigan.
2. Detroit (14–16, 9–7)
Not only do four starters return, but junior guard Brandon Cotton will be in uniform from the start. He had to sit out the first semester last year after transferring from Michigan State. Seniors Torvoris Baker and Ryvon Covile, as well as junior Muhammad Abdur-Rahim, add to the Titans’ depth. Brandon Bell, a 5-11 guard from Marquette who becomes eligible at the conclusion of the first semester, is a transfer of note. While Detroit was just 9–7 during the Horizon regular season, the Titans advanced to the championship game of the league tournament before losing a heartbreaker to UW-Milwaukee.
3. Wright State (15–15, 8–8)
Posting a second straight .500 season, the Raiders improved against a tougher schedule. Four starters return -- three of them juniors. DaShaun Wood, a 5-11 point guard, is the smallest of them all, but he’s the biggest mover and shaker. He led the team in scoring (15.0 ppg) and averaged over 37 minutes per game. Two true freshmen, three junior college transfers and redshirt freshman William Graham, a 6-3 guard, will give the Raiders depth.
4. Loyola (13–17, 8–8)
Jim Whitesell did a nice job turning around the Ramblers in his first season, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Four starters return, including league Player of the Year candidate Blake Schilb, a 6-7 junior. Majak Kou, also a junior, started nine games and was the team’s third-leading scorer (10.6 ppg). Another part-time starter, 6-3 guard Pierre Parker, made the French U-20 National Team and gained experience in the European championships over the summer.
5. Cleveland State (9–17, 6–10)
The Vikings stopped being a doormat last season, but two long losing streaks -- seven games early and six games to end the season -- doomed them to another losing season. Coach Mike Garland signed five players to help returning junior guard Raheem Moss and a cast that includes seven different players with starting experience. The best of the newcomers are expected to be 6-7 Renard Fields from Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and Ije Nwankwo, who becomes eligible at the semester break after transferring from Purdue.
6. Illinois-Chicago (15–14, 8–8)
Three junior college transfers are expected to make an impact right away -- Othyus Jeffers, Danijel Zoric and D.J. Smedley. Joining senior forward Elliott Poole and sophomore guard Karl White in the early going for starting spots will be senior guard Rocky Collum, junior forward Jovan Stefanov and senior forward Justin Bowen. The Flames, though, will burn without former standouts Cedrick Banks and Armond Williams, who have exhausted their eligibility.
7. UW-Green Bay (17–11, 10–6)
Only 6-7 junior Josh Lawrence remains from a starting lineup that battled its way to second place during the regular season and lost a tough semifinal tournament game to Detroit. Benito Flores had hoped to play a third year but was denied by the NCAA because he played two years of junior college ball. Recruiting analysts had UW-Green Bay’s newest class highly ranked -- 6-5 junior college transfer Aswan Minatee and 6-8 freshman Ryan Tillema should compete for starting spots.
8. Butler (13–15, 7–9)
All five starters return from one of Butler’s most disappointing teams. The Bulldogs will have some senior leadership to lean on, with Brandon Polk, Bruce Horan and Avery Sheets all returning for one last run at another postseason berth. Brandon Crone, a 6-6 junior and skinny sophomore A.J. Graves, a 6-1 guard, will be helped considerably if 6-7 forward Brian Ligon recovers from a second knee surgery in two years.
9. Youngstown State (5–23, 2–14)
With new coach Jerry Slocum on board, let the remake of the Penquins’ roster begin. Slocum has been a head coach at three Division II schools, posting a 580–325 career record. To start, he doesn’t have much to work with. Leading scorer Quin Humphrey (14.4 ppg) is back, as are part-time starters Derrick Harris and John Barber. But starting point guard Jon Mends and key reserve Zach Silverman left the program.