Bracket tweak possibility for Horizon tournament

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Charles Cooper and his Green Bay teammates advanced as Horizon League champions in the first year at Joe Louis Arena.

Detroit — The Horizon League will take another look at the bracket format for its men's basketball tournament, and it is open to making changes for the second year at Joe Louis Arena, the commissioner told The News earlier this week.

"We'll discuss it," commissioner Jonathan LeCrone said. "We might land right where we are. I'm not suggesting we are going to change it."

The bracket format has come under fire on multiple fronts over the last few days.

Wright State coach Billy Donlon got the discussion rolling with a rant Sunday night, after his team won for the second time in two days.

Donlon said it was unfair for his team, the No. 3 seed, to have to win four games in four days to get an NCAA Tournament bid, while the top two seeds, Valparaiso and Oakland, were given double-byes into the semifinals.

Donlon objected back in October when the format first was discussed. His team beat Valpo, the regular-season champion, twice during the regular season, but lost twice to Oakland and, thus, the seeding tiebreaker.

LeCrone and Donlon spoke after the coach's rant.

"I had no problem with the subject matter. I talked to Billy. I had a problem with the forum," said LeCrone, who wouldn't go into details on his talk with Donlon. "It probably wasn't the right place or the right time."

Interestingly, Wright State beat Oakland, 59-55, in the semifinal game Monday night at advance to the championship game against Green Bay.

Meanwhile, both teams that got the double-byes, Valpo and Oakland, lost their first games of the tournament.

Green Bay headed to NCAA Tournament with Horizon win

The double-byes led to extended layoffs for Valpo and Oakland — and might've proved more of a curse than a blessing.

Asked after Monday's win over Oakland about if he wanted a double-bye, now, Donlon quipped, "Well, I think you're gonna try to get me in trouble again."

"I played the game, coached the game. Is four games in a row difficult? Sure," LeCrone said. "But they are young people. I think they like to play rather than practice. It's not the end of the word."

The Horizon League has 10 teams, so some teams have to get a bye. Donlon suggested Sunday that maybe the seven through 10 seeds play in the opening around, giving the one through six seeds at least one bye. A decision on the format will have to made by May, since a change could affect how many dates the tournament needs -- and May is when the NHL schedule starts coming together.

This is the first year of a five-year contract between the Horizon League and Olympia Entertainment to hold the men's basketball tournament in Detroit. Years 1 and 2 are at Joe Louis Arena; the next three years will be held at the Red Wings' new arena, which is under construction and will open in 2017.

While the first two days of the tournament featured no upsets, Monday's two games were thrillers — an overtime game between Green Bay and Valpo, before the Wright State-Oakland game, which featured a super-loud crowd of 6,557 that played well on national television.

The last several seasons, the Horizon League has held games at the sites of the better seeds.

"I think we're off to a good start," LeCrone said. "I think there's a real opportunity to grow, so that was my hope. I know this, our students are having a great time. The competition is good, the coaches are really enjoying this. I think our fans are, that pleases me. It gives us something to build upon."

On the overall attendance, which would've been better had Detroit and Oakland played more than one game, LeCrone said, "I'm never satisfied."

LeCrone praised the work Olympia Entertainment staff have done in making things run, mostly, smoothly. He also praised the Horizon League staff for doing the same.

The Horizon League staff was found in an odd situation Monday night, when the play-by-play announcer for Green Bay, Matt Menzl, was ejected by the officiating crew. Refs took exception to some hand gestures being made, and Oakland play-by-play man Neal Ruhl jumped on the air to fill in.

The situation quickly was deemed a "misunderstanding," LeCrone said, and Menzl was allowed to return to the air. LeCrone said it was determined the broadcaster was just talking with his hands.

"So we were able to manage that to everybody's satisfaction," LeCrone said. "It's part of the madness!"