Horizon brings women’s hoops tourney to Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The Horizon League men’s basketball tournament just finished Year 1 of a five-year contract that will include one more year at Joe Louis Arena before moving to the new Little Caesars Arena for the final three years of the deal.

Detroit — The Horizon League’s “Motor City Madness” is expanding next year to include the women’s basketball conference tournament.

The league made the announcement Wednesday, saying the men’s and women’s tournaments will run concurrently March 3-7 at Joe Louis Arena.

This past season, the men’s tournament made its debut in Detroit.

“I think it’s gonna be really fun and it’s gonna be interesting,” Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “Our focus has always been what we can we do to really have a great experience for our students. That’s always been No. 1. And we really want to engage with the community of Detroit.”

The men’s tournament just finished Year 1 of a five-year contract that will include one more year at Joe Louis Arena before moving to the new Little Caesars Arena for the final three years of the deal. The women’s tournament arrangement will operate on a year-to-year basis, at least to start.

On Friday, March 3, both tournaments will feature 8-9 and 7-10 seed games, with the winners advancing to play the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the second round.

That’s another change for the men’s tournament, which made headlines this year when then-Wright State coach Billy Donlon blasted the Horizon League for its format of awarding Nos. 1 and 2 seeds double-byes into the semifinals.

Wright State was a No. 3 seed, but had the same regular-season conference record as No. 2 seed Oakland. Wright State had no byes, Oakland had two.

Wright State got the last laugh, making the conference tournament championship game, but Donlon was fired anyway, and now is an assistant at Michigan.

“I think we always review our brackets each and every year,” LeCrone said. “We’ve done it a lot of different ways.

“I don’t think it was driven by any one thing or any win or any losses. We’re just always trying to make improvements. I don’t think any one factor drove it. We thought our tournament in Detroit for the first year was quite successful, and we just want to build on it.”

Now the top six seeds get byes. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds will play Saturday, March 4, with the 4-5 and 3-6 seeds playing Sunday, March 5. The semifinals will be Monday, March 6, with the championship games Tuesday, March 7.

More than 20,000 fans attended the four-day men’s tournament in its first year at Joe Louis Arena, the first year the tournament has been held at a neutral site since 2003.

The women’s tournament has been held at Wisconsin-Green Bay for the past decade, Green Bay getting the honors for winning the regular-season titles.

It remains to be seen if women’s basketball fans show up like men’s fans did this past March. Green Bay averaged 1,772 fans a game during the regular season, tops in the league; Oakland averaged 808 and Detroit 710.

“We wanted to go ahead and bring the women in and see how it works,” LeCrone said. “We’ll learn a lot this year and probably make improvements.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: tonypaul1984