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Thursday upsets clear up muddy Horizon League race ... sort of

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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Look around all you want, but you might not find a conference in America seeing a wilder finish atop its standings down the stretch run than the Horizon League.

A weird finish actually got cleared up a bit on Thursday night.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee went on the road and defeated Cleveland State, who was all alone in first place entering the contest, 87-83. It creates a 3-way tie for first now between those two and Butler.

Meanwhile, all but killing itself in the race was Valparaiso.

The Crusaders melted in glorious fashion in the final 20 seconds at Wisconsin-Green Bay on Monday night, losing 81-80. Still, with a chance to remain tied with the other three in first on Thursday night, they were shockingly blown out at home by Loyola Chicago, 68-48.

So, here's a look at the picture heading into the weekend …

• UW-Milwaukee (17-12 overall, 12-5 Horizon) is one of two teams controlling its own destiny. The Panthers have won eight league games in a row, and close out the regular season at last place Youngstown State on Saturday. They own the tiebreaker over both Butler and Cleveland State, and will secure the top seed by just winning.

• Butler (20-9, 12-5) also clinches a double-bye with a win on Saturday. The Bulldogs host Loyola Chicago, and after Valpo's collapse against the Ramblers on Thursday night, it's safe to say that they have the Bulldogs' full attention. A win would give Butler seven in a row to close out the regular season after a brutal loss at Youngstown State on Feb. 3 went down as its third in a row and appeared to rip apart its at-large résumé.

• Cleveland State (23-7, 12-5) also needs a win at home against UW-Green Bay to close it out, but would be left out in the cold in a 3-way tie, holding just a 1-3 record against the other two teams at the top. That said, the Vikings will be praying for an upset elsewhere.

Valparaiso (20-10, 11-6) is technically still alive. Even with a victory over Illinois-Chicago, the Crusaders would need a miracle. Heck, if they can lose at home to Loyola Chicago, who's to say the other three at the top can't all fall? It's probably a million-in-one shot … but it's a shot.

The scariest scenario for the rest of the league, which appears likely, is Butler grabbing one of the double-byes and getting a semifinal game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

No matter how this season has gone to this point, most of the core is in place from a team that came mere inches from winning a national title a year ago. That's still scary.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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