Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 2/28/12
DETROIT -- It's been a tale of two seasons for the 2011-12 Detroit Titans, who open up the Horizon League tournament Tuesday night at Calihan Hall as the No. 3 seed against Loyola. And, with the finish line in full view, the Titans look to put a cinematic capper on what has been an up-and-down season. In the first act, which drably concluded on Dec. 31 with a victory over Loyola, Detroit was an uneven 7-9, including a loss to Horizon cellar dweller UIC on the road. In the second act, the Titans seemed to find their stride. Since Jan. 1, they are 11-4, including two wins over Butler, who played for a national championship the previous two seasons. As they close in on the finale, the Titans hope to make the third act to this roller-coaster season reminiscent of a Hollywood finish. For a team as talented as the Titans, a memorable finish is not out of the question, but it's dependent on a few things. First, the Titans must improve their consistency to win the Horizon League and earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Although it might be reassuring to know that Jason Calliste has it in him to lead the way in scoring (as he did against James Madison with 19), it's much more effective when that load is carried by Ray McCallum, Chase Simon or Eli Holman. If those three are playing well, and together, then the floor seems to open up, which would allow a shooter like Calliste to score anyways. A second key is the play between Holman and fellow senior LaMarcus Lowe. When those two are on the floor together, they present arguably the most formidable frontline in the Horizon and a matchup nightmare for whoever has the arduous task of shutting them down. I think that LaMarcus and I create matchup problems for every team in this conference, Holman said. But for us, it just keeps our motive going, keeps our energy level going. It helps knowing that I have his back and he has mine when it comes to blocking shots and rebounding. If my guy beats me, that ball is going into the second row and vice-versa. He definitely has a height advantage over most of the fours in our league. Another key to Detroits success is the play and leadership of McCallum, the Titans' leading scorer, their primary catalyst and the player whom Holman calls the pilot of our airplane. As McCallum goes, generally so do the Titans. If he's off his game, then Chase Simon is the Titans' last line of offensive defense. He's their Swiss Army knife, their jack-of-all-trades. Simon might not be the most polished player for Detroit, but he's one of the most versatile, and production from him is a necessity if the Titans are to make a push to play beyond this week. Finally, Detroit needs to play defense. They're averaging a league best 72.3 points per game, but they're giving up a league worst 68.1 ppg on the other end. The Titans have proven they can score with the best of them, now they need to prove they can win a trench-battle, especially given that Cleveland State represents the best scoring defense in the league. Opening against Loyola, which has a 1-17 conference record, can be described as anything but daunting. But whatever reputation Loyola gives up because of their abysmal record, they make up for it by playing tough teams close -- at least as of late. Loyola played well down the stretch," coach Ray McCallum said. "We wanted to make sure that our guys understand how Loyola finished the season, at home and on the road. "They took Valpo to overtime, I believe. They took Green Bay to overtime and won at Bradley, so theyve been playing good basketball the last few weeks. Had the Titans won out last week, they would have come into the tournament as the No. 2 seed, ahead of Cleveland State. Starting off the tournament with two straight byes would have been nice, but there's a silver lining: If Detroit can handle Loyola and then beat the winner of Youngstown State-Green Bay, the Titans will avoid playing either Valparaiso or Butler until the championship game. Cleveland State is the ranking seed on the Titans' side of the bracket, and they have played them closer this season than the scores would indicate. But to get there, the Titans need to keep up the consistency they've shown since Jan. 1, which means appreciating the gravity of each game. Its pretty much win or go home, coach McCallum said. For us, theres no NIT bid, theres no other tournament. Theres nothing else out there for us. "Its go to the NCAA tournament or, you know, were done.
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