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Loyola, UIC ready for first round of Horizon League tournament

Former AurorCentral star Anthony Kelley made his 10th consecutive start for UIC Flames Wednesday night against UW-Milwaukee. | Phocourtesy UIC

Former Aurora Central star Anthony Kelley made his 10th consecutive start for the UIC Flames Wednesday night against UW-Milwaukee. | Photo courtesy of UIC

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HORIZON league

First-round games Tuesday

(9) Milwaukee at (4) Green Bay, 7 p.m.

(8) Cleveland State at (5) UIC, 7 p.m.

(7) Loyola at (6) Youngstown State, 6:05 p.m.

Updated: March 4, 2013 11:01PM

The Horizon League tournament, which starts Tuesday, has a favorite in top-seeded Valparaiso. But the Crusaders hardly will rest easily.

‘‘Anything can happen,’’ Loyola coach Porter Moser said.

The seventh-seeded Ramblers (15-15, 5-11), who will visit sixth-seeded Youngstown State (16-14, 7-9) in a first-round game Tuesday, might be the best example of a team that can spring an upset or two. They defeated the Crusaders in Valparaiso in the first game of the conference season.

Second-seeded Detroit, which will join Valparaiso with a double bye into the semifinals Saturday, ended the regular season with a victory Saturday at UIC, but the Flames (16-14, 7-9) retained the fifth seed and will host eighth-seeded Cleveland State (14-17, 5-11) in a first-round game Tuesday.

Should Loyola defeat Youngs-
town State, it would play third-seeded Wright State, which earned a bye into the second round Friday. Should UIC beat Cleveland State, it would play fourth-seeded Green Bay or ninth-seeded Milwaukee in the second round.

The Flames lost both regular-season meetings to the Vikings, but Cleveland State coach Gary Waters knows that only makes a third meeting more dangerous.

‘‘We know we are in for a tough contest at UIC,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve
already beaten them twice this year, and they have a lot to fight for.’’

UIC coach Howard Moore said the conference tournament — and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that goes to the winner — is renewed incentive for
his team.

‘‘We’ve worked all season long to get a home game in the Horizon League tournament,’’ he said. ‘‘Now we need to take advantage of that. We’ve got to get ourselves prepared for the postseason.’’

The Ramblers are entering the tournament with their best seed since 2007, when they were seeded third. They will seek their first postseason victory since 2008, when they won a first-round game against Milwaukee.

‘‘We’ve had some heartbreakers,’’ Moser said, referring to two regular-season losses to Youngstown State by a total of three points. ‘‘They beat us twice at the buzzer.

‘‘But I really feel our locker room feels we’re dangerous. In this league, we feel we can compete against anyone.’’

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