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Analysis: What NKU's Move to Horizon League Could Mean for Men's Basketball

New developments continue for Northern Kentucky University men's basketball as it was learned Saturday that the Norse are expected to join the Horizon League for all of its 15 sports, leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference behind.

The move to the Horizon League is seen as a major advancement of NKU athletics and allows the Norse to compete with more Midwest teams compared to the generally Southeastern teams of the A-Sun. Last season, Valparaiso won the Horizon men's basketball tournament with a 28-5 record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a 13-seed where they lost to the 4-seed Maryland, 65-62, in the first round.

The Norse will be in the last year of their transition to NCAA Division I next season and will be eligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament beginning with the 2016-17 season. NKU announced their new men's basketball head coach John Brannen during the offseason. The Northern Kentucky native arrived from Alabama where he was an assitant and replaced Dave Bezold, who had been the coach for 11 years and an assistant for a decade-plus before, in Highland Heights. The coaching change, combined with the perceived upgrade in conference is part of an apparent effort by the school to boost its basketball program to compete in recruiting with other larger local colleges and universities.

Recent Horizon League basketball accolades include former member Butler making the NCAA Championship Game in 2010 and 2011, losing both times. Four schools have made the Sweet 16 since 1985, including Xavier in 1990 when they were part of the Horizon League.

In addition to its state-of-the-art arena in a major metropolitan area and a new head coach with big-time program experience at Alabama, the Norse hope the move to the Horizon League will assist their recruiting of talented incoming freshmen. Last year, freshman Tayler Parsons was named the A-Sun Freshman of the Year, but transferred away from NKU after Brannen replaced Bezold. Daniel Camps, another young talent on the Norse bench, and top recruit Hagen Tyler decided to play elsewhere next season after the coaching change.

NKU finished 13-17 and 7-7 in the A-Sun last season. They lost their first-ever Division I postseason game in overtime in the first round of the A-Sun Tournament at Regents Hall in March.  

-Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: John Brannen (via NKU)