Butler may yet round into form as the Horizon League's dominant team. It's hard to imagine a Bulldogs team this talented, experienced and well-coached not winning their conference by the time all is said and done in 2011.
The only difference between this year's dominance and last year's? This year, Butler will have some competition.
It's still early, of course, but there are already signs that Cleveland State -- which is off to a surprising 15-1 start with its only loss coming at West Virginia -- are a team to be reckoned with in the Horizon. Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway cast his tempo-free gaze at the Horizon League Monday and found that through four league games, Cleveland State is already outperforming Butler on a per-possession basis. The Vikings are scoring 1.22 points per possession on offense and allowing only .95 ppp on defense, giving them the largest conference play margin of any team in the Horizon. Butler, through two games, is second thus far.
Of course, it's still very early, and Cleveland State is likely due for a return to normalcy at some point. The Vikings are currently outpacing Butler's 2009-10 conference performance, in which the Bulldogs stormed through the league with an undefeated 18-0 record. That's not a sustainable pace.
But it is worth keeping an eye on. On Friday, Cleveland State will travel to Butler for the duo's first league matchup. Butler travels to Cleveland State in about a month. The Vikings might not keep up this pace forever, but they appear to be a viable challenger to Butler's usually untouched Horizon League throne.