Butler may be the only ranked team in the Horizon League, but the 12th-ranked Bulldogs aren't atop the league's standings.
That honor belongs to Cleveland State, which hopes to stay unbeaten in conference play on Thursday when it hosts Butler, which is looking to win its ninth straight game.Butler (16-1, 5-1) received 42 of 46 first-place votes in the Horizon League's preseason poll. Cleveland State (12-5, 5-0), however, wasn't even in the conversation, getting picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams.The Bulldogs have lived up to their preseason billing behind a balanced offense and the league's best defense, both of which were on display Saturday in a 72-56 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.Four different players scored in double figures for Butler, led by Matt Howard with 17 points. Howard, a freshman forward, has scored in double figures in 10 straight games and is averaging 19.3 points in his last three while shooting 17-for-26 (65.4 percent) from the field."Matt does a great job getting the angles (to the basket)," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "He's a hard guy to keep from going where he wants to go, and he's a hard guy to stop from fouling."Defensively, Butler held Milwaukee to 35.1 percent shooting from the field. The Bulldogs are allowing 57.8 points per game this season -- the best average in the league by more than six points.Their current winning streak is their fourth of at least eight games in the last two seasons alone. During the 2006-07 season, Butler had two runs of at least nine games, one of which included a 92-50 win at Cleveland State.In that game, current senior Pete Campbell matched a career high with 28 points and shooting 8 of 11 from 3-point range as Butler won its fourth straight against the Vikings.The Bulldogs are also 13-2 in their last 15 meetings with Cleveland State, but this season's Vikings are beating teams to which they traditionally lose. They have already ended a 20-game losing streak at Detroit, and snapped an 11-game losing streak to Loyola of Illinois.They have also won four in a row overall, and are coming off a 65-63 win Saturday at Wright State -- the site of Butler's lone loss this season. On Saturday, the Vikings erased a 13-point deficit and won on a 3-pointer by senior forward Kevin Francis with 11.7 seconds left."We won this game with heart," Vikings coach Gary Waters told the school's official Web site. "This team is on a mission. They may not exactly know right now where it is taking us, but we are playing some good basketball and we have good things ahead for us."Cleveland State has begun conference play with five straight wins for the first time since starting with 14 straight during the 1992-93 season, and has already won more games than all of last season, when it finished 10-21.The Vikings have 10 newcomers, the most important of which has been Cedric Jackson. The junior guard leads the team with 14.6 points, 5.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game in his first season since transferring from St. John's.Last season's leading scorer, junior forward J'Nathan Bullock, is averaging a career-best 14.4 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds per game.