It wasn’t all that long ago that Austin Peay was one of the elite teams in the Ohio Valley Conference. In 2010-11, the Governors finished their sixth straight year with double-digit conference wins, finishing the year with a 20-14 record. Things have been much different in Chris Horton‘s time with the program. Austin Peay have missed the last two OVC Tournaments for the first time since 1983-84.
But it’s hard to place too much blame on Horton. The 6’8 center made an immediate impact as a freshman two seasons ago, and rose to one of the league’s prominent big men, avoiding a sophomore slump this past season. You may not have noticed, thanks in part to the Govs 6-10 conference record, Horton led the OVC in blocks, and finished in the top-10 in field-goal percentage and rebounding.
Those numbers weren’t just sold for the conference: Horton’s three blocks a game were 13th best in the nation, and his 9.5 rebounds put him in the top-25 in Division I. Just as impressive: the shot blocker fouled out just once all season long.
His role could change somewhat on the offense this year. Last season, he was the inside foil to the outside sharpshooting of guard Travis Betran, who graduated after averaging 18-points a game last year. This year, defenses could collapse on Horton a bit more frequently, as it doesn’t appear the Governors have a singular guard that can take over that level of scoring production on the perimeter.
Horton also needs to be a better foul shooter. As a big man, he gets plenty of opportunities, but is just a 57% free-throw shooter over his two seasons.
Despite his lofty block total, there’s room for Horton to grow defensively. Last year, it seemed it was far too often block-or-nothing on defense, as Horton allowed too many open looks underneath. It’s evidenced in part by Austin Peay ranked ninth in the conference in two-point percentage defense a year ago — a problem that haunted the Governors throughout the year. A lot of it has to do with positioning: Horton has the size and talent, but played out of position. Imagine how effective he could be if Dave Loos can get that fixed this season.
The OVC isn’t known for great big men. Often, it’s the guards who get most of the love. But that only goes to make guys like Horton more special, and more valuable to their teams. There aren’t probably more than a handful of guys conference wide that can win offensively against Horton in a one-on-one matchup. There are few guys I’d rather build a team around at this level than him.