HoriZone Roundtable Preseason Poll

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Wright State pegged as preseason favorite

Wright State has been voted as the HoriZone Roundtable favorite to win the 2019-20 Horizon League championship by site writers and podcast staff. The Raiders won a share of the 2019 Horizon League regular season title and wound up in the NIT after losing to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League tournament.

UIC and Northern Kentucky are projected second and third in league play, with UIC returning everyone from last year’s roster and Northern Kentucky still having a strong squad despite the departures of Head Coach John Brannen and Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald. Oakland’s excellent front court helped land them fourth place in the poll. Youngstown and Green Bay both return most of their rotations from last year, but the departure of Green Bay’s star Sandy Cohen III drops the Phoenix to sixth in the predictions. Enigmatic Detroit Mercy can win games on the back of Antoine Davis, but questions about his supporting cast land the Titans in seventh to start the year. Milwaukee got a bump to eighth in the standings after an increasingly rare quiet offseason and the addition of Illinois transfer Te’Jon Lucas. IUPUI and Cleveland State weren’t as lucky as Milwaukee and round out the poll after watching their rosters turn over and losing coaches late in the offseason.

HoriZone Roundtable Horizon League Preseason Poll

Place School (First Place Votes)
1 Wright State (9)
2 UIC
3 Northern Kentucky (1)
4 Oakland
5 Youngstown State
6 Green Bay
7 Detroit Mercy
8 Milwaukee
9 IUPUI
10 Cleveland State

Wright State is the overwhelming HoriZone Roundtable staff pick to win the league, earning all but one first place vote. The Raiders were the only team with a first and a second team All-Horizon League pick last season, and both Loudon Love and Bill Wampler return this year.

While the Raiders lost several key players — senior leaders Mark Hughes, Parker Ernsthausen and Alan Vest as well as All-Freshman Team member Malachi Smith — the team seems to have suitable replacements waiting in the wings. Marist graduate transfer Aleksandar Dozic looks likely to step into the open starting spot in the front court while guard Jaylon Hall is returning from an injury that kept him out of all but one game last season and seems like a player who could break out in the league. Northwestern graduate transfer Jordan Ash will provide senior leadership with the ability to play both guard spots. Wright State has so many quality veterans coming into the fold that the Horizon League’s most highly regarded freshman class may not be put to use much this year.

It’s been 16 years since UIC finished Top 2 in the Horizon League. In 2004, a senior-heavy and perimeter-oriented Flames team finished second in the regular season and won the league’s NCAA Tournament automatic bid. Steve McClain’s squad appears to have the potential to do the same this year. Led by All-League guard Tarkus Ferguson, UIC returns nearly everyone from last year’s fourth place team and the Flames look positioned to contend.

Ferguson led the Flames in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks; but that doesn’t tell the whole story for UIC. Ferguson’s backcourt mates Marcus Ottey and Godwin Boahen both finished less than a point per game behind Ferguson’s scoring average, giving the Flames a ridiculously versatile attack that will force defenses to pick their poison this year. Jordan Blount, Michael Diggins and Rob Howard Jr. are serviceable forwards, exactly what the Flames need them to be with such firepower in the backcourt.

Northern Kentucky looks to be taking a step back after losing its leaders both on the court and on the sideline, but the Norse return enough talent to remain a contender for the Horizon League title. Neither Tyler Sharpe nor Jalen Tate was selected as a member of the All-Horizon League teams last year, but both found themselves at the top of the Second Team in the HoriZone Roundtable Preseason Poll. Following the graduation of 2019 Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald, Sharpe and Tate should see more opportunities to make plays this year.

At the conclusion of another successful year, Norse Head Coach John Brannen took over for Mick Cronin at Cincinnati. Texas assistant and former Western Kentucky Head Coach Darrin Horn will lead the Norse through a year that will likely see the team’s focus shift from the post to the perimeter. While forward Dantez Walton seems to have enough size to have an impact in the post most nights during league play; Northern Kentucky should run through Sharpe, Tate and sophomore guard Trevon Faulkner this year.

Oakland looked poised to contend with Wright State until the unexpected transfers of leading scorer Jaevin Cumberland and Horizon League All-Freshman Team pick Braden Norris. Losing such an important pair of perimeter players knocked the Golden Grizzlies down a notch, but it’s too early to rule them out completely thanks to what looks like the strongest front court pairing in the Horizon League.

HoriZone Roundtable First Team All-League pick Xavier Hill-Mais and Second Team pick Brad Brechting give Oakland excellent size in a league where that’s a rarity this season. Hill-Mais and Brechting could make Oakland a surprise contender this season, or at least a dangerous candidate to play spoiler in the conference tournament.

Youngstown State brings back its whole rotation except for two reserve forwards, and a young Penguins team looks likely to improve on last year’s 8-10 Horizon League record. If multiple players from a promising sophomore class led by All-League guard Darius Quisenberry can make a leap forward, Youngstown State could be on its way to its best league record since joining the Horizon League. Double-double machine Naz Bohannon looks like a candidate to earn All-League honors, as much of the size that could contend with his 230 pound frame has moved on from the Horizon League.

Green Bay returns all but one player from last year’s team, but that one departure is the team’s All-Everything wing Sandy Cohen III. Cohen led the Phoenix in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks last year. With Cohen gone, guard JayQuan McCloud and forward Shanquan “Tank” Hemphill will need to take on larger roles if they’re going to keep the undersized Phoenix in the top half of the league. Forward Manny Patterson and wing Cody Schwartz are Green Bay’s only returning players over 6-foot-6, and it remains to be seen if it was Cohen’s excellent all-around game that allowed the Phoenix to succeed with so little size.

Nobody was harder to pin down this year than Detroit Mercy. The Titans were picked as high as third and as low as ninth in the HoriZone Roundtable poll. There are a couple likely contributors: on one hand, the Titans have our Preseason Player of the Year pick in Antoine Davis. He’s an incredible scorer who broke Steph Curry’s record for 3-pointers by a freshman, and he’s a threat to take over the game on any night.

On the other hand, Detroit Mercy went 11-20 last year and is currently disputing a postseason ban resulting from a low Academic Progress Rate. If the ban isn’t lifted, the Titans might not have much to play for and motivation could be tough to come by. With that said, Davis is the coach’s son and has NBA aspirations. It’s unlikely that this will be treated like a lost year where key players redshirt, particularly when the NCAA doesn’t appear to be making a ruling either way before the season starts.

Last year’s last place finisher in the Horizon League, Milwaukee gets bumped to eighth as a function of having a quiet offseason. Last season’s roster was thrown into a flux with the transfers of Brock Stull, Bryce Nze and Jeremiah Bell. This year, the Panthers return their top two scorers and bring in Illinois transfer Te’Jon Lucas while losing only backup guard Bryce Barnes to transfer.

With the expected improvements in the backcourt, Milwaukee’s front court will determine the Panthers’ ceiling. If unproven USC transfer Harrison Henderson can be an impact player, the Panthers could be a candidate to jump into the middle of the pack in league play.

IUPUI has finished fifth and sixth in its first two seasons as a Horizon League member. Despite losing its two best front court players and All-Defensive Team guard D.J. McCall, IUPUI looked to be a in a position to finish in that range again when last season ended. A tumultuous offseason seems to have put an end to those hopes.

The transfer of 2019 All-League guard Camron Justice negated the addition of sharpshooter Marcus Burk, who transferred in from Campbell. Justice’s transfer makes the transfers of guards Nick Rogers and Calvin Temple harder to swallow. Jason Gardner’s OWI arrest and subsequent resignation leaves Interim Head Coach Byron Rimm with just one experienced assistant as the Jaguars attempt to navigate a season that turned quickly into a rebuild.

If anyone had a worse offseason than IUPUI, it was Cleveland State. Where IUPUI suffered from a gradual trickle of bad news, the Vikings’ offseason chaos came in one gigantic eruption. Rumors of an apparent mutiny if Head Coach Dennis Felton was retained began rumbling in late June, and within weeks appeared to be proven true as Felton was relieved of his duties.

Unfortunately for CSU faithful, that wasn’t enough to keep the floodgates from opening. Four of the Vikings’ top five scorers — including 2019 Horizon League Second Team All-League pick Tyree Appleby and All-Freshman pick Rashad Williams — opted to transfer. Cleveland State also lost Rasheem Dunn to transfer. Dunn sat out last season after transferring in from Saint Francis of Brooklyn where he led the team in points, rebounds and steals as a sophomore. The late firing and roster overhaul left Cleveland State scrambling to fill out its roster in late July. While it seems that Dennis Gates did an admirable job, it’s hard to see this season panning out for the Vikings.

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