Walton is leading the way for NKU in Jalen Tate’s absence
Northern Kentucky senior forward Dantez Walton wasn’t a member of either of the Horizon League’s Preseason All-League teams. His teammates Jalen Tate and Tyler Sharpe were named first and second team respectively, and both were second team picks on the HoriZone Roundtable’s preseason All-League team. While we can’t speak for the league, I can confirm that Walton wasn’t even one of the three Northern Kentucky players to receive votes in our preseason picks.
None of that is particularly surprising. Walton was Northern Kentucky’s third leading returning scorer, and heading into his senior season he seemed like he was a fairly finished product. To date, Walton is proving that last season’s output was anything but his final product. The 6-foot-6 senior is averaging a team-leading 18.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the 6-3 Norse.
Our friends at Norse Report were the first to identify Walton’s strong case last Monday. Chris Hart created an algorithm that took into account the factors that have decided previous Horizon League Players of the Year. Walton jumped from outside of the Top 5 to the top spot last week. Since then he’s secured his second and third 30-point outings, first with 30 points on Sunday in a six-point loss at Arkansas and then again on Tuesday night with 32 points in a 76-54 throttling of Miami (OH). After Tuesday, the two-time defending Horizon League Player of the Week seems poised for a three-peat.
Walton’s incredible play is very timely for the Norse. Projected leader Jalen Tate went down with an injury in the third game of the season — a one-point victory over Coastal Carolina — and is expected to miss four to six weeks of action. Since that game, Walton’s least productive outing outside of a 30-point win over Midway University where he was pulled after just five minutes was a 18 point, 6 rebound outing in a 59-57 victory over Ball State.
In addition to the fact that Walton hasn’t been racking up his statistics against NKU’s non-Division I opponents, he hasn’t been been procuring them with inefficient chucking either. He’s made 49.0% of his shots on the season and 36.4 percent of his three-pointers. His numbers have been even more impressive in his last three Division I outings. In his run of 30-point performances, he’s shot 62.9% from the field while knocking down 53.8% of his three-pointers.
While the utterly dominant performances on a winning team make a solid case for Walton as a way-too-early frontrunner for Horizon League Player of the Year, the chaos around the league has helped strengthen his standing. Tate and fellow First Team pick Loudon Love have been sidelined with injuries. Another first teamer, Tarkus Ferguson missed three games for undisclosed reasons and the Flames seem poised to fall well short of preseason expectations. The league’s Preseason Player of the Year Antoine Davis has remained healthy and his scoring averages have increased from last year, but like Ferguson his team is falling short of preseason expectations while teams like Cleveland State and IUPUI don’t look as feeble as once predicted.
Given that the preseason expectations already had Detroit Mercy near the bottom of the league, it’s not clear right now if his team’s final standing will be good enough for Davis to warrant a League Player of the Year Award. Davis’ shooting percentages have also taken a significant hit, but with four of Detroit Mercy’s seven opponents ranked higher than anybody in the Horizon League it seems too early to worry about that.
The biggest hinderance to Walton’s bid for Horizon League Player of the Year may end up being a huge help to Northern Kentucky as a team. While Jalen Tate’s injury is serious enough to take him out of action for over a month, he should return this season. When he does, he’ll obviously eat away at Walton’s numbers.
As previously stated, Walton’s rise coincided with Tate’s injury. While it seems unlikely that Walton would find himself in the same role he was in before Tate’s injury, adding an All-League talent will take away opportunities from the rest of the lineup. Tate’s return may prevent him, Walton and Sharpe from putting up the flashy numbers needed for more recognition and Horizon League awards; even if it ends up dramatically improving Northern Kentucky as a team.