With virtually the entire league playing league games on Monday, it seemed like a good time to push the Horizon League Power Rankings back a day. Good thing too, this list would’ve looked ridiculous right now if it were written Sunday night!
The start of League play seemed destined to result in substantial changes in the Horizon League Power Rankings even before Northern Kentucky forward Dantez Walton went down with an injury. But losing the clubhouse leader for Horizon League Player of the Year has resulted in a drastic shakeup that few would’ve predicted during the late stages of the non-conference slate.
- Wright State Raiders (12-3, 2-0 in Horizon League) – The Raiders first pair of Horizon League games didn’t exactly solidify the team’s status as the team to beat in the Horizon league, but coming out 2-0 in Horizon League play with a win over one of the more impressive teams of the week is still a success. The Raiders beat Green Bay 90-84 in a game where trends both teams have shown were once again on display.
Much like it has several times this year, Green Bay fell into a sizable hole early and needed to play catchup in the second half. The Phoenix trailed 41-28 with a little over three minutes to play in the first half before battling back in the second half. Unlike previous efforts, Green Bay was able to catch DASH and even surpass DASH Wright State, a continuation of a troubling trend for the Raiders in games they start strong. Will Chevalier put the Phoenix up 60-58 with 10 minutes to play, and the Phoenix eventually grew the lead out to five before Wright State surged and retook the lead for good. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. While struggling at home isn’t always a good sign for the return trip, Wright State has underperformed at home and over-performed on the road so far this year. The result is enough to keep them comfortably in first place in the league — for now.
- Youngstown State Penguins (9-6, 2-0) – The Penguins surge continues, with the team making a jump into the second spot that didn’t seem possible before Walton’s injury. Youngstown started Horizon League play on the road and came away 2-0 with a pretty comfortable win over a UIC team that has looked much better since the return of Marcus Ottey and Jordan Blount.
- Green Bay Phoenix (6-9, 1-1) – Green Bay didn’t win both of its first Horizon League games, but starting league play on the road against what have been the two strongest teams in the league and going 1-1 with a convincing victory is enough to warrant a jump over an Oakland team that did everything it could right this week.
In addition to a strong road showing against Wright State, the Phoenix dismantled a Northern Kentucky team that was at the top of these rankings just a few weeks ago. While the value of that win is hard to figure out given that it came with Dantez Walton sidelined, it was the catalyst for a lot of the dramatic changes in this week’s rankings.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (6-8, 1-0) – While the Golden Grizzlies handled business this week, a lone matchup against one of the league’s worst teams left the team vulnerable to drop in the rankings when combined with a four-game losing streak entering the weekend. Oakland jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first six minutes against Detroit Mercy and led comfortably from wire-to-wire in its lone game of the week.
It might seem a little harsh to drop Oakland below two other teams in a week where the team easily won its only game, but the Golden Grizzlies will have a chance to make a statement of their own this week when Wright State and Northern Kentucky come to Auburn Hills.
- UIC Flames (6-9, 1-1) – The Flames remain at the bottom of what was at one point the middle-of-the-pack in the Horizon League Power Rankings after a 1-1 week with a win over Cleveland State and a home loss to newly second ranked Youngstown State.
The Flames have looked a lot better at full-strength, but with a home loss to a team that seemed to be at about the same level, this week put some distance between them and the other schools they were lumped with previously. There seems to be a lot riding on this season for head coach Steve McClain, but it’s not clear if UIC can finish in the top half of the league after starting the year with sky-high expectations.
- Northern Kentucky Norse (9-5, 1-1) – After spending the whole year as a Top two team in the Horizon League, the loss of Walton took its toll this week. By itself, getting blown out by UNC-Greensboro isn’t a horrible loss, but turning around and getting blown out again — this time at home by Green Bay — isn’t a great result when our sample of how the Norse perform without Walton is so small. NKU could easily jump out of this spot while Walton is still sidelined if it can prove that its 0-for-16 start from beyond the arc against Green Bay was just a horrible fluke, something that doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The Norse should easily return to the top end of the league if they can get back to full strength and figure out how to gel with Tyler Sharpe, Jalen Tate and Dantez Walton all in the lineup. But for the time being, Northern Kentucky takes a steep tumble in the rankings while we wait for more evidence of what the team will be like in its current form.
- Cleveland State Vikings (5-10, 1-1) – This is getting out of hand. The mass exodus at Cleveland State over the summer left the Vikings looking like a team incapable of rising out of tenth place. In the early stages of the season, there was a lot to be encouraged about, but without the star power that some of the other teams near the bottom of the league had, it didn’t seem likely.
But among the lesser teams in the Horizon League, the Vikings have wound up being the tortoise in a pack full of hares. Cleveland State might not wind up with a win against a team that finishes outside of the bottom four in the Horizon League, but its road win over IUPUI could be the first of many it collects on its way to a surprising finish given its current roster makeup.
- Milwaukee Panthers (5-9, 0-2) – Like Green Bay, Milwaukee had a tall task on its hands starting conference play on the road against Wright State and Northern Kentucky. Unlike Green Bay, Milwaukee struggled to compete with — much less dominate — the Norse. With our small sample size of NKU without Walton being pretty ugly, Milwaukee gets bumped down in favor of a team that actually won a league game.
The Panthers appear to be a rich man’s version of some of the other teams at the bottom of the league. Brandon Roy, Te’Jon Lucas, Josh Thomas and even DeAndre Abram have shown sporadic ability to go off for big performances that can single-handedly lead Milwaukee to unexpected wins.
- IUPUI Jaguars (4-11, 0-2) – Like Milwaukee, IUPUI had an 0-2 week to start Horizon League play. Unlike Milwaukee, one of the Jaguars losses came to a team that will likely finish among the bottom teams in the Horizon League. While most teams in the Horizon will struggle to get through a weekend on the road against Wright State and Northern Kentucky DASH even in its current form — undefeated, the same probably won’t be said about visiting Cleveland State and UIC.
- Detroit Mercy (2-12, 0-1) – After losing at Oakland to start Horizon League play, Detroit Mercy played the final game of the Horizon League’s non-conference schedule. A trip to top ranked Gonzaga went about as you’d expect it to, with the Bulldogs running the Titans out of the gym for a 93-72 win. Detroit Mercy fans have to hope Antoine Davis doesn’t have a finite number of efficient performances in him, as the Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year actually shot pretty well against the nation’s top team. Davis went 11-for-23 from the field and 5-for-11 from beyond the arc to score 31 points, an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 58.7%.
If Davis can perform more efficiently against league opponents than he has in the non-conference, Detroit could still be a dangerous threat to beat anybody in the league on any given night, but after Trey Maddox held him to a 4-for-17 night in his Horizon League debut, that’s something we’ll need to see before he gets the benefit of the doubt that it’s inevitable.