Horizon League Power Rankings – Week 12

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After a season full of ups and downs for just about every team in the Horizon League, a number of schools are settled in about where they were expected to before the year. Wright State and IUPUI have held steady on either end of the league for weeks. Green Bay, Milwaukee and Youngstown State are all currently looking like about what we thought they were; albeit a little higher in the standings overall thanks to a few teams underachieving. Cleveland State is in the midst of a slide and has settled in back near the bottom of the standings where they were predicted to be before the season.

With that said, this seems to be a bizarre moment when the Horizon League appears to mostly make sense. That’s not indicative of the league this year at all, so don’t be shocked when most of these teams are holding down a different spot next week.

  1. Wright State Raiders (17-4 overall, 7-1 in Horizon League play)

    Coming off of a stunning loss at UIC, Wright State had a chance to prove it was a fluke this week and things were back to business as usual. Although the Raiders went 2-0, the wins did little to create separation from a Northern Kentucky team that seems to be finding its way after a rough stretch.

    After easily handling Cleveland State, the Raiders trailed for less than a minute at home against Youngstown State but could never get any separation before winning 79-72. While it wasn’t a bad win, it lacked the wow-factor that travel partner NKU’s 88-63 drubbing of the Penguins two days earlier had. Wright State had enough of a leg up on the competition that falling out of first was unlikely as long as the team kept winning, but the margin has narrowed.
  2. Northern Kentucky Norse (14-6, 6-2)

    Northern Kentucky’s early league performances created a tough hill to climb to get back into striking distance of Wright State before Dantez Walton’s return, but this past week definitely did it. The Norse created distance between themselves and everyone outside of the Raiders by absolutely obliterating Youngstown State and Cleveland State and bringing the team’s win streak to five games. During the streak — where the Norse have played more road games than home games — the team is winning by over 20 points per game.

    The fact that the Norse seem to have figured out how to win games handily without Dantez Walton can only mean exciting things for Horizon League fans during the second half of league play. If Walton is able to be re-introduced into the lineup without creating much conflict over how best to share the ball, the Norse are going to be an incredibly fun team to watch and a potentially huge threat to Wright State.
  3. Youngstown State Penguins (11-9, 4-3)

    After the top two, things get weird. Of the three teams tied for third place, Youngstown State has both the least impressive “best win” (at UIC) and the most acceptable “worst loss” (at Cleveland State) in Horizon League play.

    The Penguins got absolutely obliterated in both games this week, but keep the spot due to a more difficult schedule than their two primary competitors for third. With five of seven Horizon League games on the road, Youngstown State’s schedule seems to have more potential for wins the rest of the way than either of the Wisconsin schools.
  4. Green Bay Phoenix (9-11, 4-3)

    While Youngstown State’s results have all been relatively unsurprising so far, Green Bay’s have had a great deal more variance. The Phoenix obliterated second place Northern Kentucky and were convincingly beaten down by last place IUPUI, but both results have additional factors that need to be considered.

    Northern Kentucky was fresh off of losing Dantez Walton against Green Bay, and the team wasn’t playing nearly as well as it has since then. On the flip side, the IUPUI loss came when both Jaylen Minnett and Marcus Burk had hot shooting nights at the same time.

    Ultimately, some forgiveness for Green Bay’s loss to IUPUI serves as the tiebreaker. While the Phoenix have trouble defending the arc, that alone doesn’t result in Minnett and Burk combining for a pretty efficient 57 points. When those two are on their game at the same time, nobody in the league is safe. To date, the Phoenix are just the only victims in league play.
  5. Milwaukee Panthers (9-10, 4-3)

    Figuring out Green Bay and Milwaukee was incredibly difficult this week. Before both teams welcomed the Michigan schools, the Panthers went to Green Bay and won convincingly. With both teams at 4-3 in league play, the argument that Green Bay is better collapses on itself. If Green Bay is better, then Milwaukee has definitely played the tougher league schedule of the travel partners and they have the same record.

    Beyond Green Bay’s IUPUI loss having the makings of a fluke, the Panthers’ mutual results don’t stack up. Milwaukee’s three league wins besides the game at Green Bay were tightly contested home games where it’s likely a venue change could change the winner. Green Bay’s road victory over Northern Kentucky and its home win over UIC were no-doubters.
  6. Detroit Mercy Titans (4-16, 2-5)

    The more I consider Detroit Mercy’s results, the more I think the team could be underrated in sixth place despite being ranked above two teams with better league records and one that holds a head-to-head win. Detroit Mercy has played unquestionably the league’s toughest schedule to date, with its only home games coming against league leaders Wright State and Northern Kentucky. One of the two road trips the Titans still need to make is to UIC and IUPUI, arguably the easiest pairing in the league.

    Given the lack of home games so far, the Titans’ results have to generate some optimism as we approach the second half of the league schedule. Each of Detroit Mercy’s league losses has been by single digits, with three of the five losses coming by one basket. A return trip to Wright State and NKU seems likely to deliver a pair of losses, but the team’s other 9 games could be very much in-play.
  7. UIC Flames (8-12, 3-4)

    After ending a four-game losing streak in stunning fashion with a wire-to-wire win over Wright State, UIC went to Indianapolis in its lone contest of the week and started a winning streak with a 75-66 victory over IUPUI. The Flames have been frustratingly difficult to figure out this season, except that they’ve definitely failed to live up to preseason expectations. The final four games five-game road trip could easily clear things up, but it’s just as likely the results will further complicate an already confusing season.
  8. Oakland Golden Grizzlies (7-13, 2-5)

    Like travel partner Detroit Mercy, the Golden Grizzlies have a poor league record and a number of frustratingly close road losses. Unlike the Titans, Oakland doesn’t have a flashy win to support the idea that there might be something more with the team.

    Oakland has been a horribly frustrating team. The Golden Grizzlies have an excellent front court in a league full of teams that have nothing in the paint to speak of, but haven’t had much luck taking advantage of size to date. Oakland is still in a position to make a run to a great seed in the league tournament, but the team has massively failed to live up to its potential so far.
  9. Cleveland State Vikings (7-13, 3-4)

    After spending much of the season well out of the expected rankings, Cleveland State hit a bit of a skid and wound up back in the bottom two. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with losing to the league’s top two teams, even if the margins weren’t remotely competitive. It’s more that the Vikings are in the midst of a losing streak wound up the lone bright spot in the win column for a sliding Oakland team.

    With so little separation in the middle of the league, there’s always opportunity around the corner for low-ranked teams to shake things up. If Cleveland State can win a game or two when the Wisconsin schools come to town, they’re still within striking distance to flip these rankings on their head.
  10. IUPUI Jaguars (5-15, 1-6)

    It’s been a predictably rough season for IUPUI since a shocking victory over South Florida in November. Outside of the previously mentioned win over Green Bay, the Jaguars have only been remotely competitive in two league contests before losing at home against Cleveland State and on the road at Milwaukee. In a season where there’s been so much change in the middle of the power rankings, the bookends have been fairly consistent.

    IUPUI could shake that up on the road against Oakland and Detroit Mercy, both of which seem to struggle in close games, but the Jaguars might just be a landmine as they wait for both Minnett and Burk to get hot at the same time before they win again.

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