For once, very little changed in this week’s HoriZone Roundtable Power Rankings. The top two teams went on the road and both came away 2-0. Green Bay came into the week with a one-game advantage and some impressive wins, so a loss that brought it even in the win column with Youngstown State, Milwaukee and UIC wasn’t enough to knock the Phoenix out of the third spot. A winless weekend for the back end of the conference meant there was no movement there either.
- Wright State Raiders 21-5 (11-2 in Horizon League play)
Both schools on the Michigan trip made things relatively interesting for the Raiders, though the final scores don’t reflect that. Detroit Mercy trailed by just three points with under two minutes to play before a late Raider surge sealed the 98-86 victory. Oakland didn’t put up as much of a fight, though had the game within five points with just over three minutes to play before Wright State finished the game on a 7-0 run to win 83-71
It’s an interesting situation. Up until this week, the Raiders have arguably been outperformed by Northern Kentucky in every week except the one where Wright State hosted NKU and won 95-63. There would be an argument for the Norse to overtake the top spot despite being a game back if they hadn’t so thoroughly blown their opportunity to take first place.
- Northern Kentucky Norse (18-7, 10-3)
Barring something crazy, NKU will hold down this spot until the regular season finale that pits the Norse against Wright State. The gap between Northern Kentucky and WSU based on their head-to-head results likely won’t go away with a single Wright State loss, but it’s hard to see another two losses on the schedule in the Raiders’ five remaining games.
On the flip side, Northern Kentucky holds a 2.5 game lead over its nearest competitor for second place and still has to play two of the bottom three teams in the league standings. For once, it looks like more than IUPUI are locked into position for the end of the year.
- Green Bay Phoenix (12-14, 7-6)
Despite coming off of a sound 71-58 defeat at the hands of a UIC team that’s one of the four with seven league wins, Green Bay maintains a slim hold on third place in the rankings. Not only is it still possible for the Phoenix to write off the beating that IUPUI gave them earlier in the year as a fluke after Green Bay went to Indianapolis and avenged the loss, but wins over both Wright State and Northern Kentucky show that Green Bay is capable of beating the league’s top teams and that it’s not matchup dependent.
I’ve always preferred looking at how well a team punches up to determine its strength. The fact that Green Bay’s biggest head scratcher can actually be explained away as a fluke, a loss doesn’t cost the Phoenix this spot.
- Milwaukee Panthers (12-13, 7-6)
OK, so Milwaukee hasn’t looked *good* in a lot of games recently. If IUPUI’s stars Marcus Burk and Jaylen Minnett shot efficiently like they have a handful of times this year, the Panthers probably lose to IUPUI by at least 30 last weekend. Fortunately for Milwaukee the duo made just 13 of 50 shots and the Panthers escaped with a win to be one of the four teams within a half game of one another for third place.
Despite a number of underwhelming results compared to the rest of the teams clustered here competing for third, it’s hard not to give Milwaukee a bump to fourth in the rankings. The Panthers and Phoenix are done with Northern Kentucky and Wright State for the year and they remain tied with UIC and Youngstown State in the win column. Making it even harder to knock Milwaukee down, the Panthers are currently 4-0 against the other three teams vying for third with only a pair of home games remaining against any of them.
It hasn’t been pretty, but Milwaukee has been getting the job done in league play. On Saturday, Milwaukee has a chance to negate Green Bay’s tiebreaker advantage and create a strong one of its own when the Phoenix visit Panther Arena.
- UIC Flames (12-14, 7-6)
After an abysmal start to league play, UIC has been on a tear of late and finds itself in the running for third place in the league.
The Flames have been strong of late, but falling to Milwaukee a second time put the team at a significant tiebreaker disadvantage. UIC’s win over Wright State isn’t as meaningful right now since Green Bay also beat the Raiders in addition to beating Northern Kentucky. Of course, this could all change if the Flames shock the world and complete the season sweep of Wright State, who then turns around and wins out.
That would give UIC a tiebreaker advantage over any team that it split the season series with, including Green Bay and Youngstown State.
- Youngstown State Penguins (14-11, 7-5)
As one of three teams in the league with an overall winning record and currently sitting a half game up on the Wisconsin schools and UIC, Youngstown would seem to be a strong candidate for third in the rankings. But the Penguins failed to capitalize on what looked like a favorable second half schedule. With upcoming games against Wright State and NKU as well as a road trip to Wisconsin to end the regular season, the Penguins now appear to face the hardest finish to league play of the teams vying for third place.
While home court was finally kind to the Penguins this weekend against IUPUI and Cleveland State, dropping home contests to Milwaukee and UIC while needing overtime to beat Green Bay doesn’t seem to bode well for the Penguins’ once promising chances at the 3-seed.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (8-17, 3-9)
Following up a win over in-state rival Detroit Mercy with a pair of highly competitive games on the road against Wright State and Northern Kentucky was a great way for Oakland to wind up in a position in these rankings
It feels like I’ve been too high on the Golden Grizzlies for much of the year, but it’s easy to imagine the Rashad Williams Revenge Game going well for Oakland when his former team Cleveland State visits the O’rena. Oakland is two games behind CSU in the standings, but its only remaining road games are at IUPUI and UIC, while Cleveland State is travel partners with Youngstown and still has quite the gauntlet to play.
After getting a few games to get re-acclimated to Division I game action, Williams has been a go-to guy for the Golden Grizzlies who has the team performing better than its record indicates. He’s averaged over 20 points per game since being inserted into the lineup.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (6-19, 4-8)
The other half of the Michigan travel partners, Detroit Mercy actually leads Oakland by a game, but is on a three-game skid that includes a 13-point loss at the hands of the Golden Grizzlies.
Like Oakland, the Titans have a relatively easy remaining schedule, with just a pair of road games against one of the weaker sets of travel partners in the league. It presents an opportunity for Detroit Mercy, which currently trails Cleveland State by a game, to quickly jump the Vikings in the standings.
- Cleveland State Vikings (9-16, 5-7)
As previously mentioned in travel partner Youngstown State’s section, the current seventh place team in the Horizon League standings gets dinged here as the result of a tough remaining schedule. Four road games and home games against Wright State and Northern Kentucky await the Vikings the rest of the way.
I’m a believer that what Dennis Gates has done this year will warrant Horizon League Coach of the Year honors if the Vikings win two more games, unfortunately I’m not sure I see two more wins on the schedule.
- IUPUI Jaguars (6-20, 2-11)
IUPUI’s dependence on its backcourt stars has never been more obvious than it was last weekend. The Jaguars previously obliterated Green Bay when both Burk and Minnett had overlapping standout performances, but last weekend failed to take down Milwaukee when the Panthers laid an egg because Burk and Minnett couldn’t consistently get shots to fall.
As has been the case since before the start of Horizon League play, IUPUI appears capable of beating just about anyone in the league if it’s duo shoots well, but that overlap has been rare.