Green Bay managed to steal a win at Milwaukee, and with it a great opportunity to win the three-seed in the Horizon League Tournament. While it’s obviously a great result for the Phoenix regardless, it could potentially be a huge advantage with Detroit Mercy’s postseason status in the air. There is one problem for the Phoenix. UIC obliterated Northern Kentucky 73-43 to draw even with the top two tiebreakers. Even with the run the Flames have been on of late, the thrashing it delivered came out of nowhere. If UIC can come even close to that output consistently (a difficult ask, particularly for a Horizon League team outside the top two) the team could be positioned to take a lot of pressure off of Head Coach Steve McClain, whose job security has been a topic of conversation all season.
Outside of the cluster fighting for third place, Oakland once again showed its potential to be a problem in Indianapolis with a weekend sweep of Cleveland State and Youngstown.
- Wright State Raiders (23-5, 13-2 in Horizon League play)
Last week, it seemed it would take something crazy for Wright State to fall out of this spot. While Northern Kentucky getting obliterated by UIC was certainly crazy, it obviously won’t negatively impact the Raiders. At this point, it would take multiple crazy events for WSU to fall out of first place in the power rankings.
It doesn’t hurt that Wright State had its second consecutive week of definitely outperforming the Norse against a set of travel partners.
- Northern Kentucky (19-8, 11-4)
Much like with Wright State, last week I pointed out that it was going to be hard to knock Northern Kentucky out of its spot on the rankings. Hopefully this proves it.
NKU had a scary moment at the end of its game against IUPUI when Tyler Sharpe appeared to roll his ankle while landing while the team was already playing without Dantez Walton due to an ankle injury. Fortunately for the Norse, both players were back for the UIC game, but it didn’t matter. Both struggled mightily to find their shots and UIC put the game away early, scoring as many points by halftime as NKU would muster through a full 40 minutes.
The overall strength that Northern Kentucky has displayed this year —and that gave the team a 2.5-game lead over third place — keeps the Norse in second. Still, another performance like that before the regular season finale against Wright State might make things interesting, particularly if one of the teams fighting for third can separate itself.
- Green Bay Phoenix (13-14, 8-6)
Considering last week’s number three team went to last week’s number four team and won, this decision took a lot more effort than it would seem to, but that happens with a thin margin and a huge outlier result.
The Phoenix retain this spot due to the team’s overall consistency. Outside of one result — which oddly enough came against UIC — Green Bay has won or competed in every game it’s played since the first week of January. The Flames have five losses — three of them non-competitive — in the same stretch.
One interesting development is that now that UIC managed a win during its weekend against Wright State and Northern Kentucky, Green Bay and Milwaukee’s schedules are no longer the two easiest remaining schedules of the three-seed contenders. The Phoenix have a pair of road games in Michigan before playing Youngstown State and Cleveland State at home while the Flames get three home games against IUPUI, Oakland and Detroit Mercy.
- UIC Flames (13-15, 8-7)
UIC’s surge continued in unexpected fashion last weekend with its dismantling of Northern Kentucky. While inconsistency is a concern for UIC, the team’s remaining schedule features three home games against the bottom three teams in the league. If Green Bay falters in its final four games, there’s still a strong possibility for UIC to get the three-seed.
That could be a dangerous result for the rest of the league. If Detroit Mercy’s Academic Progress Rate postseason ban stands, the Flames would have one less game for wild inconsistency to rear its head and send the team packing early.
- Milwaukee Panthers (12-14, 7-7)
Milwaukee choked away its opportunity to move to 5-0 against fellow three-seed contenders Green Bay, UIC and Youngstown State this weekend with its loss to Green Bay. Barring a wild finish to Horizon League play that finds the Panthers in a multi-team tie for third, that likely shifts Milwaukee’s goals to the four-seed. A win over Youngstown State while keeping pace with both the Penguins and UIC would still leave the Panthers in a strong position with regard to tiebreakers.
- Youngstown State Penguins (15-12, 8-6)
The Penguins’ major advantage in the race for the three-seed disappeared last weekend when Oakland defended its home court 72-64. Now the Penguins are in a tie for third place with Green Bay while staring down a pair of home games against Northern Kentucky and Wright State before heading up to Wisconsin to play fellow three-seed contenders Milwaukee and Green Bay to wrap up the regular season.
That loss to Oakland looks likely to loom large for the Penguins the rest of the way. It’s hard to see the team winning more than two of its final four games before the league tournament, and that may be the minimum that YSU needs to do to avoid a massive fall in the standings.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (5-9, 10-17)
With Cleveland State transfer Rashad Williams in the lineup, Oakland has been a different team. After competing well on the road against the top two teams in the league, the Golden Grizzlies returned home for a sweep of Cleveland State and Youngstown. In the nine games since he was deemed eligible, Williams is averaging 20.9 points per game. While his efficiency has taken a hit from last year, he’s a perimeter threat that teams need to focus on, creating more opportunities down low for OU’s crop of strong post players.
If I were to guess a team that’ll shake up the Horizon League Tournament, Oakland would probably be the pick.
- Cleveland State Vikings (10-17, 6-8)
It doesn’t feel right putting Cleveland State so close to where the team was predicted before the year given how the season has played out. What Dennis Gates has done with this team is remarkable, and with one more win I’d cast my non-existent vote to name him Horizon League Coach of the Year.
Still, it’s hard to justify putting a team with the lowest ceiling in the league above a comparable opponent that’s a single game behind CSU in the standings and seems to be playing completely differently with a late addition to its lineup. Cleveland State’s two road victories in league play have been by a combined three points against the bottom two teams in the standings. The Vikings seem pretty likely to go 0-4 down the stretch.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (6-21, 4-10)
So it seems Detroit Mercy wasn’t as much of a threat during the second half of league play as its remaining schedule indicated that the team could be. The Titans have lost five in a row since appearing to be a team that could make a push for the top half of the league.
At this point, the most interesting storyline for the Titans is definitely the outcome of the APR postseason ban. Not only does Detroit Mercy’s eligibility determine the format of the bracket, Antoine Davis is the type of player who can single-handedly take over a game and carry his team to victory. While that interestingly hasn’t been how the Titans have managed to pull off nice wins so far, a hot shooting night from Davis could flip the bracket on its head if the Titans are allowed to participate.
- IUPUI Jaguars (6-22, 2-13)
Like at the top of the rankings, nothing has changed at the bottom for IUPUI. Every Horizon League team except for Detroit Mercy and Cleveland State has at least as many wins in February as IUPUI does through the whole league schedule, and the Vikings’ win total jumps to three if you go back an extra week.
I feel like a broken record, but the Jaguars’ duo of Marcus Burk and Jaylen Minnett still makes the team a threat to do damage in the league tournament. It just seems unlikely that’ll happen.