For the second season in a row, Wright State is the HoriZone Roundtable’s overwhelming favorite to win the league according to a poll of our writers and podcast staff. The defending regular season Horizon League champion won the league by two games last year, and suffered less roster turnover than its three biggest competitors.
Youngstown State secured the second spot, seemingly because it’s the next best team that returns most of its key players from last year. League newcomer Robert Morris and last year’s biggest surprise Cleveland State are next. The Colonials were supposed to be a top team in the NEC before making the jump to the Horizon League, while voters expect Dennis Gates’ team to jump into the top half of the league in his second year on the job.
Despite moving on from Head Coach Steve McClain and losing four senior starters, there’s a lot of optimism for UIC team this year. Proven Division I transfer Teyvion Kirk and a number of long, athletic players gave voters confidence to pick the defensive-minded Luke Yaklich’s team fifth.
Oakland, Northern Kentucky and Detroit Mercy were tightly packed in the final poll. While Oakland finished in this range by virtue of consistent mid-pack predictions, a wide degree of variation of opinions on NKU and Detroit Mercy is how they wound up in these slots.
The league’s second newcomer Purdue Fort Wayne finished seventh in the nine-team Summit League last year, and the expectation is that the team will wind up in a fairly similar spot in the bottom third of the league as a first year Horizon League member. Green Bay wound up near the bottom of the league projections thanks to a massive offseason overhaul that sees the Phoenix returning two players that played consistent minutes in 2020.
Despite the brutally long offseason Milwaukee’s season-ending slump is apparently still fresh in voters’ minds. The Panthers were picked to finish in eleventh place after finishing in a tie for seventh place last year. Finally, the crazy circumstances going on outside of sports seem to have created some unexpected stability at IUPUI but didn’t do enough to convince voters that the Jaguars would be able to climb out of last place.
Wright State lost Second Team All-League pick Bill Wampler and Third Team All-League pick Cole Gentry to graduation, but still suffered less turnover than the other top teams from last year. The biggest key for Wright State is the return of Horizon League Player of the Year Loudon Love. If he stays healthy, Love gives the Raiders an imposing force that no returning player in the league has proven they can stop. Add in All-Freshman Team honorees Tanner Holden and Grant Basile and the Wright State frontcourt is going to be a headache for opponents this year. The biggest question mark by far is the point guard position.
With All-Horizon League Third Team pick Cole Gentry and backup Jordan Ash out of eligibility, Trey Calvin will need to take on a much bigger role this season while also transitioning into the team’s primary ballhandler. If Wright State finishes anywhere but first, it’s likely due to either injuries or the lack of a true floor general.
Youngstown State finished tied for fourth place last season and brings back its top four scorers from last year. Darius Quisenberry opted to return to school after initially putting his name into the NBA Draft following his First Team All-Horizon League selection as a sophomore. Naz Bohannon was the league’s third leading rebounder and a nightly threat to post a double-double as a junior last year. Seniors Michael Akuchie and Garret Covington round out the Penguins veteran core that has set the expectation at a level the team has never achieved in the Horizon League.
Robert Morris was considered the likely favorite to win the Northeast Conference this year prior to the school’s decision to join the Horizon League. The Colonials were set to represent the NEC in the NCAA Tournament prior to its cancellation. Second Team All-NEC wing AJ Bramah and NEC Tournament MVP Dante Treacy are expected to star for Robert Morris this year.
Dennis Gates won Horizon League coach of the year — with the HoriZone Roundtable serving as the tie-breaking vote — after leading Cleveland State to an unexpected middle-of-the-pack finish in 2020. With NJCAA All-American D’Moi Hodge providing a perimeter scorer to the Vikings’ tough group, Cleveland State should take another step forward in Gates’ second season.
UIC moved on from Head Coach Steve McClain after failing to contend for the Horizon League or make the NCAA Tournament with a senior-laden lineup. Despite losing starters Tarkus Ferguson, Marcus Ottey, Godwin Boahen and Jordan Blount to graduation; expectations for the Flames aren’t all that how the team performed last year.
Transfer Teyvion Kirk — who sat out last year at Colorado State after being one of Ohio’s top players for the first two years of his career — gives UIC an obvious go-to guy. Michael Diggins, Braelon Bridges and Iowa State transfer Zion Griffin have length and athleticism that Luke Yaklich will love to have at his disposal this year.
Oakland had trouble early last year before Rashad Williams became eligible and provided an instant boost for a Golden Grizzlies team that desperately needed help at guard until then. Now a team that relied heavily on post play last year seems like it’s one Zion Griffin waiver away from shifting to a heavily backcourt-dominant team this season. The biggest concern for Oakland will be replacing First Team All-Horizon League forward Xavier Hill-Mais. Daniel Oladapo should lessen the blow, but it’s possible that losing it’s best player will have a similar effect to having its second best player Williams ineligible for half the season.
Northern Kentucky went from finishing near the top of the league last year to the bottom half in our projections. NKU lost All-League players Tyler Sharpe, Dantez Walton and Jalen Tate. Northern Arizona transfer Carlos Hines should help Darrin Horn’s team tremendously. Hines averaged 12.9 points and a team-leading 4.0 assists per game as a sophomore at Northern Arizona in 2019. The Norse boast a strong backcourt with Hines, Trevon Faulkner, Bryson Langdon, Adham Eleeda, Paul Djoko and a slew of promising newcomers. Questions for the Norse will be almost entirely in the frontcourt, where Adrian Nelson is the only proven player.
Detroit Mercy brings back Antoine Davis for his third season. While year two saw a bit of a sophomore slump as his shooting percentages were down, the team added several pieces that could help him rebound this season. Taurean Thompson was outstanding as a Freshman at Syracuse in 2017 before 28 underwhelming games at Seton Hall. Still, his production at Seton Hall is good enough that it’s clear he should be in the running for an All-League spot at the end of the year. Idaho graduate transfer Marquell Fraser could provide the team a second option at point guard that could give Antoine Davis some time off-ball.
Green Bay stunned many when it fired Head Coach Linc Darner after a 20-win season where the team outperformed preseason expectations and finished third in the Horizon League. The senior-heavy Phoenix was already facing a rebuild before post players Tank Hemphill and Manny Patterson transfer out of the program. Will Ryan was hired after a year at Wheeling University where he overachieved in a manner similar to 2020 Horizon League Coach of the Year Dennis Gates. While Ryan faces a massive rebuild with the Phoenix, he’ll have 2020 Horizon League Freshman of the Year Amari Davis to help him through it.
Purdue Fort Wayne lost its second and third leading scorers from last year’s seventh place Summit League team, but brings back star Jarred Godfrey and 2020 Summit League All-Newcomer Team pick Deonte Billups. The Mastadons brought in a number of newcomers with range out to the 3-point line to address one of the team’s biggest issues from 2020.
Milwaukee spent much of last year in contention for the third seed in the Horizon League before a late-season collapse resulted in an 8-seed and an opening round road loss in the Horizon League Tournament. With no clearcut replacement for leading scorer Darius Roy at this time, voters were apprehensive about the Panthers’ chances to bounce back despite having four of last year’s five starters from the team’s horrendous finish back this year.
IUPUI struggled in 2019 after a tumultuous offseason that saw head coach Jason Gardner resign and standout Camron Justice transfer to Western Kentucky. The Jaguars went 3-15 in Horizon League play, with nine losses coming by double-digits. After speculation that Interim Head Coach Byron Rimm would be replaced and several rising seniors would transfer, Rimm was retained and only point guard Grant Weatherford opted to leave the team. While IUPUI was so far behind the rest of the league that a major jump seemed unlikely, an offseason with stability has the Jaguars projected to not only close the gap with the rest of the league but to surpass a team.
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