Defending League Champion IUPUI picked to repeat
The Horizon League released its Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll on Friday. The poll was voted on by the 12 Horizon League Head Coaches. Defending Horizon League Champion IUPUI — which finished last year 15-3 in league play — received all 12 first place votes as the overwhelming favorite to repeat.
Here’s a look at the preseason poll:
|11||Purdue Fort Wayne|
IUPUI was picked as the unanimous favorite to win the Horizon League, largely thanks to senior center Macee Williams. Williams is the two-time defending Horizon League Player of the Year. The team will have to replace last year’s starting point guard and Second Team All-League performer Holly Hoopingarner. Hoopingarner led the league in assists with 3.7 per game, and that number jumped to 4.5 per game in Horizon League play. The return of Preseason Second Team All-League pick Rachel McLimore — a Third Team All-League pick in 2020 — will help the Jaguars as they try to remain the team to beat.
Green Bay has been a perennial powerhouse in the Horizon League: 2020 was the first time the Phoenix lost more than 3 games in league or conference play in such a long time that it was necessary to specify “league or conference play” because the Horizon League didn’t exist yet in 1997. Frankie Wurtz — a First Team All-Horizon League and All-League Defensive Team pick last year — graduates and it will be up to 2020 Third Team All-League guard Caitlyn Hibner to try to fill in that void.
Wright State finished last season tied for second place with Green Bay and each school lost an All-League performer to graduation, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Raiders are picked two points behind the Phoenix for third place. WSU loses Second Team All-Horizon League guard Michal Miller, but brings back First Team All-League guard Angel Baker as well as 2020 Horizon League Freshman of the Year Shamarre Hale and All-Freshman Team pick Jada Roberson.
Northern Kentucky hopes to improve it’s Horizon League record for the fourth season in a row in 2021. The Norse went 12-6 in Horizon League play last year, finishing a game behind the two teams that tied for second place. While the team lost stellar wing Molly Glick to graduation, guard Ally Niece was a Second Team All-Horizon League pick in 2020 and is a Preseason First Team All-League pick this year. 2020 All-Freshman Team member Ivy Turner looks like she could play a big role this year. A potential x-factor for the Norse is Louisville transfer Lindsey Duvall. The 5-foot-8 guard was the 23rd ranked prospect out of high school, but suffered a knee injury early in her career and couldn’t work her way into the Cardinals’ rotation. Indications are that she will play this year, and she has the potential to be a significant difference maker.
Robert Morris is in uncharted territory. The team is in a new, tougher league and finds itself projected outside of the Top 3 in a preseason poll for the first time in years following the departure of a star player. The Colonials went 33-3 over the last two years of play in the Northeast Conference, but will need to replace a lot this season. Nneka Ezeigbo was one of the school’s all time greats. Ezeigbo was named All-NEC Rookie Team in 2017, All-NEC Second Team in 2018, and All-NEC First Team in 2019 and 2020. She also won the NEC. Tournament MVP and NEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Further complicating things for RMU, 2020 All-NEC Second Team pick and heir apparent to Ezeigbo, Irekpitan Ozzy-Momodu opted to finish her career at Eastern Michigan University. While the Colonials look like a team that could follow the same path as IUPUI in the Horizon League, there are giant shoes to fill in the team’s first year in the league.
Youngstown State went just 6-12 in the Horizon League last year but is picked just four points behind a strong RMU program, likely thanks to the return of star Mary Dunn from an injury that sidelined her for all but the first four games of 2020. Dunn returns to a Penguins team that saw returning forward Chelsea Olson go from a Second Team All-League pick in 2019 to a First Team All-League pick last year. While the teams that finished ahead of Youngstown State last year don’t lose much top-end talent, it’d be bold to predict that any of them will add a player like Dunn this year. Don’t be surprised if YSU jumps even higher than this in the final standings. The Penguins went 13-5 in the Horizon League in 2019.
Milwaukee was the Horizon League’s fifth place finisher last year and brings back its lone All-League pick Brandi Bisping, but falls in the league’s preseason poll likely thanks to a strong new addition to the league in Robert Morris and the return of Mary Dunn at Youngstown State. Bisping averaged STATS last year and is a Preseason All-Horizon League Second Team pick. The Panthers will need to find a way to replace Lizzie Odegard — the team’s second leading scorer in 2020 — as well as Sydney Levy, who transferred to rival Green Bay.
Cleveland State finished sixth in the Horizon League at 9-9 in 2020, and lost 2020 Horizon League First Team All-League pick Mariah Miller to graduation and third team All-League forward Savanna Crockett to transfer. The Vikings do bring back Second Team All-League pick and League Defensive Player of the Year Mariah Miller, who averaged 15.7 points, 3.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game in 2020.
Oakland brings back every player from last year’s roster that tied Youngstown State for seventh place at 6-12 in Horizon League play in 2020, but suffers from similar issues that Milwaukee and Cleveland State do with regard to Youngstown State and Robert Morris and might have a tough time finishing as high in league play. Junior Kahlaijah Dean was in a unique position last year, earning the Horizon League’s Sixth Player of the Year Award while also earning Third Team All-League honors. She led the team with 12.0 points and 3.0 assists per game despite making just four starts. Don’t be surprised if the Golden Grizzlies are more competitive in 2021, but struggle to make that show in the final standings.
Detroit Mercy brings back a significant amount of its talent from last year, but the school went just 3-15 in 2020. The Titans are the first returning Horizon League school without a returning First, Second or Third Team All-League pick from 2020. Skylare Starks led the team with 10.1 points per game last year on her way to earning Horizon League All-Freshman Team honors. She leads a team that prominently featured several freshmen and sophomores last year and that hopes to get out of the Horizon League basement in 2021.
Purdue Fort Wayne departs the Summit League — a league that has shown itself capable of placing multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament — but the Mastodons haven’t been one of the teams contributing to that. Last year, Purdue Fort Wayne went just 1-15 in league play. The Mastodons did beat UIC by 11 points in both teams’ first regular season games of 2020, but went just 5-24 overall with a lineup featuring three seniors. It seems Horizon League coaches think the loss of three starters will offset the fact that Purdue Fort Wayne played tougher competition on a regular basis in the Summit League.
UIC hasn’t finished anywhere but in last place in the Horizon League since 2014, so it’s not surprising to see the Flames picked here. UIC went 2-16 in Horizon League play in 2020, plus the previously mentioned loss to Purdue Fort Wayne. 2020 All-Defensive Team member Jada Nneji led the team with 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. She returns for her senior season to a team that prominently featured several freshmen last year in hopes that a year of her teammates getting acclimated to Division I basketball can result in a big jump in 2020.