And welcome once again…
You know what’s more ridiculous than doing a Week 1 power ranking for a mid-major league that suffered massive roster turnover while only two teams have played multiple games?
Doing it during a pandemic that has resulted in most of the league still waiting to start the season.
But if I’m enough of a glutton for punishment that I can do this column for a full season of 2020 Horizon League nonsense, I’m sure I can handle this week.
A quick note before we get into it: Wright State, Youngstown State, Robert Morris, Northern Kentucky and Milwaukee will be excluded from this week’s rankings. The nature of a Power Ranking is to figure out which team is the most feared at a given moment in time. Nobody that had any of those schools on its schedule fears losing to them right now because the games were cancelled due to positive COVID-19 tests. Detroit Mercy will remain in the rankings, as all indications are it avoided a shutdown and instead delayed its opening games.
- Cleveland State Vikings (0-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
With five Horizon League schools – including the top three teams in our Preseason Poll – out of commission, Cleveland State has a potentially short-lived opportunity to sit atop the HoriZone Roundtable Power Rankings. While the Vikings have yet to play, that was by design instead of due to a forced shutdown. Northern Kentucky’s win at Ball State may have been enough to jump the Norse into first if it hadn’t been closely followed by a positive COVID-19 test and a pause in team activities.
- UIC Flames (2-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
UIC started its season with a pair of victories over MAC opponents, and the excitement might seem like a reason to argue for the Flames in first place. But much of the excitement comes from a 20-point comeback to beat Northern Illinois 65-61. NIU and UIC’s second opponent Central Michigan were picked for tenth and eleventh place this year, so while the win over the Huskies was fun to watch it doesn’t move the needle much.
The main takeaway from UIC’s first two games seems to be that its newcomers are living up to the hype. RayQuawndis Mitchell leads the team with 17.5 points per game through two contests, while Zion Griffin is averaging double figures with 10.5 a night. Teyvion Kirk hasn’t found his shot yet, but has impacted the game in other ways with 7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (0-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Detroit Mercy was supposed to be a part of the Multiteam Event that saw Richmond knock off Kentucky at Rupp arena before a positive COVID-19 test among the team’s support staff prevented the Titans from making the trip. While the team has apparently put itself in a position to delay games for testing and contact tracing rather than being forced into a complete shutdown, it does prevent us from getting a glimpse of another team with a number of experienced newcomers entering the fold.
- Green Bay Phoenix (0-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Unlike several Horizon League schools, Green Bay was actually able to start its season. The Phoenix took on the Minnesota Golden Gophers and performed pretty admirably for much of the game considering the team returns just two rotation players from last season. Green Bay trailed 70-60 with less than nine minutes to play before the wheels fell off and Minnesota prevailed 99-69. With that said, a middle-of-the pack Horizon League school taking on a Big 10 school doesn’t provide a lot of information. We’ll keep Green Bay’s stock essentially where it was entering the season for now.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (0-4, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Somebody forgot to tell the Golden Grizzlies that their quarantine period ended before the first three games of the season. Oakland opened the year in abysmal fashion, even considering that the team’s three opponents are all expected to be at least on par with heavy Horizon League favorite Wright State. The Golden Grizzlies lost to Xavier by 52, to Toledo by 27 and to Bradley by 13 at the Xavier Invitational.
Despite the high quality opponents, there was some clamoring to rank OU last if Sunday’s game at Michigan went more like its game against Xavier and less like the overtime loss it turned out to be. While it still remains to be seen if that game says more about Oakland or about Michigan, taking a talented Big 10 school to overtime without shooting the lights out – Oakland hit just 8 of its 34 attempts from 3-point range – is a solid result. This result doesn’t make the team seem like 2020 IUPUI when both Marcus Burk and Jaylen Minnett get hot on the same night.
- Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (0-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Purdue Fort Wayne’s first contest as a Horizon League member wasn’t one to remember. Star guard Jarred Godfrey went down early with an injury in an overtime win at home against Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions are ranked 328 out of 357 on KenPom, so needing overtime to beat them with such a small sample size is beyond concerning.
At this time, nothing has come out about Godfrey’s status. If he’s out for any extended period of time, the strong play of Loyola transfer Jalon Pipkins is just about the only good news to come out of the Mastodons’ first game. Pipkins scored an efficient 18 points and grabbed five rebounds in his Purdue Fort Wayne debut.
- IUPUI Jaguars (0-0, 0-0 in Horizon League Play)
While IUPUI hasn’t had the chance to show what it can do with a little bit of stability, the gap between the Jaguars and the rest of the Horizon League last season was gigantic. They’ll stay in last place until they earn their way out, which will require the team to play.