The Horizon League got off to a strong start to its 2020-21 season last last week. The league has already notched several wins over traditionally stronger leagues in the MAC and Missouri Valley Conference. While many came from teams that were expected to be strong, some came completely out of left field. While the sample size is obviously minuscule, early indications are that this season could be an incredibly competitive one for much of the Horizon League.
A quick note: Wright State and Youngstown State have shut down women’s basketball activities due to positive COVID-19 cases. As such, both will be excluded from the rankings. As with the men’s basketball power rankings, teams that are forced to cancel games pose zero threat to win those games.
- IUPUI Jaguars (1-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
While it’s a little difficult to get much info from the Horizon League’s unanimous pick to repeat as league champion absolutely annihilating a team that was four points away from being projected eleventh in the 12-team MAC, IUPUI can’t be dinged for doing what it was supposed to do. Macee Williams began her quest for a Horizon League Player of the Year three-peat with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
It’ll obviously take a lot more information before we are able to see that she can keep it up, but Destiny Perkins did an excellent job in her efforts to replace 2020 Second Team All-League performer Holly Hoopinger. Perkins scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting while adding 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. If she can maintain anything close to that level of play, Rachel McLimore might have trouble elevating from her 2020 Third Team All-League selection to her Second Team All-League preseason projection.
- Green Bay Phoenix (1-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Perennial Horizon League contender Green Bay got its 2021 season off on the right foot with a 69-61 win over Drake from the Missouri Valley Conference. While quality wins are nothing new for the Phoenix, starting off the year with a win over the projected fourth place team from the MVC could set the tone for a great year.
Preseason Second Team All-Horizon League pick Caitlin Hibner made an early case that she was a First Team snub with 22 points and 10 rebounds and a 10-for-13 shooting night. It’s difficult to see Green Bay living up to its second place projection in the Horizon League Preseason Poll without Hibner continuing to prove she’s a First Team All-League player.
- Northern Kentucky Norse (0-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
While the Norse didn’t win their first contest of the year, going to overtime against the projected fourth place team in the American Athletic Conference is a very impressive way to start the season. Ally Niece – a projected first team pick on the Horizon League All-League Teams – scored 17 points in the game.
An exciting development from NKU is that Louisville transfer and former 5-star recruit Lindsey Duvall is immediately eligible this year. In her Northern Kentucky debut, Duvall was the team’s second leading scorer with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field. She came off the bench, but was the team’s lone player to shoot better than 50 percent from the field.
- Milwaukee Panthers (2-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
The lone team to win multiple games so far in the Horizon League, Milwaukee’s 2021 season is definitely off to an encouraging start. The Panthers . Milwaukee entered the year projected seventh in the Horizon League, so beating the projected third place finishers in the MAC and the Missouri Valley – both traditionally stronger leagues than the Horizon – is an incredible accomplishment. Perhaps more impressive, those two challenging wins mark the first time Milwaukee has started 2-0 since the 2009-10 season.
Preseason Second Team All-League pick Brandi Bisping’s 16.5 points and 10 rebounds per game are obviously leading the way for the Panthers. She comfortably leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounds behind Megan Walstad, whose returned to action for the Panthers after missing last season with injury has been a big part of the 2-0 start.
- Robert Morris Colonials (0-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Unlike on the men’s side, Robert Morris didn’t officially delay the start of its 2021 women’s basketball season. While a rumored contest against Penn State obviously didn’t happen on Sunday, the Colonials will be included this week despite having yet to play.
The former NEC powerhouse is dinged slightly as Milwaukee was projected behind them in the preseason poll but has already had the chance to get off to an impressive start, but will have plenty of time to prove itself in the Horizon League.
- Cleveland State Vikings (0-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Like on the men’s side, Cleveland State has opted to shorten its season dramatically and has yet to take the court despite not having a shutdown. That probably shouldn’t come as a shock given that Head Coach Chris Kielsmeier was one of the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world of college basketball back in March.
Unlike Robert Morris, the Vikings maintain preseason poll expectations this week, as nobody below them in the poll has put forth an impressive enough effort to jump a team coming off of a 21-win season.
- UIC Flames (1-1, 0-0 in Horizon League Play)
UIC pulled off what is easily the most surprising win of the young Horizon League Women’s Basketball season on Sunday with a 66-62 victory at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles were coming off of a 16-win season and expected to surpass last year’s sixth place tie in the MAC standings. The Flames won 14 games total in the last three seasons and were projected to finish in last place for a third straight season in the Horizon League Preseason Poll.
Freshmen have led the way for the Flames so far. Jaida McCloud, Keona Schenck and Kristian Young have all averaged double figures while grabbing over five rebounds per contest. McCloud’s four steals per game have helped the Flames play an exciting, up-tempo brand of basketball.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (0-2, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Oakland started the year hoping to take a step forward this season after returning virtually all of its production from 2020. Those hopes didn’t get off on the right foot. While it was going to be a longshot for a team projected in the bottom half of the Horizon League to beat a Top 25 opponent, letting Michigan’s Naz Hillmon single-handedly outscore the Golden Grizzlies before she was subbed out for the night in is still a disappointing result.
Oakland appeared ready to bounce back, taking a five point lead into the half on the road at Toledo. But a six-point third quarter buried OU, and Toledo came out on top 71-59. It’s an obviously disappointing result for a team whose main reason for optimism is returning much of last season’s young core.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (0-2, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Detroit Mercy probably feels it let one get away on Sunday. The Titans erased a five point fourth quarter deficit and take the lead late against Indiana State, only to run out of steam and lose 84-79. A season-opening loss where the team once again came to life in the fourth quarter before falling 81-73 shouldn’t be discouraging for a team that has regularly found itself near the bottom of the Horizon League lately.
Former Big East All-Freshman Team pick Kaela Webb – a transfer from Providence – has been a standout so far for the Titans. She’s among the Horizon League’s leading scorers with 19.5 points per game. Webb seems like someone who fell victim to transfers being overlooked for All-League consideration and could single-handedly elevate the Titans final standing this year.
- Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (0-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Purdue Fort Wayne rounds out our first Horizon League Women’s basketball poll after only getting one opportunity to play and being easily beaten 66-50 by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Even among teams searching for a win, other schools have put up more impressive efforts against stronger competition.