With just a few games remaining between now and the start of Horizon League play, things are going about how many predicted before the year. Wright State remains the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Horizon League Champion with size that should give most of the league fits, and everything else is completely up in the air.
Several Horizon League schools have shown flashes of incredible promise – though not enough promise to pull off a massive non-conference upset – along with frustrating stretches of undisciplined play. In other words, most of the league has shown itself to be full of flawed rosters with top-end talent capable of taking over and stealing wins.
With no Division I games played to date, Robert Morris will be left out of this week’s rankings. These rankings are already operating on far too little data, attempting to compare Division I results to NAIA results is too crazy even for me.
- Wright State Raiders (2-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Wright State took another nice step toward shaking off a season-opening 80-64 loss to Marshall by crushing projected MAC Champion Bowling Green 85-67. The Raiders had five double-digit scorers who all had effective field goal percentages over 50 percent while holding Preseason First Team All-MAC pick Justin Turner to just 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
The problems that the Raider frontcourt will pose for league opponents was on full display on Sunday. Loudon Love, Tanner Holden, and Grant Basile combined for 31 points while knocking down 64.5 percent of shots. With so many teams lacking in size, the trio could overwhelm league opponents frequently this year.
- UIC Flames (3-2, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
UIC moves up in the Power Rankings despite losing its only contest of the week 77-66 to former Horizon League rival Loyola-Chicago. Unfortunately, it’s less because of what the Flames did and more because of what the Golden Flashes did. Kent State obliterating both Detroit Mercy and Northern Kentucky allowed UIC to jump back into second in the Power Rankings.
With everyone but Wright State now showing glaring flaws against Horizon League-caliber opponents, the Flames move back up because…well, somebody has to and Youngstown State’s win over Binghamton isn’t very inspiring. UIC’s two-point win over Central Michigan lost its luster when the Chippewas lost by 18 to Flagler University. Its win over Valparaiso took a hit when Central Michigan turned around and added another loss to Valpo’s record. UIC’s resume is ho-hum, but its pieces are incredibly intriguing.
Teyvion Kirk – a HoriZone Roundtable pick for the nonexistent All-Newcomer Team – has been stuffing the stat sheet despite turning the ball over too often and struggling to find his shot. He leads the Flames in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals to date. Rayquawndis Mitchell had been the team’s leading scorer until Kirk edged him out, and he’s knocking down 38.7 percent of his 3-pointers on the young season. Braelon Bridges, Michael Diggins, Rob Howard and Zion Griffin make UIC the team that appears to have the best shot at counteracting Wright State’s size. The Flames have a large crop of newcomers that haven’t played together much, but it’s easy to see the pieces fitting together.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (1-3, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Despite a 12-point loss to Kent State, Detroit Mercy avoids falling too far in this week’s rankings because…well, somebody has to be third. The Titans have looked at least on-par with most of the league despite a 1-3 overall record. Oddly, the double-figure loss to the Golden Flashes was Detroit Mercy’s worse loss to-date despite it’s other losses coming to Notre Dame and fourth ranked Michigan State.
For the first time in Antoine Davis’ career, it seems he has the complementary pieces necessary for a pretty successful season. Transfers Matt Johnson, Bul Kuol and Marquell Frazier are all averaging double-figures at the end of what will be the toughest four-game stretch the Titans play this season.
- Youngstown State Penguins (2-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Outside of comparing results against Point Park College with Robert Morris, it’s difficult to draw many conclusions from Youngstown State at this point. The Penguins overcame a 15-point deficit before pulling away from Binghamton late to win 79-65, but that result isn’t particularly promising.
YSU has plenty of opportunity to earn its way back to its second place ranking in the HoriZone Roundtable Preseason Poll, but will drop for now. It’s likely an overreaction but when the Penguins’ best result was a serious comeback against a team that likely doesn’t contend in Northern Kentucky’s old Division II conference, it’s hard to do anything different.
- Northern Kentucky Norse (2-3, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Northern Kentucky has a roster full of incredibly talented young players and very lacking in size. That’s going to result in some tremendous highs and some devastating lows for the Norse this year. This week, NKU took perennial Atlantic 10 contender Dayton to the wire, then turned around and got routed by Kent State.
Preseason predictions that the team’s lack of size could be more problematic than it was last year seem to be coming true, but Horizon League play could be the cure for that issue. Outside of Wright State, UIC, and possibly Milwaukee it doesn’t look like anyone in the league will be able to throw out enough post players to overwhelm NKU.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (0-7, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
The Oakland Golden Grizzlies are the best 0-7 team in America.
Okay, that’s not much of a compliment, but the team once again put forth an effort that seemed to indicate it’s early blowout losses were the result of a lack of conditioning from COVID-19 stoppages. This week, OU competed hard with fourth ranked Michigan State before falling 109-91. Guards Jalen Moore and Rashad Williams have been leading the way for Oakland so far, but don’t be surprised to see Daniel Oladapo step up when the opponents’ big men aren’t former four and five-star centers and power forwards with NBA scouts showing up to watch them play.
- Cleveland State Vikings (0-3, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Cleveland State’s bizarre season continued when it bounced back from a blowout loss to Ohio where it allowed an NCAA Division I vs. Division I record 40 consecutive points with a 67-61 loss at nationally ranked Ohio State.
The loss added to a long list of close contests between Horizon League schools and Power Conference programs. In all likelihood CSU is right in the mix with just about every team above it this season, but the Ohio game is a little too strong in our collective memories to move the Vikings up for a promising result.
- Milwaukee Panthers (1-1, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Milwaukee opened its season on Friday with a 76-75 loss at Kansas State without the help of potential breakout sophomore C.J. Wilbourn, then held off Western Michigan despite a foul-happy first half that had the Broncos in the bonus less than 10 minutes in.
Normally, having a plus/minus that’s in the green after those two results would warrant a much higher ranking than eighth, but Kansas State looks like it’s in for a brutally long year. The Wildcats are technically ranked above all but one Horizon League school on KenPom, but KenPom doesn’t have a way to factor in non-Division I losses. KSU’s loss to Fort Hays State would absolutely crater the team’s ranking that’s already pretty awful for a Power Conference program.
- Green Bay Phoenix (0-4, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
It doesn’t feel right punishing a team we already knew was lacking size for getting pummeled by Power Conference programs that don’t have those concerns. Still, there have been several “moral victories” so far among Horizon League schools and Green Bay doesn’t have any of them. The Phoenix will have a chance to show I’m overreacting to not having enough to work with at this point when Milwaukee comes to town on Saturday.
- IUPUI Jaguars (1-0, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
No Jaylen Minnett? No problem! IUPUI started its 2021 season with a win over Tennessee State despite missing one of the three key pieces that many were surprised to see return to the Jaguars this year.
Before the season a win without one of Minnett, Marcus Burk and Elyjah Goss seemed incredibly unlikely, so the fact that the Jaguars got one out of the way immediately is impressive.
- Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (1-0, 0-0 in Horizon League Play)
With very little to go off of, Purdue Fort Wayne drops to last place. The Mastodons needed overtime to beat a Southeastern Louisiana team that’s currently less than 25 spots from the bottom of Division I according to KenPom, and haven’t played for weeks since that game.
One caveat to that overtime win was that last year’s standout guard Jarred Godfrey went down with an injury just seven minutes into the game. Because the team hasn’t played since the night Godfrey went down, nothing has been reported about the extent of his injury. If the Mastodons can avoid a sluggish return to the court, a weekend road trip to IUPUI will give the team a perfect opportunity to climb out of last.