League play begins with few surprises
Week 4 of this strange season marked the start of Horizon League play. Due to scheduling, there weren’t a ton of matchups where the more likely sweep was going to dramatically change things on the rankings. Thing wound up mostly predictable – minus a surprising sweep on the western edge of the league – and as a result there weren’t many major shakeups in this week’s rankings.
This week, Northern Kentucky joins IUPUI on the sidelines following a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
- Wright State Raiders (4-1, 2-0 in Horizon League play)
Wright State began its quest for a repeat Horizon League Championship with a pair of victories at Detroit Mercy. Both Saturday’s 93-70 victory and Sunday’s 85-72 win played out similarly, remaining close until the Raiders wore down the Titans and pulled away for a comfortable win.
The problems that Wright State’s frontcourt size will pose for Horizon League opponents were on full display this weekend. WSU’s front court stars stuffed the stat sheet against an undersized Titans team. Loudon Love averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Grant Basile continued to make me look brilliant for calling him a breakout candidate. He averaged 19.5 points, 7 rebounds. and 3 assists per game.
- UIC Flames (5-2, 2-0 in Horizon League play)
UIC entered the season with a new coach and a largely new crop of expected go-to-players. Despite some questions, voters had a lot of faith in them due to the Division I track records of several of the transfers. To this point, the Flames have lived up and eceeded those expectations. UIC squeaked past Oakland 74-72 on Saturday, then cruised to a 90-73 win on Sunday.
Even more than the Wright State frontcourt duo, Teyvion Kirk has a legitimate gripe after not being selected Horizon League Player of the Week. Kirk was one rebound shy of averaging a triple-double on the weekend. He averaged 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 11 assists per game. He was especially effective using his size to push Oakland’s undersized Jalen Moore around when the Flames had the ball.
- Youngstown State Penguins (4-1, 1-1 in Horizon League play)
Thanks to Northern Kentucky’s positive COVID-19 test, Youngstown State is bumped up a spot. The Penguins had a rough two-game start – falling behind Binghamton by 15 and then trailing West Virginia Tech of the NAIA by six at halftime – before the team figured out how to use its size to its advantage against NKU to earn a weekend split. SCORES
6-foot-8 forward Michael Akuchie averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game against the undersized Norse. Akuchie and Preseason All-League pick Naz Bohannon led Youngstown State to its first ever win at BB&T Arena.
- Detroit Mercy Titans (1-5, 0-2 in Horizon League play)
Much to Matt from the podcast’s chagrin, I’m not going to drop Detroit Mercy for losing a pair of games against what I consider to be the unquestioned top team in the Horizon League.
While he was far from the biggest impact player for the Titans, Buay Koka handled himself well in his UDM debut. The 7-foot-1 center scored nine points and blocked two shots in 18 minutes against a Wright State frontcourt that has firepower Koka won’t see again in the regular season.
- Robert Morris Colonials (1-2, 0-0 in Horizon League play)
Unlike of the rest of the schools on this list, Robert Morris hasn’t started its Horizon League season yet. While the Colonials played a pair of schools that have already faced off with Horizon League opponents, both Marshall and Bowling Green played Wright State in non-conference play. Unfortunately, as Wright State appears to be a step above the rest of the league it’s difficult to measure RMU based on this week’s results.
A.J. Bramah showed why he’s projected to be an All-League performer, averaging 19 points and 7 rebounds in his what appear to be his last two games before he begins his Horizon league career.
- Cleveland State Vikings (2-3, 2-0 in Horizon League play)
While Cleveland State’s inability to comfortably close out Purdue Fort Wayne was definitely a concern, the Vikings finish the first weekend of Horizon League play 2-0 nonetheless. Despite letting the margin get far too close for comfort, CSU came away with a 64-62 win on Saturday and an 89-80 win on Sunday.
D’Moi Hodge finally showed the ability that had everyone in the league excited to see when he committed to Cleveland State. He scored 46 points while hitting 10 3-pointers on Sunday on his way to being named the Horizon League Player of the Week.
- Milwaukee Panthers (3-1 overall, 2-0 in Horizon League play)
While most schools in the Horizon League likely finished the first weekend of league play feeling decent-to-bad, Milwaukee is likely on cloud nine. Milwaukee traveled to in-state rival Green Bay and came away undefeated in Horizon League play. The Panthers nearly let a nine-point lead slip away on Saturday before escaping 68-65 before doing a much better job of closing out the game in a 74-62 win on Sunday.
Preseason Second Team All-League pick Te’Jon Lucas averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists to lead the Panthers to a pair of wins over arch-rival Green Bay. Given that Lucas is currently shooting almost as poorly from 3-point range as he did against Big 10 competition in 2018, it seems there’s room for him to improve this year even as he’s currently outpacing his 2020 production.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (0-9, 0-2 in Horizon League play)
It seemed like missing out on a Saturday win at UIC left the Oakland Golden Grizzlies dejected on Sunday. After a close loss that OU likely would’ve won with better free throw shooting down the stretch, the wheels fell off in a blowout loss to finish the weekend.
Playing against Horizon League post players was a huge change of pace for Daniel Oladapo. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 17 points and 18 rebounds after finally facing a team that wasn’t loaded with former 4-star and 5-star front court players. Considering UIC has more experienced post players than most of the rest of the league, that bodes well for Oladapo’s hopes of emerging as a star this season.
- Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (1-2, 0-2 in Horizon League play)
Purdue Fort Wayne struggled significantly with Cleveland State’s defensive pressure early before a pair of late surges. The Mastodons nearly clawed their way back from a 12-point deficit – which was as large as nine with under two minutes to play – in Saturday’s two-point loss. D’Moi Hodge’s excellent scoring outing made the comeback margin far too large on Sunday, but PFW was able to get it as close as five points before losing.
An important development for the Mastodons was the return of Jarred Godfrey. Godfrey – who went down just seven minutes into PFW’s season opener against Southeast Louisiana – was outstanding for the Mastodons over the weekend. He averaged 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
- Green Bay Phoenix (0-6, 0-2 in Horizon League play)
On the other end of our first matchup of Horizon League arch-rivals, Green Bay’s two home losses against Milwaukee are a brutal start to league play for the Phoenix. While bragging rights might have an over-inflated value to fans, the bigger negatives for Green Bay are that the team now has more road games than home games remaining in Horizon League play and that the team the Phoenix just lost two twice was projected to be one of the three worst teams in the league this year.
One reason for optimism for the Phoenix is that Josh Jefferson hasn’t found his shooting touch after transferring in from Illinois State. The senior guard went 3-for-14 from beyond. the 3-point arc against Milwaukee this weekend. He shot over 40 percent from long range as a volume shooting junior in the Missouri Valley. If Jefferson gets back to what he’s proven he’s capable of, Green Bay could wind up much higher in future installments of these rankings.