We’ve gone off the rails
After Wright State spent most of the early season positioning itself as the clearcut favorite we all thought they were in the Horizon League, last week’s upset loss at the hands of Oakland was a shocker. After the Raiders lost again and the Golden Grizzlies got swept by a 1-9 Green Bay team, WSU is looking as vulnerable as could be heading into a pair of games against Cleveland State that could indefinitely change the Power Rankings. Chaos ensued in the middle of the rankings, to the point that I’m leaving it up to chance and making arguments in favor of (and sometimes against) the rankings on the backend.
Robert Morris and Detroit Mercy are left out of this week’s rankings. RMU fails to meet the threshold of half of Horizon League games played, while Detroit Mercy will have gone three weeks between games if they’re available to go this weekend.
- Cleveland State Vikings (8-3, 8-0 in Horizon League play)
Uhh…I don’t really know what to say here. I didn’t see that coming?
Following a weekend sweep of Northern Kentucky and Wright State’s nationally televised upset loss at the hands of Youngstown State, there’s really no argument for anybody but the school that leads the Horizon League by two games to be in first right now. CSU absolutely suffocated the Norse on Friday in a 58-44 victory. Saturday proved much more competitive, with the Vikings needing to overcome a 7-point deficit to force overtime. NKU nearly ran “Pacer” (of Bryce Drew fame) to perfection, but had the game-tying shot to force double overtime rim out for a 74-71 Cleveland State win.
Torrey Patton continued to be one of the most consistent players in the league, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds for the weekend. Patton’s play is arguably the embodiment of the Vikings as a team so far. His 15 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in Horizon League play haven’t resulted in any eye-popping single-game performances, but you can’t deny the reliability. Patton has scored in double-figures in each Horizon League game so far.
- Wright State Raiders (8-3, 6-2 in Horizon League play)
Wright State was stunned on Friday in a nationally televised game against Youngstown State. A defensive breakdown left YSU’s Garret Covington wide open under the hoop to put the Penguins ahead for good 74-72. Wright State turned around and took their frustration out on YSU with a 93-55 beatdown on Saturday. In the early stages of the season, it looked like a number of teams in the league might not be on the level required to knock Wright State off. Now the Raiders have 2 losses to teams currently sitting below .500 in Horizon League play. Potentially further complicating things, WSU has typically used a very short bench. The strange setup of this season could turn that into a disadvantage as the season goes on. The Raiders will have a golden opportunity to take back the top spot this weekend when Cleveland State comes to the Nutter Center.
While it’s not a huge difference on paper, Tanner Holden’s shooting was once again a key indicator of how the games went. Holden scored 24 points while shooting 62.5 percent from the field in Saturday’s blowout win, but had an effective field goal percentage of 47.1 in the two-point loss on Friday. The Raiders are now 7-0 in games where Holden shoots over 50 percent from the field, 1-2 in games where his effective field goal percentage is under 50 and 0-1 when it’s exactly 50.
- Green Bay Phoenix (3-9, 3-5 in Horizon League play)
In a stunning turn of events, Green Bay skyrockets to third in this week’s rankings. To be fair, that’s because this is the point in the rankings where things get weird. With every team from here to ninth place fatally flawed in its mediocrity, I pulled names out of a hat to figure out the middle of the league rather than taking a sanity break for a week like I would’ve done last year. Green Bay is coming off of a 2-0 week and is currently on a three-game win streak, so this isn’t the worst outcome. The Phoenix ripped Oakland’s heart out on back-to-back nights, first with an 84-81 overtime win where the Phoenix trailed by 4 with under a minute to play, then with an 87-78 win where Green Bay had to overcome a 12-point second half deficit.
The story of the weekend for Green Bay was Josh Jefferson’s strong return. After playing limited minutes the previous Friday against Youngstown State then missing Saturday’s game entirely, Jefferson returned to action to score a career high 25 points in Friday’s win over Oakland. His weekend average of 22 points also surpasses his previous career high, and he did it with incredible efficiency. Jefferson had an effective field goal percentage of 86.4 against Oakland, surely a welcome sight for a player who had been struggling with his shot since transferring from Illinois State.
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies (3-12, 3-5 in Horizon League play)
A week after the declaration that it’d take a lot to drop Oakland from the top half of the Power Rankings at this time, picking names out of a hat came through in the clutch to make sure that prediction stayed true. Honestly, the combination of a Wright State loss to Youngstown State playing without 2020 All-League point guard Darius Quisenberry and Oakland’s pair of losses to Green Bay are exactly the crazy circumstances it would’ve taken to knock OU out of the top half of the Power Rankings, but the hat disagreed.
On the surface, Daniel Oladapo’s weekend was a spectacular one, as he averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds per game. But in a pair of close losses, his 44.4 percent shooting from the field might’ve been the difference between winning and losing. The good news for Oakland fans is that these shooting performances were an outlier for Oladapo. They mark the first two times in eight Horizon League games that the Oakland forward has been held under 50 percent from the field.
- Youngstown State Penguins (7-5, 3-5 in Horizon League play)
You’ve gotta give the hat some credit. Despite things being completely random, it made sure to keep both teams that have defeated Wright State in the top half of the Power Rankings. Like Oakland last week, it’s difficult to overreact to the upset considering they got obliterated in the weekend’s other matchup.
Naz Bohannon was the obvious key to the weekend for YSU. The Penguins need each of his 28 points and 8 rebounds to pull off the upset on Friday. When he was neutralized on Saturday, Youngstown State couldn’t compete. Saturday’s 3-for-9, 7 point performance marked just the second time all season Bohannon failed to score in double-figures.
- UIC Flames (5-4, 2-2 in Horizon League play)
At full strength, UIC looked like one of the better teams in the Horizon League. With four players down, the Flames were swept by a Purdue Fort Wayne team that entered the weekend 1-5 in Horizon League play. While I’ll reserve the right to bump UIC back up above this mess in the middle of they perform differently at 100 percent, for now they’re at the mercy of the hat. On Friday, Teyvion Kirk did his best to keep pace with Horizon League Player of the Week Jarred Godfrey, but couldn’t maintain that scoring into overtime and the Flames fell 96-89.
Kirk’s weekend is a pretty good representation of UIC’s play overall. While he couldn’t quite keep up with the Purdue Fort Wayne Star, his 31 points marked a new career high on Friday. He didn’t have the same energy on Saturday, and his play was nowhere near as polished. He finished with eight points and nine turnovers in 30 minutes in the blowout loss.
- Northern Kentucky Norse (5-6, 3-3 in Horizon League play)
In giving Cleveland State a statement victory on Friday, NKU arguably showed how much potential it has as a team on Saturday with the near-miss on double-overtime against the Vikings. With freshmen as such a significant piece of this year’s team, the Norse might wind up with some very high highs and some very low lows this year.
Marques Warrick won Horizon League Freshman of the Week again, but this time he did it with some flair. On Friday, the idea of a player who scored just seven points on 3-for-15 shooting winning one of the league’s weekly awards seemed impossible, but no other freshman did anything to become a no-brainer candidate…until Saturday. Warrick eclipsed 20 points for the third time in four games and set a new career high with 25 points, nearly forcing double overtime on a deep 3-point heave that missed by inches. If recent games are any indication, it looks like Warrick might be stepping up into a starring role with the Norse.
- Milwaukee Panthers (5-2, 4-1 in Horizon League play)
With four teams tied at 3-5 in the Horizon League after 8 games, it might seem unfair to put Milwaukee’s name and its 4-1 record through five league games into that hat. If you look a little deeper, it seems like the right call. The Panthers’ four league wins have all come against teams that were winless heading into the game, while it’s lone loss was to a team playing without three starters. This week, Milwaukee completed a weekend sweep of IUPUI. Milwaukee cruised to a 94-70 victory on Friday, then struggled a bit more on Saturday before putting the Jaguars away 71-63.
On Saturday, Tafari Simms matched what would’ve been his career high with six points despite fouling out in just 17 minutes. The reason it *would’ve* matched his career high is that he had a ridiculous 32-point outburst on Friday. With just 12 total points in the five games leading up to Friday’s performance, it’s safe to say that came out of nowhere. While it’s unlikely that Simms has that type of game again anytime soon, the Panthers undoubtedly hope it’ll give him the confidence to be a reliable post player in any game where he stays out of foul trouble.
- Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (4-5, 3-5 in Horizon League play)
Okay, so Purdue Fort Wayne should probably be higher than this except that I left it up to chance. At the end of the day, the gap between these schools looks tiny right now and a pair of wins can easily change everything.
Jarred Godfrey was the star of the show on Friday, where he put in 41 points and turned himself into the clear frontrunner for Horizon League Player of the Week. His play on Saturday wasn’t quite on the same level, but it didn’t need to be. He still led the Mastodons with 16 points in the 33-point win, enough to easily secure Player of the Week honors.
- IUPUI Jaguars (0-4, 0-4 in Horizon League play)
With Detroit out of the rankings, there’s really no way to rank anybody but winless IUPUI in tenth place. The Jaguars seem to have some intriguing new pieces, but the team’s currently in the spot that most of the rest of the league was in a month ago: trying to figure out how to incorporate newcomers into the rotation. One thing is obvious for IUPUI: they’ll need a lot more production out of post players not named Elyjah Goss. The Jaguars’ other five frontcourt players (Dimitar Pandev, Jonah Carrasco, Acton Shirley, Dimitri Georgiadis and Sawyer Stoltz) are combining to average roughly what 2020 graduate Zo Tyson averaged by himself for an IUPUI frontcourt that received plenty of criticism for its lack of depth beyond Goss.
This weekend, the success of IUPUI star Marcus Burk dictated how competitive the Jaguars could be against Milwaukee. Burk shot just 3-for-17 from the field in Saturday’s 24-point loss, tallying nine points. He had an effective field goal percentage of 53.6 in Saturday’s much more competitive loss. While IUPUI’s backcourt depth looks stronger than it was a season ago, the Jaguars still seem like they’ll go only as far as Burk, Goss and Jalen Minnett can carry them.