Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the five key stories in #HLWBB since the last Starting Five.
1. Have Mercy
Almost exactly two months after embattled former Detroit Mercy coach AnnMarie Gilbert walked away from the job – no need to rehash all of that at this point – leaving the team with essentially one coach (assistant LaTanya Collins, who was immediately promoted to interim head coach) and two known players (previous commits Taylor Blunt and Irene Murua), the Titans have “finalized” a 2021-22 roster. Wild.
Winning the offseason and winning on the 92-by-49 are two very different things of course, and we’ll find out about the latter soon enough, but for now, Titans fans should be encouraged not only by the speed of the rebuild, but by the quality as well. The new UDM roster includes five DI transfers in Murua from Louisiana Tech, Janna Lewis from Northern Kentucky (who also played for Collins at Motlow State CC), Monique Pruitt from Utah State, Daija Moses from Rider, and Brandi Washington from Grambling. The coaching staff features Collins, who has had success everywhere from high school to high majors, as well as Wanika Owsley, who has DI head coaching experience, and an up and comer in Stephanie Edwards.
To be clear, UDM will be absolutely nobody’s pick to make noise in the league this season, but they’ll ruin someone’s day at some point. Underestimate them at your peril.
2. The games are named
Last week, Youngstown State became the second HLWBB team to release their full non-conference schedule and they were followed on Tuesday by UDM. Heads up, risky double-embed incoming, find me on the other side.
Neither one strikes me as super ambitious with YSU’s trip to Penn State standing as the only high-major opponent on either slate. But that said, playing things that way makes sense for both programs right now, with the Titans and Penguins both trying to fit a ton of new players together (for very different reasons). Common opponents Eastern Michigan, Akron, and Canisius will certainly give us plenty of opportunity to misuse the transitive property before conference play starts – but hey, what’s the fun of any of this without logical fallacies?
There are a sufficient number of games now out there to make it a bad idea to list all of them every time, but just to hit some highlights, Green Bay was the first full release back on July 26th. A couple intriguing Milwaukee games have leaked out as well, including a home game against Wisconsin on November 24th and a trip to Florida State ten days prior to that. Don’t be surprised if what should be a loaded Panthers team grabs one for the league somewhere along the line.
Finally, I mentioned it last month, but the last time we had a relatively normal season, the full conference schedule was announced on September 18th. A couple schools waited until that day to announce their non-league slates, and Wright State actually waited until a week later with theirs, but the most of the league went ahead of the HL date. So basically, expect to see a few more of these over the next couple weeks.
3. Somebody stop them
As COVID-19’s Delta variant continues to accelerate across the country, a number of Horizon League institutions have revised their previous full-go plans and backtracked into requiring masks indoors. Oakland, Cleveland State, Green Bay, Northern Kentucky, Detroit Mercy, and probably others I haven’t seen all fall into that category. Your guess is as good as mine as far as how any of it affects basketball season – arenas are indoors, so presumably fans will have to be masked as things stand right now, but as we’ve seen, attendance restrictions are something else on the table (that hopefully stay on said table).
Then there’s Youngstown State. As of this writing, YSU has not done anything beyond “encouraging” people to wear a mask or get a vaccine. Predictably, people aren’t particularly thrilled about that. So what’s going on?
Oh noooo. As it turns out Julie Gentile, the school official in charge of YSU’s COVID response, isn’t as big on masks, vaccines, or the CDC as she is on conspiracy theories. While Gentile certainly has the right to believe and share what she wants, as a public official responsible for the health of thousands of students, faculty, staff, and (hopefully) fans, her views are alarming at best.
School spokespeople insist that their policies are under constant review, so it’s entirely possible that everything has changed by your arrival here. But for the time being, YSU is the odds-on favorite to lead the conference in superspeader events.
4. Hoff not hassled so far
Outside of Detroit Mercy, the team that had the most reconstruction work to do this summer was Wright State. The Raiders, of course, lost their entire coaching staff to Memphis as well as most of their top players, with the toppiest of those players, Angel Baker, transferring to Ole Miss.
Yet while we were rubbernecking in the general direction of Calihan Hall for most of the summer (for good reason, to be fair), WSU has gone about their business relatively quietly. With that in mind, it’s nice to see that the Dayton Daily News sat down with new head coach Kari Hoffman and got a thorough update on all things Raiders.
You’re definitely better off clicking through and reading the Q-and-A versus accepting my two-sentence recap of the thing, but the topics covered including assembling a staff, WSU’s community service projects, a rundown of July recruiting and summer workouts, and the two newest Raiders, Deesh Beck and Makira Webster. It’s going to be tough for the defending champs to get up to speed in time for what should be an ultra-competitive league, but it does seem like Hoffman and company have a decent start at the very un-glamourous but vital task of culture building.
5. Howard appointed to Constitution Committee
The NCAA itself has also had itself quite the summer, between things like NIL and a scathing independent report outlining inequality between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments released a couple weeks ago. Those things (and a few others, like the biennial deluge of conference realignment rumors) have led to a larger conversation about what the NCAA should fundamentally be, since most agree that they do a pretty awful job at what they are now (which, to be fair, is a far more complex undertaking than was ever contemplated back in 1906).
Anyway, if a bureaucratic institution has a problem, there is undoubtedly going to be a committee charged with solving it. Enter the NCAA Constitution Committee, which includes Robert Morris president Chris Howard as one of its 28 members. Howard and his colleagues are charged with identifying “the core principles that define college sports and propose a new governance model that allows for quicker change without sacrificing broader values, while either reaffirming or redefining those values.” Fancy.
All of that would be pretty unremarkable if not for this: people really, really don’t like Chris Howard right now. In fact, there’s a petition out there aiming to have him removed, due mostly to his handling of RMU’s hockey programs. The Colonials men’s and women’s teams were cut without warning (and without a board of trustees vote) back in May and since then, Howard has been completely MIA to the public while hiding behind a handful of clumsy press releases and continuing to work to enhance his own brand behind the scenes with things like, well, cushy committee assignments. The outcry over the hockey cuts – and threatened litigation – led to something of a reprieve, and hope for the resurrection of the programs remains (the school announced last week that hockey would remain sidelined for 2021-22, but that fundraising would continue with an eye on a 2022-23 return).