With many teams only playing once during the holiday week, there wasn’t an obscene amount of movement in the power rankings this time around, but let’s dive in.
|Purdue Fort Wayne
This ain’t the RPI, and I ain’t going to punish Youngstown State for doing what they were supposed to do against a winless LIU team on Friday. It wasn’t always pretty for the Penguins, especially early and late in the contest, but they did enough between then to show that they can be a very, very good team. Malia Magestro returned from injury against the Sharks and while she only played limited minutes, the sharpshooter from Hermitage, PA will restore some offensive balance. This upcoming week, when YSU hosts Milwaukee and Green Bay, will tell a lot of the story with this team.
Cleveland State followed the Penguins by sending LIU back to Brooklyn 0-2 on their swing through Ohio with a win on Sunday. The latter game saw the Sharks keep things close from behind the arc, though the match at the Wolstein Center ended with a larger margin (22 points versus 15) after the Vikings closed by scoring 17 of the game’s final 20 points. The real key for CSU was that they found a way to win fairly comfortably on a day when Destiny Leo didn’t have her best stuff (though she still scored 18 points). That way, largely, was a breakout game from Amele Ngwafang, though Barbara Zieniewska and Gabby Smith also played well.
Nobody in the conference has more impressive wins on their resume at this point than Northern Kentucky. We covered the Norse’s victory at Green Bay last week of course, but NKU followed up this time around with a thoroughly dominating win at Miami, followed by a come-from-behind effort at Central Arkansas that saw Ivy Turner take over in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Knocking off the RedHawks – and doing so while barely being threatened – really impressed me though, given that MU entered the game at 2-1 with wins over Xavier and Valparaiso, along with a seven-point loss at Illinois. That ain’t a bad team.
IUPUI, after two conference forfeits and one non-conference washout, finally returned to action on Sunday and battered crosstown rival Butler (also a former Horizon League school of course, though they were gone well before IUPUI entered) by an 80-47 count – and they did it without Rachel McLimore. Let’s be honest about something: I’m under-ranking the Jags. You know that, and I know that. There’s absolutely no reason to think of Austin Parkinson’s group as anything other than the conference favorites that everyone said they were in preseason. However, I’m not handing out spots on reputation, the appropriate game results are going to have to play out before I move them up.
Is there a tougher read in the conference right now than Green Bay? The Phoenix went out to the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving and delivered the Horizon League’s signature non-conference win (sorry Milwaukee, but Wisconsin is terrible) over Oklahoma State, then turned around and dropped a tough-but-winnable game to SMU. Kevin Borseth has to be a bit concerned about his team’s offense, given the 43-point output against the Mustangs, which comes a week after Meghan Pingel and Sydney Levy were skunked against NKU, and two weeks after Green Bay scored 12 points in the first half against South Dakota State.
Is there a tougher read in the conference right now than Milwaukee? After an 0-3 start, the Panthers rebounded nicely with two conference wins, including a high-quality victory over NKU, then grabbed a win against Wisconsin on Wednesday (and yes, I know what I just said, but the Badgers are still a brand at least…a brand that also lost to Chicago State just before playing the Panthers, but I digress). But, just when things were looking up, Milwaukee thudded to a 19-point loss at Northern Illinois on Sunday. Megan Walstad and company, as mentioned, will visit Youngstown on Thursday, one of many prove-it games across the league this week.
Oakland showed reasonably well in a week where they played a pair of in-state Big Ten opponents, particularly the contest against Michigan, as the Grizzlies opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run to pull within one of the 13th-ranked Wolverines before it was all undone in the last five minutes. A home game against Michigan State four days later didn’t offer the same level of “wow, almost,” though Olivia Sims has continued to show as one of the league’s better freshmen. She earned the start in both contests and hit double digit scoring totals in each to make a strong case for a league award.
It might not be enough to climb into the top half of the standings over the long haul unless they find some offensive consistency outside of Esther Castedo’s continued surprising start, but Robert Morris has emerged as one of the conference’s best defensive teams. Despite a 3-3 overall record, the Colonials have yet to allow more than 65 points in a game this year, that number coming in a loss to explosive Oakland. This past week, RMU was positively stifling in holding Morehead State and Canisius to 45 and 43 while picking up a pair of wins.
Purdue Fort Wayne came back to earth a bit, dropping a 13-point decision at home to Evansville, followed by a 12-point loss at SIUE. Neither of those defeats qualifies as absolutely brutal (though the Evansville one is a bit closer to that end of the spectrum), but they do reinforce the idea that, despite significant improvement, the Mastodons aren’t a finished product yet. PFW is still getting solid contributions from Detroit Mercy transfer Sylare Starks, Shayla Sellers, and Riley Ott, while Ryin Ott and her 13 points per game look like a sure bet for the league’s all-freshman team at this point.
UIC finally collected its first win of the season, knocking off Valparaiso 68-64 on Tuesday. Valpo was 340th in the RPI entering the game and is 352 now, so if that’s your headlining win you’re in a bit of trouble. Nevertheless, a Flames team that I think has a lot of untapped potential now has one on the board. Jaida McCloud clocked her typical 16 and 9 against the Crusa…err Beacons, while Kristian Young and Keona Schenck each played the entire game and delivered a strong effort to go with it. The Flames host Omaha on Monday before heading to Michigan for their league games.
On Tuesday, Detroit Mercy fell to that same Canisius squad that couldn’t get anything going against RMU, though the game was a pretty competitive one – the score was tied headed into the fourth quarter before (pattern alert) the Titans faded late. Most players and coaches hate the idea of moral victories, but the fact that UDM isn’t out there getting run by 30 every time out… I’m not sure anyone would’ve bet against that being the case back in July. LaTanya Collins’ squad jumps right back into action with a Monday evening contest at Akron, another chance to keep building things.
It’s sort of the same story at the bottom of the rankings as at the top: just like I’m not going to slide YSU or CSU down until they lose a game, I’m not going to change much down here until Wright State or UDM wins one. The Raiders, in their lone contest of the week, dropped their home opener to Xavier, though the game was probably more competitive than most would have assumed, with the Musketeers needing the full course of the game to build their 15-point margin. Jada Roberson and Destyne Jackson continue to be problems for most WSU opponents, which at least offers some optimism.