#HLMBB Staff Picks: December 2, 2021

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We had so much fun posting our Horizon League Tournament picks last year that we’re back for more! This year, HoriZone Roundtable writers and podcast staff will be making picks and providing insight on each of the league’s games. I can’t speak for everyone else, but the rough start to non-league play made today’s picks…difficult.

Joining me in making selections today are Bob McDonald, Matt Dudek, Alec Kwait, Blake Schumaker, and Horizon Boy. We even dragged Kyle Craven out of sabbatical for a paragraph!

Detroit Mercy vs. IUPUI

Detroit Mercy and IUPUI open up Horizon League play in a battle of teams that are winless against Division I competition, but they got there in very different ways. The Titans have played a strong non-league schedule so far, with its lowest ranked opponent on KenPom being a Northeastern team that checks in at 160. On the other end of things, IUPUI played in the 210 San Antonio Shootout that featured three of the bottom 20 teams on KenPom at the time and came away 0-3. With all that in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that our staff overwhelmingly picked the team that technically has the worse record to come away with a road win.

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Detroit Mercy
IUPUI

How does Detroit Mercy win?

The easiest way for Detroit Mercy to win, as it has been for the last 3+ years, is for Antoine Davis to shine while supporting cast members put forth solid production. IUPUI has struggled massively in non-league play so far

How does IUPUI win?

Honestly? It’s going to be tough for the Jaguars. A big part of the recipe would typically be to slow down Antoine Davis, but the same recipe can be used (likely more effectively) to slow down Jaguars’ guard B.J. Maxwell, the team’s only double-digit per game scorer who formerly deferred to Davis in Detroit Mercy’s lineup. For IUPUI to pull off the win, it’ll likely need to force Davis into a poor shooting night while also exploiting Detroit Mercy’s defense that caused it to lose to Hofstra while the offense put up an effective field goal percentage of 65.7.

Northern Kentucky vs. Cleveland State

The Horizon League decided to throw what we all hoped would be a heavyweight matchup at us on the first night of Horizon League play. Unfortunately, both Northern Kentucky and Cleveland State have a lot to sort out right now and the game is arguably going completely under the radar. Despite both teams having some disappointing results to date, our staff is overwhelmingly taking the home team and defending Horizon League champion to win tonight.

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Northern Kentucky
Cleveland State

How does Cleveland State win?

The Vikings come into Thursday’s tilt having won four straight non conference affairs following an 0-2 start to their season. As was the case for most in the Horizon League, the non conference schedule was a mixed bag of results for the Norse as NKU comes into the conference opener with a 2-3 record, despite three of their games coming down to the final seconds. Northern Kentucky will look to take advantage of their three point shooting, as they currently have four players shooting at least 40% from behind the arc. Cleveland State has yet to find their shooting groove this year, so the Vikings will need to keep this one lower scoring in order to have the best odds at prevailing.

– Alec Kwait

How does Northern Kentucky win?

For the Norse to be successful, it’ll all come down to execution of the little things. Anyone who watches Darrin Horn’s NKU teams is familiar with the very complex matchup zone that the Norse have run. In this zone, the emphasis has always been aggressive guard play, and disciplined post play. Guards need to be extended, causing problems in the passing lanes, and making CSU guards as uncomfortable as possible. On the flip side, the interior needs to “stay home” and rotate properly. On offense, the Norse have to get more continuity. Plain and simple, they ran a lot of ISO ball last year between Faulkner and Warrick, and some dribble-drive/dribble-handoff as their continuity offense, and this set goes through periods where it’s stagnant and stale. Hopefully there has been an emphasis on MEANINGFUL off-ball movement this week. Finally, the Norse are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the conference – something that is becoming a staple for Darrin Horn’s teams. They will need to continue this effort and force Cleveland State to make them pay in transition.

– Kyle Craven of Norse Report

Wright State vs. Purdue Fort Wayne

Wright State’s season took a brutal turn for the worse last week when one of the Horizon League preseason favorites went 0-3 at the Naples Invitational, closing things out with a loss to a Long Beach State team that’s hovering around 300 on KenPom. Purdue Fort Wayne has slipped from KenPom preseason predictions, but its expectations weren’t nearly as high to begin with. In a development that I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted, we’ve actually got a little variety in the picks for this game.

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Wright State
Purdue Fort Wayne

How does Wright State win?

Wright State vs PFW is closer now than anyone could’ve guessed before the season started. While PFW has actually had some wins in their non-conference schedule due to contributions throughout the lineup, Wright State is still playing with a full deck of cards in their starters from last year. The week that Wright State has had to recoup will be exactly what they needed and they will charge into victory against the Mastodons in a transitional Gem City Jam.

– Blake Schumaker

How does Purdue Fort Wayne win?

I know what you’re thinking: Wright State should be favored here. But after going winless at the Naples Invitational, coupled with a shortened rotation due to injuries, it does give me some pause. Add to that Purdue Fort Wayne showing that it isn’t afraid to open fire from the arc on anyone. Also, Ra Kpedi has been sneaky good through the non-conference slate, notching 13.2 points and 7.7 boards a game. He alone is capable of giving the Raiders headaches on the glass. It also pretty clear that the Mastodon backcourt of Jarred Godfrey, Damian Chong Qui and Jalon Pipkins (as well as Deonte Billups) is doing much better so far than Wright State’s.

– Bob McDonald

Robert Morris vs. Green Bay

Robert Morris takes on Green Bay in a matchup between a winless team and one that hasn’t secured a Division I win yet. Unlike with Detroit Mercy and IUPUI, this one looks to be a slightly more even matchup and there’s a little more variety in the picks. That’s likely because although RMU has played four KenPom Top 100 teams in its first five games, the other result was a loss to Mount Saint Mary’s. The Colonials’ former NEC rival ranks 308 on KenPom, worst of any opponent either school in this matchup has lost to.

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Robert Morris
Green Bay

How does Robert Morris win?

In the loss to Mount Saint Mary’s, RMU jumped out to a huge lead before bad shots and a 13-for-24 night from the free throw line allowed the Mountaineers to get back into the game. The free throw shooting should correct itself, as it was a fluke night where every player shot under their season and/or career percentages from the line. The key change will likely need to be taking better shots.

How does Green Bay win?

Green Bay’s leading scorer Donovan Ivory is a 6-foot-6 win who could be in for a big day going up against an RMU team that has had a tendency to start three undersized guards in its time in the Horizon League. Ivory’s size combined with his shooting ability (36.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc this season) could make him a nightmare matchup for the colonials. Beyond that, attacking inside and drawing fouls gave Mount Saint Mary’s the win over RMU. Defensively, Green Bay would do well to push the Colonials’ guards to take low-efficiency shots.

Youngstown State vs. Milwaukee

Milwaukee hosts Youngstown State in a game that may or may not be Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s Horizon League debut. The highly touted freshman hasn’t played in the team’s last two games after suffering an injury against Bowling Green last week. On the other side, Youngstown State got hit hard by the injury but when Garrett Covington suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Beyond injuries, Milwaukee will also likely be without Josh Thomas, who missed the Panthers’ last game due to suspension. It seems some of our staff feels the raw talent that Milwaukee could have at its disposal will win out, while others either think Baldwin Jr. will still be out or that the Panthers’ coaching will cost them.

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Youngstown State
Milwaukee

How does Youngstown State win?

Youngstown State’s performance against Southeast Missouri State was easily the most impressive showing for either of these teams this year. In that game (and several others) the Penguins effectively used the press to cause problems for opponents. Milwaukee has been abysmal against the press whether Patrick Baldwin Jr. has been in the lineup or not. I’d be stunned if YSU hasn’t been preparing to employ traps and pressure constantly in its recent time off.

How does Milwaukee win?

Is Patrick Baldwin Jr. back? If so, the answer to that question becomes a lot easier. The Penguins are allowing opponents to shoot 39.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and although he hasn’t had a chance to show it yet Baldwin Jr.’s shooting is a major draw for pro scouts. If PBJ is still out, DeAndre Gholston will need to have a big game for Milwaukee.

Oakland vs. UIC

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Oakland
UIC

How does Oakland win?

Fresh off their Gulf Coast Showcase tournament victory, Oakland is flying high and looking to prove their 5-2 start to the season isn’t a fluke. Look for Jamal Cain and Jalen Moore to really settle into the season against conference opponents. Until a team proves they have an answer for the Oakland zone or for Jamal Cain, both of which better teams have struggled with, there is no reason to not go with Oakland. I don’t see UIC being able to keep up with OU on either end.

Matt Dudek

How does UIC win?

Clearly from our picks, what we’ve seen makes it difficult to figure out how UIC will beat Oakland. The best bet will likely be to control the pace of the game and hope that newcomer DeMaria Franklin can have the best game of his already impressive career. Oakland’s Jamal Cain has become the early runaway favorite for Horizon League Player of the Year, so stopping him is going to be key. With that said, even Power Conference schools have struggled to completely stop him.

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