Hey, this week was actually helpful!
A week after things looked so bleak I couldn’t bring myself to separate teams in the Horizon League Men’s Basketball Power Rankings beyond the top team, we got a set of results that did a lot to clear things up. Cleveland State got instantly thrown into the fire and came out unscathed, Robert Morris had a pair of potentially winnable road games but was put away late in both, and the alarm bells might start ringing soon at Northern Kentucky.
Here’s a look at this week’s rankings:
|Purdue Fort Wayne||5||12||+7|
Oakland held serve at the top of the league with a pair of wins over UIC and IUPUI. Unlike the rest of the league, the Golden Grizzlies had a bit of wiggle room thanks to having the type of start we were all hoping several schools would pull off. On Thursday, Oakland got off to a hot start before UIC battled back for a final score of 88-77. Saturday, OU clobbered IUPUI 78-45. If not for Antoine Davis, the Golden Grizzlies likely would’ve had the top two contenders for Horizon League Player of the Week in early Player of the Year favorite Jamal Cain and forward Trey Townsend. Cain averaged 16.5 points and 9 rebounds in the two contests, while Townsend averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Cleveland State opened Horizon League play against the other two teams projected for the top three in the league’s official poll, Northern Kentucky and Wright State. The Vikings came away 2-0 with a pair of comfortable victories. First, CSU cruised past NKU 72-58 behind 20 points and 6 rebounds from Torrey Patton. On Saturday, the Vikings shut down Tanner Holden en route to an 85-75 win. Patton’s scoring wasn’t as potent against the Raiders and he scored just four points, but he nearly posted a unique double-double with 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Cleveland State’s big weekend clearly separated it from a jumble of Horizon League schools that got off to rough starts.
Wright State split its weekend series, but returns to the high end of the rankings because the Raiders’ two opponents both appear to be stronger than some of the teams faced by schools that went 2-0. Before being manhandled by CSU on Saturday, the Raiders cruised to an 86-73 win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday. A major difference in the two contests was that Cleveland State clearly wanted to force someone other than Tanner Holden to beat them. Holden is averaging 19.8 points per game for the Raiders this year and led the team with an efficient 22-point outing on Thursday, but scored just five points on 1-for-7 shooting against CSU.
See? All it took for Detroit Mercy to get in the win column was a pair of Horizon League opponents! The Titans crushed IUPUI 69-45 on Thursday, then overcame a second half deficit that grew as large as nine to beat UIC 64-56 on Sunday. Antoine Davis scored 19 point and dished out 10 assists for the first double-double of his career. He added 19 points and 5 assists on Sunday to take home Horizon League Player of the Week. In the process, Davis broke the Horizon League career record for 3-pointers.
Purdue Fort Wayne beat Northern Kentucky 71-57 on Saturday, and in the process created a little bit of a paradox in this week’s rankings. The win over a top 5 team in 2021 that returned everyone at the top of its rotation while adding several strong pieces simultaneously legitimized Purdue Fort Wayne while causing Northern Kentucky to go into panic mode. Last year’s star Jarred Godfrey hasn’t been leaned on as heavily to start this season as he was last year, but he led the way by averaging 19 points and 6 assists for the Mastodons to open Horizon League play.
Youngstown State finds itself tied with the Michigan schools and Cleveland State at 2-0 in Horizon League play after a weekend sweep of Milwaukee and Green Bay. The Penguins escaped with a 70-68 win over the Pat Baldwin Jr.-less Panthers on Thursday, then cruised to an 82-58 win over the Phoenix on Saturday. NAIA transfer Tevin Ollison led the team in scoring in both games, with 18 on Thursday and 20 on Saturday.
Despite its 0-2 start, ranking UIC here was a little tough for me. From what we’ve seen, I’m not sure when a Horizon League team will stay within five points of Oakland the way that the Flames did on Thursday. But at the end of the day the Flames are winless in league play while Youngstown State is undefeated, so I gave the Penugins the edge. While Damaria Franklin has shown himself to be UIC’s go-to-guy, Zion Griffin may be the team’s x-factor this year. Franklin had a pair of performances as strong as we’ve come to expect from him this weekend, but it was Griffin’s 24 points and 9 rebounds against Oakland that helped UIC nearly pull off the comeback. Griffin had just 9 points on 2-for-8 shooting in the Sunday loss to Detroit Mercy.
Milwaukee is still struggling to get all of its top talent on the court at once, one of several contributing factors to the team’s rough start to the season. Thursday without Pat Baldwin Jr., the Panthers lost at home to Youngstown State. Baldwin was back on Saturday but DeAndre Gholston was out, but Milwaukee was able to put away the Colonials late to come away with a 77-69 win. Baldwin was able to secure Horizon League Freshman of the Week in just one game after scoring 26 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. He shot 9-for-14 from the field and 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc in the win.
Northern Kentucky‘s season certainly hasn’t gone the way any of us predicted. NKU is now 1-5 against Division I competition, with that lone win coming at the buzzer against Eastern Michigan. A big part of the struggles seems to be related to Marcus Warrick having difficulty finding his shot. The 2021 Horizon League Freshman of the Year has seen his scoring plummet, currently averaging just 9.1 points per game on 26.4 percent shooting from the field. Warrick did lead the team with 14 points against Cleveland State on Thursday, but did it on a 5-for-15 shooting performance. Obviously the season is young, Warrick’s shooting should improve and it’s not time to throw in the towel for NKU but the start to the season is far from what most could’ve predicted given that three newcomers have jumped returning players in the rotation.
Green Bay secured its first Division I win of the season with a 70-58 victory over Robert Morris on Thursday before falling to YSU on Saturday. Green Bay and RMU went back and forth until the Phoenix pulled away in the final seven minutes for the victory. Manny Ansong led the team in scoring for the third and fourth consecutive games, averaging 18 points per game on the weekend.
Robert Morris went 0-2 against two of the bottom five teams in this week’s rankings, and as a result finds itself in eleventh place. Both results were similar to RMU’s other chance at a win this year, where the Colonials started off strong and faded as the game went on. This week, that mean a pair of losses that were more lopsided than the games that preceded them seemed. Rasheem Dunn led the way for RMU in both games, averaging 19 points and five assists for the weekend.
It’s going to be a rough year for IUPUI. The Jaguars took on Oakland and Detroit Mercy this weekend, losing by 33 and 24 points. A trio of freshmen look like they could be solid long term pieces, but they’re not ready to carry the load right now. In the meantime BJ Maxwell has been the go-to-guy, leading the Jaguars in scoring in every game against a Division I opponent this year. This week, he averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.