With four conference games now in the bank for each team (of 22 total, of course) before diving into the last couple weeks of non-league play, and with each of the top two teams pulling off gritty wins against tough competition, something resembling a hierarchy is starting to solidify.
|Purdue Fort Wayne||8||9||+1|
Last week may have been when Youngstown State went from “solid team off to a hot start” to “hey, they’re actually a contender to win the league.” With Lilly Ritz unavailable, YSU faced probably the toughest pair of conference games in the league this week (tied with travel partner Robert Morris, of course) and came away with decisive home wins against Milwaukee and Green Bay to climb to 7-0 (4-0 Horizon League). Lindsey Linard and Jen Wendler did an admirable job filling in for Ritz but really, the story was the Penguins’ three-point shooting. After a slow start to the first game, against the Panthers (the score was 15-14 YSU at halftime), the Guins started bombing. It was largely Paige Shy and Megan Callahan in that contest, followed by Callahan (who has a strong darkhorse Player of the Week case) and Malia Magestro two days later.
While Cleveland State has had the look of a very good team in a lot of ways, before Friday night, that look was largely “beat a bunch of teams they were supposed to beat at home by comfortable margins” with a pair of forfeit wins sprinkled in. That all changed when the Vikings traveled to BB&T Arena for their first road game of the season and beat a very solid Northern Kentucky team, one that is 129th in the RPI rankings even after dropping the game to CSU. The stories of the game, once again, were Destiny Leo, who set yet another new career high with 31 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and the Vikings’ defense, which stifled Lindsey Duvall (3-for-14 from the floor) and held the Norse to only a garbage time free throw over the last 4:52 of the game.
Choo choo, here comes IUPUI. Ever since the COVID pause that handed the Jaguars an 0-2 conference record, Macee Williams and company have been racing F1 cars against Toyota Camrys over at the speedway. They were +33 versus Butler in their first game back (covered in last week’s power rankings), then +35 against Detroit Mercy and +25 against Oakland in a road conference week. Sure, none of those squads will be confused for South Carolina, but this team definitely has that “on a mission” feel to it, like it finally found a bit of off-script adversity and a shoulder chip after being told how great they are all offseason. We’ll find out more when the Jags battle Ball State (which boasts wins over Milwaukee and Purdue Fort Wayne this year) and Eastern Michigan this week.
Milwaukee, as least as far as these power rankings go, was the beneficiary of being the least bad of the middle-of-the-pack teams last week. They found themselves in an absolute rock fight with Youngstown State through 20 minutes on Thursday, as mentioned, before the Guins came alive during the second half. Still, the fact that they were blow for blow with a torrid YSU team on the road for a significant part of the game proves…something, probably. Milwaukee’s experienced guards have struggled for a lot of the season, so it might be a good sign that Miquela Santoro shot the ball well against Robert Morris on Saturday in a rout. If she and McKaela Schmelzer can develop some outside consistency for Megan Walstad to facilitate, the Panthers will become a very dangerous team.
Northern Kentucky very nearly had a disastrous week, first dropping its conference home opener to CSU, then barely surviving a strong upset bit from Purdue Fort Wayne two days later. Nevertheless, there was a lot of good news to come from the two games. Duvall finally shot her way out of a bit of a slump against the Mastodons, pouring in 26 points, including a couple a late daggers. Ivy Turner remained good in both games, while freshman Kailee Davis scored her first eight career points against PFW, and the 5-2 Detroit native even grabbed four boards as well. The loss against the unbeaten Vikings was tied deep into the fourth quarter, until CSU made the winning plays in the big moments – plays NKU subsequently made on Sunday.
Like their downstate rivals, Green Bay lost to Youngstown State and blew out Robert Morris, and I swear that one of these weeks, I’m just going to copy/paste the same paragraph for both teams. Against YSU the Phoenix, now 4-4 overall (2-2 HL) saw a storyline from a couple weeks ago re-emerge when Meghan Pingel and Sydney Levy were held to a combined 0-for-14 from the floor, a similar bagel to the one NKU hung on them. Kevin Borseth’s teams have typically been devoid of stars, and it seems unfair to focus on any one player’s lack of production considering that but nevertheless, a machine missing a couple of gears doesn’t usually work very well. The good news? One member of Green Bay’s great freshman class is starting to take over: Bailey Butler, whose 14 points led the way against YSU. The Black Hawk High School graduate also popped home ten against RMU.
Battle-tested Oakland (remember, the Golden Grizzlies played both Michigan and Michigan State two weeks ago) returned to conference play with a game against UIC that Kahlaijah Dean and company were leading by 20 with 3:58 left in the third quarter, before the Flames pulled back to within eight by the final buzzer. That game is a bit of a microcosm of OU’s season so far; the team can turn opponents over and play very fast, but is also prone to long droughts against teams that protect the ball and prevent runouts. Though Oakland, as expected, was clobbered by IUPUI on Saturday, one positive storyline of late has been the re-emergence of Alona Blackwell. The streaky shooter had been buried in the rotation through the early part of the season, but she clocked 22 minutes in each of the Grizzlies’ games last week, and put up 11 points against UIC.
Admittedly, I hadn’t had the chance to watch a full Purdue Fort Wayne game until Sunday, and while their dropped a tight road matchup to Northern Kentucky, I couldn’t help but come away impressed. They’re an extremely well-coached offensive team that creates plenty of space for Shayla Sellers, Riley Ott, and Sylare Starks, and each of those three knocked down some big shots during the game while taking turns facilitating things – the trio combined for 45 points, including a 9-for-19 effort behind the arc. Aubrey Stupp, Jazzlyn Linbo, and Ryin Ott more than held their own against a Norse team that had a massive inside advantage on paper, though the price was foul trouble. The Dons, who also picked up a forfeit win over Wright State and lost a late schedule addition game to Ball State during the week, have the feel of a team that’s well on its way, but isn’t quite there just yet.
It was a rough week for Robert Morris, which spent its pair of conference games being battered by the Wisconsin teams while continuing to struggle on the offensive end, netting only 44 and 47 points in the two games (which, to be fair, were both against outstanding defensive groups). Esther Castedo has continued to play well in a bigger role, but she and Sol Castro putting up between ten and 15 each with minimal contribution elsewhere just isn’t enough to win a ton of games even with an above-average defense. Things won’t get any easier – in the basketball sense anyway – for Bobby Mo, as their only game this week is a trip to play Miami of Florida on Sunday.
After dropping a Monday night game to Omaha (meh) and an eight-point decision to Oakland on Thursday (that one’s not terrible), UIC almost became The Team That Lost to the Team That Wiped Out Its Entire Program Over the Summer on Saturday, surviving a late Detroit Mercy rally to win in overtime. In the Flames’ first conference victory of the season, Jaida McCloud went off for a career-best 30 points, including a 14-for-17 effort from the line. Notably, McCloud (41 minutes), Justice Gee (all 45), and Bailey Lutes (43) played more than a regulation game against UDM, while Kristian Young logged 38 minutes. The Flames’ bench is virtually non-existent right now.
Detroit Mercy very, very nearly got their first win of the LaTanya Collins era on Saturday, forcing overtime against UIC after trailing 54-45 with 6:32 to play, calling timeout, then scoring the next nine points of the game. Timeouts for the Titans appear to have the same effect as any trainer yelling something during a fight in a Rocky movie, with UDM landing haymakers coming out of the stoppage every single time. There was also one second quarter stretch at Akron on Tuesday where the Zips led by 14 and, after a timeout, the Titans scored on three consecutive possessions while stealing the ball both times UA had it to keep the game within reach at the half.
Wright State became the second team in the conference to be hit with a pair of COVID shutdown forfeits this season, taking automatic losses against Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State to drop to 0-7 (0-4 HL). Additionally, Constance Chaplin left the program late last week, bringing Kari Hoffman’s roster count down to 11. The Raiders, pending clearance, will jump back into action with a trip to Abilene Christian on Sunday.