The holidays are officially upon us, which means that the best Starbucks drinks are here – along with the vague cloud of guarantee games and de facto scrimmages against lower-division opponents sprinkled throughout December, making power rankings particularly difficult this time of year. What’s more, the frequency of those games drops drastically; in fact, three Horizon League teams didn’t play at all last week while six others only played one game (and this coming week will have a similar look to it).
With that being said…
|Purdue Fort Wayne||9||8||-1|
If there was ever a week to move up without playing a game, Cleveland State found it. The Vikings, of course, had COVID issues within the program that wiped out a scheduled tip at Akron on Sunday (per their release, they’ll try to find a new date for it later this season). But, regardless of the awkward road there, CSU now stands as the conference’s lone unbeaten team, and the Vikings look poised to be factor in the title chase throughout the season. Pending the all-clear, Destiny Leo and company will get back at it this coming Saturday when Hofstra visits the Wolstein Center.
I had a really hard time moving Youngstown State from the top spot, because the Penguins actually did play this week – twice, in fact – including a mid-week win at Canisius and a defeat at Penn State on Sunday. However, YSU wasn’t at their best in either outing. A 2-6 Golden Griffins squad (with those results including a 14-point loss to Robert Morris a couple weeks back) rallied a couple times and nearly negated Chelsea Olson’s career-high scoring game (28 points on 12-for-16 from the floor). Then, four days later, the Guins took a 20-point loss to a PSU team that could fairly be considered an attainable power conference opponent for a top Horizon League team, with the Lady Lions 137th in NET entering the contest to YSU’s 168th. The Penguins actually led 14-2 early on before going on a field goal drought of, I promise that this is not a typo, 19 minutes and 29 seconds.
Given the struggles with the Northeast Ohio delegation, in hindsight this seemed like a moment where IUPUI could finally swoop in and re-claim their preseason ranking. The Jaguars, however, dropped their only game of the week, a contest in The Jungle against Ball State on Wednesday. It was a fairly ugly loss too, as the Cardinals scored the first eight points of the game and were leading by 20 late in the second quarter before the Jags managed to get Macee Williams more involved. Behind Williams (19 points, 15 of those after BSU’s biggest lead occurred) and Natalie Andersen (15 points, including buzzer beaters ending both the second and third quarters), IUPUI rallied and managed to tie the game with 2:01 left on a Williams free throw. However, that would be the home team’s final point of the game, as the reigning player of the year missed her second attempt for the lead, and Ball State’s Sydney Freeman took over in the late moments.
All in all, Northern Kentucky might have had the best week of anyone in the conference. The Norse’s midweek game against Division II’s Kentucky State went about as expected, and that was followed up by a very, very solid win at Saint Louis on Saturday night. Against the Billikens, Lindsey Duvall truly was That Girl, checking in with an absolutely dominant performance. The former five-star recruit (in case you forgot, they mentioned it about 20 times on the broadcast) poured in 29 points on 9-for-20 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the line while pulling down 14 boards, a lot of that coming in high-leverage moments. Even beyond that though, it was just a feeling I got while watching: it was her game, and she was taking it no matter what. Duvall wasn’t the entire show, it does need to be said. Grayson Rose also had a double-double with 11 and 10, while Emmy Souder was outstanding in her garbage collection duties.
The weekly Wisconsin coin flip came up in Green Bay’s favor this time around, though it was helped by a Phoenix win on Sunday against their sister school in Madison. The Badgers are awful, to the point that it’s somewhat unbelievable that they play in the same conference as Michigan, Indiana, and Maryland (they do though, I double checked), so you don’t want to take too much from it. It is notable, however, that Green Bay now has two power conference wins this season, the other coming against Oklahoma State out in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend, of course. Against Wisconsin, UWGB jumped out to a 23-11 lead after the first quarter and pretty much put it in cruise control from there, as Hailey Oskey’s 14 points and Maddy Schreiber’s eight points with nine rebounds led the way.
Milwaukee didn’t really do anything wrong as much as the two teams above them did something right (and it does need to be said that the Panthers also beat Wisconsin by double digits this year), but a home loss to Marquette was UWM’s only result of the week. Going minus-8 against the Golden Eagles, a top-60 NET team right now, is hardly an awful loss, though the contest wasn’t a particularly enjoyable watch for a lot of it – in fact, the Panthers had all of ten points late into the second quarter. Kyle Rechlicz’s always-stout defense kept her team in it though, and the fourth quarter showed just how dangerous Milwaukee can be when its experienced guards are knocking down shots and creating extra dimensions offensively. Sydney Staver was the star last week, though Miquela Santoro and Kendall Nead also connected from deep.
Kahlaijah Dean absolutely went off for Oakland against Central Michigan on Wednesday, giving Duvall some competition for the league’s player of the week honors. In a 21-point win over the Chippewas that was never in doubt beyond the first media timeout, the senior from Bakersfield, CA fired home 34 points (tying a career high) on a blistering 11-for-16 effort, while also grabbing seven rebounds. KD’s 18.6 points per game are good for 51st nationally, and it’s worth mentioning that with two Big Ten teams and IUPUI among the Grizzlies’ nine opponents so far, it’s a well-earned stat. Jeff Tungate’s crew is in the middle of a 13-day stretch between games, spanning from the CMU win to an MTE in Las Vegas featuring contests against Marshall and Campbell beginning on the 20th, so they’ll probably be right around here in next week’s post as well.
Hopefully Robert Morris enjoyed the opportunity to go to Miami in the middle of December, at least other than the two hours where they were eating a 41-point loss to the Hurricanes. There’s really not too much else to say about that, other than the fact that Sol Castro clocked a pretty nice game with 19 points, despite battling foul trouble. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Colonials, whose last two games prior to Miami were a pair of 19-point losses to Green Bay and Milwaukee. Fortunately for Charlie Buscaglia’s squad, things get a bit more manageable from here with St. Bonaventure and Division III’s Waynesburg remaining on RMU’s non-conference slate.
Purdue Fort Wayne didn’t have a fantastic week, to put it bluntly. While no reasonable person should have expected fireworks from their trip to Notre Dame on Sunday, the real concern here is a pretty ugly loss to a bad (306th in NET) Southeast Missouri State team on Thursday. In that one, a tight first half gave way to an ice-cold second half for the Dons, and things snowballed quickly, thanks to a well-balanced effort from the Redhawks. An issue even more concerning than any one result is the ongoing availability of Ryin Ott. The star freshman landed awkwardly on her arm against SEMO, sustaining what appeared to be a wrist injury. While the severity of it is unknown, she remained out against Notre Dame. PFW, like Oakland, will be out of action until the 20th when they host Indiana State.
UIC was one of the three Horizon League teams that didn’t play a game last week, but the only one that planned it that way and wasn’t interrupted by COVID. The Flames make up for it in the coming week, leading with a very winnable road match against Indiana State on Tuesday before returning home to play Saint Louis on Saturday.
Detroit Mercy’s lone offering last week was the latest in a string of frustratingly-close losses, a game where the Titans rallied to pull within two of a solid Western Michigan team at the half before eventually falling by seven. While UDM is 0-9, four or five of those games definitely fall under the category of “winnable with a couple more plays at the right moments,” and it’s encouraging that they seem to have different players step up every game, with Mo Pruitt’s 17 and 5 leading the way against the Broncos. The Titans’ final two non-conference opponents are North Dakota and Valparaiso, with the Beacons (who are also 0-9 and 303rd in NET) in particular providing a tantalizing opportunity to maybe, finally, taste victory. For a program that has ten total, nine against Division I opponents, since the 2017-18 season started, it will certainly be well-celebrated when it happens.
As an appropriate bookend to Cleveland State, Wright State remained on COVID pause for the entirety of last week, including the cancelation of a trip to Abilene Christian on Sunday. The Raiders’ next scheduled game is on Wednesday against Division II’s Lake Erie College, a nice opportunity to grab the first win of the Kari Hoffman era if it happens. If it doesn’t, WSU will end up going from November 24th until December 21st between games, and the welcome back will be a trip to Indiana to play the Hoosiers. Yikes.