There were just eight completed games across the league last week thanks to the holiday break and the latest round of COVID cancellations. However, whatever the results lacked in numerical volume, they more than compensated for it with their level of impact, making this week’s update a necessary one, starting right at the top.
|Purdue Fort Wayne
IUPUI earned the top spot in just about the most emphatic way possible, by going into Iowa City and stunning the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes. For most of the game, things seems like they were on a collision course with a decisive but still somewhat respectable loss for the Jags, until a furious fourth-quarter rally erased a 15-point Iowa lead and delivered the upset. Rachel McLimore was responsible for the decisive blow in the 74-73 win (the program’s first ever against a ranked team), drawing a foul to Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark and knocking down a pair of free throws with three seconds left. She and Macee Williams each had 19 points to lead the way for IUPUI which, between this result and their season-opening overtime loss at Michigan, might have something of a case for an NCAA at-large bid in the works, if needed. Some more good news for the Jags: several conferences, including the Horizon League, are re-examining the practicality of their COVID forfeit policies, opening the door for the possible removal of both of the team’s HL “losses.”
Though Youngstown State didn’t do anything more than batter Division II team Point Park on Tuesday, the Penguins did offer one eye-catching stat regardless of the opponent, matching their effort against Davis & Elkins two weeks ago by only allowing two points in the first quarter. While it would still be fair to say that YSU very much goes as their shooting does, they’re definitely a squad that does most things pretty well, and that’s supported by their resume to this point. Six different Penguins have led the team in scoring over their 11 games, including Lilly Ritz, Chelsea Olson, Megan Callahan, Malia Magestro, and Paige Shy.
Cleveland State skidded into the break with their unbeaten mark shattered, thanks to a 66-52 loss to Loyola Chicago on Tuesday evening – one that seemed to suddenly raise some questions about the Vikings. Sure a 9-1 record is great, but on closer examination, that mark includes two forfeit wins (and again, there’s a chance of those disappearing), two non-Division I wins, and victories against the teams currently occupying spots 248, 312, 322, and 331 in NET. That leaves the win at Northern Kentucky earlier this month as CSU’s only positive outcome against the top half of DI, and it’s now balanced out by the game against the Ramblers, which never truly felt within reach after a 15-0 Loyola run spanning the first and second quarters. The Vikings remain unbeaten in league play and will have a shot at redemption this week with games at Robert Morris and Youngstown State.
Northern Kentucky closed their non-conference schedule on a high note, by going to South Carolina on Monday and smashing Wofford 84-64. Ivy Turner checked in with her latest strong outing, 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, and her elevation from top complimentary piece to frontline player in her own right has been a low-key but nevertheless major storyline this season. She’s shot the ball a full nine percent better (both overall and from three) than she did last year and is now producing at a level that can keep the Norse afloat during Lindsey Duvall’s rare off nights. Having more than one weapon hardly makes a team unique towards the top of the standings but if this were NBA Jam, I’d feel pretty good rolling with NKU against anyone.
Milwaukee was idle last week (by design, which I suppose needs to be pointed out when applicable), and though a lot of metrics have started to favor rival Green Bay over the Panthers, I’m going to stick to my guns for another week and leave Kyle Rechlicz’s crew in fifth despite an unsightly 4-7 overall mark. UWM has a really interesting stretch of conference games coming up: three winnable contests, first at home against Oakland and Detroit Mercy, then on the road at UIC, followed by a game at IUPUI, then visits from Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State, followed by their home-and-home with the Phoenix. Whatever Milwaukee is, we’ll find out pretty definitively over the next three or four weeks.
Had Green Bay done a little bit more against Central Michigan on Monday I probably would have moved the Phoenix up, but a not-great Chippewas team crawled back into the game late in the third quarter behind Molly Davis and forced the home team to go the distance in a 71-67 win. Green Bay continues to be extremely young and maddeningly well-balanced, so they’re a decent futures pick, but they still have the feel of a team that’s not quite ripe yet. Hailey Oskey has emerged as the team’s go-to player in recent weeks, while incredibly consistent Maddy Schreiber is one of the conference’s top freshmen.
It’s getting increasingly hard to justify parking Oakland in this seventh spot every week, as the Golden Grizzlies are now 4-7 and pretty much only hanging on here because nobody beneath them is doing much of anything either. On Monday, OU finished an 0-2 trip out to Las Vegas with a 21-point loss to Marshall, one that saw Kahlaijah Dean held to just four points in 12 minutes thanks largely to foul trouble, though she was also just 1-for-7 shooting the ball. Oakland has some nice pieces, as Illinois transfer Aaliyah McQueen (12 points against Marshall) is finally coming into her own a little bit, and streaky Alona Blackwell is at least visible after she wasn’t in the early part of the season, but the results just haven’t been following. Things don’t get any easier for the Grizzlies, as they re-enter conference play with the dreaded Wisconsin trip this week.
I hesitate to give out too much credit over losses, but Purdue Fort Wayne was fairly impressive in a home defeat to Indiana State on Monday. While the Sycamores are only 228th in NET, they did wreck UIC by 26 points in their previous game. And besides, PFW is 307th in NET, so the fact that they played a nip-and-tuck game with someone 80 spots up the ladder is a good look for them, right? The Mastadons probably should’ve won the thing to be honest, but they were done in by a late cold streak (Riley Ott’s three with 4:01 to go ended up being PFW’s final points of the game) and by turnovers (26 as a team, 11 by Ott). It seems clear to me that both the Dons and Robert Morris are in a tier above the final three teams at this point, and as luck would have it, PFW and RMU play each other on Saturday to sort things out further.
Robert Morris remained in COVID protocol through last week, one of three Horizon League teams that ended up there simultaneously in the buildup to Christmas (as luck would have it, they appear consecutively in these power rankings), which washed out a scheduled get-right game against Division III Waynesburg on Monday. As far as anyone outside of Hoop Township is aware, the Colonials are still on track to host Cleveland State on Thursday, a less-than-ideal re-introduction into things.
Wright State achieved the ignominy of becoming the first Horizon League team to go into COVID protocol for a second time this season, forcing the cancellation of WSU’s final non-conference game, at No. 8 Indiana. Between those issues, the struggles on the court, a bit of roster turnover and, of course, questions about the school remaining in Division I, it’s been quite the season down in Fairborn.
The third Horizon League team in COVID protocol last week was UIC, which spiked the Flames’ scheduled game at Kansas State on Wednesday. Coincidentally, the City of Chicago announced a vaccination requirement on the same day as the ill-fated game, which requires proof of vaccination before entering any “restaurants, establishments, gyms and other indoor sporting and entertainment venues.” That obviously applies to anyone who wants to attend UIC basketball games going forward – and, presumably, anyone who wants to play in a basketball game at UIC.
Was Tuesday Detroit Mercy’s last best chance to win a game this season? That seems unlikely, as the Titans have played well enough to grab one somewhere else along the line. Nevertheless, it had to be a bit gutting to have a tantalizingly bad Valparaiso team come up on the schedule, then play a tight ballgame for three quarters before UDM’s latest fourth quarter fade. Morgan State transfer Sydney Searcy, who started her college career at Florida, has been fantastic lately after a slow start to the season with 15.4 points per game over her last five contests. She and the rest of the Titans head to Green Bay and Milwaukee this week.