Non-conference games are done, 2021 is (almost) done, and the Horizon League is presently in the middle of its holiday break, so it seems like as good of a time as any to take stock of the season to this point. We do that weekly on the team level through the power rankings of course, but what about the individuals who have starred for those teams? Here’s our call for the all-conference teams based on the games played in November and December.
You may be wondering how these teams stack up with our preseason vote. At the risk of sounding a bit too self-congratulatory, not bad at all. Nine of the ten players from the top two preseason teams on HoriZone Roundtable are once again on the first or second team here (compared with eight from the official league vote), with Youngstown State’s Lilly Ritz standing as the lone newcomer. Yes, we had a couple absolutely brutal misses after that (hi, Shamarre Hale), but all in all we accounted for ourselves pretty well.
Here’s how we see things at the halfway* point.
|Destiny Leo||G||Cleveland State||So.|
|Lindsey Duvall||G||Northern Kentucky||R-Sr.|
|Lilly Ritz||F||Youngstown State||Sr.|
In hindsight, it seems kind of laughable that the narrative about Cleveland State all offseason was “who is going to replace Mariah White’s production,” because Destiny Leo has done that, and then some. Leo became the primary ballhandler in the Vikings’ system this season and has produced at a clip that should have her squarely in the Player of the Year conversation at this point. Her 21.8 points per game lead the league – and are seventh nationally – and she’s gotten to that number with staggering efficiency, including 52.0 percent from the floor and an even 50.0 percent from three. Leo has developed an impressive arsenal and court vision off of the dribble drive, in addition to her elite shot.
Lindsey Duvall, the Horizon League’s five-star, remains a machine who can do pretty much everything that needs to be done on a basketball court, one that can take over a game at just about any time. She’s the second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder in the conference and her game at Saint Louis on December 11th, where she went off for 29 and 14, might be the best single-game performance by anyone in the HL so far this year. While Northern Kentucky has had an up-and-down start to the season the Norse’s talent level, led by Duvall, makes them a threat to win the title.
It’s probably a compliment to Macee Williams that her 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game aren’t really headline material anymore, since that’s more or less what we’ve come to expect from the three-time conference Player of the Year. Those numbers are actually a bit off from where Williams ended last season, when she was within a hair of averaging a double-double, but that can be chalked up to the fact that IUPUI’s roster is deeper than ever. And the Jaguars’ team success speaks for itself of course, with Williams and company rattling off arguably the two biggest results for the league during the non-conference portion of the season.
The Horizon League has no shortage of top post players, with Lilly Ritz jumping into Youngstown State’s lineup from Division II Wheeling and immediately becoming one of them – in fact, if I blindly put the stats from Ritz and Williams side by side, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. The pair are 1-2 in the conference in player efficiency rating, and while each approaches things a bit differently from the other, they both get the job done at an extremely high level. Ritz has been vital to YSU’s better-than-expected start to the season, not only through her direct production but also through the way she opens things up for the Penguins’ collection of snipers.
The word “unicorn” is thrown around a lot in basketball, but Megan Walstad might be the closest thing the Horizon League has to one. She’s 6-2 and excels as a traditional big in most ways, she’s second in the conference in rebounding and third in blocks to name a couple. However, she also plays at every level (nobody will confuse her for one of the HL’s elite shooters from behind the arc, but she’s usually good for a three ball every game) and is a primary ballhandler and facilitator out of the high post. Walstad also shoots 92.6 percent from the line, hardly a throwaway stat for the focal point of every defense she faces.
|Ivy Turner||G||Northern Kentucky||Jr.|
|Chelsea Olson||G||Youngstown State||R-Sr.|
Arguably the most exciting player to watch in the conference, Kahlaijah Dean is a human explosion who can put up a lot of points in a hurry, then turn you over and put up a few more for good measure. She’s a solid bet for the league’s All-Defensive Team at the end of the year with 2.2 steals per game, but outings like her career-best 34 points (on 11-for-16 shooting) against Central Michigan three weeks ago are what sells the tickets. Dean also boasts outings of 28 and 27 points, major contributors to her 18.1 points per game. If you’re one of those people who likes to emphasize the V in MVP, Dean’s 30.7 percent usage rate is the highest of anyone in this post, edging out Duvall, Ritz, and Williams.
Jaida McCloud might be the Horizon League’s ultimate IYKYK player, since her 2-7 Flames don’t provide an abundance of opportunity for wider publicity. But the sophomore from Peoria reminds me of Duvall, not necessarily in terms of how they get the job done, but just through how well-rounded their respective games are, and with a similar ability to take over at a moment’s notice. In part thanks to necessity on a team that has been severely lacking in depth, McCloud’s numbers have skyrocketed this season, and her 18.2 points per game places her among the conference’s elite scorers. She, quite literally, gets to the line as well as anyone: McCloud’s 7.1 made free throws per game lead the nation while her 9.7 attempts are second.
As if Duvall didn’t provide enough of a headache for NKU opponents, Ivy Turner has continued to evolve into a front-end player in her own right. Turner has always been one of the conference’s best shooters – her percentages are competitive with Leo’s – but her true separator, much like McCloud, has been her ability to find space on the dribble drive, then draw tons of fouls attacking the bucket. In NKU’s come-from-behind win against Central Arkansas this season, Turner scored a game-high 24 points, including a whopping 13-for-18 from the free throw line. Games like that are admittedly atypical, but the production isn’t.
While a bevy of different Penguins have taken turns grabbing the headlines this season, and although she was taken off the point in favor of Mady Aulbach, Chelsea Olson keeps plugging along as one of the conference’s most quietly effective players. She’s 12th in the league in scoring (12.3), tenth in rebounding (6.3), and seventh in assists (3.4) with each of those numbers ranking second on YSU to Ritz, Ritz again, and Aulbach. However, Olson is still plenty capable of putting the cape on and taking over when needed, as she showed during a recent stretch with Ritz out of the lineup. Against Canisius on December 8th, she poured in 28 points on 12 made field goals, the latter number standing as the most by a YSU player since 2006.
Rachel McLimore has had a quiet year in a lot of respects, with her production – like that of teammate Williams, and probably for the same reasons – trailing her 2020-21 output. Not that she’s in an awful place of course, her 10.8 points per game are still 15th league-wide, she’s still shooting around a 40 percent clip, and her 3.5 assists per game (against just 1.5 turnovers) are sixth in the conference. None of those stats, however, have the staying power of her decisive free throws that took down No. 15 Iowa. The moments – along with the people, of course – are what stick in memories and what matter years later, and McLimore has probably the biggest moment in the conference this season in her portfolio.
|Grayson Rose||F/C||Northern Kentucky||Gr.|
|Maddy Schreiber||G/F||Green Bay||Fr.|
|Riley Ott||G||Purdue Fort Wayne||Jr.|
|Destyne Jackson||G||Wright State||R-So.|
I think people take for granted just how imposing of a presence Grayson Rose is on the defensive end for Northern Kentucky, because for all the great bigs in the Horizon League, nobody really comes close to some of the stuff she does. The 6-3 grad student leads the conference in rebounding with 10.1 boards per game, and her 8.6 defensive rebounds are good for fifth nationally. She also blocks three shots per game, twice as many as anyone else in the league, and 11th most in the nation. Given numbers like that, Rose would deserve consideration for this post even if she never scored a single point, but she chips in 7.4 per game (including the occasional three ball) to serve as solid complimentary offense to Duvall and Turner.
Destiny Perkins is one of those players you don’t fully appreciate until you watch IUPUI play a few times to see how she operates as a facilitator that makes the Jaguars machine littered with big names go. She’s a high-energy player who’s very solid defensively, and leads the conference with 4.6 assists per game, many of them to players like Williams, McLimore, and Rachel Kent, of course. While scoring the basketball isn’t necessarily Perkins’ role on the team, she’s lethal from three (46.9 percent from behind the arc, contributing to a 61.6 effective field goal percentage) and more than capable of popping out an efficient 15-point effort every so often.
Green Bay is an absolute headache when it comes to individual awards because the team, of course, is usually good enough to warrant at least one player on the all-conference teams… but which player? Our preseason vote was basically a hedge between Sydney Levy and Jasmine Kondrakiewicz, while the Horizon League coaches chose Meghan Pingel for their second team. As it turned out, none of those players are a lights-out pick for this midseason team (though Pingel is admittedly the closest). Hailey Oskey has emerged as the Phoenix’s leading scorer, but I’m going to go slightly off the map and pick freshman Maddy Schreiber for this spot. Schreiber has been remarkably consistent this season, scoring between seven and 11 points in each of UWGB’s games since the third contest of the season, while Oskey and Pingel tend to blow hot and cold. Schreiber’s 4.6 rebounds per game and 46.9 shooting percentage both lead the team, and she’s also pulled down a pair of league Freshman of the Week awards.
It’s tough to pick one player from Purdue Fort Wayne because Shayla Sellers is an absolute sniper and Sylare Starks is probably responsible for most of the Mastodons’ improvement this year, but Riley Ott is the focal point for a cohesive and occasionally dangerous unit. While she turns the ball over a bit too much, Ott runs the PFW offense on a high level while leading the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game (a number that’s also tenth league-wide). Among those who play at least 20 minutes per game, Ott’s 48.3 percent rate from three is second only to Leo.
While Wright State has struggled this season in just about any way a team can struggle (a 1-7 record, two midseason player departures, two COVID pauses, committee meetings to figure out whether WSU should remain in Division I), Destyne Jackson has been an absolute rock for the Raiders on a shorthanded roster in Kari Hoffman’s first season. While her efficiency numbers won’t blow many minds, she is a bit of a volume shooter, Jackson is nevertheless good for 10-15 points every time out and regardless of the opponent. For someone in a spotlight role, she also takes extremely good care of the ball and doesn’t give away many fouls (she’s 79th nationally in foul rate). The Raiders certainly have some ways to go, but a player like Jackson can help them get there faster.
Want 15 more names? Sure, I can do that. Here are the players who crossed my mind at some point while putting together this post but just missed the cut.
|Nadia Dumas||F||Cleveland State||R-Sr.|
|Gabby Smith||G||Cleveland State||Jr.|
|Sydney Searcy||G||Detroit Mercy||Gr.|
|Hailey Oskey||G||Green Bay||Jr.|
|Meghan Pingel||G||Green Bay||R-Sr.|
|Emmy Souder||F/C||Northern Kentucky||Sr.|
|Shayla Sellers||G||Purdue Fort Wayne||Jr.|
|Sylare Starks||G||Purdue Fort Wayne||Jr.|
|Esther Castedo||G||Robert Morris||Sr.|
|Sol Castro||F||Robert Morris||So.|
|Megan Callahan||G||Youngstown State||Sr.|
|Malia Magestro||G||Youngstown State||So.|
*just go with it