#HLWBB Power Rankings — Week 10

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We were so, so, so close to finally getting a full conference schedule in for the first time all season (remember, even before Omicron ran rampant, IUPUI and Wright State forfeited during the two early HLWBB weekends). Alas, it was not meant to be, as Green Bay tapped out at the last second, canceling games with Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne (in fact, the Vikings were already in Green Bay before learning of the Phoenix’s pause, though they pivoted nicely to a tour of Lambeau Field). We’ll try for that one again this week.

There wasn’t a ton of movement this time around, but when the top spot changes hands it feels like a lot more than it is.

TeamRankLWChange
IUPUI12+1
Youngstown State21-1
Northern Kentucky33
Cleveland State44
Oakland56+1
Green Bay65-1
Milwaukee78+1
Robert Morris87-1
Purdue Fort Wayne99
Wright State1010
UIC1111
Detroit Mercy1212

Are there any words for what Anna Mortag has done for IUPUI over the last couple weeks? Back on January 6th her buzzer beater downed Green Bay 51-49, and on Sunday, she might have topped it. The sophomore from Milwaukee drilled two threes in the final 79 seconds, the latter with six seconds remaining, to force overtime in the Jags’ top-of-the-league showdown at Youngstown State, eventually leading to an unlikely win. How unlikely? ESPN’s win probability hit 99.9 percent in favor of YSU with 1:28 to go after Chelsea Olson split a pair of free throws to give the Penguins a 56-47 lead. However, a bevy of YSU turnovers in the final minute eventually led to back to back triples by Rachel Kent and Mortag to bring the extra period, which the visitors dominated. It should be said that IUPUI hasn’t been untouchable – obviously they’ve needed every bit of what Mortag’s had, and they played a three-point game with Milwaukee at home last weekend – but they Jags are starting to stack wins again.

So where now if you’re Youngstown State, after you pushed all your chips in on the game against IUPUI, only to biff it in spectacular fashion? The answer, probably, is to take the good away from it. A contest that was extremely tight throughout tilted in the Guins’ direction through most of the fourth quarter, and obviously if a team loses a game it’s supposed to win 99.9 percent of the time, it’s not hard to flip that around to remember what had things in that position in the first place. Lilly Ritz (23 points, 13 rebounds), in my mind and contrary to how the weekly league honors went, won the big post showdown with Macee Williams (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Malia Magestro went 5-for-11 from three. YSU remains in sole possession of first place at 9-1 (remember, IUPUI has those forfeit losses from early in the season) and will try to bounce back during a home-and-home with Robert Morris.

Though some may take issue with this statement based on early-season results that included losses to Milwaukee and Cleveland State, Northern Kentucky has earned the right to be included in the conference contender discussion alongside IUPUI and Youngstown State. The Norse have now won seven straight games, with the latest two coming through a road sweep of Detroit Mercy and Oakland. Against the Golden Grizzlies, a team that had been heating up themselves with three straight wins going into the contest, Ivy Turner took the leading role with 17 points and five rebounds. Four other NKU players scored in double digits, while Grayson Rose continued to terrorize the glass with 17 rebounds (following up a 16-board outing against the Titans). With that win against Oakland (and previous victories against Green Bay and IUPUI), NKU has now defeated three of the top six teams in these power rankings on their respective home courts.

I went into a little bit of detail on the rough road Cleveland State has had over the last six weeks in my recap of the Vikings’ win at Milwaukee on Sunday but just to hit the bullet points, CSU hadn’t won a game against a Division I opponent since knocking off NKU at BB&T Arena on December 3rd, thanks in large part to a pair of COVID pauses and a series of similar issues with opponents (and, debatably, the effect all of that had on the team’s ill-fated trip to RMU and YSU). After a rough first quarter against the Panthers, the Vikings appeared to return to the form that had them at the top of these rankings early in the season and they did a lot of it with a pretty balanced effort, as Destiny Leo was shut out in the first half. It’s probably premature to declare CSU’s struggles over, but things are definitely looking a lot better following the team’s first win at the Klotsche Center since 2012.

I’m not sure that any team in the Horizon League, contextually speaking, has been quite as impressive as Oakland over the last two weeks. The Golden Grizzlies are currently without superstar Kahlaijah Dean, who has a non-COVID injury, but the rest of the roster has stepped up in a way beyond what appeared possible earlier in the season. In December at an MTE in Las Vegas, OU dropped both of their games – first to Bowling Green when Dean scored 28 of the team’s 60 points, then by 21 to Marshall when Dean was in foul trouble for most of the contest. Less than one month later, that supporting cast has Oakland playing their best basketball of the season with three wins in four games, with the loss coming to a red-hot Northern Kentucky team on Saturday. It’s been a group effort throughout, with four different players setting or tying career scoring highs against the Norse, led by Kayla Luchenbach going for 18 with eight rebounds.

Green Bay fell off the list of teams that have avoided COVID outbreaks large enough to cancel games last week (which is now down to Youngstown State and Milwaukee), as the Phoenix were forced to wash out a homestand against Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne. If there’s one team that couldn’t really afford for that to happen, it’s UWGB; thanks mostly to opponent pauses, Kevin Borseth and company have played exactly three games since December 12th, a span that will reach 40 days by this weekend’s home-and-home with archrival Milwaukee.

Milwaukee continues to be arguably the toughest read in the league, but their weekend split continued to pile answerless questions for the Panthers. UWM topped Purdue Fort Wayne on Friday, though it was hardly the aesthetic you’d want to see out of a contender playing a team near the bottom of the standings at home. Then, against Cleveland State on Sunday, the home team shot 61.5 percent in the first quarter…and 28 percent the rest of the way while the Vikings heated up and eventually won pretty decisively. After that game, Kyle Rechlicz mentioned that the Panthers need to get more shots from Megan Walstad and it’s hard to disagree with the idea of one of the conference’s best players getting more than 21 field goal attempts during the course of the weekend, particularly when the team’s deep guard rotation has continued to struggle.

It would be foolish to expect too much out of Robert Morris against IUPUI, though coming off recent results like a win over Cleveland State on December 30th and a competitive game at Youngstown State on January 8th, part of me did think that the Colonials would offer some pushback against the Jags. That didn’t materialize, with a 19-point loss as the result. Arguably even more concerning than that, however, was RMU playing a slogfest against UIC two days later. Robert Morris surged in the third quarter against the Flames and eventually won by six, though 50 points against a team that has only defeated Detroit Mercy in the conference doesn’t inspire a load of confidence, even for a team as defensively stout as RMU. Sol Castro and Esther Castedo were just 3-for-18 combined against UIC, and no Colonials player hit double digits.

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Wisconsin trip was cut in half by Green Bay’s COVID issues, but the Mastodons showed fairly well in a loss to Milwaukee on Friday, a game where the visitors only trailed by two at the break and made a couple decent pushes later on against the game’s general trendline. The Dons – particularly Jazzlyn Linbo and Aubrey Stupp – did a nice job on Megan Walstad defensively, holding the Panthers star off the scoreboard in the first half and without a field goal until the last minute of the third quarter. On the other end of things, Shayla Sellers blew up for a career-high 24 points while Ryin Ott added 11 as she continues to get re-acclimated to things after her injury.

Though it took a trip to Detroit Mercy to do it, Wright State finally collected their first Division I win of the season on Saturday (and the second overall, including a victory over Lake Erie last month), pulling away in the second half to drop the Titans by a 72-56 count. Even if the victory doesn’t do a ton for the Raiders from a standings perspective, for the purposes of what we’re doing here, it does create some separation between WSU and the bottom two teams (UIC, as you may recall, needed overtime to beat UDM). The Raiders are still extremely depth-challenged, but they’re getting value from several different players, as Jada Roberson, Destyne Jackson, and Edecia Beck each scored 15 or 16 points against Detroit Mercy, while Jada Wright added 11 with 11 rebounds.

It probably says a lot about Jaida McCloud that she continues to be a huge part of the league-wide conversation despite UIC’s massive struggles this year, but when she can fill a stat sheet with 14 points, ten rebounds, five assists, and five blocks (her stat line against RMU), that will tend to happen. She didn’t play well in the Flames’ previous game, a blowout loss at Youngstown State on Friday, but overall McCloud might be in a select category with the likes of Olson and Walstad in terms of players who do just about everything well. There’s part of me that still believes that UIC is better than their record with the likes of McCloud, Kristian Young, and now the emerging Ky Dempsey-Toney on their side, but the wins haven’t followed to this point.

Another week, another Detroit Mercy game where the Titans appeared to have a solid shot at their first win, only to fade in the second half. After eating the expected blowout against Northern Kentucky on Thursday, UDM started well against Wright State two days later and led 17-11 after the first quarter, thanks to six points from freshman Akyia Baker and five from Brandi Washington. Though WSU went on an 11-2 run to open the second quarter, UDM got off the mat and led by two at halftime. Then…ka-boom. Jada Roberson’s three 11 seconds after the break gave the Raiders a lead they would never relinquish, and three minutes of game time later, the Titans trailed by double digits. LaTanya Collins’ squad (like everyone else in the league) will play a home-and-home with their travel partner this week, archrival Oakland.

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