HoriZone Roundtable staff picks Purdue Fort Wayne to repeat as champion
Purdue Fort Wayne — a 2022 Horizon League regular season co-champion — has been picked to repeat as the league’s champion in a poll of HoriZone Roundtable writers and podcast staff. Much like last year’s pick Cleveland State, the Mastodons earned the top spot a season after making a surprise jump for a co-championship the season before. PFW loses All-League guard Jalon Pipkins, but return four starters and 2022 Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year Deonte Billups.
Returning talent was clearly a significant thought in our voters’ minds, as Northern Kentucky with four starters and several bench pieces coming back was tabbed for second. Oakland lost starpower but added depth that the team will hope to keep key players rested, and wound up third in our projections. Wright State was hit hard by the transfer portal after making the 2022 NCAA Tournament but added a former All-Horizon League talent and other intriguing pieces, which proved enough to convince our pollsters to pick them for fourth. Youngstown State found itself just on the outside of a logjam of teams expected to contend, and is projected for fifth place after losing its top player but arguably outperforming the rest of the league in the portal.
Detroit Mercy was fortunate enough to have Antoine Davis return for his final year of eligibility, but lost most of the rest of its key contributors, refreshing its roster through the portal to be projected to wind up in the middle of the league in sixth. Our voters believe some stability could be just what was needed for Robert Morris to put some distance between itself and the bottom of the Horizon League this year. Milwaukee and Cleveland State have new coaches and will heavily rely on new players to produce, and were picked for eighth and ninth in the league. Last year’s 10th and 11th place finishers Green Bay and IUPUI were also hit hard by the transfer portal even though neither had a coaching change, and were selected to round up the bottom of the league again this season.
|Purdue Fort Wayne
Purdue Fort Wayne won a share of the 2022 Horizon League regular season crown — and likely could’ve won it outright if games against UIC and IUPUI could’ve been played as scheduled — with a core of players that’s mostly intact heading into this season. As a result, it shouldn’t be shocking that the Mastodons have been picked to finish first. 2022 First Team All-League guard Jarred Godfrey is back for what our writers expect will be another outstanding season, and point guard Damian Chong Qui is expected to be PFW’s second All-League performer following Pipkins’ graduation.
Like PFW, our second place pick Northern Kentucky returns four of players who finished last season as starters. The Norse finished league play at 14-6 and just a half game out of the first place tie, so it’s easy to see that continuity allowing the team to be a league contender again. 2022 Second Team All-League guard Marques Warrick is expected to be the go-to-guy; but Sam Vinson, Trevon Faulkner and Chris Brandon have all earned postseason recognition from the league in the past.
Oakland is projected to finish higher than it did in 2022 despite the fact that the league’s co-Player of the Year Jamal Cain is now making a name for himself with the Miami Heat in the NBA Preseason. This is likely in part due to the fact that the team added key transfers Rocket Watts, Lorne Bowman and Keaton Hervey to a roster that looked like it was far and away the best in the Horizon League before a late-season collapse last year. Adding that trio to All-League Point Guard Jalen Moore and talented forward Trey Townsend could give the Golden Grizzlies a more balanced attack in 2023.
After representing the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament, Wright State lost leading scorers Tanner Holden (Ohio State) and Grant Basile (Virginia Tech) to the transfer portal. Despite this, faith in Head Coach Scott Nagy and some high-quality transfers — former Green Bay and Missouri guard Amari Davis and 2022 MVC All-Freshman team pick Blake Sisley of Evansville — along with returning players like Trey Calvin and Tim Finke have our voters convinced that the Raiders will be in the mix at the top of the league again this season.
Youngstown State is projected to improve in 2023 despite losing Second Team All-League forward Michael Akuchie and third leading scorer Tevin Olison from a team that went 12-9 in Horizon League play. The Penguins made the biggest splash of any in the Horizon League with the transfer portal, landing four proven Division I talents while bringing Garrett Covington back from an injury that ended his 2022 campaign during non-league play. Alongside Dwayne Cohill — who emerged as a star as last season progressed — and a host of returning role players, the Penguins could be primed for a jump in the standings.
Detroit Mercy got major news when co-League Player of the Year Antoine Davis announced his intention to return for another season with the Titans after initially testing the transfer portal. The question — as it has so frequently been for the team — is where additional support will come from. Outside of Davis, Buay Koka is the returning player who saw the most starts in 2022, with a grand total of 1. Clearly, the Titans are leaning heavily into the transfer portal in hopes of finding success. Gerald Liddell, Damezi Anderson, Jayden Stone, TJ Moss, and Arashma Parks are some of the new faces who will need to help Davis if the team expects to do better than middle-of-the-pack.
Robert Morris has struggled to find its footing so far in the Horizon League, a fact that’s likely contributed to our voters not having faith to select the team for the top half of the league this year. Still, that continuity — something RMU has struggled with to this point in its Horizon League tenure — has our pollsters anticipating some improvement in 2023. Given how our 2022 seventh place prediction for a Purdue Fort Wayne team returning most of its talent turned out, this is hardly a death sentence for 2022 Third Team All-League forward Kahliel Spear and the Colonials.
After injuries completely derailed Milwaukee‘s most hopeful season in a long time, Pat Baldwin Jr. went off to the NBA, his father was let go as the Panthers’ Head Coach, and the team underwent a massive overhaul. Bart Lundy had just three role players returning in his first year after moving to Milwaukee from newly Division I Queens University in Charlotte. Division I transfers Ahmad Rand, Jalen Johnson and Keon Johnson are among the many new faces that Lundy and Panther faithful hope will quickly mesh if Milwaukee is to exceed expectations in year one of the new regime.
Like Milwaukee, Cleveland State will have a new coach in 2023. Unlike Milwaukee, CSU’s opening was the result of success on the court which allowed Dennis Gates to make the jump to Missouri and the SEC. But with his departure comes a significant roster overhaul. Spider Johnson is first-time head coach Daniyal Robinson’s only returning starter, though the Vikings’ tendency to go deep into the bench and a number of intriguing transfers may help the Vikings overachieve. If none of the returning talent is primed for a breakout, look for newcomers Drew Lowder and Tristan Enaruna to have big impacts for the Vikings.
Green Bay is projected to finish second from the bottom in the Horizon League for a second year in a row following the departure of a number of promising talents to the transfer portal. Cade Meyer — a 2022 All-Freshman Team pick — will likely need to shoulder a significant load for the Phoenix if the team is going to succeed after losing Kamari McGee (Wisconsin), Manny Ansong (Vanderbilt) and Lucas Stieber (Gardner-Webb) to transfer-ups in the portal. Like most of the rest of the bottom half of the poll, newcomers will play a significant role in where Green Bay finishes. Clarence Cummings III, Davin Ziegler and Brock Heffner could be interesting pieces on that front.
After a tumultuous first year for IUPUI Head Coach Matt Crenshaw, things should be a little less chaotic going forward. The Jaguars were left with just six players down the stretch of the season, and won just a single game against Division I competition en route to finishing the year in last place on KenPom. With a full allotment of scholarships and six walk-ons at their disposal, a lack of bodies shouldn’t be a contributing factor to any struggles the team has this year. Still, our writers expect the season to be a struggle thanks to a roster that lacks Division I experience. San Diego transfer Bryce Monroe is the only player on the team who has a Division I track record worth getting genuinely excited about.
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