|Purdue Fort Wayne||9||10||+1|
After a series of scorelines that could probably be considered at least a little bit deceptive, including their 23-point conference-opening defeat of Oakland, Cleveland State finally clicked on all cylinders in an 86-30 destruction of Detroit Mercy on Sunday – a margin that set a program record for games against a Division I opponent. The Vikings have won seven straight games, and right now look like the class of the conference in any way that such things can be measured. Destiny Leo scored a casual 43 points over CSU’s two games, including an 8-for-15 line from three, and has a not-awful chance of retaining the league’s player of the week award. But the Vikings’ true strength is in their depth, with most of the roster offering significant contributions to the team’s current seven-game winning streak.
Green Bay remains one of the toughest teams in the conference to figure out. At 4-3 overall and 1-1 in the Horizon League, they’re either the conference contender everyone expects, or they’re just one of several very good teams being propped up by history and reputation. After the Phoenix dropped a UW system rivalry game at a Milwaukee team that’s looked pretty rough so far, then hung on against a likely mid-pack IUPUI squad in the past week, I’m not sure we’re any closer to an answer. On the positive side of things, Sydney Levy has been very, very good for UWGB after a bit of a down 2021-22. The fifth-year sniper is connecting on exactly half of her three-point attempts so far (24-for-48) and is on a career-high pace with 9.3 points per game. For a program that’s always depended on shooting and depth, that could be a trajectory changer.
While Youngstown State is also 4-3 overall, it feels a lot different than Green Bay’s 4-3 because the Penguins have now won three straight and kept pace with Cleveland State, the only other Horizon League team to sweep the opening weekend of conference games (Milwaukee could join that group tonight, of course). Most impressively, YSU collected a gritty road win at Northern Kentucky on Friday, a contest that saw the Norse lead most of the way until a second-half surge spearheaded by Malia Magestro’s 21 points. Magestro (20 points) and Lilly Ritz (20 points, 15 rebounds) then fueled a comfortable victory over Wright State on Sunday. With a pretty soft non-conference schedule in YSU’s immediate future – including a game against St. Francis (PA) to complete the rare St. Francis double – the Guins could have a long winning streak in place by a December 29th showdown with CSU.
Speaking of expected contenders with inconsistent results so far, Northern Kentucky showed both faces in their HLWBB weekend split. Though the Norse couldn’t hold on to a winnable game against YSU that would’ve catapulted them into the league’s top tier, a thorough beating of Robert Morris on Sunday was almost as impressive. The Colonials entered the game 6-1 overall and with a chance to make a statement, but instead it was Lindsey Duvall, Ivy Turner, Kailee Davis, and Trinity Thompson doing most of the talking in a 69-54 victory. Though NKU had lost three in a row before that contest, reasonably close efforts against the likes of Bowling Green, Akron, and YSU – all very good teams – deserve at least a bit of a footnote.
Despite that NKU loss, Robert Morris’ 6-2 overall record trails only Cleveland State’s 7-1 among Horizon League teams. There’s almost certainly a strength of schedule argument to be presented as a counterpoint, though that will evaporate in a hurry when the Colonials travel to both West Virginia and Oklahoma this week. At their best, RMU is an elite defensive team (they’re 16th nationally in points against and 27th in effective field goal percentage against, stats that only include Division I games) that can scratch together enough points to find some big wins. There’s not a ton of margin for error when playing that way though, so whether Charlie Buscaglia’s squad can string wins together through the conference schedule remains to be seen.
Milwaukee’s win over Green Bay on Thursday was the Panthers’ third straight home victory in the rivalry series (it could have easily been four, but for the fact that both games were played at Green Bay during the COVIDified 2020-21 season, when Milwaukee had a stronger team), including a result late last season that (arguably) cost the Phoenix the league regular season title. Emma Wittmershaus and Megan Walstad were absolutely dominant in the game, combining for 29 of the team’s 59 points, along with 20 rebounds. The Panthers officially close out their conference-opening weekend tonight against IUPUI but for the time being, UWM is worth an extra “maybe they’re better than we thought” dose of attention.
Travel-partner-free IUPUI gets sort of a tough deal schedule-wise, as they fill in as the rotating second opponent when travel partners play each other. And because everyone needs a day between games, that tends to mean that the Jags do things like play Saturday-Monday “weekends” against the Wisconsin teams (after they played each other on Thursday). It’s awkward, but doable, although it tends to mean that IUPUI will usually be incompletely rated in these posts. Anyway, the Jags fell to Green Bay at home on Saturday after rallying from 16 down midway through the third quarter to tie things up on Genesis Parker’s three with 6:14 left, forcing a tight finish. They were without physical forward Jasmyn Turner against the Phoenix, so a bit of an allowance is in order.
Unlike their trip to Purdue Fort Wayne last season, Oakland had more than six available players this time around, and they needed all of them in a 66-64 win over the Mastodons on Sunday. Louisiana-Monroe transfer Linda Van Schaik continues to be a massive difference maker for the Golden Grizzlies, as the Dutch wing connected on five of her nine three point tries against PFW. Jeff Tungate’s team presents as extremely balanced (their top five scorers all average between 8.4 and 10.7 points per game) and while it’s hard to see them as much more than a lower-middle-of-the-pack team right now, there’s certainly enough there to surprise people once in a while.
Though they carved out a 58-49 win over Detroit Mercy on Friday, Purdue Fort Wayne has hit the skids after a promising start to the season. The Dons have lost four of their last five, including the aforementioned contest against Oakland that represented something of a barometer for two teams projected in a similar area of the standings. Amellia Bromenschenkel continues to be a revelation – she scored 15 points against OU – but Maria Marchesano is going to need a bit more from proven commodities like the Ott sisters, Shayla Sellers, and Sylare Starks. A home game against Maryland (which includes Sellers’ sister, Shyanne) on December 21st looms, but chances for wins against sub-250 RPI teams Indiana State and St. Thomas occur before the showdown with the Terrapins.
Given what Detroit Mercy has been through over the last few seasons, the Titans have certainly experienced worse things than the 56-point thrashing they received at the hands of Cleveland State on Sunday, though it’s hard to think of too many more embarrassing on-court results. Of course, a 47-point loss to Bowling Green last Monday that featured zero Titans points during the second quarter is right up there as well, an extremely rough homecoming for former Falcons star Kate Achter. UDM is tenth because unlike the team below them, they have a Division I victory this season, against Canisius. However, after a surprisingly-competitive early part of the season that also included good efforts against the likes of Northern Illinois and Xavier, things seem to be all the way off the rails right now.
Wright State, after trailing 27-4 after the first quarter on Sunday against Youngstown State, outscored the Penguins 58-49 the rest of the way in a closer-than-expected defeat. It says more than a little about how the Raiders’ season has gone so far that such a moral victory arguably counts as their best “result,” but nevertheless, it is something. Makiya Miller led WSU with 14 points against YSU, continuing a solid start that’s seen the Columbus-area native emerge as the star of Kari Hoffman’s large freshman class. Notably, Wright State has played the fourth-toughest non-conference schedule in the country so far, and with a game at Tennessee coming up on Sunday, it’s only getting more difficult.
Player of the Week
Malia Magestro (Youngstown State)
In a week full of very strong contenders, the undisputed player of the game from one of the opening conference week’s two biggest matchups (who then followed up with another solid effort in a less-weighty game two days later) seemed like the right call.
Also considered: Destiny Perkins (IUPUI), Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Megan Walstad (Milwaukee), Emma Wittmershaus (Milwaukee)
November 14: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 21: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
November 28: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State)