|Purdue Fort Wayne||9||9||–|
Is Cleveland State ready for a game on Thursday at Youngstown State that will essentially determine the early-season pecking order in the conference? It’s hard to argue otherwise after the Vikings’ trip to the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic that saw Chris Kielsmeier’s charges batter Lindenwood and Campbell to tie a program record with their 11th straight win. Destiny Leo was named to the event’s all-tournament team after collecting her 1,000th career point against Campbell, while Deja Williams showed out in the latter game against the Camels with 19 points (her best total in green and white) and three steals. It’s been a while – probably since their win at DePaul – since CSU has truly been strained to the extent that they will be this week, but they’ve run up plenty of style points and a NET on the fringes of the top 50 during their non-conference schedule.
Despite the long winning streaks of the teams above and below them in these rankings, Green Bay has a case for being considered the hottest team in the conference right now. The Phoenix have their own five-game tear going, one that includes victories over a strong IUPUI team, a major-conference opponent in Wisconsin, and a pair of top-150 non-conference opponents, North Dakota State and Illinois State. UWGB’s latest outing was their least challenging, a 50-point battering of hapless Chicago State. Natalie McNeal and Maddy Schreiber led five Phoenix players in double digits with 16 points each, which Tatum Koenig dealt six helpers. Green Bay’s next three games are against Oakland, Detroit Mercy, and Wright State ahead of a game at Northern Kentucky on January 7th, so it’s possible that their streak has a bit of growing left to do.
Youngstown State heads into their clash with the Vikings on the same trajectory as their opponents, thanks to a seven-game winning streak. That run does include a win over Northern Kentucky, one that looks more and more impressive with each passing week, but has otherwise included a pair of non-Division I teams, and four DI teams with sub-250 NET rankings. YSU’s most recent contest was against one of the lower-division teams, the NAIA’s Mount Vernon Nazarene Cougars, on Wednesday. The Guins took a routine 79-42 decision behind 19 points by Megan Callahan and 15 with nine rebounds by Lilly Ritz in a cool 20 minutes of work. Like CSU, YSU has thoroughly taken care of business against inferior competition, so the schedule complaint department is closed for the holidays.
Though Northern Kentucky is once again fourth in these rankings, that’s mostly because the top three teams haven’t given me any reason to drop them. But there’s little dispute that the Norse collected the Horizon League’s best win of the week, dominating cross-river rival Cincinnati 72-52. Both Lindsey Duvall and Ivy Turner scored their 1,000th career points against the Bearcats (teammates reaching that milestone in the same game has to be extremely rare, and of course CSU’s Leo did it the day before), with Kailee Davis and Emmy Souder also turning in great efforts. This week, NKU plays their rival/travel partner Wright State before traveling to the next team on this list, a meeting that should provide clarity on both squads.
As time goes on, it seems more and more clear that IUPUI is a force to be taken seriously, with the Jags living in a tier much closer to the top four than anything below them. On Wednesday, they set a program record by burying 17 threes in a win over a solid Northern Illinois team – with Rachel Kent going off for a career-high 24 points driven by white-hot a 7-for-10 from behind the arc. The Jags’ resume holds up to a fair amount of scrutiny too, including not only a handful of solid wins (NIU and Butler stand out in that category) but also some very respectable defeats (five points to Green Bay, a more-competitive-than-the-score 14 points to Bowling Green). As mentioned, IUPUI hosts Northern Kentucky this week, a game that can formally validate the Jags as being among the conference contenders.
Robert Morris was on holiday hiatus last week, the only team in the league to not schedule a game at some point during the week ahead of Christmas. The Colonials’ non-conference schedule ended up as the 135th best in the country, though it takes a significant hit without games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. That’s probably a disingenuous way of looking at things (“it’s bad if you take out the good stuff!”) but the point remains that beyond an impressive-looking score against a bad Saint Bonaventure team, it’s hard to find anything resembling a quality win. On the other hand, RMU has what should be considered a nationally-elite defense based on just about every metric and a great chance to pick up a big-time win this week at home against Cleveland State – a team they swept last season.
There’s little doubt that Oakland is a better team than preseason projections, though how much better remains an open question. Last week, the Golden Grizzlies performed exactly as expected, waxing NAIA side Madonna before being blown out themselves by Toledo, the sixth-ranked team in the mid-major top 25. Marshall transfer Alexis Johnson has continued her ascent to a status as one of the Horizon League’s top players, putting up a casual 15 and nine against the Crusaders (leading six Oakland players in double figures), though she and the rest of the OU roster were pretty thoroughly shut down during their 44-point output against UT. Jeff Tungate’s team will resume Horizon League play with a brutal five-game stretch, including games at Green Bay and Milwaukee, before returning home to face Robert Morris, Youngstown State, and Northern Kentucky. Yikes.
Milwaukee joined Robert Morris in taking last week off, though not by choice, as a scheduled game against Maine on Thursday was cancelled due to weather. The Panthers are just 3-7 overall, though with a win over archrival Green Bay and highly-respectable losses to Minnesota and (to an extent) IUPUI, it’s hard to shake the vibe that Kyle Rechlicz and company are closer than they may appear at first glance right now. If nothing else, UWM has gotten some development time in for a surprisingly-young roster. They also still have their usual strong defense (they’re 89th nationally in effective field goal percentage), and defense travels, as the saying goes.
In a highly-anticipated meeting of Sellers sisters Shayla and Shyanne – not to mention a home game for Purdue Fort Wayne against a top Big Ten program – the Mastodons couldn’t keep pace with No. 15 Maryland on Wednesday in a 37-point defeat. Beyond the sibling rivalry headlines, Amellia Bromenschenkel stole the show for the Dons, putting up 25 points (of her team’s 51) along with ten rebounds. In a certain way, Bromo’s outburst was a microcosm of how the season has gone for PFW, a team that has numerous capable players but can’t seem to get them firing at the same time. Like Milwaukee, there’s a healthy amount of upside in Northeast Indiana, but when and how it will all come together remains unknown.
While it hasn’t shown up yet, at least in terms of beating another Division I team, it’s becoming more and more obvious that Wright State is a much-improved squad from the group that took the floor in early November. Last week, the Raiders went to Philadelphia for a holiday MTE and dropped games to hosting Saint Joseph’s and an Eastern Michigan team that features former Oakland interim coach Ke’Sha Blanton on its staff. However, both losses featured top 200 opponents (SJU is 110th in NET, between Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky) and both were very competitive. Bryce Nixon starred for WSU in both outings, pouring in 14 and 15 for her seventh and eighth double-digit efforts of the season. Nixon won’t be around when Kari Hoffman’s rebuilding effort is finished, but it’s not hard to see that she’s playing a large role in laying the program’s new foundation.
On Wednesday at Indiana State, Detroit Mercy was shut out in the second quarter on the way to a 72-47 loss. That’s actually not the first time that the Titans have been blanked for an entire period this season, as it also happened during the second ten minutes against Bowling Green on November 28th. At 2-9 overall, UDM has already improved on its 2021-22 win total (one, obviously), so to a large extent Kate Achter is playing with house money in her first season at the helm. Still, most of the recent results have been pretty ugly for the Calihan Hall tenants, and with the upcoming schedule matching travel partner Oakland (the Wisconsin trip, followed by home games against YSU and RMU), the situation doesn’t seem likely to improve in the near future.
Player of the Week
Rachel Kent (IUPUI)
Though it was tempting to hand this week’s award to one of the HL’s three recently-minted 1,000-point scorers, all three had weeks that were typical of their status as great players but none of them truly separated from the pack. Kent, on the other hand, had a career game – seven threes – in what should probably be considered the conference’s second-best result of the week, and a game that also might shift opinions about how the title race will eventually shape up.
Also considered: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Deja Williams (Cleveland State), Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky), Ivy Turner (Northern Kentucky), Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State), Natalie McNeal (Green Bay), Alexis Johnson (Oakland), Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne), Bryce Nixon (Wright State)
November 14: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 21: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
November 28: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State)
December 5: Malia Magestro (Youngstown State)
December 12: Brittni Moore (Cleveland State)
December 19: Sydney Levy (Green Bay)