#HLMBB Games Preview – December 29th – January 2nd

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After a non-conference slate that was comparatively better than the disaster of last season, Horizon League teams now gear up to face each other the remainder of the year. And, of course, since the conference can only rely on one bid to the NCAA Tournament, league play is as important as it has been for years. Here’s how each of the games stack up this weekend.

December 29th

Milwaukee at Oakland, 7pm ET (ESPN+): The Panthers probably didn’t expect to have a cancellation that would extend their break, but that’s what happened when Rhode Island, their final non-conference game, was erased due to COVID. At 8-4 (2-0 Horizon League), Milwaukee’s balanced attack under Bart Lundy now faces a 2-11 Golden Grizzlies squad that has been banged up throughout the non-conference schedule. Oakland will have to hope for a return of Jalen Moore, the emergence of Rocket Watts to match the preseason hype, and the continued dominance of Trey Townsend, to get off the slide. For the Panthers, it will just be a matter of which player, be it Ahmad Rand, Justin Thomas, Angelo Stuart, Kentrell Pullian or others from the rotation, will make a splash.

Purdue Fort Wayne at Robert Morris, 7pm ET (ESPN+): The preseason pick to take the league crown had a couple of stumbles, most notably a 75-66 loss at home to Detroit Mercy. At 9-4 (1-1 HL), the Mastodons now look to regain their place at the top of the standings. It won’t be easy though. The Colonials, fresh off wins off a pair of ex-NEC foes and with a victory over Wright State in their pocket, will be hungry for more upsets, and Purdue Fort Wayne is in their sights.

Green Bay at Detroit Mercy, 7pm (ESPN+): To say that the Titans have been hard to figure out is an understatement. Even with Antoine Davis and double-double machine Gerald Liddell, Detroit Mercy struggled through the end of the non-conference schedule. However, the Titans (5-8, 1-1 HL), return to the cozy confines of Calihan Hall, which has virtually become a fortress for them. And up next are the Phoenix, who are no stranger to struggles at 2-11. Detroit Mercy’s plan is to likely overpower Green Bay and get back into the win column.

Wright State at Northern Kentucky, 7pm ET (ESPN+): The rivalry between these two schools has been one of the best in the league over the last five years. And Thursday night’s contest at Truist Arena will be no different. While both sport a 7-6 record, it is the Norse, with its extra-frame win over Youngstown State, who has the early advantage. At 0-2 in the HL, the Raiders need to turn it around if they want a shot at the crown, and there’s no better opportunity than against NKU.

Cleveland State at Youngstown State, 8pm ET, (ESPN+): Currently, the Penguins sport the best NET ranking among conference teams and at 8-3, also had one of the best non-conference showings. They now face a Vikings squad that has historically played YSU tough at the Beeghly Center. Cleveland State, however, has underwent a power outage since picking up two league wins. They will be running up against a Penguins roster that has plenty of power to spare, specifically from Dwayne Cohill, Malek Green and Adrian Nelson, making this an uphill battle for the Vikings from the opening tip.

December 31st

Milwaukee at Detroit Mercy, noon ET (ESPN+): Starting off the New Year’s Eve slate of games will be a contest between the Panthers and the Titans. The edge will go to Detroit Mercy, given the strong homecourt advantage and the offensive prowess of Davis and Liddell. That said, Milwaukee will be aiming to make someone else besides those two beat them, with a litany of weapons in its rotation for Lundy to choose from as well.

Green Bay at Oakland, 1pm ET (ESPN+): On paper, given the way the season has started for both teams, the casual fan may opt to change the channel here. Despite the same record, however, the Golden Grizzlies are more likely to triumph here, as even with the injuries, the Phoenix don’t really have an answer for Townsend who has been Oakland’s best player this season. Will Ryan will likely have a combination of Cade Meyer and Brock Heffner defending him, but that may not do any good. If Oakland is finally healthy at the guard spots, this could be a game for them to finally get things heading in the right direction.

Northern Kentucky at IUPUI, 2pm ET (ESPN+): As will be the case for most of the Horizon League games, the Jaguars, who have the youngest roster in the league, will face a foe that has players with much more experience. In this case, it will be the Norse, who will hit IUPUI with a healthy dose of Marques Warrick and Chris Brandon, among others, all game. The contest is Northern Kentucky’s to lose but watch for IUPUI to continue to put things together.

Purdue Fort Wayne at Youngstown State, 2:45pm ET (ESPN+): It’s clearly never too early to pit two of the best teams in the conference against each other. The Penguins were a hair away from winning against another top HL foe, Northern Kentucky, in December. This time, Youngstown State is at home and the Mastodons will need to rely on its veteran lineup to take away a win from Beeghly.

Cleveland State at Robert Morris, 3pm ET (ESPN+): The Colonials will be at home for this contest, and the key factor will be how the Vikings will match up against Enoch Cheeks, Kahliel Spear, and Josh Corbin. Throughout the non-conference schedule, Cleveland State was successful in neutralizing backcourt strength. However, despite Spider Johnson and Tristan Enaruna up front, the Vikings have had trouble cleaning up the glass. This could very well be a chance for Spear to once again shine.

Monday, January 2nd

Wright State at IUPUI, 2pm ET (ESPN+): As will be the case throughout the conference schedule, IUPUI will be taking part on the lone game of the day. And like the Jaguars’ tilt against Northern Kentucky, they will find themselves once again facing a more-experienced foe in the Raiders, who will return to Indiana Farmers Coliseum for the first time since winning the 2022 Horizon League Tournament.

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