|Purdue Fort Wayne||7||9||+2|
What’s left for Cleveland State to prove at this point? The Vikings’ latest pair of victories in their still-active 13-game winning streak were among their most impressive yet, in front of a hostile Beeghly Center over defending co-champion Youngstown State and against an extremely tough Robert Morris squad. Both the Penguins and Colonials swept CSU last season, so there’s at least some notion that Destiny Leo and company have formally validated themselves as something well beyond what they were in 2021-22. Leo, Deja Williams, Amele Ngwafang, and Jordana Reisma all had huge moments over the course of the weekend. The team’s post depth proved vital through a physical two games, as did Leo’s ability to make free throws and Williams’ steadiness running the floor.
As outstanding as the Vikings have been, Green Bay has nearly matched them step for step. Since being upset by archrival Milwaukee on December 1st, the Phoenix have run off seven straight wins while skyrocketing up the NET rankings and the Mid-Major Top 25. Though the last three in the streak (routs of Chicago State, then the Michigan-based conference opponents at home this past weekend) won’t turn many heads, the schedule overall has been of a good quality, with only four Quad 4 games, compared to ten for the Vikings. Notably, they’ve continued to get it done without Hailey Oskey, who last played on December 3rd. The Phoenix have road games against Northern Kentucky and CSU, followed by a home contest with Youngstown State, over the next three weeks so (as always), more to come.
Although Youngstown State came up short in their showdown with Cleveland State, the Penguins marched to a routine win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday to improve to 3-1 in the conference, good for a four-way tie for second place. Malia Magestro bounced back from a tough game against CSU to lead the three-point-happy Guins with four treys against the Mastodons, while Megan Callahan hit on four against the Vikings. Walking double-double Lilly Ritz, meanwhile, collected two more on the way to 32 points and 25 rebounds across the pair of games. YSU has their Detroit trip on tap this week, though given that they went 1-2 against Oakland last year including a loss in the Horizon League quarterfinals, they’re unlikely to take it lightly.
IUPUI passed an extremely nasty gut-check on Friday against Northern Kentucky. With the Jags ahead 59-50 and 7:40 left in the game, Destiny Perkins was ejected after exchanging words with several Norse players after committing a foul. Then, on the following NKU possession, Jazmyn Turner picked up her fourth personal foul and had to head to the bench temporarily. However, despite those body blows, IUPUI held on for a 68-65 win. It wasn’t a thing of beauty – the Jags only managed two Genesis Parker free throws over the final 4:10 and survived a good look at a potential winning shot by NKU’s Kailee Davis – but it nevertheless stands as the big win proving that IUPUI belongs somewhere in this top-of-the-conference conversation. Turner’s 19 points and nine rebounds led the way for the Jags, then she added 20 and eight on Sunday in a comfortable win over Wright State.
Northern Kentucky saw its five-game winning streak fall by the wayside in that game at IUPUI, though Lindsey Duvall certainly did her part with 26 of NKU’s 65 points, to go with seven rebounds. Duvall also had a monster game two days prior to that in a rivalry win over Wright State with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Given how things played out against the Jaguars, including an extremely uncharacteristic 3-for-17 shooting effort from Davis, the loss is hardly the end of the world. The major concern right now might be somewhat related though: a pretty severe lack of depth. Unlike most of the other teams near the top of the league, NKU isn’t getting a ton of help from their bench, which is why things like Davis having an off day tend to be fatal. The Norse host Milwaukee and Green Bay this week, which should provide some interesting information on all teams involved.
Why not Milwaukee as the first team following the thick line behind fifth place this week? Of the teams in the second half of the league, the Panthers’ aforementioned upset of Green Bay a few weeks ago is easily the most impressive result this season. Like the Phoenix, Kyle Rechlicz’s squad spent the weekend battering Detroit Mercy and Oakland, results that pushed them to 3-1 in the conference and 5-7 overall. The game against a decent Golden Grizzlies team (okay, they’re going to be ninth this week, but I constantly wrestle with the spots from here to there) was a look at Milwaukee’s best (sorry). The Panthers held Oakland under 50 points, and got great games from twin towers Megan Walstad and Emma Wittmershaus, along with an emerging Kendall Nead, while Jada Donaldson has shown to be a capable point guard.
Despite taking an expected loss to YSU on Saturday, Purdue Fort Wayne collected a really nice victory at Robert Morris two days prior to that to end a four-game skid. The Dons turned in a great defensive effort in holding RMU to 41 points and a 13-for-50 line from the floor, and were once again paced on the other side of the ball by Amellia Bromenschenkel. Bromenschenkel, who famously graduated from high school early and played the second half of 2020-21 with PFW, dropped 21 points with nine rebounds against the Colonials and has been doing that for long enough to have also graduated from “nice story” to “one of the better players in the conference.” She’s eighth in the league in scoring, ninth in steals, and 14th in rebounding. Abbigail Stephens scored a career-high 14 points in just 11 minutes against YSU so maybe she’s next, who knows.
Robert Morris, pretty objectively, did not have a great week in dropping home games to Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State by double digits. That said, it’s a bit of a complicated analysis since the Colonials went into that game with the Dons off a 13-day holiday break (it was eight days for their opponents), then arguably pushed CSU harder than any other mid-major team has this year, particularly during the early stages on Saturday while jumping out to a 12-0 lead. RMU struggled offensively even beyond their usual rate – 26.5 percent was the better of their weekend field goal efforts – and their stellar defense broke down in a wave of foul trouble against the Vikings, but Simone Morris was outstanding over both contests, with 29 total points and 14 rebounds.
Oakland has played a brutal schedule, including Green Bay and Cleveland State on the road among their four conference games and, in their non-conference games, Toledo and a pair of Big Ten teams in a six-day stretch back in November, so to come out of things with a 6-7 record so far isn’t awful. Still, their game at Milwaukee on Saturday became that much more important as a result, a winnable game against a team in a similar tier of the conference, and instead the Grizzles were held at arm’s length over the final 30 minutes after the home team scored the first eight points of the second quarter. Breanne Beatty hit five threes against Green Bay on Thursday, en route to 21 points and eight rebounds, though that was literally half of Oakland’s scoring in a 22-point loss.
Wright State has now lost 11 games in a row, thanks to decisive losses to Northern Kentucky and IUPUI this past week. It’s not all bad for the Raiders, who scored a nice 69 points against the Jaguars despite a cold three-point effort and seem on the verge of at least being respectable offensively behind Bryce Nixon, Emily Chapman, and Isabelle Bolender. The problem is about what you’d expect it to be on an undersized roster of shooting specialists – the Raiders are dead last in Division I in offensive rebounding and second to last in overall rebounding, and anyone with a modicum of an inside game will probably find a lot of success there. It’s a roster that’s playing hard for Kari Hoffman, and there’s additional talent in place like Kacee Baumhower, who scored a career-best 17 against IUPUI, but it’s going to take another offseason or two to find the personnel they’ll need to climb up the standings.
It’s hard to overstate the level of absolute cringe Detroit Mercy continues to throw out there. This past week, the Titans made their annual Wisconsin trip – a tough ask for anyone, to be fair – and scored a total of 62 points in 34 and 47 point losses. In nine games since November 28th, six have been losses of 25 points or more, dotted with moments like a 14:35 scoring drought against Milwaukee on Thursday and falling behind 19-0 (or 27-2, if you prefer) against Green Bay two days later. Like their travel partner, UDM has played a tough schedule that also includes their Cleveland State away game, and nobody was expecting miracles this year regardless, but the way that the Titans have fallen off of a cliff after some early signs of competitiveness has been stunning.
Player of the Week
Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
I’m breaking my own rules a little bit this time around. As you may know, I typically place a lot of weight on team results, and NKU lost their marquee game of the week. Meanwhile, other candidates like Destiny Leo and Jazmyn Turner produced moments instrumental to big wins while also putting up good numbers. Ultimately though, it was impossible to pass on Duvall – now the first two-time winner of this extremely-prestigious award – and the way she can effortlessly put the Norse on her back while stuffing the stat sheet across several categories.
Also considered: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Deja Williams (Cleveland State), Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State), Sydney Levy (Green Bay), Jazmyn Turner (IUPUI), Simone Morris (Robert Morris)
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)
December 26: Rachel Kent (IUPUI)