In the last Power Rankings, I mentioned how little separation there was between most of the teams in the league. After the second weekend of Horizon League play, there are five teams tied for fourth place at 2-2, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked if one of them was in the top spot in a week. Outside of the bottom two, the Horizon League has been so hard to decipher that this ranking is likely to be super reactionary for probably another month at least. Anyway, here’s what I could make of things in our first weekend back in league play:
|Purdue Fort Wayne
Even as the lone voter to put Northern Kentucky at the top of the Horizon League in the preseason, I’m not fully buying in with the team despite a 4-0 record in league play and an increasingly impressive pair of wins against Robert Morris and Youngstown State. This week, the Norse finally got a pair of comfortable wins, but the opponents were the two remaining winless teams in Horizon League play. Wright State could still turn it around and end up looking like a much better win than it does right now, though the same likely can’t be said for an IUPUI team severely lacking in D-I experience. Regardless of all my doubts, winning ugly is still winning and for that I’m ranking the Norse first. Marques Warrick led the way for NKU with 17 points and 3.5 assists, and actually saw his outstanding scoring average drop despite being the team’s leading scorer in both games.
Cleveland State continued it’s surprisingly strong season by earning a road split against what is shaping up to be one of the stronger sets of travel partners in Youngstown State and Robert Morris. On Thursday, CSU battled to stay within striking distance until the final four minutes when Youngstown State made a run to win 85-71. But the Vikings bounced back on Saturday in a game that was almost a lower scoring version of Thursday’s contest, but with roles reversed. CSU spent the second half fending off Robert Morris rallies before pulling away in the last five minutes for a 63-54 win; a road win that left CSU tied for second place. 18 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game should help improve the case I made for Tristan Enaruna as a current All-League performer despite his stats not currently jumping off the page.
Like CSU, Purdue Fort Wayne earned a split at RMU and Youngstown, though the Mastodons pulled off a win over YSU after losing to Robert Morris. It wouldn’t be the Horizon League if teams performed with a single bit of consistency, would it? Thursday’s game against RMU had to be one of the most frustrating a team could go through, with the game very much in doubt throughout the entire second half despite the fact that PFW didn’t lead for a single second of the 75-70 loss. The Mastodons did turn around and inflict a similarly frustrating 76-71 loss to Youngstown State, but the Penguins held the lead for one 2:33 stretch in the middle of the second half. Jarred Godfrey has predictably been one of the better players in the Horizon League this year, and this weekend was no different. His 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists all did well to maintain or improve his season averages in those categories.
After the first weekend of Horizon League play, Youngstown State kept its spot at the top of the Power Rankings despite a loss to Northern Kentucky because the Norse needed overtime to defend their home court, and I’m a firm believer in the value of home court advantage. With that in mind, YSU’s home loss to Purdue Fort Wayne is enough to drop the Penguins given the relatively small gap between so much of the top of the league. Brandon Rush led the Penguins in scoring in both games, averaging 23.5 points per game after being inserted into the starting lineup for YSU.
Robert Morris continued its run of being a completely different team than it had been prior to the first two contests of league play by staying in the five-team jumble tied at 2-2 with the win over reigning Horizon League Co-champion Purdue Fort Wayne. Unsurprisingly, it was my Midseason First Team All-League pick Enoch Cheeks leading the way for the Colonials in both games. Cheeks averaged 21.5 points per game over the weekend.
Oakland absolutely obliterated both Wisconsin schools and in the process drove home my point about how jumbled I think the league is by jumping into the middle of the rankings. This is despite the fact that one of its two wins coming against a Green Bay team that looks like it might only have one more chance at a victory this season. The Golden Grizzlies are clearly a different team with Jalen Moore healthy, beating an early season surprise Milwaukee team 83-61 and easily handling Green Bay 81-65. Judging by the 21 points and 6.5 assists per game that helped him win Horizon League Player of the Week, I think it’s safe to say he’s healthy.
Milwaukee bounced back well from being obliterated by Oakland and knocked off Detroit Mercy 84-81 in Calihan Hall on Saturday. It was a welcome result for a Milwaukee team that took the court against a Division I opponent for the first time since December 6, and which hadn’t had a high quality outing since the Cream City Classic in November. The weekend split brought the Panthers to 3-1 in Horizon League play, but with the two prior wins coming against Green Bay and IUPUI it’s difficult to get too excited just yet. Thursday’s result skews the averages horribly, but B.J. Freeman scored 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting in Saturday’s win.
Prior to losing at home to Milwaukee, Detroit Mercy easily came away with a win over Green Bay by a score of 76-59. Still, it’s hard to give a team credit for doing the same thing that the two teams immediately above them have also done. That’s especially true when the Titans failed to defend home court against Milwaukee and Oakland succeeded. Oakland is evidence to how quickly a good weekend could change things, but for now Detroit has work to do. A big part of that is making sure that Antoine Davis’ heroic performances don’t go to waste. Davis averaged 27.5 points over the weekend, scoring 31 in the loss to Milwaukee, but Gerald Liddell was held without a double-double for the first time in his Detroit Mercy career in the narrow defeat.
Like Oakland, Wright State got into the win column in Horizon League play. But like Detroit Mercy, getting that win against a bottom two opponent in the league makes it hard to justify any movement. This weekend was the Raiders’ turn at a rivalry weekend, with the 82-68 win over IUPUI taking place on Monday. Trey Calvin averaged 26 points in the two contests, raising his scoring average by over a point to 18.2 per game in his return to the WSU starting lineup.
Green Bay is likely stuck in this spot until something crazy happens. The gap between 9 and 10 in the Power Rankings grew significantly as Oakland played its way comfortably out of ninth. The Phoenix were easily disposed of in both contests, and I will probably be saying that a lot for awhile. Zay Blake led the Phoenix with 14 points on Thursday, and although his scoring wasn’t consistent over the weekend his 5.5 assists per game are definitely impressive.
IUPUI gets a rematch against Green Bay on February 2, and I’m not sure what else to say here. Vince Brady showed promise again this week, averaging 12 points on his way to his third Horizon League Freshman of the Week award.