|Purdue Fort Wayne||7||8||+1|
Green Bay controlled the battle of long winning streaks and conference favorites on Saturday at the Wolstein Center, downing Cleveland State 82-65 in a contest that was never truly in doubt after the first quarter. The Phoenix were led by Natalie McNeal’s 16 points and eight rebounds but really, it didn’t matter who was taking the shots as UWGB knocked down 54.5 percent of their field goals while mostly shutting down Destiny Leo and company until garbage time. Combined with a blowout win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday, Green Bay has now won 11 straight and holds the slightest of edges in the standings race, as their 7-1 tie with the Vikings is broken by the head-to-head result (though that situation will certainly be tested when the Phoenix hosts Youngstown State on Friday). It literally doesn’t even seem to matter than all-league selection Hailey Oskey appears to have left the program in early December…but that’s Green Bay for you.
Cleveland State’s loss in the aforementioned showdown was decisive enough to cast significant doubt on the Vikings’ Horizon League title hopes, with that black cloud likely lingering over everything CSU does between now and the rematch in Wisconsin during the final weekend of the regular season (barring a couple of losses by the Phoenix that would be extremely surprising, given how they’re playing). It’s an abrupt change of fortune for a team that was absolutely rolling until that point – the Vikings had won a program-record 16 straight, of course – but will nevertheless likely have to pivot straight into another long winning streak to overcome the blow of losing to their chief title competition. Saturday’s result overshadowed an extremely-impressive 81-50 win over Milwaukee on Thursday that saw CSU outscore the Panthers by 28 points in the second half.
Lately Youngstown State has looked a bit wobbly, as the Penguins narrowly survived a trip to the O’rena two weeks ago and dropped a home game to IUPUI on Monday night, with a travel-partner victory over Robert Morris between those games. Lilly Ritz won the conference’s player of the week honors a few hours before the IUPUI game through her 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Colonials, then added 15 and ten against the Jags. However, YSU fell short against a team that plays a fairly similar style largely just because (as simplistic as it sounds) they didn’t shoot the ball quite as well, as the Guins’ bomb squad was mostly silent outside of Megan Callahan and Malia Magestro. At 12-5 overall and 6-2 within the Horizon League, it’s certainly not a panic situation in the Mahoning Valley, though it seems clear at this point that they’re a step behind the top two in the conference.
What is IUPUI? So far, the Jags have a close loss to Green Bay, a win over Northern Kentucky, an absolute shredding at the hands of Cleveland State and, most recently, an inexplicable defeat at Robert Morris followed by a gritty victory in the Beeghly Center, arguably the toughest place to play in the conference. So who knows, really? One thing is for certain: having a veteran like Destiny Perkins handling the rock in a tough road environment is a major asset, and she came through with game highs of 18 points and six assists against YSU. The Jaguars’ interior defense was also vital – while Ritz did go for her standard output, she was more inefficient than usual, needing 20 field goal attempts to get there. Jazmyn Turner scored a career-high 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting against RMU on Saturday, though the Jags were done in by the Colonials’ ten three pointers.
Somewhat out of nowhere, Oakland became one of the hottest teams in the conference over the last two weeks. The Golden Grizzlies very nearly took down Youngstown State two weeks ago, misfiring with the last shot in regulation and overtime – however they’ve won the other three of their last four games, including a takedown of Northern Kentucky, to climb to 9-8 overall and 4-4 in the Horizon League. Conference freshman of the year candidate Brooke Quarles-Daniels has exploded recently, including 20 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, and six steals against the Norse. She added 17 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, almost all of it needed, against Wright State on Sunday. Quarles-Daniels’ emergence, alongside Marshall transfer Alexis Johnson and mainstay Breanne Beatty, suddenly gives OU one of the more formidable NBA Jam lineups in the league.
After a five-game winning streak spanning most of December, Northern Kentucky has now lost three of their last five games over a stretch that shouldn’t have been exceedingly difficult for a conference contender. Going a step further, the Norse are 0-2 against the Green Bay/Cleveland State/Youngstown State triumvirate, 2-0 against Wright State and Detroit Mercy, and 2-2 against the rest of the league – a breakdown that indicates that NKU is a lot closer to the likes of Milwaukee and Oakland than they are to the top of the standings. That station remains a bit puzzling given the talent level on the roster, though it seems obvious at this point that depth is a major concern, as an off game from Lindsey Duvall or Kailee Davis tends to mean certain doom for the Norse.
Purdue Fort Wayne deserves a ton of credit beyond their 6-12 (3-5 Horizon League) record because quite frankly, the Mastodons have played a pretty brutal schedule. They went through a recent run of four straight against the top four teams in these power rankings, and outside of that, they have wins over Detroit Mercy, Robert Morris, and Milwaukee, along with a close loss to Oakland, which…isn’t terrible at all and probably deserves consideration well clear of the bottom. The Dons’ most recent game, a ten-point win over the Panthers after trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter, saw five PFW players score in double figures, one of the first times all year where it seemed like everyone was firing at once for Maria Marchesano. Shayla Sellers’ 16 points led the way, though Amellia Bromenschenkel and Jazzlyn Linbo brought efforts that approached double-doubles.
Just when it looked like Milwaukee was on the way up, the Panthers took a couple of severe body blows last week in turning a tight first half against Cleveland State into a 31-point loss, then following it up with an eight-minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter that allowed Purdue Fort Wayne to swing the game by 21 points and win by ten. The latter result overshadowed what was the best game of a quiet season for Megan Walstad, as the versatile post player scored 21 points with ten rebounds for her first double-double of 2022-23. Walstad and Emma Wittmershaus both did well against the undersized Mastodons, but UWM couldn’t find much from Kamy Peppler and Kendall Nead, both of whom had been outstanding of late. The Panthers are certainly somewhere among the glut of teams between the top three and the bottom two, though exactly where seems to fluctuate from week to week.
Robert Morris stunned a very strong IUPUI team 69-63 on Saturday, a rather inexplicable result that followed a skid of eight losses in nine games. The victory was powered largely by Phoenix Gedeon (17 points, ten rebounds) and Rebecca Dwomoh (17 points, six rebounds), as the Colonials put a nice 69 points on the scoreboard, their highest output of the season (and just the fifth time all season that RMU has broken 60). It’s tempting to give the Colonials a lot of credit in this space for taking down the defending conference champions, but still pretty hard to actually do until it becomes part of a larger trend. The Jags are RMU’s only top-200 NET victim this season as things stand right now, and only one other defeated Colonials opponent, George Mason, is in the top 250. Robert Morris’ next four games are at Milwaukee and Green Bay, then home against Northern Kentucky and Wright State. Another surprise in that stretch would probably merit re-evaluation of RMU’s position.
Don’t look now, but Wright State is playing some pretty decent ball, led by a three-point barrage that is 52nd nationally in accuracy (34.8 percent) and 10th in total makes (153). In fact, nobody in the entire country scores a larger share of their points from threes than WSU’s 44.9 percent. Kacee Baumhower, Emily Chapman, and Bryce Nixon combined for 14 triples (of the team’s 15 total, tying a school record) on Friday, as the Raiders finally collected their first Division I win of the season, a nice comeback effort over Detroit Mercy. They almost pulled off a much higher-profile win two days later, going blow-for-blow with a good Oakland team and tying the game in the last two minutes, before the Grizzlies scored the final five points of the contest. Kari Hoffman’s roster is flawed, with very little inside presence to speak of, but extremely entertaining.
Detroit Mercy missed a chance to win consecutive games for the first time since the 2016-17 season (yes, that’s a real stat) when the Titans couldn’t stop Wright State from hitting threes and as a result, couldn’t hang on to a ten-point advantage against the Raiders early in the third quarter. Still, if nothing else, it’s good to see that UDM has mostly righted the ship after a string of embarrassing results in December. Despite the WSU loss, and one on Sunday to Northern Kentucky where the Titans were within single digits at the start of the fourth quarter, it at least seems possible that Irene Murua, Amaya Burch and company could pick off a couple more games in rematches with Purdue Fort Wayne, Robert Morris, and the Raiders and end up with the program’s best win total in six years.
Player of the Week
Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)
Quarles-Daniels won the conference’s freshman of the week award on Monday, but let’s go one step further for the star point guard who stuffed the stat sheet in a signature win over Northern Kentucky, then followed it up with another monster line, with much less fanfare, against Wright State on Sunday. If you’re 5-6 and grabbing 29 rebounds in a weekend, that deserves the big award.
Also considered: Natalie McNeal (Green Bay), Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State), Kacee Baumhower (Wright State), Megan Walstad (Milwaukee), Phoenix Gedeon (Robert Morris), Destiny Perkins (IUPUI)
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)
January 2: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
January 9: Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)