|Purdue Fort Wayne||8||7||-1|
Why not Youngstown State as the top team? Last week, the Penguins swept what’s long been the conference’s most dreaded beast – the Wisconsin trip – highlighted by a win at The Kress versus Green Bay on Friday. Against the Phoenix, Lilly Ritz scored a team-high 14 points (in just 18 minutes, thanks to foul trouble) and three other Guins hit double figures, though the team’s defense stole the show late. After Dena Jarrells hit a three to give YSU a 61-59 lead with 2:12 remaining in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the visitors allowed exactly one point, a Callie Genke free throw with 1:54 on the clock, over the remainder of the game. It’s a tight race at the top of the HL, as YSU, Green Bay, and Cleveland State are all 8-2 in the conference and 1-1 against each other, but it’s the Penguins who have landed the most recent blow of any significance in the regular season title chase.
Just five days after Green Bay looked to stand alone as the team to beat following a decisive road win in Cleveland, basketball once again proved that it can be less predictable than midwestern weather as UWGB found it was their turn to lose as home to a conference contender. The Phoenix, now and always, are still right in the thick of things but it’s certainly a much messier race than it was previously, with YSU re-asserting themselves as a significant factor, Northern Kentucky grabbing a stunning victory to re-frame what they are and might be, and even teams like IUPUI and Oakland standing as capable dark horses. Behind 21 points by Sydney Levy and 16 from Bailey Butler, Green Bay roared back from the disappointment to thump Robert Morris on Sunday, and they’ll have the chance to avenge the most surprising of their four losses when they host Milwaukee on Thursday.
For the first time all season, there’s something resembling true concern around Cleveland State. Following a lackluster effort in a 73-69 loss at Northern Kentucky on Sunday, the Vikings have now dropped two of their last three games following a 16-game winning streak that began immediately after the season opener at Iowa State. And while the Vikings broke the century mark against Wright State on Friday, winning 103-72, they nevertheless surrendered 18 three-pointers, a school record for the Raiders. Destiny Leo connected on eight of her 11 threes against WSU en route to 31 points and one of the best performances of her career, though Brittni Moore was probably the team’s most consistent player across both games last week. In the days ahead, Chris Kielsmeier’s squad will travel to Detroit Mercy and Oakland, games that didn’t seem very important a couple weeks ago but may now be vital.
Northern Kentucky fans likely won’t be pleased with their team’s placement behind Cleveland State given the recent game result, but the fact remains that the Norse probably have both a lower ceiling and a lower floor than the Vikings. Their first run through the conference saw losses to Oakland and IUPUI, teams CSU beat by a combined 56 points, while NKU’s win over the Vikings was their first this season against the upper echelon of the conference. Nevertheless, when NKU is firing on all cylinders, they’ve proven to be very much capable of playing with – and beating – anyone in the Horizon League. Ivy Turner won the HL’s Player of the Week award largely on her 17 points, eight assists, and lockdown defense against CSU, while Kennedy Igo’s three-pointer with four seconds remaining provided the decisive points.
IUPUI swept their home weekend against Detroit Mercy and Oakland to improve to 7-3 in the conference, just one game behind the three leaders. Rachel Kent was stellar against the Golden Grizzlies, connecting for a career-high 30 points on a ridiculous 11-for-13 shooting day (6-for-8 from three-point range), as the Jags took over in the second quarter and never looked back. A stunning loss to Robert Morris last weekend and a blowout defeat at Cleveland State stand out as bad results for Kate Bruce and company, but IUPUI still has wins over Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky on their ledger, as well as a close loss to Green Bay and now, a solid victory over an OU team that had been playing very well lately. Much like NKU, the Jaguars can throw hands with anyone in the HL when Kent and Destiny Perkins are cooking and Jazmyn Turner is staying away from foul trouble.
Oakland had won four of five prior to their loss against IUPUI, and the loss in that string came in overtime to Youngstown State. So it’s fair to say that the Grizzlies, led by Brooke Quarles-Daniels (who won her second straight conference Freshman of the Week award on Monday), Alexis Johnson and Breanne Beatty, had decidedly started to put things together after a 1-3 start to conference play, and one loss to a very good Jags team hardly changes that. Beatty’s game-high 21 points led the way for OU in their rivalry win over Detroit Mercy on Friday, and Johnson picked up ten points and 11 rebounds. While visits from Cleveland State and Green Bay offer big home games over the next two weeks, the travel partners of those teams, Purdue Fort Wayne and Milwaukee of course, might actually be more important to Oakland’s eventual fate.
It was business as usual for Milwaukee last weekend, turning in a solid home win over Robert Morris behind 19 Kendall Nead points, along with 17 and 12 rebounds by Megan Walstad, before dropping a tough contest to Youngstown State. The Panthers and Penguins, two teams that really, really enjoy defense, put on a worthy display of it – the game was tied at 37-37 late in the third quarter – though YSU scored the next six points and did enough to hold on the rest of the way. An even 5-5 in the conference feels like the perfect record for UWM right now, as the Panthers have shown both a good side and a bad side, and could take either route over the rest of the season. One good note: though she hasn’t quite repeated her Freshman of the Week outburst from a few weeks back, all indications are that Kamy Peppler (who scored 13 points against YSU) will be one of the top players in the conference pretty soon.
For the second consecutive week, Purdue Fort Wayne emerged from their pair of games with a respectable split, this time grabbing a mostly-expected win over Wright State on Sunday to follow up a surprisingly close defeat to NKU at Truist Arena on Friday. In that contest with the Norse, a three-point game late in the third quarter became a 14-point Northern Kentucky advantage with 3:33 left after the Dons were held to three points across more than seven minutes. However, a furious rally that included both Ott sisters, Amellia Bromenschenkel, Sylare Starks and Shayla Sellers pulled PFW back within two with 21 seconds to go, though NKU ultimately clinched things at the free throw line. It was another tantalizing look at what the Mastodons are capable of at times, and those glimpses have become more and more frequent since New Year’s Day.
Robert Morris was unable to follow up their stunning victory against IUPUI two weeks ago, dropping both of their Wisconsin trip games this past weekend, the Colonials’ ninth and tenth defeats in their last 12 outings. It’s been quite the fall from grace for a team that began the year 6-1 (though mostly against suspect competition), but the upcoming home weekend against Wright State and Northern Kentucky might be a decent chance to right the ship (or at least as decent as it gets in a league where every weekend involves at least one really good team on the schedule). On the positive side of things, Phoenix Gedeon continued to perform at an all-conference level against the highest degree of difficulty the HL has to offer. The sophomore from Montreal scored 13 points with seven rebounds and four steals against Green Bay, following a 20 point, ten rebound outing at Milwaukee.
Say this for Wright State: they like to chuck it, and they’re very good at that, but they can’t defend, and altogether it’s extremely entertaining. The Raiders lead Division I in the percentage of their points scored via the three ball (47.5) and while you might already know that, you may not know that WSU is second in the country in percentage of points from two-point field goals (41.4). Of course, they have no true post player and no inside game to speak of, so they’re 358th in that stat when it comes to free throws and dead last in things like effective field goal percentage against and rebounding rate. So that’s pretty much how a team can bury 18 triples in a game and still lose by more than 30, as happened to the Raiders against CSU on Friday. Bryce Nixon’s 49 threes against DI competition are 33rd best nationally, though Emily Chapman’s 45.9 percent clip from behind the stripe is tops on the team.
Detroit Mercy lost games to Oakland and IUPUI over the weekend to drop to 3-16 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League, though it wasn’t an awful showing from the Titans all things considered. In The Jungle on Friday, UDM mostly went blow for blow with a very good Jaguars team and were done in only by a 10-0 Jags run early in the third quarter, a number that, coincidentally, was the game’s final margin. Irene Murua led the way for Kate Achter in both contests with 17 points against IUPUI and 13 against the Golden Grizzlies though the Titans, to their credit, are a hardworking group with several players who contribute. Three major contributors, Ana Cabañas, Myonna Hooper and Amaya Burch, are freshmen, offering the promise of an end to nearly a decade of rebuilding.
Player of the Week
Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)
Given her team’s ascent to the top spot in this week’s power rankings, the game-of-the-week nature of their win at Green Bay, and the role she played in both of those things, it seems like the right time to finally give this award to Youngstown State’s high-IQ pivot. If nothing else, Ritz has been an “also considered” no fewer than seven times this season, and probably deserves a win at this point.
Also considered: Ivy Turner (Northern Kentucky), Rachel Kent (IUPUI), Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland), Kendall Nead (Milwaukee)
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)
January 16: Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)