NKU our pick to build off of NCAA Tournament appearance, win Horizon League
Defending Horizon League Tournament champion Northern Kentucky — who put forth a valiant effort in a 63-52 loss to 1-seed Houston in the NCAA Tournament — is the HoriZone Roundtable’s pick to win the league in 2023-24. The Norse return two All-League performers to a team that went 14-6 in league play last year.
The rest of our Top 4 were the other three teams with byes last year: Milwaukee, Cleveland State, and Youngstown State. Wright State, Oakland, and Robert Morris were similarly projected to hold down their spots from last year in the middle of the league. Then things get interesting.
After being among the worst teams in the nation each of the last two seasons, IUPUI and Green Bay are projected to finish eighth and ninth in the league this year for wildly different reasons. IUPUI had its most stable offseason in years and added a few Division I transfers to its young core, while Green Bay blew up its roster and landed some transfers who should instantly be among the best players on the team.
Purdue Fort Wayne is tasked with replacing its entire starting lineup from a team that finished eighth last season, and although the Mastodons added some talent in the transfer portal our staff is uncertain that they’ll be able to put it together right away.
And finally, we’ve entered the first season of the HoriZone Roundtable that won’t involve Antoine Davis. With the difficulty Detroit Mercy had putting a cohesive team that could stay on the court around him seemingly continuing after his graduation, we see the Titans finishing last this year.
|10||Purdue Fort Wayne|
Northern Kentucky finished in a three-way tie one game out of first place in the Horizon League last season before earning the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, a level of success that our staff sees the Norse building off of in 2024. With three-time All-Horizon League guard Marques Warrick leading the way, our staff sees NKU earning its first regular season crown since 2019.
Milwaukee was the Horizon League’s pleasant surprise in 2023, and our staff thinks they’ll keep up that momentum with another second place finish in the Horizon League this year. A lot of the complimentary pieces changed, but B.J. Freeman opted to stick around for what could be a Horizon League Player of the Year-calibur season. With guards Kentrell Pullian and Markeith Browning also back for another season of Bart Lundy magic, the Panthers have a great chance to contend for a Horizon League title again.
Cleveland State might’ve hit the jackpot with first-time head coaches twice in a row, with Daniyal Robinson keeping the team near the top of the Horizon League even as multiple stars followed Dennis Gates to Missouri. With First Team All-League forward Tristan Enaruna returning, CSU’s second season under Robinson could go every bit as well as the first. Cleveland State faithful are likely hoping that additions of players like Tevin Smith and KJ Debrick result in it being even better.
Youngstown State won its first ever Horizon League crown in 2023 by capitalizing on the transfer portal, and will look to repeat using the same strategy after suffering the most significant offseason losses of any team in the Horizon League. Three of the four YSU players that we voted All-League are gone — including Player of the Year runner-up Dwayne Cohill — but the Penguins are still projected to finish near the top of the league after posting what looks like the best crop of newcomers. Ziggy Reid (Merrimack), Brett Thompson (Tennessee Tech), D.J. Burns (Murray State) and Bryson Langdon (Northern Kentucky in 2022) all figure to play big roles in their first seasons with YSU this year.
Wright State finds itself in uncharted territory in the Scott Nagy era, as the league’s biggest wild card thanks to the eligibility status of Tanner Holden. Holden returned to WSU this offseason after spending a season at Ohio State. If he’s eligible, it’s very possible we’re underselling the Raiders and they’ll be a team to beat. For now it’ll be Trey Calvin and Brandon Noel leading the way for Wright State, which our voters clearly don’t think is all that bad.
Oakland has never finished lower than sixth in the Horizon League, and our staff thinks they’ll keep that streak alive despite the departure of star guard Jalen Moore. While Trey Townsend doesn’t seem like he’ll be joined by a second star, the Golden Grizzlies look to be aiming to address depth issues that have plagued them recently. Jack Gohlke earned First Team All-GLIAC honors at Hillsdale last year and figures to lead a group of experienced newcomers for what looks like a much deeper Golden Grizzlies team than we’ve seen.
Robert Morris was the biggest loser in the transfer portal this offseason, with most of the league’s stars that had eligibility left staying put aside from RMU’s Enoch Cheeks. Couple that with Kahliel Spear’s graduation and it’s clear that new faces will see big roles this year for the Colonials. Transfer forward Markeese Hastings averaged nearly averaged double-doubles in each of the last two seasons at Western Michigan, while former Top-100 recruit Justice Williams has the raw ability that could mean the potential to break out into stardom in the Horizon League.
IUPUI has been one of the worst teams in the entire country for the last two seasons, but following an offseason where the team’s intriguing young core actually stuck together our pollsters see progress in 2024. All-League guard Jlynn Counter and a crop talented sophomores including Vincent Brady II, D.J. Jackson, Amhad Jarrard and Armon Jarrard give plenty of reason for increased optimism. If 2021 Southland Freshman of the Year Bryce Monroe can get through a season healthy, the Jaguars could be far more difficult to deal with than they have been of late.
Green Bay — like IUPUI above them — is a team that our staff sees making a big jump in 2023, though this ranking might not make it obvious. With a new coach in Sunny Wicks and a group of promising transfers, we project the Phoenix to pick themselves up from third to last in the nation (according to KenPom) to third from last in the Horizon League. Expect Wyoming transfer Noah Reynolds and Division II All-American Rich Byhre.
Purdue Fort Wayne lost all five starters from a team that entered the season with lofty expectations but finished tied for eighth, and as a result our staff selected them for tenth place. The Mastodons have a serious rebuild on their hands this year, but newcomers like 2023 GLIAC Player of the Year Rasheed Bello (UW-Parkside) and Jalen Jackson (UIC) should give Jon Coffman a core to build around this season and beyond.
Detroit Mercy is our pick to finish last in the league following the departure of Antoine Davis, the team’s centerpiece for the last five years who’s currently vying for a spot on the Portland Trail Blazers. Even with Davis on the roster, the Titans finished tied for eighth place last season. Without the stability that IUPUI experienced or the highly intriguing transfers that Green Bay landed, Detroit Mercy is our pick to drop into last place this season.