HLMBB Power Rankings — Week 1

Photo courtesy of Oakland Athletics

In the past, I’ve usually skipped the first few weeks of Horizon League Power Rankings. Most of the early matchups feature a drastic mismatch in one direction or the other, with the Horizon League team playing either a non-Division I opponent for a near-guaranteed win or traveling to a power conference arena for a likely loss. More evenly matched games can be difficult to gage, as teams regularly land far from preseason expectations. As a result, making changes in the first few weeks tends to be a lot of reactionary nonsense. I normally like to avoid that, but in what could be our last hurrah? Get ready for some reactionary nonsense.

Cleveland State1
Purdue Fort Wayne3
Northern Kentucky5
Robert Morris6
Youngstown State7
Wright State9
Green Bay10
Detroit Mercy11

Cleveland State is one basket away from an impressive 3-0 start, and in the process exorcised some demons. The Vikings opened the season with a 79-77 loss at Duquesne, which then turned around and validated CSU’s effort by cruising to a win over CAA favorite and 2023 30-game winner Charleston. Cleveland State then easily handled 102-41 before Saturday’s 82-78 victory over Ohio, its first against the Bobcats since 1998. 2023 First Team All-League pick Tristan Enaruna leads the team with 15.7 points and 3.0 assists per game, adding a respectable 4.7 rebounds per contest as well.

Oakland might be 0-2, but a pair of competitive games against Big 10 teams more than warrants a spot near the top of these power rankings. The Golden Grizzlies pulled within a possession of Ohio State with 22 seconds to go on Monday before free throws stretched the deficit out to a 79-73 final. Friday against a tougher foe in nationally ranked Illinois went similarly, with OU trailing by 1 at the half and tying the game with a little over seven minutes to play before the home team pulled away late for a 64-53 final. Trey Townsend is living up to our First Team All-League expectations so far. He leads the team with 18.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game and should be a strong contender for Horizon League Player of the Week.

Purdue Fort Wayne is 3-0 with a win over a Big East team and a 96-point victory, more than enough to justify a massive leap from our preseason expectations to the first Power Rankings. I will qualify that the Big East win was against a now 0-2 DePaul team that looked like it was going to get run out of the gym against Long Beach State and the 96-point victory was against a team that plays in the USCAA rather than the NCAA, but both are still impressive feats for a team picked near the bottom of the Horizon League.

Milwaukee opened its season without B.J. Freeman, and looked shaky until pulling away late in a 91-73 win over UW-Stout. With Freeman back in the lineup, the Panthers battled until the final whistle before falling 79-69 at Providence. It’s clear that keeping Freeman on the court will be vital to Milwaukee’s success, at least while newcomers figure out their place in the rotation. The Preseason First Team All-League pick had 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers in Saturday’s loss.

Northern Kentucky didn’t necessarily have a bad opening week of the season, but it was a bit of a disappointing one for the team we had pegged for first in the league. Middle Tennessee is a borderline Top 100 team ranked similarly to some of the Western Kentucky teams that Wright State had battled with in the not-too-distant past, so it was a letdown for NKU to fail to compete aside from a stretch in the second half of the 74-57 loss. Thursday did see a stronger performance against what is projected to be a better team in Washington, where the Norse eventually fell 75-67. Marques Warrick led the team with 18 points against MTSU, but went 0-for-12 from the field against Washington and managed just six points from the free throw line.

Robert Morris had arguably the most confusing opening week of the season, with a surprisingly difficult 66-56 win over NAIA opponent Point Park sandwiched between a couple much more respectable outings. RMU opened the season by staying within striking distance of Xavier in a 77-63 loss, then on Sunday fell 66-62 to a Towson team picked fifth in the Coastal. A big factor in the difference between the results is that highly touted transfer Justice Williams missed the Point Park game. In the two games he did play in, Williams is averaging 18.5 points per game.

Youngstown State was picked to finish in the upper echelon of the league after a second straight impressive haul in the transfer portal, but without a holdover like Dwayne Cohill things are off to a rockier start this season. The Penguins are 0-2 with a pair of less competitive outings than most would’ve hoped for. The season opener against Louisiana looked like it was going to go down to the wire in the first half, but YSU couldn’t pull within a possession for the last 14 minutes in the 72-62 loss. The Penguins appear to be in the process of figuring out roles, and right now “The Guy” is Bryson Langdon. The Northern Kentucky transfer is averaging 13.0 points and 2.5 assists per game for YSU.

IUPUI is 2-0, and that has to mean something! Sure, the Jaguars struggled against Division III Spalding and beat a Valparaiso team that was bad before its roster blew up following a coaching change. And sure, this placement is definitely an overreaction. But it wouldn’t be a Week 1 Power Ranking without something dumb and reactionary! 2023 All-League pick J’Lynn Counter is leading the way for the Jaguars so far with 14.0 points and 3.0 assists per game.

Wright State came into the year as many people’s late pick as favorite to win the Horizon League after Tanner Holden was declared immediately eligible, but certainly didn’t look the part in the second half of Friday’s 105-77 loss at Colorado State. The Raiders trailed 45-42 at halftime before the wheels fell off and CSU put up a 60-point second half. Trey Calvin did put up 33 points on 12-for-21 shooting in the loss, but clearly offense wasn’t where Wright State had issues.

Green Bay raised expectations over the offseason, making a coaching chance and adding some pieces that have proven capable of performing well at the NCAA level. Unfortunately, early results haven’t matched expectations. The Phoenix were admittedly overmatched in Monday’s season opener against Iowa State, but the 85-44 loss is still a tough one to swallow. The second game of the Sunny Wicks era was also the first win, but not without some struggles. A potential cause for concern for Green Bay is that the team’s top returnee Clarence Cummings III is ineligible until December, according to Jeff Goodman. Cummings averaged 10.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game for the Phoenix last year.

Detroit Mercy did little to lessen our concerns about an upcoming eleventh place finish in Horizon League play, losing a pair of games by over 30 points this week. There’s nothing particularly awful about a team projected at the bottom of the Horizon League getting run out of the gym against a Big 12 team or a typically strong MAC opponent, but it’s difficult to argue that those efforts warrant a change of opinion from our preseason poll. Jayden Stone was a serious bright spot for the Titans all week, averaging an efficient 20.0 points as well as 5.5 rebounds per game. Will it be another year of wondering how high a prolific individual performer can rise up the All-League teams for Detroit Mercy?

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