|Purdue Fort Wayne
If you haven’t been paying attention, and shame on you if you haven’t, Green Bay looks absolutely terrifying right now. The Phoenix, on the way to a 4-2 record, has already taken down a pair of ranked power conference teams, Creighton and Washington State, and neither game was in any significant doubt for most of the way. One has to assume that Kevin Borseth’s charges will receive at least a couple top 25 votes themselves this week and more importantly, their NET ranking will more likely than not pace the HL all season long on the back of those big victories. There’s nothing new or exceptional to what they’re doing in Northeast Wisconsin (it has a lot to do with sharing the ball and almost never making mistakes, if you’re new here), but the familiar names with an extra year of experience, plus the return of Maddy Schreiber, have them sitting pretty right now.
While Cleveland State has mostly looked like Cleveland State in winning five straight games following a mistake-riddled opening loss to Bowling Green, the long-term prognosis of the team likely rests on the prognosis of Destiny Leo’s injury suffered on Saturday. However, if there’s one bit of a silver lining to be seen through that disaster scenario, it’s that the Vikings likely have enough talent to win the vast majority of their games even without the reigning conference player of the year. Colbi Maples has proven able to lift the team for long stretches, and CSU finally got its inside game working during the Viking Invitational, their home MTE, this past week.
It seems like Purdue Fort Wayne has definitively answered the “nice run last year or legitimately good” question resoundingly, and in their favor. So far, the Dons have only lost to upper-tier Big Ten programs, Michigan and Iowa, and their three Division I wins have all been high-quality belt notches: Southern Illinois, Delware and Western Kentucky. On November 15th against the Salukis, PFW looked buried before closing the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to force an ultimately-successful overtime period. Then, at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, FL this past week, the Mastodons shook off the loss to Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes to take fifth place in the tournament with victories over the Blue Hens and Hilltoppers. The latter contest involved 17 made three-pointers, 12 of those from the prolific trio of Audra Emmerson, Shayla Sellers and Amellia Bromenschenkel.
After three straight losses to open the season, Milwaukee has surged of late, taking the final two games of their MTE at McNeese State before returning home to batter Central Michigan. Against the Chippewas, UWM knocked down 17 three pointers, equaling a program record (and the original mark was set during a double overtime game). If the Panthers find the three to be a reliable source of offense, that could correct a ton of their issues over the last couple seasons and elevate the team’s ceiling in a pretty substantial way. Kendall Nead and Angie Cera have hit a bunch of those threes of course, but Kamy Peppler has been the category leader, as the sophomore has taken a major developmental step this year. Another young player, highly-regarded freshman Jorey Buwalda, has been emergent as well with a team-best 7.8 rebounds per game.
Detroit Mercy? Detroit Mercy. The Titans served notice of an imminent ascension with a 68-38 destruction of Eastern Michigan in their opener and while they haven’t done anything quite that eye popping since then, what they have done is beat the likes of Dayton and USC Upstate on the way to a 4-3 mark, matching last season’s Division I win total. And, until last year, UDM hadn’t even won four DI games in an entire season since 2016-17. Additionally, their 4-2 start before dropping their most recent game at Georgia Southern was their first time with that modest record since 2001-02. Is all of this sustainable? Maybe more than you might realize. Kate Achter has built a surprisingly deep roster with Irene Murua and Imani McNeal still leading the way, though players like Myonna Hooper, Emma Trawally Porta and even juco addition Latifa Amzil (who had 16 points in 12 minutes against Upstate) have taken turns pulling the rope.
“Uneven” might be the best word to describe Youngstown State’s start to the season. The Guins have mostly struggled to replace the production of Lilly Ritz and Megan Callahan, and have often looked stagnant offensively – YSU finally scored more than 55 points this season for the first time on Saturday in a loss to Northern Arizona. To be fair, their 1-4 record is partly the product of a difficult schedule, including a “homecoming” game for the team’s bevy of Mountaineer State natives at West Virginia, but for the time being, the Penguins look an awful lot more like last season’s team than the regular season champs of two years ago. Acting head coach John Nicolais has leaned almost exclusively on his seniors so far, though Abby Liber has added a spark when called on.
Northern Kentucky is off to a 1-4 start, including a bit of a rough time at the Daytona Beach Classic this week, though the realities underneath that record aren’t awful. NKU was reasonably competitive with Pitt on Friday until the Panthers blew the game open in the fourth quarter, the slate as a whole has been robust, and they’ve done all of it without Kailee Davis, who was injured on opening day. Khamari Mitchell-Steen, long one of the conference’s best defensive players, has seen an uptick in her offense now that she’s running the point, and Camryn Volz might have something massive on her hands in Carter McCray. The freshman from Oberlin, OH is averaging 13.6 points and 10.8 rebounds so far, including a staggering 25 and 21 in a November 18th win over Marshall where she was one of just eight available NKU players.
It’s a little tough to form an airtight opinion on Wright State at this point, because the Raiders have played five games, but only three of them have been against Division I teams. From what we’ve seen so far, it seems like Kari Hoffman and company still absolutely love three pointers, and three pointers love them back. Lauren Scott, Kacee Baumhower, Akron transfer Layne Ferrell, and Cara VanKempen have all blistered the nets from deep – Baumhower’s 36.8 percent hit rate is the worst of that group, and leading the way are VanKempen at 10-for-17 and Scott at 7-for-12. The question, as always, is whether WSU has the interior game and defense to take the next step, and the early read isn’t fantastic on that front. The Raiders close the first leg on their non-conference schedule with Marshall on Monday, and we’ll likely know a bit more then.
Like Wright State, Oakland hasn’t played a ton of games against DI, so the jury is still out on whether the Golden Grizzlies are improved this season or how they’ll perform without head coach Jeff Tungate, who is on another leave of absence due to his recurring back issues. The early returns are encouraging though, as OU opened with a double-overtime win at Akron (and that Zips team went on to beat Pitt on Saturday, the day after the Panthers defeated NKU). They definitely seem to have something in Markyia McCormick, who formerly played at archrival UDM and has added a healthy dose of offense to support Brooke Quarles-Daniels and Linda Van Schaik. Kianni Westbrook, a Tennessee State transfer, has added a credible inside presence while teaming with Miriam Ibezim, something OU has mostly lacked over the last couple years.
Tenth place is probably a little unfair to IUPUI, which opened with what seemed like a quality win against Eastern Illinois, though the Panthers’ play so far has scratched some of the luster from that result. Three brutally-tough losses, to Ohio State, Marquette and UIC, followed, though the more recent defeats to MAC schools Ball State and Ohio are a bit less forgivable. Still, I expect to move the Jags up as the season progresses, partly because they’ve been without Jazmyn Turner since an injury during the OSU game, but also because Kate Bruce has uncovered a couple of gems in Katie Davidson and Tahlia Walton. The pair of veteran transfer additions are both natural scorers with good length. It’s never an easy process when turning over a roster in the portal era following a coaching change, but the Jags seem to have pulled it off as well as anyone could reasonably expect.
After a nice opening win against Saint Francis (sadly, I no longer need to specify which one), Robert Morris has dropped four straight Division I games surrounding a rout of something called Penn State Beaver. So far, it’s a lot of the same for the Colonials: they’re a well-coached team that plays solid defense, but struggles to find reliable scoring. The one thing they’ve done pretty well on that end of the court is get to the free throw line, led by Simone Morris, a 93 percent shooter from the stripe. Wing Naomi Barnwell, a juco addition, has added a nice lift as well, with a team-best 5.8 rebounds per game to compliment her 9.4 points.
Player of the Week
Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
Outside of Green Bay, no team in the Horizon League did more over MTE week to help their stock than Purdue Fort Wayne, and no player was more central to that success than Bromenschenkel. She scored 16 points against national championship contender Iowa as the Dons managed to hang with the Hawkeyes in the early stages of the contest, then blew up for a career-high 27 on 11-for-14 shooting in a bounceback win over Delaware. Audra Emmerson was the star of PFW’s Sunday upset of Western Kentucky, though Bromo still clocked in with a sturdy 13-6-5 stat line.
Also considered: Audra Emmerson (Purdue Fort Wayne), Colbi Maples (Cleveland State), Irene Murua (Detroit Mercy), Kamy Peppler (Milwaukee), Natalie McNeal (Green Bay)