|Purdue Fort Wayne
There’s not really much new to say about Green Bay, which has played just once since December 16th, a stomping of state system sister school UW Parkside. Nevertheless, the Phoenix has continued to prove its status as an NCAA Tournament at-large contender throughout the month of December, including a win over former Horizon League school UIC (the Flames are actually kind of good now, believe it or not) and a drubbing of Saint Louis, after dropping a tight contest at DePaul. GB’s formula isn’t a secret to anyone at this point, to wit, they’re fourth nationally with only 10.9 turnovers per game, their 82.7 percent clip from the line is third best in the country, and they’re among the top 50 in field goal percentage and assisted shot rate – in other words, they’ll suffocate games and win with superior efficiency and balance.
After taking the expected thumping from Iowa, Cleveland State bounced back nicely to collect an impressive sweep at the Homewood Suites Classic last week, including wins over Southern Miss and Drexel. The USM win has the chance to stand as particularly impressive by the end of the season, given that the Eagles sit on the fringes of the top 100 in the NET rankings and are a likely contender in the Sun Belt Conference. The Vikings have been fueled largely by the play of starting guards Colbi Maples and Mickayla Perdue, who have helped CSU absorb the loss of Destiny Leo surprisingly well. A showdown at Green Bay looms at the end of the week, though Chris Kielsmeier is more focused on the long game, given his reshuffled roster.
Purdue Fort Wayne has been a bit wobbly lately, as the Mastodons lost to St. Thomas and Western Michigan this month, ending a long stretch where PFW’s only defeats were to the likes of Michigan and Iowa. The Dons did, however, bounce back to rout NAIA team Aquinas on December 21st. Coincidentally, the Saints are led by former Oakland player Alona Blackwell (who spearheaded a Golden Grizzlies win with six available players at the Gates Sports Center two years ago), but this time around it was Amellia Bromenschenkel (16 points, six rebounds), Shayla Sellers (13 points, ten rebounds) and star freshman Erin Woodson (15 points) who came out on top. The Dons, like Cleveland State, resume their conference schedule with the Wisconsin trip, a healthy test for any HL contender.
Wright State very nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the season by a Horizon League team on December 18th, when the Raiders went blow for blow with West Virginia and held a chance to win in the final minute of the game before falling 77-72. Alexis Hutchison went nuclear against the Mountaineers with 37 points, 18 of them from behind the three-point line, and she followed it up with a pair of solid efforts at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, helping WSU to a spilt against Wyoming and Presbyterian. Coming off of the WVU contest, it was probably reasonable to expect a bit more out of the Raiders in Vegas – particularly after a tight win against the Blue Hose, barely ranked inside the top 300 – but they still held serve, at worst.
Though Detroit Mercy struggled a little bit in their most recent game, at home against a bad Florida A&M team, the Titans were able to use a strong fourth quarter to improve to 9-4 overall. At this point, it’s easy to forget what a staggering achievement simply winning nine games is for this program (over the course of an entire season, let alone before New Year’s Day) and get caught up in a big-picture prognosis, but that task is still a little tough to nail down. Nevertheless, UDM seems to have the type of balance that serves teams well over the long haul, led by Myonna Hooper, one of the conference’s breakout stars. Hooper scored 17 points against the Rattlers, preceded by a 19/8/4 line in the Titans’ previous game, a win at Bellarmine.
Kendall Nead has been one of the conference’s best players all season long for Milwaukee, including over the last two weeks, which has seen the Iowa native pick up a Horizon League Player of the Week award for her performance in a win over Eastern Illinois on December 15th, then follow it up with 17 in some light work against NAIA school Viterbo. That rout of the V-Hawks was a nice transition into the holiday break for a team that has a high ceiling but has struggled a bit with consistency, offering the promise of a successful return to conference play. The Panthers have, somewhat surprisingly, become an elite ball movement and three-point shooting team, lead by Nead, Kamy Peppler, Angie Cera, Jada Donaldson and Anna Lutz, all of whom are frequent flyers that connect on at least a third of their attempts from deep.
Oakland’s light holiday scheduled involved only an overtime loss to Miami last Thursday, a particularly crushing result given that the Golden Grizzlies led by six with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter before allowing a pair of three pointers sandwiching a turnover. If there’s good news for OU, it’s that Brooke Quarles-Daniels seems to have found her form after a slow start to the season. The 2022-23 Horizon League Freshman of the Year scored 22 points (on 9-for-17 shooting) against the RedHawks, following up a 17-point effort against mid-major powerhouse Toledo on December 17th. Michigan State transfer Maddy Skorupski has also come on of late, averaging 14.3 points over her last three games, and the Grizzlies are getting to the charity stripe as well as just about anyone in the country with a 21.8 percent free throw rate.
It’s still pretty tough to get a decent read on Robert Morris, though the Colonials seem like they’re on the upswing after a pair of pretty nice wins, first against the College of Charleston, then against Fairmont State, a strong Division II program. Danielle Vuletich emerged as a force of nature in both contests, including a 19-point, 16-rebound effort against CofC, followed by another double-double (a more modest 12 and ten) against the Falcons two days later. A lot of RMU’s metrics still don’t look fantastic, but if Vuletich and players like athletic Naomi Barnwell can provide a counterpoint for a team that’s sometimes over-reliant on the three, it seems like the Colonials might be able to find the right mix to continue to win games.
Northern Kentucky still has just two victories this year, against Marshall and Division II’s Kentucky State, and the Norse were blown out by Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee State in their most recent outings, but there is help on the horizon, just in time for the capital-H Horizon. After enduring a lot of the early season with just eight available players, NKU is now mostly healthy, as Kailee Davis and Kennedy Igo both returned from injury on the recent road trip, offering the promise of a Norse team able to play close to its potential for the first time this season. What that potential is, exactly, is anyone’s guess right now, but a road trip to Oakland and Detroit Mercy to re-start conference play is sort of an ideal arrangement as far as that assessment is concerned.
A couple weeks ago, it seemed like Youngstown State might be poised for a turnaround after winning a pair of games three days apart, including one against a solid Akron team. But then, the Penguins lost their next two games, against St. Bonaventure and Canisius, both sub-200 NET teams. The return to conference play, beginning with manageable home games against Wright State and IUPUI, represents a chance to reset a little bit, though the Guins are quickly running out of time to prove that there’s more under the hood than they’ve shown so far, whether it’s from their veteran core or a group of underclassmen that have started to see more time. Emily Saunders remains the Guins’ centerpiece – quite literally – but Dena Jarrells and Shay-Lee Kirby have also played very well of late.
If there’s good news for IUPUI, it’s that the Jaguars finally have Jazmyn Turner back, since the star power forward made her first appearance in over a month against Eastern Michigan on December 15th. However, she wasn’t enough to hold off a massive EMU rally, as the Jags blew leads of 27-9 (in the first quarter) and 66-53 (with 6:35 left in the game), ultimately losing in overtime. That result was a pretty rough look, given that the Eagles had just fired coach Fred Castro after a 1-7 start and were playing their first contest under interim coach Ke’Sha Blanton. In all, the Jags are 2-9 overall and have lost nine of their last ten, with the one win coming against an Evansville team that is 2-9 themselves and needed triple overtime to beat lowly Chicago State.
Player of the Week
Alexis Hutchison (Wright State)
Though her team was just 1-2 last week, that’s something of a technicality given Hutchison’s performance against West Virginia on the road, where she accounted for more than half of Wright State’s points in a near-upset on December 18th. The Malone transfer has emerged as quite possibly the best pure scorer in the Horizon League, and while that statement has yet to fully be tested by the rigors of conference play, it’s safe to say that this season’s edition of the Raiders will go about as far as Hutchison can take them.
Also considered: Colbi Maples (Cleveland State), Myonna Hooper (Detroit Mercy), Shayla Sellers (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 28: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
December 5: Maddy Schreiber (Green Bay)
December 12: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
December 19: Danielle Vuletich (Robert Morris)