It’s still pretty early in the conference slate to make too many definitive statements, but what is clear is that there are some teams that are certainly on the upswing and some that really aren’t. This week’s slate of games could be key to determining if those struggling teams can get back into the swing of things. All games ET and on ESPN+, unless noted.
Thursday, January 4th
Cleveland State at Wright State, 7pm, ESPN2: Given how things went in Wisconsin for the Raiders (read: not well), that they’ll be on national television not only for this game but also the January 12th contest against Youngstown State is something. Then again, even with a winless showing last week, a home game with a roster that has Trey Calvin, Tanner Holden and Brandon Noel on it could be exactly what Wright State needs to turn it around. In the Raiders’ way, though, is a Viking squad that has won four in a row and has plenty of weapons of their own, namely Tristan Enaruna, Drew Lowder and Jayson Woodrich, who scorched IUPUI on New Year’s Eve.
Youngstown State at Northern Kentucky, 7pm: These two teams have found themselves rather intertwined over the past couple of years, primarily due to former Norse making their way to Youngstown. The loss of Sam Vinson was felt noticeably during NKU’s loss to Purdue Fort Wayne, while the Penguins struggled in their own New Year’s contest against Oakland. That said, the powerful Norse defense going up against the just-as-powerful YSU offense is still must-see television.
Green Bay at Detroit Mercy, 7pm: As of publication, there’s still no word as to the timetable for the return of Jayden Stone, an uncertainty that represents one of the Titans’ many problems. The more pressing issue for Detroit Mercy will be a resurgent Phoenix team that has not only become stingy on the defensive side, but also features a star of their own in Noah Reynolds. While this may have been a game that Titan fans could have looked at as a potential win before the season started, it looks more and more like another difficult road to getting their first win of the season.
Milwaukee at Oakland, 7pm: The old saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” No truer sentiments could be said about the absence of BJ Freeman from the Panther lineup. He’s back now, and Milwaukee is a much different and far more dynamic team. This is what the Golden Grizzlies will have to face at home, although the last dynamic team they faced, Youngstown State, turned out to be not much of a problem for them. Trey Townsend will be looked upon to help Oakland expose a long-standing issue for the Panthers: presence in the paint.
IUPUI at Robert Morris, 7pm: A dominant win over Detroit Mercy and a game against Cleveland State in which the Jags gave them Vikings headaches could be what they needed to turn their season around. The Colonials, on the other hand, saw their tilt against Milwaukee slip away and Green Bay run away from them. RMU needs a win badly and will have to lean on Markeese Hastings to exploit IUPUI’s long-standing issues on the glass to come out of top.
Saturday, January 6th
Milwaukee at Detroit Mercy, 1pm: The last time the Titans faced off against a hoard of shooters, it was Purdue Fort Wayne and it didn’t end well. With Freeman back in the lineup, along with Kentrell Pullian putting on shooting clinics as of late, it’s going to be tough for Detroit Mercy to find a way to win. For the Panthers, with the Titans extremely thin up front, their forwards, specifically Darius Duffy and Faizon Fields, could be in for outstanding games in their own right.
Wright State at Purdue Fort Wayne, 1pm: Going up against the top two teams in the Horizon League standings was probably not something the Raiders had planned on this week, especially given that they themselves were picked to be one of those top two teams before the season started by multiple prognosticators. That’s exactly what faces Wright State, though, as the Raiders will follow up their game against the Vikings with a road trip to the Mastodons, who aim at putting the same hurting on WSU as they’ve done to everyone else not named Green Bay.
Green Bay at Oakland, 3pm: It’s strange to think that this could be one of the best match-ups of the day, but with the Phoenix already outperforming expectations, the Golden Grizzlies may have their hands full. While Reynolds and Townsend will be the players to watch here, expect at least a few other players to come through, be it Rich Byrhe or Elijah Jones for Green Bay or Rocket Watts or Blake Lampman for Oakland. Both squads have plenty of wild cards beyond these players, so the key to the contest could come from anywhere.
Sunday, January 7th
IUPUI at Youngstown State, 1:30pm: While the Jaguars have an opportunity to take the win against Robert Morris, they’ll face a much steeper climb to victory against a Penguin lineup that is far deeper and much more productive from inside out. Youngstown State has plenty of three-point shooters, which IUPUI can’t match up with, along with a wide array of big bodies up front. The Penguins will, in all likelihood, plan to wear the Jags down with sheer attrition and come away with the win.
Northern Kentucky at Cleveland State, 4pm: The three match-ups last season between these two teams, including the Horizon League championship, were decided by a grand total of four points. The absence of Vinson for the Norse is detrimental, to be sure, as it takes a ball handler away from them at a time when they’ll face a Viking team itching to take away the ball. The battle for the glass will also be critical, as Cleveland State will likely go big once again with four players over 6-7 (Enaruna, Woodrich, Tae Williams and Dylan Arnett) in the starting lineup, while Northern Kentucky tends to go smaller to begin the game.