#HLWBB Power Rankings — Week 15

Photo: Youngstown State Athletics
1Cleveland State1
2Green Bay2
3Purdue Fort Wayne4+1
4Detroit Mercy6+2
5Northern Kentucky7+2
6Wright State3-3
8Youngstown State8
11Robert Morris11

It’s probably accurate to say that Cleveland State held serve last week with routine double-digit home wins against Oakland and Milwaukee, though both contests still offered something memorable. Against Oakland on Thursday, Mickayla Perdue logged the latest entry in what’s become a legitimate Horizon League Player of the Year case with 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting. Then, against the Panthers, the defense stole the show, as a shutdown effort helped CSU put the game out of reach in the third quarter, despite an offense that wasn’t at its best consistently. Only four games now stand between the Vikings and the first regular season conference title in program history, and though three are on the road, CSU will be heavily favored in each contest.

Green Bay had quite an interesting trip to Hoop Township on Thursday, as the Phoenix struggled throughout a contest with last-place Robert Morris before finally pulling away for good in the final two minutes of a 60-50 win. That might seem like a fun anomaly, and it is in most cases, but for GB, it’s a little different. The relatively-close game against a team with a sub-300 NET ranking dropped the Phoenix’s own ranking from 46 to 54 the next day, a significant blow for a team that would like to be selected for the NCAA Tournament whether it ultimately wins the Horizon League Tournament or not (for reference, Green Bay’s NET ranking was 35 just before losing to CSU on February 3rd, and has been in steady decline since). The news was a bit better on Saturday when, behind 18 points and ten rebounds by Natalie McNeal and another 18 points from Maddy Schreiber, the Phoenix pulled away late to spoil Youngstown State’s Senior Day.

It’s been an absolutely brutal race for the third and fourth-place spots just behind Cleveland State and Green Bay, but Purdue Fort Wayne emerged as the clear number three team in the conference last week. Some of that has to do with Wright State faltering (the Raiders have lost three of their last four, though the win, oddly enough, was against PFW), but more of it has to do with the Mastodons clocking two huge victories, over Milwaukee and Detroit Mercy – their two primary standings competitors outside of WSU. Maria Marchesano’s group brought their trademark balance to a tough win over the Titans on Sunday, with Amellia Bromenschenkel, Shayla Sellers, Erin Woodson, Audra Emmerson, and Destinee Marshall all scoring in double figures. Sellers was a phenomenal 11-for-15 from three-point range over the contests with UDM and the Panthers.

Detroit Mercy was sort of a tough-luck loser in that Sunday game in Fort Wayne, as the Titans played outstanding basketball for stretches. They forced turnovers and hit big-time shots during the second quarter when it appeared that the Mastodons might run away with the thing, then Amaya Burch scored 12 straight UDM points in the third quarter to once again pull the Titans level before PFW won the game in the final ten minutes. In a sense, Detroit Mercy staring down the dreaded Wisconsin trip this week is bad news for their seeding hopes, but at the same time, it represents an opportunity of sorts. Between the game at Milwaukee and a home contest next week versus Wright State, the Titans enjoy a healthy amount of say in their eventual fate.

There’s little doubt that Northern Kentucky is among the very best teams in the league if evaluating everyone on current form and, if not for the Norse’s struggles earlier in the season, they could easily be even higher than fifth in this post. NKU has won five of their last six games (the loss was at Green Bay), powered largely by a pair of all-conference-caliber performers in Khamari Mitchell-Steen and Carter McCray. Mitchell-Steen quite literally did it all in wins over IUPUI and Wright State last week with 55 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and nine steals, while McCray went for a pair of her usual double-doubles. All of the recent success has started to reflect in the standings as well – the top three teams are probably unreachable at this point, but the Norse are just 1.5 games in back of Wright State for fourth place and within a game of the three other teams separating the two rivals.

For a lot of the season, Wright State has looked like the third-best team in the Horizon League. However, that status took a significant blow last week, when the Raiders dropped home games to Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky. Those squads are both much better than they looked even a month ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that WSU isn’t any closer to third-place PFW than they are to the first four teams chasing them. That game against the Norse was particularly excruciating, as the Raiders went cold in the fourth quarter of a close contest and couldn’t stop Mitchell-Steen from getting to the free throw line. The good news is that the Raiders have a relatively soft closing stretch to the regular season, including Robert Morris at home, and a trip to visit Oakland and Detroit Mercy.

Milwaukee’s trip to Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State last week was a rough one, as the Panthers ate a pair of decisive losses, games that saw a bit of a return to the past for a team that, generally speaking, is much improved offensively, though it didn’t show against the Mastodons or Vikings. Angie Cera enjoyed a nice game against PFW with 16 points, though nobody was able to do much in Cleveland against a CSU team that grabbed 13 steals and made life particularly miserable for young MKE stars Kamy Peppler and Jorey Buwalda. Milwaukee still does have a shot at a first-round bye, and possibly even a home quarterfinal. However, a major caveat to that statement is that they close the regular season at rival Green Bay, making this week’s games against Oakland and Detroit Mercy almost essential.

It was a little bit unfortunate that Youngstown State ended up playing Green Bay for their Senior Day, given the significance of the class that the Penguins were celebrating. However, YSU acquitted themselves pretty well against the Phoenix, largely thanks to one of those seniors, Emily Saunders, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds. The Guins even managed to get Jen Wendler, another senior, but one who has missed the entire season due to injury, on the floor for a last-second bucket. That defeat snapped a four-game winning streak, which included a Valentine’s Day Massacre of Wright State behind four double-digit scorers (led by Malia Magestro’s 14 tallies) and two others with nine points. YSU is playing some solid ball right now and, with their experience, will probably be a dangerous team in March.

With help from the late-season improvement of both Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State, Oakland has pretty clearly fallen behind the pack spanning the middle of the HL, a surprising outcome for a team that toppled mighty Green Bay a month ago. Nevertheless, the Golden Grizzlies have gone just 2-6 since then, with the wins against IUPUI and Robert Morris (and the latter required an overtime buzzer beater). OU’s only game last week was their loss in the Wolstein Center, a decent effort all things considered – after a 9-0 run, the Grizzlies were within two late in the third quarter before the Vikings re-established themselves. Linda van Schaik was outstanding in the contest, firing for 18 points, including four three-pointers, and Miriam Ibezim very nearly had a double-double (eight points, nine rebounds) before fouling out.

If nothing else, IUPUI proved that they aren’t the worst team in the HL on Sunday, as they thumped Robert Morris 70-50, a particularly impressive result, considering that the Colonials held Katie Davidson to a season-low two points. Faith Stinson, one of the more versatile players in the conference, picked up a lot of the slack with 17 points (15 of those on threes) and seven rebounds, while Jazmyn Turner added 13 points and ten boards. RMU’s offense visiting town was just what the doctor ordered after NKU put a chalupa on the Jaguars on Wednesday, though IUPUI had 88 points themselves and plenty of nice looking offensive numbers from the likes of Turner, Davidson, and Tahlia Walton. The Jags, more likely than not at this point, will finish tenth, though ninth-place Oakland is still in play.

Robert Morris began the week with Charlie Buscaglia’s resignation and ended it with a decisive loss to IUPUI, the only team they had a chance to catch in the Horizon League standings, so it’s probably fair to say that things could be going better for the Colonials. In all, RMU has now lost 14 straight games, dating back to, literally, last year (okay, December 29th, but still), and the Colonials sit at 2-15 in the HL. With Wright State, Cleveland State and Northern Kentucky on the schedule to close out the regular season, and a first-round tournament game in the arena of what will be a very good team following that, it’s pretty difficult to see that streak ending this season. To their credit, RMU acquitted themselves quite well against Green Bay in their mid-week game – they led briefly early in the fourth quarter and still had a believable chance into the last two minutes.

Player of the Week

Khamari Mitchell-Steen (Northern Kentucky)

To be completely fair, there might be something of a case to be made for hot-shooting Shayla Sellers, or even Mitchell-Steen’s teammate, Carter McCray. But realistically, last week was one of the season’s most lopsided for this honor. Thanks to roster turnover and injuries, Mitchell-Steen, a Tennessee native, has seen her role evolve into that of a primary ballhandler for Camryn Volz, and she’s made the most of it with big offensive numbers while continuing to be one of the league’s most hawkish defenders.

Also considered: Shayla Sellers (Purdue Fort Wayne), Emily Saunders (Youngstown State), Carter McCray (Northern Kentucky), Jazmyn Turner (IUPUI)

Past winners:

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)
December 26: Alexis Hutchison (Wright State)
January 2: Cassie Schiltz (Green Bay)
January 9: Katie Davidson (IUPUI)
January 16: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
January 23: Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)
January 30: Jasmine Kondrakiewicz (Green Bay)
February 6: Mickayla Perdue (Cleveland State)
February 13: Natalie McNeal (Green Bay)

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