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Horizon League: Three players to watch

Who is flying under the radar in the Horizon?

NCAA Basketball: Northern Kentucky at Michigan
Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald could be in line for an expanded role this year.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Early in October, the Horizon League released its preseason all-conference teams. The first-team selections did not contain any surprises as Alec Peters (Valparaiso), Jalen Hayes (Oakland), Cameron Morse (Youngstown State), Dikembe Dixson (Illinois-Chicago), and Charles Cooper (Green Bay) all made the squad.

The second team selections, however, are open to some debate. Mark Alstork (Wright State), Chris Jenkins (Detroit), Tai Odiase (Illinois-Chicago), Rob Edwards (Cleveland State), and Shane Hammink (Valparaiso) were picked for that team. That’s not to say those players weren’t deserving, but there are still a few who could say they were snubbed.

Here are some more players to watch around the Horizon League.

Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky

Last season, McDonald was recognized on the conference’s all-freshman team. While two of his fellow honorees were recognized on this year’s first or second team’s (Dixson and Edwards), McDonald did not make the vault.

However during conference play in his debut season with the Norse, McDonald finished as one of only five players in the league to be used in more than 28 percent of his team’s possessions while he was on the court, according to KenPom. Of those five, he finished second in offensive rating, trailing only league player of the year Kay Felder. He was also among the league leaders in both defensive and offensive rebounding percentage. If McDonald sees more minutes this season than he did in his freshman campaign, his efficiency could elevate his overall numbers into the upper echelon of the conference.

Martez Walker, Oakland

It probably isn’t possible for any one person to make up for Felder’s departure, so it will be a collective effort. Jalen Hayes will pick up some of the slack, but he can’t make up for the lack of Felder on the perimeter. That is where Walker comes in. He was already one of the conference’s better three-point shooters a year ago and will surely be in line for a heavier workload with Felder gone. Oakland tends to play a high tempo offense and it needs a scorer. Look for Walker to creep up near the top of the league in scoring this season.

Jubril Adekoya, Valparaiso

Adekoya may not even crack the starting five to start the season, but Valparaiso enters the year without much depth in the frontcourt and he should be the first man off the bench if he doesn’t start.

The Crusaders may start a lineup of Hammink and Peters at the forward positions with redshirt freshman Derrik Smits at center. Obviously Peters is going to eat up a lot of minutes, but Smits is coming off an injury that kept him out all of last season and will likely not be able to take all of the minutes at center. Beyond that, Hammink could be asked to slide into a guard role at any point given that he was used at the point a few times down the stretch last season. There will be plenty of minutes for Adekoya to make an impact and he showed an improved offensive game last year that included a three-point shot he hadn’t displayed before. Adekoya could be the glue that holds Valparaiso’s frontcourt together.