The last time we took a stab at ranking the Horizon League teams was before the season began. At that point, Valparaiso and Oakland seemed to be the front runners with the rest of the pack chasing them.
Now that we are a month deep into the season, it’s time to take another look at the Horizon League. Valparaiso and Oakland have lived up to, if not exceeded, their preseason expectations. They remain atop the rankings but the remainder of the conference has seen a shakeup:
1. Valparaiso Crusaders (8-2)
Valparaiso came into the year with high expectations and have lived up to them. The Crusaders already have three KenPom top-100 wins (Alabama, BYU, and Rhode Island). The win over Rhode Island was the program’s first over a ranked opponent since 1998, and dispelled any concerns about how the team would transition with new head coach Matt Lottich at the helm. Alec Peters continues to carry the team on offense, averaging 25.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. If they can heat up from three-point range they will be even more dangerous.
This Week: 12/17 vs. Indiana State
2. Oakland Golden Grizzlies (9-1)
Oakland boasts the best record in the Horizon League and finally climbed into the Mid-Major Madness Power Rankings. Martez Walker has stepped up as the Golden Grizzlies’ leading scorer, averaging 18.5 points per game, while Stevie Clark has averaged over six assists per game. It has been a group effort as Oakland tries to replace Kay Felder’s production. It’s worked out so far, but Oakland lacks a quality win. All of its wins are against teams rated higher than 200 in the KenPom standings. Until Oakland proves itself against quality competition, it will be difficult to vault Valparaiso.
This Week: None
3. Northern Kentucky Norse (7-3)
The Norse have moved themselves up from their preseason rank. They’ve won four in a row after a .500 start, and four of their seven wins have come on the road. Drew McDonald leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. However, it was Lavone Holland II who led the Norse to two wins this past week en route to being named Horizon League Player of the Week. The knock against the Norse is similar to the knock on Oakland: they don’t have a top-200 win. Despite this, their experience winning away from home should come in handy come league play.
This Week: 12/18 vs. Eastern Washington
4. Wright State Raiders (6-4)
The Raiders got off to a hot start, beginning the year 6-1. They’ve cooled off substantially, dropping three in a row. If it’s any consolation, the three losses came on the road. The Raiders have proven they can win at home, sweeping a three game tournament at the Nutter Center against CSU Bakersfield, North Dakota and North Florida. Mark Alstork leads the Raiders in scoring with 20.7 points per game, but also turns the ball over more than five times a game. They’ll need him to take better care of the ball to get back to their winning ways.
This Week: 12/13 vs. Urbana, 12/18 @ Kent State
5. Green Bay Phoenix (4-5)
It’s been a disappointing start for the Phoenix as they look to defend their Horizon League tournament title. Like Valparaiso, Green Bay has struggled shooting the three at just 28 percent as a team. Unlike the Crusaders, though, it has cost Green Bay in the win column. The Phoenix were blown out in an early road game against Pacific and haven’t been able to find consistency since. They can claim a better win than either Oakland and Northern Kentucky, since they defeated Toledo on the road. However, the losses are starting to pile up. Freshman Trevor Anderson has been a bright spot thus far; he’s second on the team in scoring and is shooting just under 40 percent from three.
This Week: 12/14 @ Wisconsin, 12/17 vs. Belmont
6. Milwaukee Panthers (4-6)
The Panthers have been surprisingly competitive. With no returning starters, it was difficult to expect anything from Milwaukee. Solid three-point shooting led to wins over Jacksonville and Montana State, while a staunch defense allowed them to beat UC Irvine. While Brock Stull and Cody Wichmann have led an inexperienced group, Milwaukee isn’t threatening the top of the league any time soon. But, they could take advantage of a weak bottom half of the conference to exceed preseason expectations.
This Week: 12/14 @ Ohio, 12/17 vs. Western Illinois
7. Youngstown State Penguins (5-6)
The Penguins have the only KenPom top-100 win of any team in the conference that isn’t Valparaiso. They opened up the year with an impressive win at home against Akron. However, they’ve also racked up some questionable losses, most recently a double-digit loss to American. It’s hard not to view the win over Akron as a fluke at this point, but that win does show that the Penguins can be dangerous in the right circumstances. With one of the best scorers in the league in Cameron Morse, the Penguins can’t be taken lightly.
This Week: 12/14 vs. Niagara
8. Cleveland State Vikings (3-6)
The Vikings are still in rebuilding mode. They have a decent win at home over Canisius, but they still haven’t won a game away from the Wolstein Center. Rob Edwards is following up a solid freshman season by averaging over 15 points per game. Most notably, Edwards dropped 28 points in a loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Edwards is the future for Cleveland State, but the Vikings don’t seem ready to compete with the top half of the league yet.
This Week: 12/17 @ Ohio
9. Illinois Chicago Flames (4-5)
Much was made about the Flames’ freshman class. They’re talented, but have struggled to find an identity. Dikembe Dixson is clearly the star, scoring 22.2 points per game. Freshman Marcus Ottey has also impressed by averaging double figure scoring. Despite their efforts, UIC’s best win has come against Cal Poly. This team has potential and is an improvement over last year, when they finished with just five wins and didn’t beat a Div. 1 opponent until Jan. 30. More is expected, and they’re are a team to keep an eye on as conference play approaches.
This Week: 12/14 @ DePaul, 12/17 vs. Loyola Chicago
10. Detroit Titans (1-9)
It’s still early, but I’m willing to admit I was wrong about Detroit. I had them finishing fourth in my preseason predictions, but a month into the season they’re still without a win against Div. 1 competition. Detroit probably isn’t quite as bad as their record suggests, however. Seven of their ten games have been on the road, and four of those were against KenPom top-100 opponents. At this point it seems likely they’ll finish near the bottom of the league, but could still dig themselves out.
This Week: 12/17 vs. Western Kentucky