The schedule was light last week due to exams at many schools. As a result, there were not many opportunities for Horizon League teams to make a statement, good or bad. Here is a look at how things stand heading into the final full week before conference play starts:
1. Valparaiso Crusaders (9-2, Previous: 1)
Last Week: Win vs. Indiana State
This Week: 12/22 vs. Santa Clara
Valparaiso appears to be firmly entrenched in the top spot. The Crusaders have the league’s three best wins thus far, and KenPom currently gives them at least a 70 percent chance of winning each game between now and Feb. 4. Alec Peters continued to put up stellar numbers in the victory over Indiana State, recording a double-double in the first half and finishing with 29 points and 15 rebounds. The big question marks moving forward are (a) how long starting center Jubril Adekoya will be out and (b) whether Valpo can keep winning without him. The big man has been held out of the last two games due to a “university matter” of which the details have not been released.
2. Oakland Golden Grizzlies (9-2, Previous: 2)
Last Week: None
This Week: 12/21 @ Michigan State, 12/23 vs. Georgia
Oakland didn’t have a chance to move up or down in the rankings since they didn’t play last week. Hopefully they got plenty of rest because they have their hands full. The Golden Grizzlies have been able to rack up wins against relatively weak competition to this point. This week, however, they play their three best non-conference games over the course of four days. We should get a better idea of just how good Oakland really ca be. Luckily they do not have to travel far, playing twice at home and once in nearby East Lansing. The hectic week got off to a bad start against Northeastern. Martez Walker tied the game on three free throws with nine seconds left (his first points of the game), only to have the Huskies come and down nail a buzzer beater.
3. Northern Kentucky Norse (8-3, Previous: 3)
Last Week: Win vs. Eastern Washington
This Week: 12/21 vs. Brescia, 12/23 @ West Virginia
The Norse extended their winning streak to five in dominant fashion, defeating Eastern Washington 70-48. Carson Williams locked down league Freshman of the Week honors with a 17 point, 9 rebound performance in the win. NKU appears to have put their bad early season loss to Austin Peay behind them. The Norse are picking up steam heading into conference play. They will need a miracle to beat West Virginia in Morgantown this week. But, regardless of that outcome, NKU is the biggest surprise of the non-conference season.
4. Wright State Raiders (8-4, Previous: 4)
Last Week: Win vs. Urbana, Win @ Kent State
This Week: 12/22 @ Murray State
The Raiders picked up the conference’s best win last week in terms of KenPom ratings, defeating Kent State on the road 68-63. That win has narrowed the gap between Wright State and NKU significantly. A road win in their non-conference finale against Murray State could allow the Raiders to leap frog the Norse in these rankings.
In terms of dunk power rankings, Wright State placed themselves firmly at number one after Steven Davis did this to Urbana:
5. Green Bay Phoenix (5-6, Previous: 5)
Last Week: Loss @ Wisconsin
This Week: Win vs. SIU Edwardsville, 12/22 vs. St. Mary’s (MN)
The Phoenix remain at number five not because of anything they did, but mainly because the teams below them didn’t do anything impressive either. There is no shame in losing a road game at Wisconsin. However, they needed overtime on Monday night to squeak out a win against SIU Edwardsville. Beating a sub-300 KenPom opponent by two points in overtime at home is not great, but it goes down as a win. They close out their non-conference slate with a tuneup against a non-Div. I opponent, and should be at .500 by their conference opener at Cleveland State.
6. Youngstown State Penguins (6-7, Previous: 7)
Last Week: Win vs. Niagara
This Week: Loss @ Ohio State
The Penguins also needed overtime to beat a rather poor opponent at home when they defeated Niagara 101-97. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand how this same YSU team beat Akron to start the year. The answer to that question is, of course, Cameron Morse. He continues to score in heaps when he’s on the floor (27 points against Niagara). Morse is good enough to steal the Penguins a few wins against superior opponents, but they will need to ramp up their defense if they truly want to compete.
7. Illinois Chicago Flames (5-6, Previous: 9)
Last Week: Win @ DePaul, Loss vs. Loyola Chicago
This Week: Win vs. Northern Arizona, 12/22 vs. Roosevelt
The past week was an emotional roller-coaster for the Flames. They grabbed a huge win at DePaul but lost star Dikembe Dixson for the season in the process. They followed that up with an inspired performance at home against a red-hot Loyola squad, only to concede a three at the end of regulation and drop the game in overtime. The fact that the team beat DePaul (largely without Dixson) and competed with Loyola (completely without him) provides hope. The past week suggests the Flames are talented enough to compete with the top half of the Horizon League.
8. Milwaukee Panthers (4-9, Previous: 6)
Last Week: Loss @ Ohio, Loss vs. Western Illinois
This Week: Loss vs. Belmont
I had a lot of nice things to say about Milwaukee in last week’s rankings. Then they went and lost at home to Western Illinois. To be honest, this is more like the team Milwaukee was expected to be anyway. The fact that this team has already won four non-conference games after the devastating off-season they had is impressive enough in my book. Furthermore, they gave Ohio a scare on the road this past week. There will be ups and downs with this team, which completed non-conference play with a loss to Belmont on Monday night. They enter the conference season on a four-game skid, but get a chance at a fresh start with Youngstown State and Cleveland State up next.
9. Cleveland State (4-7, Previous: 8)
Last Week: Loss @ Ohio
This Week: Win vs. Lake Erie, 12/22 @ Belmont
Like Milwaukee, Cleveland State traveled to take on Ohio this past week. Unlike Milwaukee, the Vikings were unable to make a game of it, losing 71-53. No one reached double digit scoring for CSU and Demonte Flannigan fouled out after just 19 minutes. The Vikings won’t win many games playing like that. However, they are still a perfect 4-0 at home. While it’s shaping up to be another rough year, the Vikings performance at home could be a good sign given they play nine conference games there.
10. Detroit Titans (2-9, Previous: 10)
Last Week: Win vs. Western Kentucky
This Week: 12/22 vs. Fort Wayne
Detroit finally defeated its first Div. I opponent in an 85-79 home win over Western Kentucky. The Titans, however, have already dug themselves a pretty deep hole in the power rankings and will probably be here for awhile. A win over Fort Wayne this week would do a lot for Detroit, both in terms of the power rankings and in creating confidence before league play starts.