Let me begin by thanking Dikembe Dixson.
Instead of sitting here and rolling through the first- and second-team all-conference selections (in my mind) for the Horizon League, this can now serve as a list of players ready to challenge the self-proclaimed player of the year. If you missed it, Dixson has made the assertion that he is the Horizon League’s best player and went on to defend himself against dissenting opinions.
That makes this much more fun.
While you can question the manner in which Dixson made his claim, you have to respect his confidence. After all, if you are a player, shouldn’t you think you are the best? Or at least capable of being the best?
Dixson was certainly considered one of the top players in the Horizon League entering last season, but suffered an injury early on. Where does he fit in among the Horizon League elite heading into next season?
Now seems like a good time to make some predictions and settle the debate once and for all.*
*until the season starts
F Jalen Hayes (Player of the Year), Oakland
F Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
G Dikembe Dixson, UIC
G Cameron Morse, Youngstown State
G Martez Walker, Oakland
Hayes and McDonald are the top two players in the conference entering the 2017-18 season. They had similar numbers overall last season, but Hayes produced more during conference play. Hayes nearly averaged a double-double against Horizon League opponents, scoring just shy of 18 points per game and pulling down 9.2 rebounds. While McDonald has a much better perimeter game and can rain threes off the pick and roll, Hayes will be the centerpiece of a stacked Oakland squad. Hayes gets the nod for Player of the Year in my book due to his performance a year ago in conference play. But the race between the two is close and the Horizon League has already recognized McDonald as its preseason Player of the Year.
Dixson reasonably cannot be considered the best player in the league going into next season due to the injury he suffered. He is coming off of a season shortened by an ACL tear, so it is hard to say if he will be exactly the same player we saw in last year’s small sample size. Dixson only tallied 10 games before his injury, but was averaging over 20 points and six rebounds in that time. Considering that those numbers are actually lower than they should be as a result of only logging six minutes in UIC’s game at DePaul where he suffered the injury, Dixson should be one of the league’s best if he bounces back. But he has to go out and prove it.
Morse is likely to lead the Horizon League in scoring next season. He is coming off a year in which he averaged better than 23 points per game in conference play and will be the focal point of Youngstown State’s offensive attack. If the Penguins are competitive in the Horizon League, it will be because Morse is scoring in bunches.
Walker rounds out the first team and puts two Golden Grizzlies among the conference’s top five players. He is the only returning member of the All-Horizon League Second Team from last season and will be a key piece of what appears to be a high-powered Oakland offense. The only thing that could hold Walker back is another teammate limiting his touches and offensive numbers, given all of Oakland’s weapons.
F - Jaleel Hogan, Detroit Mercy
F - Tai Odiase, UIC
G - Kendrick Nunn, Oakland
G - Lavone Holland II, Northern Kentucky
G - Justin Mitchell, Wright State
The second team is definitely not as clear-cut as the first team. Hogan should be a beast in the post for Detroit, but wasn’t sure he would be playing for the Titans much of the summer. Back in May, Jon Rothstein reported Hogan had committed to transfer and join UAB. However, Hogan was not on UAB’s roster when it was released and Tony Paul reported that Hogan was still enrolled at Detroit Mercy back in July:
Big man Jaleel Hogan is enrolled in classes this summer at Detroit Mercy. Titans hopefully he'll play his senior year. No guarantee, though.— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) July 18, 2017
Finally, Detroit confirmed Hogan’s status in September with the release of their roster. If Hogan starts, he has legitimate potential at a first-team selection. Hogan averaged just shy of 17 points and seven rebounds during conference play last season, including a 39-point outing against rival Oakland. But, it remains to be seen if this summer’s saga will negatively impact Hogan’s standing with the coaching staff or his play on the court.
Odiase is listed mainly as a result of his defensive prowess. He finished fifth in the nation in blocks per game and should lead the Horizon League in that category once more. That being said, he also averaged over 10 points and seven rebounds against conference foes last year. Odiase is the quintessential post presence for an improving UIC team.
Nunn joins Oakland after sitting out last year following his transfer from Illinois. While we do not have any data from Nunn in Horizon League play, it is safe to assume a player averaging over 15 points a game in his junior season for a Big Ten team is going to make an immediate impact in the Horizon League. He may also eat into some of Hayes’ and Walker’s scoring numbers depending on how big of a role he ends up taking.
Holland played his way into the league’s elite during Northern Kentucky’s run to the Horizon League Tournament championship. He led all scorers in the championship game with 20 points and was named tournament MVP. He could put up big numbers driving the offense of one of the Horizon League’s best teams.
Finally, Mitchell gets the nod from Wright State. Plenty of players could make a case for this last spot, but Mitchell brings a solid all-around game. While his scoring numbers a year ago certainly weren’t elite at just above 12 points per game in conference play, he wasn’t asked to be a scorer for the Raiders. With both Mark Alstork and Steven Davis gone, Wright State will be replacing its top two scorers, meaning more opportunity for Mitchell. Plus, Mitchell was among the league’s best rebounders at just under nine per game in league play, and he dished out 4.7 assists per game.