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Horizon League Opening Week Recap: Milwaukee and Oakland got off to strong starts

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What we’ve learned about the Horizon League in the early days of the season

NCAA Basketball: Horizon League Conference Tournament-Milwaukee vs Northern Kentucky
Brock Stull helped lead Milwaukee to an impressive road win at Iowa State.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The new season is young, but every team in the Horizon League has taken the court at least once. Despite the small sample size, some teams and players have stood out. What has the opening week of the regular season taught us about what we can look forward to from the Horizon League?

Oakland is Loaded

We already knew Oakland was going to be good heading into the season. But they have appeared dominant in their two wins over Fort Wayne and New Orleans, and did so with Jalen Hayes sidelined due to a suspension.

Oakland’s early success is due in large part to Kendrick Nunn’s performance. In my preseason preview, I had Kendrick Nunn as a Second Team All-League player. But if his output in the season’s first two games are any indication of what we’ll see from him moving forward, he belongs in the league Player of the Year discussion. Nunn is averaging an even 30 points per game and has knocked in 11 three pointers.

The Golden Grizzlies will only become more dangerous when Hayes returns from his four game suspension. They will be put to the test without Hayes in two road games at Toledo and Syracuse, which could prove crucial to Oakland’s postseason resume.

Milwaukee Might be a Contender

The Panthers made a surprising run to the Horizon League Tournament championship game to end last season. They seem to have carried that momentum into this season.

Milwaukee has jumped out to a 2-0 start under first-year head coach Pat Baldwin and owns the most impressive win for the Horizon League thus far. The Panthers travelled to Iowa State and won, which triggered that famous Jon Rothstein tweet:

Milwaukee did not just beat Iowa State on the road, they dominated. They pulled away in the second half for an 18-point win. If Milwaukee is capable of winning against a Big 12 opponent on the road, they can beat anyone in the Horizon League. Consistency will be the key however, as the win over Iowa State came on the heels of a somewhat lackluster win over Wisconsin-La Crosse to open the season.

Missed Opportunities

It hasn’t been all success for Horizon League teams so far.

UIC narrowly missed a big win, falling to Saint Joseph’s in overtime Monday night. The Hawks hit a late shot to send the game to overtime and then closed out the Flames in the extra period. It was a solid showing for a UIC team on the rise, but it leaves the Flames still searching for a statement win propelling them to the next level.

Wright State, however, has suffered two close losses in the early going. Opening on the road, the Raiders lost by just four to Loyola Chicago before turning around and falling to Miami (OH) in overtime. Neither loss is necessarily surprising, but it will be interesting to see how Wright State responds after coming up just short twice in a row. The Raiders face yet another challenge as they play their home opener against Murray State on Saturday.

Youngstown State Won by 88

Given that this happened against Franciscan, I’m not sure there is much to learn here. But a 134-46 victory is worth noting. The most interesting part was that Youngstown State’s star Cameron Morse only scored nine points in this game. The Penguins had six players score in double figures, demonstrating that they have weapons outside of Morse that can put up points. Youngstown State did surrender 111 points to Kent State in a season opening loss, so they still have some work to do defensively against Division I competition.

Don’t Forget about Northern Kentucky

The Norse have flown somewhat under the radar compared to Oakland leading up to this season, but their wins have been just as impressive to open the year.

Northern Kentucky opened with an 18-point win over East Tennessee State, and then dominated non-D1 Wilmington College. Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year Drew McDonald recorded double-doubles in both victories, and is averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds through the first two contests. The Norse may not be as flashy as Oakland, but don’t forget about them when it comes to the conference title race.