These power rankings should probably come with a warning. For those who want to read about pretty basketball and a lot of wins, this is not the place for you.
If you have chosen to continue despite my warning, you must be a true Horizon League basketball fan. The non-conference season has been rough for many of the conference’s 10 teams. Following Wednesday night’s action, Horizon League teams are a combined 26-45 against Div. I opponents, good for a .366 winning percentage. The conference is ranked 23rd by KenPom.
Hopefully things will improve prior to the start of conference play. But, in the meantime, here is a look at how the teams stand now. Who has stood out? Or, more accurately, who has struggled the least?
1. Northern Kentucky Norse (6-3)
The Norse have leapfrogged Oakland for the top spot since the preseason Horizon League power rankings.
NKU had looked solid up until an 84-71 loss at East Tennessee State, a team the Norse beat by 18 to open the year, on Wednesday night. Prior to that, they had only lost to Vermont and Memphis by two points each time.
Despite the most recent loss, the Norse still appear to be the team to beat in the early going in the Horizon League. They have the experience of last year’s Horizon League Tournament on their side. You only need to look to their 37 drubbing of Morehead State last weekend to see how good they can be.
2. Oakland Golden Grizzlies (5-4)
Oakland was supposed to be a mid-major that could do some damage in March. And they may still be. But, a somewhat lackluster start to the season has cast some doubt over the Golden Grizzlies prospects moving forward.
To be fair, Oakland has had to deal with some adversity. They were without one of the Horizon League’s top players in Jalen Hayes after he was suspended for the first four games of the season. There have also been injuries, including to Kendrick Nunn, who is averaging over 20 points per game.
But Oakland has now lost to Toledo and Eastern Michigan, teams an elite mid-major should beat. The best win to this point in terms of KenPom rating is Western Michigan, and they were taken to overtime by Oral Roberts. Oakland has the talent, especially on offense, to be elite. But they still have some things to figure out before conference play.
3. Milwaukee Panthers (6-3)
The Panthers can be really good, really bad, or anywhere in between. They own the best win for the Horizon League this year, an 18-point road win over Iowa State. They also own the conference’s worst loss, coming up 14 points short against non-Div. I Concordia Minnesota immediately following their win at Iowa State.
Consistency will be key for Milwaukee moving forward. Defense and rebounding have been the name of the game for the Panthers. They are second in both scoring defense and rebounding in the conference. This is important given they score the second fewest points per game in the Horizon League. Milwaukee lacks the offensive firepower of some other teams in the conference, with Brock Stull leading the way at just over 12 points per game. They will need to carry their solid defense into conference play, but they can compete.
4. Detroit Titans (4-5)
Things really start to get rough now. Detroit sits at just 4-5., but does own a road win at Saint Louis. That win is the best, according to KenPom, any of the remaining teams in these rankings have recorded despite Saint Louis hovering around the 200 mark.
The biggest story, unfortunately, out of Detroit this season was the suspension of Bacari Alexander. The second year head coach missed seven games without explanation before returning on Wednesday night.
The coaching drama has overshadowed a breakout season from Kameron Chatman. He currently ranks third in the conference in scoring at 19 points per game, and leads the league in rebounds per game. Along with Corey Allen, Chatman leads the highest scoring offense in the conference. But, the Titans also allow the most points per game and will struggle if they cannot step up on defense.
5. Wright State Raiders (5-4)
Wright State swept a Thanksgiving weekend tournament it hosted on its home floor. But, they too lack a standout win.
As has become the norm in the Horizon League, the Raiders are among the best defensive teams, leading the conference in scoring defense but the offensive side has been a struggle. Wright State has lacked a true, experienced point guard thus far but will have one when transfer Cole Gentry becomes eligible on December 16th. The addition of Gentry could make Wright State a contender.
6. Green Bay Phoenix (3-4)
Green Bay showed some signs of life on Wednesday night with a comeback win at home over Eastern Illinois. The Phoenix had only previously recorded wins over Florida A&M and non-Div. I Lakeland.
Help may be on the way for Green Bay, though. Marquette transfer Sandy Cohen III will be eligible starting on December 21st. If Cohen can quickly find a role for the Phoenix, conference play could be a lot smoother.
7. UIC Flames (3-5)
The best win for the Flames so far has been NC Central, as they too have struggled out of the gate. UIC is still waiting for Dikembe Dixson to return to his star form. The potential still remains for the Flames, but they haven’t shown much so far this season. They have a big opportunity against DePaul on Saturday.
8. Cleveland State Vikings (2-6)
Not much separates the teams this far down in the rankings. Things have not gone well for Cleveland State, but the Vikings have had a pair of one possession losses to East Carolina and Central Connecticut. The Vikings are among the worst free throw shooting teams in the country at 57.9 percent. Improving on that will be key to changing those one possession losses into wins.
9. IUPUI Jaguars (2-5)
The Jaguars might have been further up this list had it not been for a home loss to SIU Edwardsville on Wednesday night. IUPUI has allowed the second highest three point percentage to opponents in the country so far this season, allowing 46.7 percent from long range. That will not be a recipe for success in the Horizon League given some of the high-powered three-point shooting offenses in the conference.
10. Youngstown State Penguins (2-7)
I went out on a limb and had the Penguins at number four in my preseason power rankings. It is pretty clear that was wrong.
Youngstown State has not defeated a Div. I opponent yet. Their defense ranks among the worst in the country according to KenPom, as has become the norm for the Penguins in recent years. The offense hasn’t been there for Youngstown State either. Cameron Morse will need to return to his elite form if the Penguins are to turn their season around.