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Horizon League Rundown: Hot starts and early disappointments

Three undefeated teams lead the pack as we look back on the week that was in the Horizon League and what lies ahead.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

Week two of the Horizon League season saw a handful of teams create separation at the top of the standings. All the while, some others continued to struggle despite high expectations coming into the season. Here is a look at some of the big storylines from the second week of league play and what to watch for moving forward.

Youngstown State making history

Everything has been coming up Penguins two weeks into the league schedule. The biggest surprise in the Horizon League thus far has been Youngstown State’s undefeated start to conference play.

The Penguins played host to Milwaukee and Green Bay and came away with two wins. The victories push Youngstown State’s conference record to 3-0. It marks the first time that Youngstown State has ever started Horizon League play 3-0 since the Penguins became members in 2001. And this all comes after struggling to a 2-11 record in non-conference play.

Senior Cameron Morse was named Horizon League Player of the Week for his efforts. Morse has provided the spark to Youngstown State’s offense to get them off to the hot start. He currently ranks fourth in scoring with 19 points per game and first in assists with over seven a game through the first three games of conference play.

The Penguins face a road test on Wednesday against an Oakland team desperate for a win. The undefeated start to conference play will likely end there, but Youngstown State did pull of a massive upset the last time the two teams met.

Undefeated teams separating from the pack

Youngstown State is joined in the undefeated ranks by Northern Kentucky and Wright State, who each sit at 4-0. Both teams swept the Michigan road trip, taking down Oakland and Detroit on the road.

Northern Kentucky used a hot start to the second half against Oakland to erase a halftime deficit and come away with an 87-83 win. Carson Williams repeatedly took advantage of the space he was given on the offensive end, racking up 21 points. The Norse then struggled against Detroit, but managed to scrape by with a 56-54 win to finish the weekend.

Wright State got a big contribution from freshman Loudon Love in its two wins. Love put up 13 points and 14 rebounds in an 80-73 win at Detroit. He then outdid himself in an overtime win against Oakland with 25 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks.

With the two wins, both teams sit tied for first. The undefeated group of three teams already has built a two game cushion in the loss column. Northern Kentucky hosts Wright State on Thursday night, so the deadlock will come to an end. But the cushion built in the standings will keep the losing team in the hunt.

Disappointing starts

It hasn’t been all successes to open Horizon League play.

Perhaps the most disappointing start to conference play has come from Oakland. The Golden Grizzlies have the conference’s leading offense and top scorer, Kendrick Nunn, in league play. But the defense has been a letdown, resulting in a 1-3 start for a team many thought could be a dangerous mid-major come March. Oakland could definitely get things back on track soon given some favorable matchups. But the Golden Grizzlies haven’t given themselves much room for error, especially given they have already lost to both conference leaders.

UIC and Detroit have also struggled despite high expectations entering the season. UIC collected a road win at IUPUI on Thursday in their only game of the week and the Flames are certainly not doomed after a 1-2 start. However, they weren’t competitive with Northern Kentucky in their loss to the Norse and have not made the step forward they were expected to following last season.

Meanwhile, Detroit has dropped all four of its conference contests. Overall, this makes an 11-game losing streak for the Titans. Detroit was expected to be in the top half of the conference this year, but it will be difficult to recover from their dreadful 0-4 start.

Week 2 Standings

Team Record
Team Record
Northern Kentucky 4-0
Wright State 4-0
Youngstown State 3-0
Milwaukee 2-2
Green Bay 2-3
UIC 1-2
Cleveland State 1-2
Oakland 1-3
Detroit 0-4

What’s to come in Week 3

A unique schedule features games on neither Saturday nor Sunday. Bookending the weekend, though, are full slates of games where we should learn more about how the league is going to shake out.

The highlight of the schedule is the showdown of undefeated 4-0 teams as Northern Kentucky hosts Wright State on Thursday night. The winner will have the early advantage towards a regular season title given their separation from the rest of the pack.

The Youngstown State matchup at Oakland on Wednesday night should also be interesting. Oakland is the more talented group, but is off to a cold start while Youngstown State is riding a three-game winning streak. Is Youngstown State for real? Is Oakland going to turn its season around? We will have those questions answered on Wednesday night.

Wednesday, Jan. 10

Cleveland State at Detroit

Milwaukee at IUPUI

Youngstown State at Oakland

Green Bay at UIC

Thursday, Jan. 11

Wright State at Northern Kentucky

Friday, Jan. 12

Cleveland State at Oakland

Youngstown State at Detroit

Green Bay at IUPUI

Milwaukee at UIC

Monday, Jan. 15

Youngstown State at Wright State

Cleveland State at Northern Kentucky

Milwaukee at Green Bay

Oakland at UIC

Tuesday, Jan. 16

Detroit at IUPUI