After a rough non-conference for many of the Horizon League’s teams, the first week of league play offered a fresh start. Some took advantage of the opportunity while others continued to struggle. Here are some of the biggest storylines from opening week as well as a look at what lies ahead.
What is the deal with Green Bay?
Green Bay had undoubtedly the biggest win of the Horizon League’s first week. The Phoenix improved to 2-0 in league play with an 80-79 home win over preseason favorite Oakland on Saturday afternoon. A balanced attack from Green Bay outdueled the star power of the Golden Grizzlies. Five Phoenix players finished in double figures as the team connected on over 52 percent of its three-point shots.
But, just as I was ready to declare Green Bay a serious contender for the league title, they stumbled in a bad home loss to IUPUI on Tuesday night. The Phoenix were an abysmal one-for-17 from three in a complete reversal from their performance against Oakland.
So, the question remains: is Green Bay a contender? They certainly didn’t look it during non-conference play and a home loss to IUPUI is bad. But the addition of Marquette transfer Sandy Cohen III in the second semester makes the Phoenix a different group. He has scored at least 13 points in all five contests he has played in this season and led Green Bay in scoring against Oakland. With the addition of an electric offensive player like Cohen, Green Bay will be a team to keep an eye on as conference play progresses.
Northern Kentucky was dominant
The Norse took care of business at home. They beat IUPUI and UIC by 18 and 35 points, respectively. While the Norse were expected to win both games, it was a very strong start to conference play.
Drew McDonald looked every bit the part of preseason Player of the Year. He recorded double-doubles in both contests, averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds. With McDonald playing at such a high level, NKU is in an excellent position to win the Horizon League. They face a showdown with Oakland on Friday that will go a long way in determining how close the race is going to be.
Don’t forget about Wright State
Like NKU, the Wright State Raiders also swept UIC and IUPUI on their home floor to open conference play. Both wins were by single-digit margins, but taking care of business at home could keep Wright State in the race.
Wright State has gone 10-2 after an 0-3 start to the season, including a win at Georgia Tech to closeout non-conference play. As has become Wright State’s style, the Raiders are beating people with defense. The offense can be downright ugly at times, ranked 300th in KenPom adjusted efficiency. But, the defense picks up the slack, ranked 52nd by that same metric. If you believe defense wins championships, then expect Wright State to be in the mix as the season wears on.
Youngstown State won a game!
The long national nightmare is over as Youngstown State recorded its first victory over a Div. I opponent this season. It may have taken until Jan. 1, but the Penguins recorded the win against rival Cleveland State on the road to open Horizon League play. Plus, they did it on a last second three from Cameron Morse to boot.
Will this be the spark to turn the Penguins’ season around? Probably not, but the Penguins sit at 1-0 in league play. Anything could happen
Week 1 Standings
What’s to come in Week 2
The headliner for Week 2 in the Horizon League is the Friday night showdown between Oakland and Northern Kentucky. The Norse will put their perfect conference record on the line as they visit Oakland. It also pits two of the conference’s top Player of the Year contenders in Drew McDonald and Kendrick Nunn, who put up performances of 36 and 33 points on opening weekend. That game will tipoff at 9 PM Eastern on ESPN2.
Also, keep an eye on how Wright State fares on their road swing to Detroit and Oakland. Those two games will be a clashing of styles as Wright State looks to slow down the pace of its opponents.
Lastly, keep an eye on how Green Bay bounces back from the home loss to IUPUI. They have a softer schedule with Cleveland State and Youngstown State on the docket. But, both games will be on the road.
Here is your full Week 2 schedule:
Thursday, Jan. 4
Green Bay @ Cleveland State
UIC @ IUPUI
Milwaukee @ Youngstown State
Friday, Jan. 5
Wright State @ Detroit (ESPNU)
Northern Kentucky @ Oakland (ESPN2)
Saturday, Jan. 6
Milwaukee @ Cleveland State
Green Bay @ Youngstown State
Sunday, Jan. 7
Northern Kentucky @ Detroit
Wright State @ Oakland