This league is the epitome of unpredictable. Over the last couple of years, there have been upsets up and down the bracket with nearly every game being a thriller. Remember the quarterfinals last season?
Cleveland State has overcome all the parity in the league and finds itself as co-regular-season champions for the second season in a row. Sharing the title, Purdue Fort Wayne lived up to preseason sleeper expectations and rattled off nine straight wins for its first regular-season title since 2016.
Behind these two, there’s a bevy of talent who can go off and make a run towards the big dance.
The sexiest coach in mid-major basketball, Greg Kampe, will bring out Jamal Cain and Jalen Moore. Wright State’s Grant Basile might be one of the best big men in the nation. One of the most prolific scorers in college basketball history is at Detroit Mercy, Antoine Davis. IUPUI may run out five players in its tournament opener. While Patrick Baldwin Jr. may play a rare game and although he hasn’t looked too impressive, he could send the Panthers on another conference tournament run!
Note: The first round and quarterfinals will take place on campus sites. The semifinals and finals will take place in Indianapolis. All rounds are reseeded and game times are Eastern.
First Round (Tuesday, March 1st), ESPN+
Game 1: No.11 Green Bay vs No.6 Detroit Mercy, 7 p.m.
Game 2: No.10 Robert Morris vs No.7 Youngstown State, 7 p.m.
Game 3: No.12 IUPUI vs No.5 Oakland, 8 p.m.
Game 4: No.8 UIC vs No.9 Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 3rd), ESPN+
Game 5: Highest-Remaining Seed vs No.4 Wright State, 7 p.m.
Game 6: Second-Highest Remaining Seed vs No.3 Northern Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Game 7: Second-Lowest Remaining Seed vs No.2 Purdue Fort Wayne, 7 p.m.
Game 8: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs No.1 Cleveland State, 8 p.m.
Semifinals (Monday, March 7th), ESPNU & ESPN2
Game 9: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs Highest-Remaining Seed, 7 p.m. ESPNU
Game 10: Second-Lowest Remaining Seed vs Second-Highest Remaining Seed, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2
Finals (Tuesday, March 8th), ESPN
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs Game 10 winner, 7 p.m.
Cleveland State (19-9, 15-6): Rarely do you see a team in a league of this caliber repeat as regular-season champions, but the Vikings did just that. A strong 10-1 start cemented CSU as a top dog yet again, but the team’s offense deserves a lot of the credit.
Ranking in the top 40 of effective field goal, offensive rebounding, and two-point percentage, the Vikings scored less than 70 points five times in their 21 conference games. Their three-headed monster of D’Moi Hodge, Torrey Patton and Tre Gomillion each shoot around 50% from the field taking 74.4% of the teams’ shots.
Vegas will have them as the favorite but they’re going to have to regain their momentum somewhere. The Vikings lost their final two games of the regular season, making what would’ve been an outright league title into a share.
Purdue Fort Wayne (20-10, 15-6): Not many teams in the country are hotter than the Mastodons right now. They’ve rallied off nine straight wins including two over the last weekend, sweeping Detroit Mercy and Oakland. The highlight of their run was a 3OT thriller against Cleveland State earlier in February. Head coach Jon Coffman did an excellent job putting together this team as has added some tournament pedigree in Mount St. Mary’s transfer, Damian Chong Qui. Along with him is a stud backcourt of Jarred Godfrey and Jalon Pipkins. The Mastodons also happen to be even more effective from the field than CSU.
Oakland (19-11, 12-7): Led by the sexiest coach in mid-major basketball, Greg Kampe, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies had a revival to their program. After a couple of seasons of mediocre basketball, Jalen Moore and Jamal Cain have taken over. Moore ranks second in the country in the percentage of minutes played and sixth in assist rate. His battery mate, Jamal Cain, averages 20.1 points per game and is 71st in the country in the percentage of minutes played. Along with them, Micah Parrish has scored double digits in six straight games. The Golden Grizzlies have shown that they can play in big games this season, beating Toledo and Oklahoma State while just narrowly falling to West Virginia and Michigan State.
Northern Kentucky (18-11, 14-6): The Norse always seem to find themselves towards the top of the Horizon League come conference tournament time. Winners of 11 out of their last 13, the experience is building in this young squad. Marques Warrick is having yet another great season, but Trevon Faulkner and potential freshman of the year, Sam Vinson, are playing just as well in the backcourt. They’re one of those programs that you’re never shocked to see make a run come March and they’ll be looking for their third bid in the last four seasons.
Wright State (18-13, 15-7): Scott Nagy has built a great program in the Dayton suburbs, but they’ve had problems in the conference tournament. Their three stud juniors of Tanner Holden (19.9 PPG), Grant Basile (18.3 PPG), and Trey Calvin (13.9 PPG) have been a problem in this league for a long time and they’ll look to add an NCAA Tournament appearance to their resume.
Detroit Mercy (13-14, 10-7): Antoine Davis is and has been a problem for a long time. He has scored 2,655 points in his college career and is currently the highest active all-time scorer in the country. Currently, he is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury but that hasn’t been a problem. He scored 50 points this last week. Although he gets the headlines, UDM is deep through their whole lineup. Noah Waterman has scored double figures in nine of his last 12. Just like Wright State though, the Titans have struggled come March.
Milwaukee (10-21, 8-14): This season has not gone as planned for Patrick Baldwin Sr. His son, Patrick Baldwin Jr. has only played 11 games and is averaging 12.1 points per game on 34.4% shooting. To be frank, he hasn’t looked all that impressive in the action that he has played. Although, he hasn’t played since February 9th, if he comes back, who knows what can happen.
Players to Watch
D’Moi Hodge, Cleveland State (15.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 48.6% FG%)
Torrey Patton, Cleveland State (13.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 45.9% FG%)
Tre Gomillion, Cleveland State (10.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3 APG, 53.2% FG%)
Jarred Godfrey, Purdue Fort Wayne (15.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4 APG, 47.7% FG%)
Jalon Pipkins, Purdue Fort Wayne (13.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 46% FG%)
Damian Chong Qui, Purdue Fort Wayne (10 PPG, 3.6 APG, 40.9% FG%)
Marques Warrick, Northern Kentucky (16 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 38.8% FG%)
Trevon Faulkner, Northern Kentucky (11.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 39.6% FG%)
Sam Vinson, Northern Kentucky (11.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 40.5% FG%)
Tanner Holden, Wright State (19.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 50.4% FG%)
Grant Basile, Wright State (18.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 51.1% FG%)
Trey Calvin, Wright State (13.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 44.5% FG%)
Jamal Cain, Oakland (20.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 49.2% FG%)
Jalen Moore, Oakland (15.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 7.8 APG, 34.4% FG%)
Micah Parrish, Oakland (11.9 PPG, 6 RPG, 44.5% FG%)
Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy (23.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 42.1% FG%)
Michael Akuchie, Youngstown State (13.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 46.5% FG%)
Dwayne Cohill, Youngstown State (13.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 45.3% FG%)
Damaria Franklin, UIC (18.2 PPG, 7 RPG, 44.7% FG%)
Deandre Gholston, Milwaukee (14.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 36.6% FG%)
Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee (12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 34.4% FG%)
Kahliel Spear, Rovert Morris (14.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 54% FG%)
Emmanuel Ansong, Green Bay (11 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 51% FG%)
B.J. Maxwell, IUPUI (12.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 35.8% FG)
You honestly can’t go wrong with picking any team in this league to win the conference tournament. If I had to go with a team that I think has the most firepower and the best coaching historically in big games, it’s Oakland and Greg Kampe. I say they beat Northern Kentucky in the finals.