In the Horizon League, it was a season marked by impressive scoring outputs by stars, and a certain parity at the top as the No. 1 seed changed hands multiple times over the course of the last few months. Needless to say, it’s do-or-die time for the 11 teams in this midwestern league, with it looking like a one-bid league yet again.
The tournament tips off on Tuesday at campus sites before moving to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum for the semifinals and finals on March 6 and 7. It’s a format that many other leagues should look into, especially if their early tournament rounds are poorly attended.
The #HLMBB regular season ended on Saturday and the 2023 @BarbasolShave Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship bracket is set! @YSUMensHoops claim the regular season title and the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history.— Horizon League (@HorizonLeague) February 26, 2023
: https://t.co/eu1ijxtwnw pic.twitter.com/vroJ0vSGwI
Note: All times listed Eastern.
First Round (Tuesday, Feb. 28), ESPN+
Game 1: (11) IUPUI at (6) Robert Morris, 7:00 p.m.
Game 2: (10) Green Bay at (7) Wright State, 7:00 p.m.
Game 3: (9) Purdue Fort Wayne at (8) Detroit Mercy, 7:00 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 2), ESPN+
Game 4: (5) Oakland at (4) Northern Kentucky, 7:00 p.m.
Game 5: Highest-Remaining Seed at (3) Cleveland State, 8:00 p.m.
Game 6: Second Lowest-Remaining Seed at (2) Milwaukee, 8:00 p.m.
Game 7: Lowest-Remaining Seed at (1) Youngstown State, 8:00 p.m.
Semifinals (Monday, March 6)
Game 8: Highest Remaining Seed vs Lowest Remaining Seed, 7:00 p.m., ESPNU, Indiana Farmers Coliseum (Indianapolis, IN)
Game 9: Second Highest-Remaining Seed vs Second Lowest-Remaining Seed, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2, Indiana Farmers Coliseum (Indianapolis, IN)
Championship (Tuesday, March 7)
Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs Game 9 Winner, 7:00 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2, Indiana Farmers Coliseum (Indianapolis, IN)
Youngstown State (23-8, 15-5): In Jerrod Calhoun’s sixth season at the helm, the Penguins have finally broken through with their best season of his tenure. With the 15th most experienced team in Division I, there’s a talented core that puts up numbers on the offensive end.
Led by their fantastic point guard Dwayne Cohill, who has averaged 17.9 points per game, the Penguins have the 32nd-ranked offense in all of college basketball. Youngstown State led the Horizon League in effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage, ranking 14th and 33rd nationally in those categories.
Alongside Cohill in the backcourt is Brandon Rush, who himself was an extremely efficient scorer, shooting 39.8% from deep, and 49.4% from the field en route to 14.1 PPG. Eastern Michigan transfer Bryce McBride completes the guard trio as another efficient scorer, while also maintaining a 112 to 40 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Malek Green and Adrian Nelson are talented senior forwards who rebound at an elite level and provide great offensive value on both the outside and the inside.
Despite an offense that matches up with anybody in college basketball, their defense ranks 267th nationally, and it’s been the cause behind most of their losses.
Northern Kentucky (19-12, 14-6): Northern Kentucky uses a zone defense on 70.2% of their possessions, and it works at a high level, as the Norse have the best defense in the Horizon League. They force the most turnovers in the league and play with the slowest pace in the league to grind teams down.
NKU’s zone has disrupted a ton of offenses in the Horizon League on the perimeter, and they have strong interior presences that help them avoid getting exploited on the interior, such as Chris Brandon.
Offensively, Marques Warrick scores an efficient 19.1 PPG with high-level shot making. The Norse also have the highest assist rate in the Horizon League, with Warrick, Xavier Rhodes, and Sam Vinson all being good distributors.
Cleveland State (19-12, 14-6): Cleveland State pounds the interior with Iowa State transfer Tristan Enaruna, and they hit the offensive glass at a high level. With an offense that stresses cutting off the ball rather than trying to create catch-and-shoot opportunities, the Vikings have won five of their last six games before the Horizon League Tournament.
Cleveland State is the only team in the Horizon League that finished the conference season in the top three of both offensive and defensive efficiency, as Daniyal Robinson is coaching one of the few true two-way teams in the Horizon during his first season.
Entering the ball into the post for Enaruna (and fellow big Deante Johnson), is the backcourt of DeShon Parker and Drew Lowder, but both have struggled shooting the ball recently. For Cleveland State to win the tournament, they’ll need somebody to step up and make shots from the outside, or else they won’t be able to keep up with the other teams at the top.
Milwaukee (20-10, 14-6): Bart Lundy has Milwaukee playing fast in year one. Offensively, versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore BJ Freeman has taken the Horizon League by storm, averaging 17 points per game, including multiple 30-point outbursts.
Freeman is flanked by a bunch of high level spot up shooters in Kentrell Pullian, Justin Thomas, and Elijah Jamison. This group helped the Panthers finish top 100 in the country in 3-point shooting and effective field goal percentage offensively.
Defensively, you don’t want to drive the lane against Milwaukee’s bigs, who are ranked fourth nationally in block rate. Between 6-foot-8 Ahmad Rand, 7-foot-1 Moses Bol, and 6-foot-7 Jalen Johnson, there’s three high level rim protectors. This depth gives Lundy the ability to rotate his bigs to both keep them out of foul trouble, and give them rest from playing the extremely fast paced game that the Panthers have become so great at.
Oakland (13-18, 11-9): Oakland plays a short rotation in both height and numbers, with Jalen Moore, Trey Townsend, Blake Lampman, Keaton Hervey and Rocket Watts, a talented group of guys all below 6 feet, 6 inches, play a significant amount of the minutes for the Grizzlies. They can struggle defensively, but they play like a group of veteran guards offensively, making their free throws and taking care of the ball.
Wright State (17-14, 10-10): After winning this tournament last year, Wright State lost a ton of talent, but Trey Calvin has stepped up to be a high-volume scorer to fill the void. The Raiders are one of just two Horizon League teams that are top 200 in both offense and defense per KenPom.
Robert Morris (15-16, 10-10): Robert Morris recently won back-to-back games against Milwaukee and Youngstown State by a combined 39 points, but then followed it up with a loss to IUPUI. Enoch Cheeks and Kahliel Spear is a really solid duo, and the Colonials play great team defense.
Detroit Mercy (13-18, 9-11): There’s always a chance when Antoine Davis is on the court. The nation’s leading scorer is just 64 points away from breaking Pete Maravich’s longstanding Division I scoring record, a feat that he could achieve if the Titans and their elite offense win their first game against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Purdue Fort Wayne (17-14, 9-11): Returning pretty much everything from a team that won their last nine regular season games last year and won the Horizon League regular season, Purdue Fort Wayne is disappointed to go into the tournament with a 9-11 record. Jarred Godfrey has continued to play at a high level, but most of the team hasn’t been able to recapture last year’s performance.
When Pigs Fly
IUPUI (5-26, 2-18): IUPUI is a program in crisis. Matt Crenshaw is struggling immensely in his first two seasons, with just four Division I wins over his short tenure.
Green Bay (3-28, 2-18): Green Bay fired Will Ryan on Jan. 31, but it didn’t fix their problems. They’re just 1-7 since he was dismissed.
Players to Watch
Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy (28.1 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.0 RPG)
Dwayne Cohill, Youngstown State (17.8 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.5 RPG)
Jalen Moore, Oakland (19.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.9 RPG)
Trey Calvin, Wright State (20.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.9 RPG)
Marques Warrick, Northern Kentucky (19.0 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.4 RPG)
Sam Vinson, Northern Kentucky (11.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 4.1 RPG)
Malek Green, Youngstown State (13.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Adrian Nelson, Youngstown State (13.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG)
Tristan Enaruna, Cleveland State (15.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
BJ Freeman, Milwaukee (17.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 5.1 RPG)
Jarred Godfrey, Fort Wayne (18.1 PPG, 3.6 APG, 5.3 RPG)
Kahliel Spear, Robert Morris (15.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG)
Enoch Cheeks, Robert Morris (16.0 PPG, 3.4 APG, 4.5 RPG)
Brandon Rush, Youngstown State (14.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
Trey Townsend, Oakland (16.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG)
Gerald Liddell, Detroit Mercy (14.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG)
The One Matchup That I’m Praying For
Northern Kentucky vs. Youngstown State: One of their games was a double-overtime thriller that the Norse won, while the other featured a poor shooting performance by NKU, and an excellent job penetrating the interior for Youngstown, leading to a comfortable win. The rubber match between these two would pit the best offense against the best defense, but it could very well be decided by Northern Kentucky’s shooting.
Northern Kentucky has the defense that disrupts all kinds of mid-majors, including in one of their games against Youngstown State. Not to mention, they can shoot with just about anybody in the league.