Another season is underway, and with that comes a new batch of Horizon League Power Rankings. Who will rise to the top of the Horizon League this year? Will it be perennial NCAA Tournament darling Butler? Could this be the year Detroit puts it all together and plays up to their potential? Or will your hometown Panthers return to glory and the NCAA tournament? The answer could be none of the above. Cleveland State returns nearly everyone from a season ago, besides of course their first round pick in the NBA Draft, Norris Cole. What I’m trying to say is it’s wide open this season. Gone are Horizon League Hall of Famers Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, and the aforementioned Cole, but there is still plenty of talented individuals including Tony Meier, Ryan Broekhoff, Alec Brown, Kaylon Williams, Khyle Marshall, Chase Simon, and this year’s Preseason Player of the Year, Ray McCallum Jr. It should make for a competitive and exciting season in the Horizon League.
Starting off our Power Rankings with number 10…
10. Loyola Ramblers (0-4) – New(ish) arena, new coach, same results. With a beautifully renovated Gentile Center (that they’ve yet to play in), and a new head coach in former Saint Louis assistant Porter Moser, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Ramblers. Unfortunately beyond talented Junior Ben Averkamp, there just isn’t much for Porter Moser to work with. Four losses in four games isn’t how Rambler fans hoped the beginning of the season would play out.
9. UIC Flames (1-2)– The Flames are still in transition following the hire of Coach Howard Moore before last season. So far, the results have been less than promising with losses in two of their first three games, including a loss at the hands of Division II Quincy University. It will likely be just the beginning of a long season for guard Daniel Barnes and the Flames.
8. Green Bay Phoenix (2-2) – The Phoenix return one of the most promising players in the league in Alec Brown. Unfortunately, through four games he hasn’t gotten the kind of help he needs around him. This has led to a blowout home loss to Duquesne and another close loss to North Dakota State. They rebounded with a win over Wyoming, but they’re probably a year or two away from being able to contend for the top half of the league.
7. Wright State Raiders (2-1) – There is still a lot to learn about the Raiders as they have a significant number of new faces joining the team this year. For sophomore Coach Billy Donlon, it will be a learning experience with this many new pieces. I fully expect them to take their lumps this year…
6. Butler Bulldogs (1-2) – Following back to back National Championship appearances, it would be foolish to count out the Bulldogs. Still, I can’t help myself. Losing the two most decorated players in Butler history has to mean the Bulldogs are looking at a down year, right? RIGHT?! Well, if the early part of the season is any indication, they won’t be the same team we’ve seen in years past. They put up a good fight against Louisville at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but a loss to a team like Evansville isn’t something Coach Brad Stevens wants to see become a trend.
5. Youngstown State Penguins (3-0) – The Penguins are for real! A nice road win over Samford (their first since December 16th, 2009 over St. Francis (PA)) and a couple of other home wins puts the Penguins at 3-0. I don’t expect the Penguins to finish in the top half of the league, but they won’t be far behind. Damian Eargle will be a tough matchup for any team in the league as his energy is virtually unmatched.
4. Detroit Titans (2-1) – The Titans are better than the 4th best team in the league, but they’ve only beaten Division II teams with their lone loss coming at the hands of Notre Dame. I expect Ray McCallum Jr. and company to challenge for the Horizon League crown. In fact, based on talent alone, this team SHOULD win it. We’ll see if they can overcome the deficiencies that plagued them a season ago.
3. Milwaukee Panthers (4-0) – The Panthers start the season 4-0, which is fantastic if you just look at the win total, but they struggled mightily against two lesser opponents (Division II Southwest Minnesota State and Northern Illinois) in their first 2 games. They’re a more talented team than the one that won the Horizon League title a season ago, but it remains to be seen if they’ll have enough to overcome the graduation of Anthony Hill down low. Undersized forward James Haarsma has been an absolute beast down low, and the wins keep piling up despite missing Tony Meier, who is out until at least December with a calf injury.
2. Valparaiso Crusaders (5-1)– The Crusaders aren’t undefeated like Milwaukee, but they have five wins and were very competitive against a talented Arizona team. Everyone seems to be underestimating this team, which is just how Head Coach Bryce Drew likes it. Kevin Van Wijk looks to be greatly improved from a season ago, and Ryan Broekhoff is simply an outstanding all-around basketball player. For my money, he’s going to be a first-team all conference player before all is said and done.
1. Cleveland State Vikings (3-0) – A shocking win at #7 Vanderbilt and a solid victory over St. Bonaventure at home leaves them perched atop the leader board in the Horizon League. This team lost arguably the best player from a season ago in Norris Cole, and still they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with D’Aundray Brown and Tre Harmon leading the way.
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