#HorizonLeague Power Rankings (11-28-11)

PantherU’s resident Power Rankings player Josh Griesbach is out of town for Thanksgiving weekend, so I will do my best to take care of things in his stead.  It was a fairly predictable week for the Horizon League, with teams beating the dregs of the NCAA and losing to teams favored to beat them.  The real developments of the week were on the personnel front, as Detroit, already suffering heavy roster losses due to Eli Holman’s suspension and others, lost Nick Minnerath for what looks to be the entire season with an unspecified leg injury.

So, how do the power rankings shake out heading into Opening Weekend of the Horizon League season? Before I get into it, I want to be clear that I don’t believe we can put too much stock into rankings, as there are very, very few common opponents among the conference members and those that do share opponents haven’t brought much help (Butler lost to Evansville, who lost to UIC).  I will do my best, though.  Without further ado, my shot at the power rankings for this week:

10. Loyola. The Ramblers picked up their first win in their brand-newish Gentile Arena on Saturday, dropping Fordham 64-50.  The problem with that victory is that it is their only one and Fordham is off to just as poor a start as Loyola.  The Ramblers have two tough road games this week, first at Milwaukee on Thursday and then Saturday at Green Bay.

9. Green Bay. The Phoenix haven’t done much to quiet the critics about their growth as a program from last year.  Casting away a shows-us-nothing blowout of the University of Mary, the Phoenix’ lone win has come over a pretty good Wyoming team at the Resch Center, but they haven’t taken a victory on the road in four tries.  They are 2-0 at home, and getting UIC and Loyola at home this weekend could help them towards establishing momentum to swing themselves upward in the standings.

8. UIC. The Flames haven’t put together two good games in a stretch yet, but the victory over Evansville on Wednesday was a very good sign for the program moving forward.  Last year, the team had wins over Rhode Island and Illinois to lean on, and this year a victory against Evansville is a sign that at least something is going right.  The Flames take the dastardly trip through Wisconsin this weekend, first at Green Bay and then at Milwaukee.

7. Wright State. Of all the teams in the conference, no one has faced a tougher schedule thus far than the Raiders.  Billy Donlon’s club has gone 2-4 in the opening part of the season, and a victory over Jackson State is the only thing they have to lean on.  But the Raiders hung tough with Florida for 35 minutes on Monday and they lost a close one Saturday against a good Charlotte squad.  Thursday the Raiders could be getting yet another roundhouse kick to the chest in the form of Cleveland State, but Youngstown State is very beatable.

6. Detroit.  Despite going 1-3 on the week, the biggest loss for Detroit was not in the L column but on the roster.  Already stretched thin on the front line without Eli Holman, the Titans lost Nick Minnerath, likely for the season, to a leg injury at Bowling Green.  LaMarcus Lowe, who has never been a 30+ minute a game guy, has been thrust into that role and will have to do even more with Minnerath out.  Doug Anderson will probably be leaned on more heavily as well.  The Titans play at Youngstown State and Cleveland State this weekend, which could mean they could head into their national TV game against St. John’s both short-handed and 3-6, with only one victory against a D-I team.  That game, against Austin Peay, was by one in overtime.

5. Butler.  The Bulldogs don’t have a top-200 victory, but they haven’t had much opportunity to do so.  The Bulldogs have lost both of their games against teams better than RPI 200, and neither of them were close.  The 3-3 record is sadly one of the better ones in the conference, but they have struggled even in the games they’ve won.

4. Youngstown State. Jerry Slocum’s crew is taking care of business in the early season, although this is nothing new.  The only team they’ve beaten handily is a non-D-I Notre Dame (Ohio) team (18 points), but at least they’ve beaten the teams they should have beaten.  A winnable Penn State game got away from them, but they head into the Detroit and Wright State weekend on the road with a real chance to win both of them.  After the changes of the first couple weeks, the Penguins will show up in Detroit with the best post player on the court in Damian Eargle, and a couple days later will have the best guard on the court against WSU in Kendrick Perry.  If the Penguins go 2-0 this week, they’ll be 6-1 and a legitimate contender early on in the conference.

3. Milwaukee. There was a point, at halftime of the Michigan State game, where it looked like Milwaukee was going to win a difficult road game against a Big Ten squad.  They did throw the scare, but they didn’t get the victory, and that signature victory is what’s keeping them from the top 2 at this moment.  They still won’t have the signature victory this weekend with Loyola and UIC coming to town, but there is an opportunity to slip if they drop one or both games.  Loyola won at Milwaukee on Opening Weekend last year, and while that didn’t stop the Panthers from winning the conference title, it did make things much, much harder and they had to share the regular season crown with Butler and Cleveland State.

2. Valparaiso. Bryce Drew’s crew probably would be 5-1 if Brandon Wood hadn’t transferred, but it’s no use dwelling on the past and the Crusaders sure as hell aren’t.  Valpo’s got two tells-us-nothing blowout victories over IU-Kokomo and Holy Cross (Indiana), and otherwise is 3-2.  However, they do have two victories that put them firmly on the map – their victory at home over Akron would be the feather in their cap if it weren’t for a beat down of Duquesne, who de-pantsed Green Bay earlier this season.  The Crusaders dropped a blowout at Ohio State, but then again the Buckeyes are national title contenders.  The Crusaders can snatch a third signature victory by beating Butler at Hinkle this weekend, something they failed to do last year.

1. Cleveland State. Gary Waters’ team finally lost a decision this season, a 10-point game to Hofstra.  Otherwise, the Vikings have taken care of business, blowing out Rhode Island, winning decisively against #6 Vanderbilt, and winning close games at the end against St. Bonaventure, Kent State and Boston University.  The three victories over VU, KSU, and SBU rank one, two, and three respectively on the list of best Horizon non-conference victories this season.  If there’s one thing to take from them on a vulnerability standpoint, it’s that since the Vanderbilt game, they’ve really only won decisively against one D-I opponent, and that’s #253 Rhode Island.  We’ll get a pretty good idea of where they stand after a road trip through Wright State and Detroit to open the conference season.  Here’s one pundit who thinks they come out 8-1.

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