LWOS continues its conference previews with the Horizon League Basketball Preview. Wright State and Northern Kentucky have battled it out in recent years here. Wright State captured the regular season title, but Northern Kentucky won the automatic berth in 2019-20. Both programs are looking to keep their perch on the top of the league, but some old and new foes alike will have something to say about that. The Horizon League welcomes Robert Morris and Purdue Fort Wayne as new members this season.
2020-21 Horizon League Basketball Preview
12. Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Key Returners: Daniel Oladapo, Rashad Williams, Kevin Kangu
Key Losses: Xavier Hill-Mais, Brad Brechting, Tray Maddox
Key Newcomers: Jalen Moore (JUCO), Chris Conway
Oakland received a boost last season when Williams became eligible following a transfer from league foe Cleveland State. He and Oladapo will be expected to carry the load this season. Moore adds a veteran presence in the backcourt. However, that is countered with limited experience in the frontcourt beyond Oladapo. The Golden Grizzlies do not have much to compete this season, but it will be a key development year.
11. Milwaukee Panthers
Key Returners: Te’Jon Lucas, Josh Thomas
Key Losses: Darius Roy, DeAndre Abram
Key Newcomers: Vin Baker (Boston College), DeAndre Gholston (JUCO), Tafari Simms (JUCO)
Milwaukee’s strength heading into the season is in the backcourt. Lucas was a second-team performer with an average of 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. The frontcourt is younger but did show flashes of its potential last season. However, they will need to step up even more in 2020-21. The trio of incoming transfers will help, but this is a season that is still building towards the future. This team is a year away from jumping in the standings.
10. IUPUI Jaguars
Key Returners: Marcus Burk, Jaylen Minnett, Elyjah Goss
Key Losses: Grant Weatherford
Key Newcomers: Azariah Seay (JUCO), Jonah Carrasco (JUCO), Nathan McClure (JUCO)
IUPUI was about as bad as it gets last season. Everything fell on Burk and Minnett’s shoulders. They handled it well, averaging 37.9 points per game combined, but it just was not enough. There should be some improvement this season, as the group has a year of playing together under their belt. The incoming junior college transfers will boost immediately as well. The Jaguars should find their way out of the basement in 2020-21.
9. UIC Flames
Key Returners: Michael Diggins, Braelen Bridges
Key Losses: Tarkus Ferguson, Marcus Ottey, Godwin Boahen
Key Newcomers: Teyvion Kirk (Colorado State), Maurice Commander (Chattanooga), Zion Griffin (Iowa State)
UIC comes into the season without its top three performers. Ferguson, Ottey, and Boahen were a big reason why the Flames finished as the Horizon League Tournament runner-up. That leaves a ton of inexperience with the guards, but the hope is that the transfers will sure that up quickly. This team will be anchored by their frontcourt, but the losses are too great for UIC to repeat what they did last season. A drop to the bottom half of the league is likely.
8. Green Bay Phoenix
Key Returners: Amari Davis, P.J. Pipes
Key Losses: JayQuan McCloud, Kameron Hankerson, Manny Patterson
Key Newcomers: Josh Jefferson (Illinois State), Damontae Taylor, Terrance Thompson
Green Bay has been solid the last few years but has not been able to break into the top two of the league. However, the expectations coming into 2020-21 will be lowered with a new coach and a lot of new faces. One thing that is in the Phoenix’s favor is the return of freshman of the year Davis, who averaged 15.9 points and four rebounds per game in his rookie season. Still, this will be a rebuilding year as the program works to find a new identity.
7. Detroit Titans
Key Returners: Antoine Davis, Chris Brandon
Key Losses: Justin Miller, Marquis Moore
Key Newcomers: Taurean Thompson (Syracuse), Marquell Fraser (Idaho), Bul Kuol (Cal Baptist)
Detroit has struggled over the last few seasons. The lone bright spot has been the scoring machine that is Antoine Davis, son of head coach Mike Davis. He averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game last season. Incoming Syracuse transfer Thompson should provide a nice boost to Brandon in the paint. There is more talent here than in past seasons, meaning some improvement is likely. However, a big jump in the standings will be harder to come by.
6. Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons
Key Returners: Jarred Godfrey, Deonte Billups, Dylan Carl
Key Losses: Brian Patrick, Matt Holba
Key Newcomers: R.A. Kpedi (Vermont), Bobby Planutis (St. Bonaventure), Demetric Horton (JUCO)
Purdue Fort Wayne returns to the Horizon League after spending some time in the Summit League previously. The Mastodons return almost everyone from last year’s team, which finished in seventh place in the Summit. However, that kind of roster cohesion will allow this team to come in and be more competitive right away. The backcourt is the stronger part of this team, with Godfrey and Billups making a strong duo. If the transfers in the frontcourt can step up right away, Purdue Fort Wayne could finish higher than this.
5. Cleveland State Vikings
Key Returners: Al Eichelberger, Torrey Patton, Craig Beaudion
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Chris Greene (JUCO), Mabor Majak
Cleveland State was much improved last season, and there is a lot to like about this team heading into this season as well. The Vikings return almost everyone, meaning another jump into the standings is likely. The backcourt is strong, and the starting frontcourt is as well. However, the depth in the paint will be the biggest concern for this team. That may cause the Vikings to roll with smaller lineups, which could put them at a disadvantage at times. Still, Cleveland State should end up finishing in the top half of the league.
4. Northern Kentucky Norse
Key Returners: Trevon Faulkner, Bryson Langdon
Key Losses: Dantez Walton, Tyler Sharpe, Jalen Tate
Key Newcomers: Darius Harding (JUCO), Carlos Hines (Northern Arizona), David Bohm
Northern Kentucky has been one of the best programs in the league over the last five years. However, this season will be more of a test as many of the key players that have helped this program succeed are moving on. This program has built itself up to the point of being a powerhouse in this league, so do not expect them to be down long. The incoming talent will allow the Norse to turn things around quickly, and most programs would take a fourth-place finish any day.
3. Robert Morris Colonials
Key Returners: A.J. Bramah, Dante Treacy, Jon Williams
Key Losses: Josh Williams, Yannis Mendy
Key Newcomers: Enoch Cheeks, Patrick Suemnick, Tyson Brown
Robert Morris enters its first season in the Horizon League, joining from the Northeast Conference. The Colonials made this move to help with shortening travel distance and to make a leap to a more competitive league. They will be tested immediately, and they have a starting five that will help them push for a title right away. The depth behind them is a little thinner and much younger. The Colonials should be able to coast with the starters, but the development of the younger guys will be the difference between a title and anything else.
2. Youngstown State Penguins
Key Returners: Darius Quisenberry, Naz Bohannon, Garrett Covington
Key Losses: Donel Cathcart III, Devin Morgan Jr.
Key Newcomers: Greyson Kelley (D-II), William Dunn, Cheick Traore
Youngstown State enjoys the return of star Quisenberry after he tested the NBA waters over the summer. Most of the team returns around him as well after this group finished in fourth place a season ago. The frontcourt is a bit thin and that may cause a heavier reliance on freshmen than they would like. However, the Penguins have plenty of talent to contend for a league title and make their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
1. Wright State Raiders
Key Returners: Loudon Love, Tanner Holden, Grant Basile
Key Losses: Billy Wampler, Cole Gentry
Key Newcomers: Tim Finke (Grand Canyon), Brandon Noel
Wright State still has enough to repeat, even with some of the losses from last year’s regular-season title team. It helps when you have the reigning player of the year, which the Raiders do with Loudon Love. Holden and Basile garnered All-Freshman team honors and will take on bigger roles this season. Wright State is clearly ahead of the rest of the league heading into 2020-21. The question is how far they can go if they live up to their potential.
2020-21 Horizon League Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Loudon Love, Wright State
Love is looking to repeat as the player of the year, and there is no reason to think he will not. He nearly averaged a double-double last season, averaging 15.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He was also a force on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 blocks per game. He should be able to replicate those numbers on the way to helping his team repeat as champions.
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Brandon, Detroit
Brandon landed on the all-defensive team last season while averaging 1.4 blocks and five defensive rebounds per game. Both of those numbers were improvements from his freshman season, and that means an improving trend would make him a candidate for being the best defensive player in the league. He is a force in the paint.
Freshman of the Year: Enoch Cheeks, Robert Morris
Cheeks will be part of the Colonials rotation right away. He was known for finding ways to get to the basket in high school and on his AAU squad. He was also able to lock down defensively. Cheeks will have a chance to compete for a starting spot but will be a key member of the team regardless of his role for the upcoming season.
Sixth-Man of the Year: Tim Finke, Wright State
Finke had a year to develop with the program after a sit-out year following a transfer from Grand Canyon. He filled a similar role while out west averaging 15.8 minutes over 34 games in his freshman year with the Antelopes. Finke is a candidate to break out and fill a big role off the bench for the Raiders as they look to repeat.
Coach of the Year: Scott Nagy, Wright State
Nagy has won at least 20 games in each of his first four seasons with the Raiders. That includes either a regular-season or conference tournament title in three of those. He has built Wright State into a consistent contender in the Horizon League, and leading this team to another title season should have him taking this honor home.
All-Conference First-Team Projection: Antoine Davis (Detroit), Darius Quisenberry (Youngstown State), Marcus Burk (IUPUI), A.J. Bramah (Robert Morris), Loudon Love (Wright State)