- Matt Cox
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Drew McDonald, Sr., Northern Kentucky
Coach of the Year: John Brannen, Northern Kentucky
Newcomer of the Year: Antoine Davis, Fr., Detroit
Freshman of the Year: Antoine Davis, Fr., Detroit
1. Norse vs. Raiders: Rubber Match Anyone?
It’s only fitting that Northern Kentucky and Wright State finished all square atop the Horizon League standings at 13-5. The Norse won the opening bout back on January 11th by four points at BB&T Arena before Wright State settled the score in a wild come from behind win just a month later in Dayton. In a league that continues to fade into oblivion, Northern Kentucky and Wright State are the exceptions. Each program is directed by a brilliant basketball mind - John Brannen at NKU and Scott Nagy at Wright State - which essentially guarantees the Norse and the Raiders will remain the hunted at the top of the Horizon totem pole for many years to come.
2. All in the [Davis] Family
When the Horizon got wind of the Mike Davis hiring at Detroit, most assumed Davis would quickly revitalize a program torn to pieces by Bacari Alexander’s tumultuous two-year tenure. Still, it was widely accepted that the Titans were still a year away from becoming a legitimate threat. Davis had to scramble to replenish a depleted talent pool for the 2018-19 recruiting cycle, but when you have one of the highest rated prospects in the Horizon sitting across from you at the dinner table, why delay the rebuild?
Even with a defensive dynamo in Josh McFolley returning for his senior season, along with two highly touted JUCO newcomers in Tra’Quan Knight and Jacob Holland joining the fold, it became abundantly clear this was Davis’ team from the opening tip - of course, I’m talking about Antoine Davis, Mike Davis’ son…
With the unwavering support and unrestricted freedom bestowed upon him by his father, Antoine Davis took the league by storm. All he did was break the freshman 3-point record previously held by some guy named Steph Curry, scorching the nets for 128 triples this season at a 38% clip. Davis scored 20 or more points in all but three Horizon League games and dropped 25 on 10 different occasions. He also found time to get his teammates involved, dishing out 3.5 dimes a game, a nice complement to his league leading 26 PPG scoring average.
3. Why Don’t You Just Meet Me in the Middle?!
Northern Kentucky and Wright State jockeyed for the league’s top-spot while Cleveland State and Milwaukee dropped like rocks to the bottom of the Horizon standings, leaving the other six squads stuck smack dab in the middle. Only three games separated the third place Grizzlies from the 3-way for 8th place between IUPUI, Detroit and Youngstown State. This convergence was a byproduct of perennial power Oakland in the midst of a major roster overhaul, while injections of new talent to Green Bay, IUPUI, Detroit and Youngstown State instantly boosted them into viable contenders. And with Illinois Chicago failing to take the leap many prognosticators expected this summer, the result was a pile of mush in the middle of the league standings, which should set up for a wild tournament ride over the next two weeks.
The Horizon rolled out a new tournament format back in 2017, welcoming all 10 teams to the field and pinning the bottom-4 seeds against each other in an opening round ‘play-in’ game. That two year trial period is over and the league has opted to revert back to the old 8-team format, which means Cleveland State and Milwaukee will get an early start to their spring break.
Another tweak has been introduced this season, which rewards top seeds for their regular season success by giving them home court advantage in the opening round quarterfinal matchups. The semis and finals will still be played in Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, but there is a clear initiative here to ensure the league favorites are provided the well-deserved advantage needed to advance past the first round.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
There’s a clear-cut top-2, Northern Kentucky and Wright State, who are on a collision course to meet for a third time this season in the finals. Neither team made any waves in the non-conference - Wright State’s win over Toledo is the best of either resume - which means if the Norse or the Raiders cut down the nets in Detroit, a 15-seed is where they’ll likely be slotted on Selection Sunday.
Dark Horse Team
The opening round home court edge will be enormous for Oakland and Green Bay, who get the pleasure of playing in the friendly confines of their own gyms, while also avoiding Northern Kentucky and Wright State in the first round. On a neutral site, I’d be more inclined to roll the dice with either IUPUI or Detroit as my dark horse pick, both of whom have the star power - Camron Justice for IUPUI and Antoine Davis for Detroit - needed to string together a few wins in just as many days.
But, the new tournament format stacks the deck against the Jags and the Titans, which steers me toward Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies for my sleeper pick. On 5Dimes, you can take Oakland +500 to win the tournament, which are enticing odds when you consider the Golden Grizz will be playing in their own backyard for the semis and finals, assuming they get past Youngstown State in Round 1.
(1) Wright St. over (8) IUPUI
(2) Northern Kentucky over (7) Detroit Mercy
(3) Oakland over (6) Youngstown St.
(5) Illinois Chicago over (4) Green Bay
(1) Wright St. over (5) Illinois Chicago
(3) Oakland over (2) Northern Kentucky
(1) Wright St. over (3) Oakland