Just when we thought we had the Horizon League figured out, upsets galore occurred making the perceived weak look strong, and the thought-to-be mighty look meek. It essentially began on Thursday January 12th, when the winless (in the league) Milwaukee Panthers shocked a suddenly slumping NKU Norse team, who just weeks earlier was ranked third in our league rankings. The next night, the Detroit Mercy Titans traveled north on I-75 to outlast the first place Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Junior forward Jaleel Hogan was instrumental in the improbable Titan victory, carrying his team with a 39 point and 11 rebound performance for the ages. Then, for at least a day, things seemed to normalize. Wright State overcame a halftime deficit to defeat the again upset-minded Panthers. Valparaiso eventually kicked it into high gear to win at Cleveland State, and UIC needed OT to stay firmly in the league’s upper echelon by beating the seemingly always underperforming Youngstown State Penguins. Then came a Monday that no one saw coming. The 5-0 Green Bay Phoenix had a chance to assert themselves as the league’s undisputed top dog. What happens? Valpo blows them out. Detroit Mercy is supposed to come down from their euphoric state and fall to Youngstown State, right? Wrong. The Titans have a deep bench and appear to be gaining confidence every day, making them a dangerous team to play come March. And most shockingly, Oakland should have bounced back after their Metro Series loss and steamrolled Cleveland State. But, you guessed it, another visitor had a career night at the expense of the Golden Grizzlies. This time it was Detroit native Rob Edwards, as the Vikings handed Oakland their second straight loss at home.
What is the moral of this wacky and inexplicable Horizon League extended weekend? That this league (and its NCAA Tournament berth) is essentially anyone’s for the taking. It might just come down to who peaks at the right time and, like in the Oakland / Detroit Mercy game, who wants it more. The only teams right now that I cannot see winning Motor City Madness are Youngstown State, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee. The Penguins cannot stop anyone defensively, the Vikings cannot rebound the ball and have a lack of interior talent, and the Panthers simply cannot put enough points on the board. But then again, I never would have thought Oakland would lose both of those games at home. Maybe Northern Kentucky’s superior post scorers, Drew McDonald and Carson Williams, will get the Norse to their first NCAA Tournament. Or maybe one of the nation’s youngest teams, the UIC Flames, will finish at a fiery pace, all without their superstar Dikembe Dixson. Maybe Green Bay is bound to repeat as tourney champs with their experienced, high-scoring squad. Or maybe the cream will indeed rise to the top, and the two predicted best teams of Oakland and Valpo will square off in the championship game. Maybe Mark Alstork and Steven Davis will put the Raiders on their backs and do what last year’s team couldn’t. Or maybe Detroit’s College Team will close down Joe Louis Arena the storybook way, with the hometown team winning. That was a lot of maybes. But one thing is for sure: These next several weeks of the Horizon League basketball season will be exciting, memorable, and completely unpredictable.