The Green Bay Phoenix, mid-major mainstays in the NCAA Tournament of late, are still very much in the hunt to add a fifth consecutive Horizon League title to their history. But they’ve had a much more interesting season this time around, no longer seeming to be the team that was three games clear of its next-closest opponent in the final standings — at least at this early stage.
This season, Green Bay’s tough non-conference schedule saw them lose five games — including their first two — leaving them with more losses already than they suffered all last season. And in their first conference loss of the year, they succumbed to the first-place and final remaining undefeated team, Wright State, who they beat twice in the last regular season.
Of course, the season is still young, and Green Bay still has the chops to run the table in the Horizon League Tournament and pick up another NCAA bid. Their upset win over Missouri that gave them AP votes despite being 1-2 at the time bears testament to this, but also, league play is clearly where they shine.
But at least two other teams in the conference this season have demonstrated that their goal is the same, that they too can stand out in Horizon League play, and either one could disrupt the Phoenix’s incredible postseason streak.
The Phoenix’s opponent this weekend, Youngstown State, finished fifth last season, five games out of first place. Interestingly, the Penguins were near the top of the standings at this point last season too, with the same 4-1 record. However, a four-game losing streak beginning in their sixth conference game effectively kept them out of contention.
This season, one of the Penguins’ bright spots is point guard Melinda Trimmer, whose 3.95 assist-to-turnover ratio is the fourth-best in the nation. They’re also 11th in the country in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 33.9 percent.
Heading back to the very top of the table, first-place Wright State finished a respectable third last season, but those two losses to Green Bay (three if you count the 18-point loss in the championship game of the conference tournament) didn’t help them stand out, and they ended up losing in the first round of the Women’s NIT. But the Raiders already have that signature conference win over Green Bay — a potentially vital one as well, come tournament seeding and tiebreakers — and their Jan. 18 meeting with Youngstown State could solidify their status as the team to beat in the Horizon League this season.
Today’s top games
Green Bay Phoenix (8-6, 3-1) vs. Youngstown State Penguins (12-4, 4-1)
When: Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Kress Center, Green Bay, WI
How to watch: ESPN+
Notes: The Phoenix have only lost nine conference games in the past five seasons and haven’t lost a conference game at home in almost three years. They’re coming off an effort against Northern Kentucky where all three of their seniors achieved career-highs in scoring. However, the Penguins are a solid road team in Horizon League play, having won eight in a row until their Thursday overtime loss at Milwaukee.
Wright State Raiders (12-4, 4-0) vs. Northern Kentucky Norse (3-11, 2-2)
When: Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, KY
How to watch: ESPN3
Notes: While this game appears fairly open and shut — just another opportunity for Wright State to stay undefeated — it’s not an excellent idea to underestimate a team that not only took you to overtime last season, but also knocked off Green Bay. Although the Norse finished last season with a losing record, their wins (and even close losses) say a lot about their knowledge of how to take down Horizon League teams.
Elsewhere in the Horizon League:
- Youngstown State junior forward Mary Dunn is the Horizon League Player of the Week. In the Penguins’ two wins last week, Dunn averaged a double-double on 85.7 percent shooting, including notching career-highs in points (26) and rebounds (13). She is the third different YSU player to earn the honor this season.
- The Horizon League Freshman of the Week is Northern Kentucky guard Ally Niece, who extended her double-figures streak to four games as she averaged 16 points and 3 assists in the Norse’s two games last week.
- UIC and Oakland might be near the bottom of the standings, but their players are on fire — Jada Nneji and Taylor Jones specifically. Both nearly had triple-doubles last week, with Nneji posting a line of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 9 blocks, while Jones had 11 points, 16 assists and 9 rebounds.