College Basketball Betting Preview for Horizon League: Why Cleveland State is Team to Beat

College Basketball Betting Preview for Horizon League: Why Cleveland State is Team to Beat article feature image

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

  • Cleveland State returns a trio of talent from its NCAA Tournament team from last season.
  • Meanwhile, Wright State has to adjust without big man Loudon Love.
  • Mike Randle breaks down every team in the league.

The Horizon League is annually one of most exciting for devout college hoops bettors.

Dominated by blue-collar teams that espouse the "lunch pail mentality" of the state in which they reside, games within the Horizon League often have live underdogs and fantastic finishes.

This makes for some of the most entertaining and exciting betting opportunities in college basketball.

Entering its 42nd year of existence, let's take a deep college hoops betting dive into the 2021-22 Horizon League.

Recent History

Since 2018, the Horizon League has been dominated by two teams: Wright State and Northern Kentucky.

Over the last four seasons, both teams have combined for an overall record of 110-36, which translates to a 73.5% winning percentage. They have combined to win the past four regular-season titles and four of the past five Horizon League Tournament Championships.

Last season, Cleveland State broke that streak by not only tying for the league title, but also winning the Horizon League Tournament after surviving a thrilling 108-104 3OT victory over Purdue Fort Wayne in the opening round.

The Vikings are the likely preseason favorites with 14 players and all five starters returning. Northern Kentucky and Wright State each return four of five starters and will be joined by Detroit as top contenders for the regular-season title.

Cleveland State Vikings

Overall Record 2020-2119-8
League Record 2020-2116-4

Head coach Dennis Gates enters his third season with the Vikings, trying to maintain the dominant success of 2020-2021. Cleveland State surprised the league after an eighth-place finish in Gates' first season, and will now enter the year as the team to beat in the conference.

The Vikings bring an elite level of defensive pressure, ranking first in the league in turnover percentage and 3-point percentage allowed (30.2%).

The trio of Torrey Patton (14.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG), D'Moi Hodge (10.5 PPG, 1.7 SPG), and Tre Gomillion (10.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG) will again lead on both sides of the ball. 

Cleveland State was an impressive 7-3-1 ATS and a surprising 8-3 to the over in home games.

Can the Vikings' defense and strong team chemistry overcome poor shooting numbers from the 3-point line (32.1%) and the free-throw line (67.1%)?

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Wright State Raiders

Overall Record 2020-2118-6
League Record 2020-2116-4

Wright State will need to adjust to life without departed 6-foot-8 center Loudon Love, who finished last season averaging a double-double (16.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG).

Head coach Scott Nagy is certainly up to the challenge, having guided the Raiders to 20 wins in every year but last year's COVID-affected season.

Nagy's team had elite metrics on both ends of the floor last year. Wright State ranked first in the Horizon League in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom. They were also one of the fastest-paced teams while shooting a blistering 38.3% from beyond the arc against league opponents.

Wright State was just 4-9 ATS in home games, more affected than most by the lack of fans in attendance.

Guards Tanner Holden (15.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and Tim Finke (10 PPG, 41.3% 3P) will join with versatile forward Grant Basile (15 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 47.6% 3P) to again place Wright State back atop the standings at the season's end.

Northern Kentucky Norse

Overall Record 2020-2114-11
League Record 2020-2111-7

Head coach Darrin Horn returns a veteran team that should again rank among the Horizon League contenders.

The Norse play at the slowest pace in the league but have elite efficiency inside the arc on both offense and defense.

Northern Kentucky pounds the offensive glass, ranking 15th-best in offensive rebounding efficiency in 2020-21. They are led by forward Adrian Nelson (8.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG) in that area, as he averaged 11.5 rebounds per game over his last four contests of 2021.

Guards Trevon Faulkner (16.7 PPG) and Marques Warrick (15.8 PPG, 36.1% 3P) complement each other's scoring abilities and will lead a Northern Kentucky team that returns its top six scorers.

Point guard Bryson Langdon averaged 15.5 points and 6.3 assists over the critical final four games of last campaign.

The Norse need to generate more points from deep, only producing 29.2% of their points from 3-point range. Horn's team really hit its stride late in the season, winning eight of their last 10 regular season Horizon League games.

Northern Kentucky is always in the mix for the league title every season.

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Detroit Titans

Overall Record 2020-2112-10
League Record 2020-2110-6

The Titans overcame a 1-7 start to finish the regular season winning eight of their last nine games.

Detroit is led by the nation's third-leading scorer, Antoine Davis (24 PPG), the son of head coach Mike Davis.

Davis' running mate is 6-foot-11 sophomore Noah Waterman, who shot a blistering 52.8% (38-of-72) from 3-point range.

Detroit will bring in an influx of new players, including transfers Jordan Phillips (UT-Arlington) and Kevin McAdoo (Bradley) and a pair of USF products in Madut Akec and Prince Oduro.

Few teams in the Horizon can match Detroit on the offensive end.

The Titans ranked second in adjusted offensive efficiency while only playing at the eighth-fastest tempo within the league last season. They ranked first as a team in 3-point efficiency (40.4%) and team free-throw shooting (78.1%).

Can Coach Davis get this team to buy in on defense? That answer will determine their chances as a dark horse to win the league title.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Overall Record 2020-2112-18
League Record 2020-2110-10

Oakland was an over machine last season, sending their overall game totals above the mark over 76% of the time.

Head coach Greg Kampe enters his 38th season atop the Grizzlies' program and guided his team to the tournament championship game last year despite a .500 regular-season record in the league.

Kampe's elite point guard, Jalen Moore, averaged 17.9 points while contributing 4.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. Moore's production is critical to a Grizzlies program that lost their second and third-leading scorers, Rashad Williams and Daniel Oladapo, to the transfer portal.

Marquette transfer Jamal Cain (9.6 PPG) will be expected to make an immediate contribution.

Oakland loves its zone defense, which leads to its expected defensive rebounding problems.

The Grizzlies don't project as a league contender, but will always be dangerous during tournament time under Kampe.

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Milwaukee Panthers

Overall Record 2020-2110-12
League Record 2020-217-10

The Panthers were the gambling "road warriors" of the Horizon last year, finishing at 9-3 away from Milwaukee.

This is a critical year for fifth-year head coach Pat Baldwin, who has accumulated just a 47-70 (40%) record in his four years at Milwaukee.

The arrival of his son, Patrick Baldwin Jr., a five-star recruit and potential NBA lottery pick, is his best chance to change that trajectory. Baldwin spurred Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina to bring a rare level of ability to this conference.

The Panthers need to find consistency on the defensive end, especially guarding the 3-point line. Milwaukee allowed league opponents to shoot 37.4% from deep, worst among all teams.

The Panthers did find postseason success, though, upsetting Wright State in the tournament quarterfinals.

Just how far can Baldwin Jr. take this team? And can he save his father's job in the process?

Robert Morris Colonials

Overall Record 2020-214-15
League Record 2020-213-12

Despite a rough first year in the Horizon, Robert Morris still provided betting value with an 11-6 record to the over in league games. The Colonials were consistent with their game totals at home as well, going 5-2 to the over despite a reciprocal 2-5 ATS in Moon Township.

Head coach Andrew Toole is the sixth-youngest head coach in Division I basketball, yet enters his 12th season for the Colonials.

Robert Morris struggled mightily to contain Horizon foes, ranking dead last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency.

The transfer portal brings a ton of new faces, including a pair of strong defensive guards in Michael Green III (Bryant) and Rasheem Dunn (St. John's) and three athletic forwards in Jaron Williams (UT-Martin), Brandon Stone (La Salle) and Mattia Acunzo (Toledo).

Robert Morris suffered four overtime losses, which are expected growing pains when entering a new league.

I expect Toole to see positive regression in Robert Morris' record and it could be a dangerous Horizon League Tournament team at the end of the season.

Illinois-Chicago Flames

Overall Record 2020-219-13
League Record 2020-216-10

Head coach Luke Yaklich brought his brilliant defensive mind from Michigan and Texas to Illinois Chicago last season and enjoyed a fast 5-2 start.

After battling COVID-19 pauses, the Flames never regained the momentum from their fast start, as they ended the regular season losing eight of nine games.

The roster will rely on guard Maurice Commander (10.5 PPG, 43.2% 3P), Michael Diggins (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and transfers Kevin Johnson (Nicholls), and Jalen Warren (Florida Gulf Coast).

Yaklich will always get the Flames to play defense, which is a rarity for the Horizon League, but can these newcomers improve an offense that ranked last in offensive efficiency? If they can, this is your surprise team of the season.

Youngstown State Penguins

Overall Record 2020-2115-12
League Record 2020-219-11

Head coach Jerrod Calhoun deserves credit for posting back-to-back winning seasons at Youngstown State.

The Penguins can usually score, but ranked last in the Horizon in 3-point percentage at just 30.1% last season.

Youngstown State has never made the NCAA Tournament, but Calhoun gives the Penguins their best chance to end that streak — although not this season.

The Penguins lost All-League Horizon player Naz Bohannon to Clemson and Darius Quisenberry to Fordham. They reloaded through the transfer portal, though, as Calhoun brings in Dwayne Cohill (Dayton), Tevin Olison (prep school), and Chris Shelton (Hampton).

Superior defensive senior Garrett Covington (12.5 PPG, 1.3 SPG) provides leadership and toughness as a versatile guard.

This is a dangerous team that took Oakland to overtime in the league tournament before losing, 87-83.

If Calhoun has time to prepare, his team is always dangerous. Youngstown State was 3-0 with two-to-three days of rest in the Horizon last season.

Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons

Overall Record 2020-218-15
League Record 2020-216-14

Purdue Fort Wayne enters its second year in the Horizon after enjoying much success in the Summit League, where it had won 18 or more games in four of the previous five years.

Head coach Jon Coffman's team is superbly efficient, enjoying the following rankings among all Division I teams last season:

  • 2nd in Effective Field Goal Percentage (58.2%)
  • 4th in 3P Percentage (40%)
  • 7th in 2P Percentage (57%)

As a result of COVID, the Mastodons only played in one non-conference game before entering their first season in Horizon play.

Per Blue Ribbon, Coffman will return 81% of his offense and 82% of his rebounding, which should hopefully translate to an improvement in their pitiful defense.

One thing is for sure, with Jared Godfrey (36.1%), Jalon Pipkins (40.1%) and Deonte Billups (38.5%), the Mastodons will certainly be able to shoot it from deep.

Green Bay Phoenix

Overall Record 2020-218-17
League Record 2020-218-12

Head coach Will Ryan, the son of Wisconsin legend Bo Ryan, enters his second season as head coach of the Phoenix. Ryan was hired in June of last season and had limited time to acclimate his talent, COVID-19 challenges notwithstanding.

Amid several departures, Ryan has assembled a team that is more compatible with his swing-style offense. Green Bay's expectations will rely on transfers, such as Mitch Listau (Belmont) and Donovan Ivory (UMass-Lowell).

Ryan's team won't beat itself, finishing 2020 with the 15th best offensive turnover percentage, per KenPom. However, as with most teams in the Horizon, the Phoenix will need to see massive defensive improvements to be competitive.

IUPUI Jaguars

Overall Record 2020-218-10
League Record 2020-217-9

Former interim head coach Byron Rimm II's second season with IUPUI was a surprising success, improving from three to seven wins in the Horizon League.

Rimm was named interim in August of 2019 after the resignation of former head coach Jason Gardner.

IUPUI paused its coaching search due to COVID, but formally named Jaguars star Matt Crenshaw as the head coach in April. He has a formidable challenge in rebuilding an IUPUI team that lost its top three scorers.

Crenshaw will want a fast-paced team and brought in transfers B.J. Maxwell (St. Edwards University) and Zach Gunn (Ball State) to spearhead the offense.

While IUPUI hasn't enjoyed a winning record in 10 seasons, the prestige of Jaguars' Hall of Famer Crenshaw brings immediate credibility to the rebuilding process.

Betting Insight

The best bet to win the conference should come from the big three teams of Cleveland State, Wright State and Northern Kentucky.

In a league that is dominated by exciting offense, those three defensive-minded teams have a huge advantage in the race for the Horizon crown.

Given the limited nonconference schedules last season, bettors may have forgotten how profitable overs can be outside of league play.

In 2018-19, Oakland, IUPUI, Illnois Chicago and Cleveland State combined to go 31-15 (67.4%) to the over in nonconference games. In last year's abbreviated schedule, the entire league was 21-14 (60%) against the over.

This league is characterized by fast-paced offenses and elite defense from the top teams. There are several strong coaches across all teams, making for live road underdog wagers.

My favorite road underdog for the 2021-22 season? Baldwin's Milwaukee Panthers, who were 7-2 as road underdogs last year. The addition of his highly-recruited son can only make the Panthers even more of a live underdog on the road.

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