YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown State men's basketball team is facing a crucial stretch in the season where it has to find a way to win a couple of games in order to hold onto the sixth seed for the Horizon League postseason tournament.
The difficulty lies in the fact that of the Penguins' remaining four games, three of them are on the road and the other one is against league power Butler.
The Penguins are coming off a poor effort in an 86-61 loss at home against UW-Milwaukee, possibly the best team in the league this season, according to YSU coach John Robic.
Saturday, the Penguins stayed in the game with the Panthers for the first 20 minutes, but let it get away in the second half and were never a threat after the first five minutes of the second half.
The Penguins are not the most talented team in the conference; in fact, they and UW-Green Bay are probably at the bottom of the list in overall talent.
The Penguins do have some big hearts and they play as hard as their bodies will allow them, but in most cases, it is just not enough.
Sophomore Doug Underwood is a pretty good player; so is junior Adam Baumann, but they probably couldn't start for most teams in this league.
Robic has made great strides this season working with limited talent, but coaching only goes so far and for the Penguins it is about at its limit.
The Penguins are next on the road at Green Bay, a game they are capable of winning. But again, because it is on the road they will again need a near perfect performance to beat the Phoenix, the last-place team in the standings.
The Penguins also have road games at Detroit and Illinois-Chicago. Both teams are in the upper-half of the standings and have way more talent than the Penguins.
There is no doubt the Penguins will give Butler a good game at Beeghly Center. They almost beat the Bulldogs on their home floor earlier this year.
Butler is fighting for the top spot in the conference with Milwaukee and there is no way it is going to overlook the Penguins this time around.
Somehow, the Penguins still need to get two wins to lock up the final seed for a home tournament game.
It appears that the YSU football team has lost more than just a season opener for next year.
Three members of the YSU coaching staff will not be returning next season.
Full-time assistant coach Trent Boykin, who has coached the wide receivers and special teams, has left to take an assistant position at Ball State University.
Part-time assistant coach Don Houser, who coached the YSU linebackers the past two seasons, will join former YSU coach George Small at North Carolina A & amp;T next year.
The third member of the YSU staff to depart is the veteran Bob Stoops, who is retiring after 18 seasons on the Penguins staff. Stoops has been the coach of the YSU defensive line for all 18 seasons.
This puts some pressure on YSU head coach Jon Heacock to fill those gaps in less than a month before spring football practice begins.
Spring football practice starts on March 21 with the first contact drills set for March 25 and the first jersey scrimmage slated for April 4.
The YSU Red and White spring game will be played on April 16 at 7 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.
YSU athletic director Ron Strollo said Saturday that he has not yet filled the season opening date, which was left vacant when Kent State pulled out of its contract a week ago.
Strollo said that he's been in contact with several schools, but one of the ones he contacted, Duquesne, doesn't have any openings next season.
The athletic director says he doesn't think it will be a problem filling the opening at this time.
XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write him at & lt;a href=mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org & gt;email@example.com & lt;/a & gt;.