Published January 31, 2013
Ten thoughts on YSU basketball at the Horizon League's midpoint.
1. Before Wednesday's win over Valparaiso — a game I thought Youngstown State would lose — the Penguins' play-by-play announcer, Robb Schmidt, started looking over the schedule and told me, "If we can somehow get [a win] tonight and Saturday [at Detroit], there's a chance we won't lose until the next time we play these guys [on Feb. 23]."
I shot him one of those looks that says, "And if I could just bury those 100-foot putts, I'd be on the PGA Tour."
"Dare to dream," Schmidt said. "Dare to dream."
2. Well, YSU beat Valpo in pretty decisive fashion, 80-68. So here's the question: Is it time to dream?
At the midway point of the Horizon League schedule, YSU is 5-3, one game behind Valpo and Detroit, which are both 6-2.
If the Penguins somehow managed to steal one against Detroit (which beat YSU by 41 at Beeghly Center on Jan. 10), the next six games look like this:
Feb. 5: at Cleveland State (which is 2-6 in the conference and lost by 14 to the Penguins already).
Feb. 7: vs. Loyola (which is 3-6 in the HL and lost by two to the Penguins).
Feb. 10: vs. UIC (which is 4-4 in the HL and beat the Penguins by five in Chicago).
Feb. 15: vs. Milwaukee (which is 1-7 in the HL and lost by three to the Penguins).
Feb. 17: vs. Green Bay (which is 5-3 in the HL and beat the Penguins by nine).
The first four are against the Horizon League's four worst teams. Green Bay is good but it plays much better at home.
It's unrealistic to think YSU could win all those, but, it's not impossible.
If nothing else, it's a lot more fun to write about than whether Jerry Slocum will be be back, which is what I was doing at this point two years ago.
3. I've only been on the YSU beat for three years but I feel confident in saying this will be the Penguins' best all-around performance in the Horizon League since they joined in 2001.
The volleyball team won more games (15) than the previous three years combined. The soccer team set a school record for wins. The women's cross country team placed third despite missing two of its top three runners and both basketball teams are on pace to finish higher than they ever have in the Horizon League.
When you combine that with the new track and softball facilities being built across the street, as well as the previous upgrades (the WATTS, new locker rooms, etc.), there are some good things happening on the hill.
4. Last March, I wrote about how YSU athletic director Ron Strollo was looking to replace the scoreboard inside Beeghly Center. (I recently called it a giant Lite-Brite, and was depressed to find out that there's now a whole generation that has no idea what it is.)
The plans got put on hold because of all the other construction, but I've been told the scoreboard they wanted to buy (which would have a video board) cost around $130,000.
Obviously, it's easy for me to spend someone else's money, but in the world of Division I athletics, that's not a lot of money.
5. One of the best parts of covering YSU's men's basketball team is watching Kendrick Perry play. He's easily one of the three best players in the conference, along with Detroit guard Ray McCallum and Valparaiso forward Ryan Broekhoff.
Perry scored 28 points against the Crusaders on Wednesday and he did it by shooting 8 of 12 from the field. He also grabbed 11 rebounds even though he's a 6-foot shooting guard. (Of course, he's a 6-foot shooting guard who jumps like he's 6-8.)
He also leads the conference in steals per game (1.9) and plays his best against the best. My only complaint is he's sometimes too unselfish, which Slocum attributed to Perry's "point-guard mindset."
6. Damian Eargle is never going to be a pretty offensive player, but I've been impressed by his offensive growth since last year.
He's increased his range as a jump-shooter — although he still uses a behind-the-head windup — and while he's still too reliant on his left hand, he's added some moves on the right side of the basket. He's averaging almost 13 points per game and his shooting percentage is hovering near 60 percent.
Before the season, I thought he was the front-runner for defensive player of the year in the Horizon League (still do), but when it came time to vote for preseason all-conference, I gave a second-team vote to Blake Allen instead of Eargle. But Eargle has clearly been YSU's second-best player this year.
7. If you're wondering why Bobby Hain didn't play at all against Cleveland State on Saturday (and very little against Milwaukee and Wright State in the previous games), it had nothing to do with health or discipline, just matchups.
CSU has a guard-heavy rotation and Hain struggles defensively when he has to guard on the perimeter. Like a lot of tall freshmen, his feet are still catching up with the rest of his body.
"Everybody in the league plays small," said Slocum, who warned Hain ahead of time that he'd spend more time on the bench. "It was a tough three-game stretch for him. He understands it."
8. I haven't blogged as much about the YSU women, in part because I haven't seen them as much, but there's a night-and-day difference between this year's team and the one Bob Boldon inherited two years ago.
The Penguins only had seven healthy bodies on Saturday and still managed to crush Loyola by almost 40. He's really upgraded the team's athleticism without sacrificing basketball skill.
9. After wearing down (physically and mentally) at the end of last season, Brandi Brown looks reenergized. She's fresh off her third Horizon League player-of-the-week award and is playing the best basketball of her career.
Her ability to finish around the basket in traffic (and make it look easy) reminds me of former Boardman standout Amber Bland, who went on to play at Penn State and North Carolina A&T.
10. One football item. Because I've been busy with other things -- including this weekend's Super Bowl -- I haven't written much about YSU football leading up to signing day, which is Feb. 6.
I'm told the only local recruit will be Poland kicker Connor McFadden, whose father, Paul, kicked at YSU and later played in the NFL. Look for YSU coach Eric Wolford to focus more on defense than offense.
Speaking of Wolford, one of my coworkers, photographer Bill Lewis, was at Plaza Donuts in Liberty on Wednesday when Wolford came in and bought coffee for everyone. He's good at stuff like that.