The changing face of YSU basketball

Winning. Since the Youngstown State University basketball teams have been in the Horizon League, it’s been, except for a few fleeting moments and three playoff wins, a foreign concept.

The first few years, the men’s teams had so many consecutive road losses that it seemed like the Penguins were going to set some kind of NCAA record for futility.

The last few seasons the men’s team have changed that perception so much that sweeping a two-game set in Chicago was not only possible, but expected.

YSU (9-6, 1-1 Horizon League) began the league with a 65-60 setback last Wednesday at UIC (10-5, 1-1), which lost at to Cleveland State (9-7, 1-1) Monday, 60-50.

The Penguins rallied from almost 15 points down to beat Loyola (10-4, 1-1) on Saturday, 68-66.

“Like I said, I was disappointed we didn’t finish that game (against UIC),” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “We had an opportunity to sweep Chicago, but a great comeback effort on Saturday.”

The women’s team is near the top of the Horizon League with a 10-3 mark, but have went 10-74 the past three seasons.

Coach Bob Boldon inherited a team that hit rock bottom – 0-30 during the 2009-10 season. His teams made steady progress each year, winning more each season – including in the league.

These Penguins lost some close games last year, dropping seven by five or fewer points.

“Last year was very frustrating for us, for the amount of close games we lost,” Boldon said. “I think that set the tone for our kids in the summer. You start to understand if we did a couple of things better, if we could be better defensively, hold teams to a few less points per game. If we could be a little more efficient offensively and play with less turnovers, we’d have a chance to win a lot more of those games we lost last year.”

Both teams have chances to make this a special season.

The men haven’t been in this position since the 2000-01 season – YSU’s last season in the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League) – when they went 19-11. YSU has built upon last year’s 16-15 campaign where it beat Green Bay in the first round of the league tournament.

The women’s best season was in the 1999-2000 campaign when the Penguins went 22-9 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Penn State. Since then, YSU has yet to break .500 – a shell of that team which was dominant during the 1990s – making three NCAA appearances.

The main catalyst behind the YSU women’s success is senior forward Brandi Brown, who was asked if this recent success has made the Penguins into a basketball school.

“We’re focused on winning games,” she said. “We still have to win more games. We still have to win conference games. What we’ve done in our preseason is important, but not as important as what we plan on doing in the postseason. I think for us to be considered a basketball school, we need to go far in the playoffs, win championships and things like that.”

If both teams can maintain this success the next couple of years, that can become a reality.