YSU’s women have iron-clad Horizon status

The Youngstown State women’s basketball team has to get through Valparaiso to capture the No. 2 seed for this year’s Horizon League basketball tournament.

This is the same Crusaders team that a month-and-half ago upset YSU at home.

The two teams play tonight in Youngstown, beginning at 7:05 p.m.

The Penguins can solidify their No. 2 seed if top-seeded and No. 21-ranked Green Bay takes care of business Thursday when it faces and most likely defeats Loyola, which is on a seven-game winning streak.

YSU (20-7, 10-4) was part of the Ramblers’ streak with a Feb. 23 loss in Chicago.

If Loyola wins Thursday, YSU must win its regular-season finale at Detroit and hopes UIC beats Loyola on Saturday to capture the No. 2 seed.

The top four seeds host quarterfinal games on March 13. The top remaining seed hosts the semifinals and finals on March 15 and 17.

That said, the Penguins had a six-game winning streak heading into a Feb. 16 game at Green Bay. Like most teams that face the Phoenix (24-2, 14-0) in Wisconsin, they come away with a loss. Loyola, pending a slip up by Green Bay, should be no exception.

The Phoenix dominate the Horizon League as they have already won their 15th straight regular-season title.

YSU dominated 1990s, racking up almost 200 victories and had six 20-win seasons and three NCAA Tournament appearances – including an opening-round win in 1998 against Memphis.

The Penguins dominated the former Mid-Continent Conference – winning five straight league titles from 1994-95 through 1998-99.

Oakland won the 1999-2000 regular-season title in the Mid-Con (now Summit League), but were upset by Valparaiso in the conference semifinals.

YSU and Valpo met for a third time that season. The Crusaders beat the Penguins both times in the regular season and dropped three of the last four meetings.

But that March game inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, things changed for Penguins as they dominated the Crusaders in a 73-57 victory to advance to YSU’s third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.

Penn State beat YSU in the first round that year to end the Penguins run at 22-9.

It would be the last time YSU got above .500, until this season.

This year’s Penguins eclipsed the 20-win mark and solidified their first winning season since going to the NCAA Tournament.

Brandi Brown, who should be Player of the Year, scored a career-high 42 points against Wright State on Saturday. Brown has led this team all season with numerous double-doubles and League Player of the Week honors, which she should get today by scoring 81 points in the past two games.

YSU third-year coach Bob Boldon should get League Coach of the Year as well. This was a Penguins program that went 0-30 right before Boldon got here.

The only scary thing about Brown’s performance is support. The Penguins have sustained some massive injuries of late, leaving the YSU bench at less than 10.

YSU is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. They’ll have to rely heavily on its long-range prowess and Brown’s inside presence to get the Penguins through the rest of the regular season and into the Horizon League Tournament.

Who knows, anything can happen in the tournament. Anybody could have an off night – even Green Bay.