YSU men to face challenging schedule

YOUNGSTOWN – The start of the Youngstown State men’s basketball season provides a good challege for the Penguins.

The Penguins open the campaing at the Beeghly Center against Akron as the nightcap in the second Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader.

The Akron game begins at 7:45 p.m., while the Kent State vs. Cleveland State game starts at 5 p.m. – all at the Beeghly Center.

After the home opener against Akron, YSU is on the road for four games at Toledo and three at the Red Diamond Roundball Classic in Mobile, Ala. for games against Jacksonville, host South Alabama and Florida International.

The Penguins return home for two games against Westminster (Pa.) and Canisius. Niles High School graduate Cameron Kane plays for the Titans. The freshman guard and Westminster come to town Nov. 22 for a 7 p.m., game.

The Penguins finish the regular season with home dates against Oberlin (Dec. 3) and Niagara (Dec. 14). YSU is at Robert Morris (Nov. 30), at Michigan State (Dec. 6), at American (Dec. 10) and at Ohio State (Dec. 20).

“We’re very excited about that opportunity,” Slocum said. “Our first semester schedule is very challenging.”

NEW PERSPECTIVE: Usually Slocum looks at the Horizon League schedule and shakes his head in disgust because the Penguins have to start the league campaign with a bulk of games on the road.

Not this season.

The scheduling gods smiled upon the Penguins and gave them two home games to open the season – Dec. 29 vs. Milwaukee and Dec. 31 against Green Bay.

YSU then goes on a short two-game road trip at Northern Kentucky and at Wright State before returning for two Jan. 12 against Valparaiso and Jan. 14 versus UIC.

Then, there’s three on the road at Detroit Mercy, at Green Bay and at Milwaukee before returning to the Beeghly Center for a Jan. 28 against rival Cleveland State, Feb. 2 (Oakland) and Feb. 4 (Detroit Mercy).

The Penguins are back on the road for two against UIC and Valparaiso before coming back to Youngstown for their final homestand against Wright State (Feb. 16) and Northern Kentucky (Feb. 18).

YSU ends the regular season at Oakland and Cleveland State.

“We’re excited to not start five out of seven on the road or eight out of nine like we have in the last couple of years,” Slocum said. “We get a couple of home games.”

MOTOR CITY MADNESS: Last season started the Motor City Madness, the Horizon League postseason tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. This is the last year for Joe Louis Arena. The Detroit Red Wings new facility hosts the 2018 event.

Those seeded seven through 10 play March 3, while the top two seeds go to the March 4 second round to meet the winners of the March games. The March 4 winners automatically advance to the March 6 semifinal matchups.

March 5, seeds three through six meet with the winners advancing to March 6 semifinals.

The championship game and automatic NCAA berth is March 7.

“It was a very positive experience for us,” said Slocum, whose team was eliminated last season in a first-round matchup against Detroit. “It was very revealing as I came from league meetings this week. “Out of the 22 conference that are not considered FBS conferences, the Motor City Madness ranked seven out of 22 in the country, ahead of the (Mid-American Conference) and other conferences in terms of attendance for that event. That is something we’re excited about at that time of the year.”

EXPECTATIONS: The Penguins return all but five off their roster from last season.

This year’s group of 15, which is one of the largest in years, has something YSU teams have been struggling to have – depth.

Slocum said his backcourt and frontcourt are both solid – led by junior guard Cameron Morse and senior forward Matt Donlan.

“Our depth is good,” said Slocum, whose team was 11-21 last season and 6-12 in the Horizon League. “Our depth is much, much better than we had before since I’ve been here. We could play 10 guys any night and have them help us.”

The YSU mentor, who is going into his 12th season, said the mass amount of returning players is a great asset.

“This group has been on task from the first time they got here this summer,” Slocum said. “They wore out our shooting machine. They were in the gym all the time.

“It’s been the most productive summer and fall that I’ve had since I’ve been here. This group is dialed in. It’s been a pleasure to watch them be self motivated rather than outside motivation all the time. This is a group that is totally different than where we were a year ago.”