Youngstown State (4-1) vs. Milwaukee (3-4)
U.S. Cellular Arena – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
With a 20-point loss at Portland in the opening game, a shot at the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid was in trouble. Dropping the next game to Florida Atlantic all but sealed that inconvenient truth. A loss to Western Michigan at home dropped us out of contention early for the NIT. The heartbreaker against Marquette was one opportunity for a signature victory, a feather that no longer will be in our cap.
So we begin conference play under the impression that to play in any postseason of consequence, we must play exceptionally well against the Horizon League. In past years, we may look at Youngstown State and smile upon our luck opening the conference.
Not so fast. In his sixth season, Jerry Slocum has revamped his roster and begun from (nearly) scratch. Gone are trouble players like Vance Cooksey; they’ve been replaced by Devonte Maymon and Damian Eargle. The result? Too early to tell, but a close overtime loss at Akron is the only thing standing between Youngstown State and an early perfect record. Yup, that Youngstown State.
So who are these new look Penguins? Well, the first name you’ll recognize is that of Vytas Sulskis. The senior is seemingly the only player that could stand being in a program under Slocum for four years. You can’t be in the YSU program for that long without having great understanding and commitment, which is what makes Vytas so dangerous. He’s still a scoring machine (17 points in about 28 mpg this season) and cleans the glass at will (7.4 rpg). And while the Penguins have always had individual big-numbers guys around him (Quin Humphrey, Kelvin Bright, DeAndre Mays, Sirlester Martin), none have ever been as dominant down low as Damian Eargle.
The 6’7”, 215 lb. sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from UNC Greensboro, Eargle is a presence in the paint. While none of the teams the Penguins have faced come with as strong a front court as the Panthers, you can’t deny sheer numbers, and Eargle’s got ’em. In just 22 minutes on the floor, Eargle is averaging 7.6 rebounds (nice) and 3.4 blocks (holy crap!). In two games over Thanksgiving week, Eargle swatted 11 shots, six against Toledo and five against St. Francis (PA).
And therein lies the problem. Are we to assume that Youngstown State has turned the corner? Or are they subscribing to the Loyola theory of gobbling up as many low-majors and D-II schools as possible?
The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Buffalo is a quality victory; Samford, St. Francis and Toledo are not (especially when Samford and Toledo were by a combined nine points). But you’ve got to recognize: these are games YSU would have lost in the past. Anybody remember Eastern Kentucky? UC Riverside? The same St. Francis (PA) team? The Penguins’ schedule has been a little easy early on, but make no mistake, winning is winning. Ask Florida Atlantic and Western Michigan.
To win, the Panthers will need to contest shots. Obvious, right? Well, when the 8th place team in the conference for shooting percentage drops one of its worst shooters, expect a rise.
Sheldon Brogdon, who spent last year on the bench rehabbing an ACL tear, left the team over Thanksgiving break and didn’t sit on the bench for the St. Francis game.
While it’s mysterious why the Penguins and Brogdon severed ties, the fact of the matter is this: without him in the lineup, the Penguins shot 51.7% and won by 28 points. Whether it’s addition by subtraction, we don’t know, but we do know this:
Of all the guards in the conference, we didn’t know Kendrick Perry was going to be this good this fast…or this ever. The freshman point guard comes into the game tonight averaging nearly five assists per game and racking up a 2.7/1 assists to turnover ratio, good for second in the Horizon League. He’s also shooting a cool 48.6% from the floor, and 43.5% from three. The perplexing thing is that those great numbers don’t translate to the stripe – he’s almost as bad at free throws as the Panthers are as a team. Let’s hope for his sake the nickname “KP3” is limited to athletics press releases.
Ashen Ward, if you recall, is the player who sunk the game-winning shot last year in Milwaukee, if only he got it off before the buzzer. The junior from Cleveland is averaging three more points per game at the three spot for Slocum than he was as a sophomore. He may be scoring more if it weren’t for…
Devonte Maymon. That sounds really familiar, doesn’t it? Oh yeah! Milwaukee fans will remember the Maymon name that went along with Jeronne, Devonte’s younger brother and fellow son of that crazy son-of-a-bitch, Tim.
Devonte has started four of five games for the Guins, scoring double figures every game and averaging 1.6. One point six what, exactly? Rebounds, assists, and steals. The rebound number is poor, the assist number is ho-hum and the steal number is pretty good. Interesting how the same number in different columns can mean a wide variety of bad to great! Maybe I’m tired…it’s almost 2 a.m.
PantherU will be pre-gaming it at A.J. Bombers tomorrow around 5 p.m. before heading over to the Cell. It’s about time the Food Wars’ “Best Burger in Milwaukee” gets put to the test by me, the guy who eats a lot of burgers.
Because I refuse to believe these two nerds. I love my Sobelman Burger:
We’ll put it to the test before game time.