YOUNGSTOWN - This weekend, the Youngstown State men's basketball team needs to find its balance to take advantage of the best opportunity the Penguins have had since joining the Horizon League.
YSU (4-1) starts league play tonight at Detroit, beginning at 7 p.m. The Titans (3-4) are coming off of Saturday's 81-63 loss at Akron.
Detroit's 6-foot-7 Chase Simon leads all Detroit scorers with just a shade under 17 points a game. Guard Ray McCallum, the coach's son, puts in 13, while 6-9 forward Nick Minnerath adds 12. Guard Jason Calliste puts in 11 a contest, while 6-6 forward Doug Anderson adds 10.
Detroit's off to a disappointing start after being highly touted in the preseason as one of the favorites in the Horizon League.
If YSU is to be successful in Detroit, they must get the two big men in trouble, Minnerath and 6-8 Evan Bruinsma. Both got three fouls prior to halftime in Akron and the Zips ran roughshod over the Titans.
Secondly, inside penetration is a key.
If YSU can close off the open lanes to the basket and force Detroit to shoot from the perimeter, it will exponentially help the Penguins' chance for a league win.
Then, rely on Warren G. Harding junior Damian Eargle, who is second in the nation in blocked shots with 4.6 per game, and keep him out of foul trouble.
Defensively, Eargle is a huge key to YSU winning tonight with his help-side defense.
Offensively, all of YSU's starters must contribute - everyone from Eargle to DuShawn Brooks. Balanced offense is a must.
Most importantly, the Penguins have the confidence they can pull off wins tonight at Detroit and Saturday at Wright State (2-4).
"We're looking forward to stealing these wins because we really think we can win these games," Eargle said. "I like away games better than home games. There's nothing like playing and beating somebody on their home floor."
YSU seems to have the mental aspect down pat.
From what coach Jerry Slocum said about Monday and Tuesday's practices, he's pretty confident about his team heading into tonight's game.
However, he knows defense has to be the team's focus.
"We just spend a lot of time on defense and our guys know that's a priority for us," Slocum said. "We've got to guard to win."
Considering YSU won a couple defensive games against UC-Riverside, which recently beat Washington State and took Boston College into overtime before losing, and St. Francis (Pa.), it's important for the Penguins to show their mettle early and often.
"It goes to show you defense wins games because we have played two games that we've played very poorly offensively - the Riverside game and the St. Francis game," Slocum said.
"We did not play well at the offensive end, but we did play well at the defensive end and came up with wins."
However, a poor offensive performance is not an option in Horizon League play.
As for Wright State, the Raiders, like UC-Riverside, have a tough non-conference schedule with losses to top-10 ranked Florida and Ohio State and host Cincinnati in mid-December.
The Raiders are led by their backcourt with Julius Mays, a 6-2 junior guard leading with 11.5 points a game and 5-9 freshman Reggie Arceneaux adding just more than 10 each outing.
It's important for YSU to establish itself on the road. If the Penguins win tonight, they will have their third road victory after going 0-14 away from Beeghly Center last season.
"It's a real important victory to go on somebody's home floor and beat them," Eargle said. "We didn't do that at all last year. We realized that from last year and stepped up the defense."