Youngstown State (6-2) is off to their best start since the 1997-1998 season, when the Penguins finished 20-9 and lost in the Mid-Continent Conference Championship Game.
YSU's early season success has been contingent upon consistent three-point shooting, as well as solid second half defense. We will soon find out if that recipe for success is good enough to take down three solid opponents out of the Mid-American Conference.
This afternoon, Youngstown State takes on a 5-2 Buffalo Bulls team which has the size and depth to make a run at a MAC Championship come conference tournament time.
The Bulls are led by three prolific scorers—Zach Filzen (16.9 PPG), Javon McCrea (15 PPG) and Mitchell Watt (13.9 PPG). They love to play physical basketball, which seems to be the norm in the MAC. Just 10 days ago, Buffalo went to Dayton and absolutely destroyed the perennial A-10 power Flyers by 29 points, 84-55.
If that doesn't make you say wow, I don't know what will.
For Youngstown State to beat the Bulls for a second straight season, they will need to hit the three ball, make free throws and stay out of foul trouble. If YSU has a weak spot at this point in the season, it is definitely be their bench.
Someone needs to step up, whether it be sophomores Josh Chojnacki or Nate Perry, or freshmen Fletcher Larson and Shawn Amiker.
Until the Penguins can get two or three guys to play consistently off the bench, they will be forced to play their starters 30+ minutes per game, which may hurt the team later in the season.
After a week off for finals, the Penguins will travel to Toledo on Dec. 17 to take on the much-improved Rockets, who sit at 6-2 on the season. Toledo, coached by former UW-Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk, has already eclipsed last year's win total of four games.
This should be an interesting road test for YSU after a week's rest, but it is a game they are expected to win.
Finally, just two days later on Dec. 19, the Penguins will travel down I-76 to take on rival Akron at the James A. Rhodes Arena. The Zips are off to a sluggish 3-4 start for this campaign, but like always, coach Keith Dambrot will have his team running on all gears in due time.
Last season, Akron got three offensive rebounds in the final 10 seconds, which allowed a game-tying three-pointer to fall in at the buzzer.
Akron eventually won the game at the JAR in overtime, 91-84.
This is a game all Penguins fans should mark on their calendars. We need to bring a couple hundred fans over to Akron to show our support for our much-improved Penguins team.
Although Akron may not view YSU as a rival, Penguins fans do believe there is that extra incentive to beat this successful mid-major just an hour down the road.
Although this is a challenging road trip for YSU, their early season schedule should have them prepared for whatever these three programs throw at them. Unlike in years past, coach Slocum has a group that finds ways to win at the end of games.
That is a sign of how far this program has come and how close we are to finishing in the top half of the Horizon League.
I want to thank BleacherReport.com for giving me this opportunity to share my love and passion of Youngstown State to college sports fans all across the United States. I was given the privilege of writing on LetsGoGuins.com for the past year and also want to thank them for helping me get to where I am today.