It was early afternoon on March 28.
Bob Boldon, who led the women’s basketball team to a 23-10 record and an invitation in the Women’s NIT, was hired as the next coach for Ohio University.
“I don’t blame him,” I said to Dustin Livesay, The Jambar’s multimedia editor. “That’s a great move because the team won’t be as good without Brandi [Brown] anyway.”
Throughout the first 13 games this season, the Penguins finished 4-9 during their non-conference schedule. My prediction was right.
Then, the Horizon League slate began. My prediction became ridiculous. Youngstown State University is 5-0 and the No. 1 team in the conference. The Penguins concluded this start on Saturday, defeating Oakland University 79-64.
I wasn’t the only one baffled about this perfect start. The Vindicator sports reporter Joe Scalzo looked just as stunned as myself after YSU’s 21-3 scoring run.
“How are they winning?” That question Sclazo asked took an immediate impact. I started asking myself the same thing. I may have found a few solutions.
First, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay dominated the Horizon League the last few seasons, including another undefeated season last year.
This season, the Phoenix has lost a significant amount of seniors. Green Bay, against the Penguins on Jan. 16 (YSU won, 66-57), started three players that are either a freshman or sophomore.
Second, Loyola University Chicago drilled the Penguins in the Horizon League Tournament. I predicted that Loyola would win the conference this season.
Guess what? The Ramblers left. Insert Oakland.
Besides the No. 1 Penguins and winless University of Detroit Mercy, the conference is pretty even. What many people may not realize is YSU only lost two key players from last season.
The biggest change was coaching, replacing Boldon with John Barnes, who was an assistant with Green Bay last year. He knows what it means to be in first place.
During Media Day, Hornberger said the team rarely picked up a basketball. The Penguins focused on defense and the offense would come. It took the whole non-conference schedule for YSU and Barnes to connect.
That’s why there is a non-conference schedule.
Also, the Penguins faced teams such as Cincinnati, West Virginia and Akron. Minus going into double overtime against a Division II school, YSU faced tougher comptetition while adjusting to new coaching changes.
(Keep in mind for the next section that YSU still has 11 games to go. The stats compared are from last season’s 33 games to this year’s 18.)
Last year, rebounding wise, nobody compared with Brown’s 11.1 per game. She tallied 365 total rebounds out of the team’s 1,123. That’s 32.5 percent. Karen Flagg was second with 134 (11.9 percent).
Obviously, one can’t replace what Brown, but one could recreate her in the form of multiple players.
Heidi Schlegel and Flagg each lead with 129 total rebounds. Latisha Walker isn’t far behind with 120. These three players have contributed to 52 percent of YSU’s total rebounds. Last year, the three players contributed to 18.9 percent of the rebounds (Walker did not play last year due to NCAA transfer requirements.)
What about scoring? For this portion, I also included Shar’Rae Davis. A member of the Horizon League All-Newcomer team last year, Davis is medically out for this season.
Davis scored 9.6 points per game. Combined with Brown, the two averaged 29.7 points per game a season ago (remember this number). Replace this stat with more consistency from the others.
Schlegel leads YSU with 19.7, which is 10.1 points more per game than a season ago. Liz Hornberger is second with 9.7, and she is even better against conference rivals, averaging 14.6. She averaged 7.5 last year.
Flagg is scoring 8.8 points per game opposed to last season’s 6.9. Walker is fourth with 8.3. Monica Touvelle stays consistent with 7.5 this year and seven last.
Jenna Hirsch, an unanticipated replacement for Davis, is averaging 6.7 points per game. When news of Davis first broke, Barnes trial-tested Flagg and Hornberger as the new point guards. That did not work out at all. Hirsch is taking full advantage of this opportunity.
Add the numbers. Schlegel, Hornberger, Flagg and Touvelle have combined for 14.7 more points per game than they averaged last year. Throw in Walker and Hirsch, the number increases to 29.7, which is the same number Brown and Davis averaged together last year. YSU did not lose scoring.
Other factors are involved as well that I didn’t mention, such as defense, free throws, 3-point shooting, etc. These are the two most important differences that I found.