For the past four seasons — and seven of the last eight — the automatic bid to come out of the Horizon League for the NCAA Tournament has been Green Bay. And by the end of conference play, it might very well be the Phoenix once more having risen from the ashes of their 4-5 start to ascend to the tournament championship.
But right now, the Horizon League’s top team is one that has never represented its current conference in the NCAA Tournament: Youngstown State. The Penguins are 7-2, their two losses coming in succession to Kent State and Yale before emerging with a three-game winning streak that they’re still riding. It’s the mirror opposite of last season, which they began 2-7.
In the second game of the streak, a 62-36 win over Canisius, Penguins leading scorer Alison Smolinski broke the YSU single-game three-point record, sinking nine from beyond the arc. Smolinski made six more in the Penguins’ most recent win over Saint Francis U and was supported in her 23-point effort by the team’s second-leading scorer, Sarah Cash. Along with Smolinski and Cash, McKenah Peters is the third player on YSU’s roster to average double figures in scoring this season.
The Penguins own an 8-3 record over Bucknell, but this season’s Bison team — the preseason pick to win the Patriot League — is carrying an impressive six-game winning streak into this matchup. Not only that, they also boast a 27.9 percent three-point defense, which should pose an interesting matchup against the country’s second-best three-point shooter in Smolinski.
With YSU leading the Horizon League in so many categories early on, from scoring defense to rebounding margin, a win against a quality opponent today would prove to the rest of the conference that the surging Penguins should not be overlooked this season.
Penguins in action
Youngstown State Penguins (7-2) vs. Bucknell Bison (8-2)
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. ET
Where: Sojka Pavilion, Lewisburg, PA
How to tune in: Patriot League Network
Notes: It’s Education Day in Lewisburg, with around 1,000 local students set to attend this game. A popular event in women’s basketball, Education Day allows young students the opportunity to take in a Division I basketball game, with each school offering a different promotion or educational experience for the visiting students. Illinois State, Duquesne and Lamar are among the many programs that host an annual Education Day.
Elsewhere in the Horizon League:
- The Horizon League Player of the Week is IUPUI sophomore center Macee Williams, whose 27 points and 16 rebounds on Sunday against Ohio represented her third double-double of the season. Freshman of the Week honors went to Wright State guard Anisja Harris, who made 8 three-pointers against Kentucky State as part of a 24-point performance.
- Wright State’s seven-game winning streak is the best in the conference, with five of those victories coming on the road. The Raiders now hit the road again for three more games, including the first two of the Horizon League season. Their final non-conference game is this morning against Charlotte (11:30 a.m. ET, CUSA.tv).
- IUPUI, who opens the conference season against a strong Wright State team, will want to halt a two-game losing streak that’s part of a three-of-four losing stretch when they travel to Southern Illinois for a Friday afternoon matchup (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
- The Horizon League’s fourth-best team, Milwaukee, is also the final team with a record of .500 or better, sitting at 5-5 on the season. Although they’re taking a three-game winning streak into Thursday’s final game before conference play begins, the potentially unfortunate news is that it’s against a very hot Florida State team (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
- Four-time defending Horizon League Tournament champion Green Bay have already lost more games than they did all last season, including three of their last four. They’ll try to regroup tonight against UW-Parkside (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3).