Breaking News: Alstork Commits to Illinois

Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork will play the 2017-18 season with the Illinois Fighting Illini. The 6’5″ guard averaged 19.0 points per game last season en route to being named to the All-Horizon League First Team.  He scored over 1,000 points as a Wright State Raider, despite just playing there the last two seasons. He played as a true freshman at Ball State before transferring to WSU.  Alstork will finish his college career with the unique distinction of playing for a different head coach during each season that he played.  He picked the Illini over South Carolina, LSU, and Pittsburgh, and also considered Louisville and Georgetown earlier in the process.

Expect Alstork, a versatile guard who can create his own shot and is adept at driving to the basket, to flourish under new Illinois coach Brad Underwood’s offensive-minded system. Despite losing guards Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams to graduation, the Illini will have a strong chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament next season with an at-large bid. Alstork was one of the best players in the Horizon League the past two seasons.  Given his strong ball-handling skills, ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, and his competitive spirit, Alstork’s talents should translate into him becoming one of the top guards in the Big Ten next season.

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Detroit Mercy Adds Transfer Prince; More Signings Expected Next Week

Titans head coach Bacari Alexander announced that the team has added Long Beach State graduate transfer Roschon Prince, per a Friday afternoon release on Twitter. The bulky, 6’6” forward will be eligible to play immediately and will be with the Titans for one season. Prince was the 2012-2013 Gatorade Player of the Year in California after Roschon  Princestarring at Long Beach Poly High School, where he averaged over 20 points and 7 rebounds per games as a senior. Prince then played for one season at USC for newly-hired head coach Andy Enfield, where he averaged 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in limited action. Prince then sat out the 2014-15 season after transferring to his hometown school to play for head coach Dan Monson.  Last season, Prince averaged 9.4 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game for a 49ers team that finished 15-19 overall. Prince is more of a power forward at this level, but he can play small forward in a lineup with more size. He should see a significant number of minutes next season.

In a subsequent Twitter posting yesterday, Alexander wrote in-part “Excited to roll out more recruiting developments in the coming week!”  Detroit Mercy hopes a strong recruiting class can help them bounce back from an 8-23 record last season. But the immediate impact of the incoming freshman will likely not be huge, as the Titans will return a veteran team, led by one of the Horizon League’s best backcourts in Josh McFolley and Corey Allen. Transfer swingman Kameron Chatman is also expected to be a major contributor. The big question mark remains whether Second Team All-Horizon League player Jaleel Hogan will return to Detroit Mercy. He announced a few weeks ago in a social media post that he was leaving the school, even though he has one year of eligibility left. The Titans have not yet publicly released any information on his status for next season.

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Youngstown State is a Feel-Good Story of this College Basketball Season

To appreciate where the Youngstown State men’s basketball team is going (the Horizon League Tournament semi-finals and possibly their first NCAA Tournament), you first need to understand where this program came from.  This has been a program with little success. Since joining the Horizon League in the 2001-02 season, the Penguins have had only two seasons with overall winning records. A tie for fourth place was their highest finish in the regular season standings. The Penguins overall record in Horizon League regular season play is 75-195. They have struggled even more in the Horizon League Tournament by going 4-15.  To translate these numbers, the Penguins have been decent at best on the hardwood. But more often, they have been below average. This is in contrast to having had some very good players over the years. In the Horizon League era, Quin Humphrey was a two-time All-League First Team Selection, while Kendrick Perry made the first team three seasons in a row. Keston Roberts, Damian Eargle, John Barber, and Image result for Youngstown State PenguinsBobby Hain were other notable players to wear a Penguins uniform in recent years. But YSU has not been able to have any sustained success.  They have not been able to break through that thick ceiling of mediocrity.  But the beautiful thing about college basketball is that no matter how poorly teams do in the regular season, they can still make it to the Promised Land of the NCAA Tournament if they qualify for and win their conference tournament.  So conceivably, a team could go 0-30 and then win a few games in a row and wind up in the Big Dance.  That is what makes college basketball so special.  No matter how tough of a season you had, it is never truly over until it’s over because the conference tournament is like a new season.

Youngstown State entered the 2017 Horizon League Tournament as the ninth-seed with an 11-20 record.  They had lost 7 of their last 8 games, and their defense was one of the worst in the nation in allowing over 82 points per game.  In Friday night’s opening round game, they played a Cleveland State team that they lost to just a few days earlier in the regular season finale. No one would have been surprised if the Penguins dropped another opening round game and headed home from Joe Louis Arena. But they used a balanced scoring effort, as all five starters scored in double-figures en route to an 84-69 win over the Vikings. The Penguins shot over 50% from the field, while holding the Vikings to just 38% shooting from the field. Then came the game against Oakland, and all signs pointed to a Golden Grizzlies win.  Oakland came into the game having won nine straight, and they beat the Penguins both times in the regular season by 14 and 29 points, respectively. And, oh yeah, this neutral site game was being played about 30 miles south of Oakland’s campus. But the longer the Penguins kept the game close, the better chance they had to win in the end. Junior superstar guard and All-League First Team selection Cameron Morse did a lot of what he does best, score the basketball. But ironically, when his team needed him to score the most and with the season on the line…he passed the ball. Morse had the wherewithal to see the floor and realize his team’s best chance to win was not by shooting a contested 25 foot jumper. It was by rocketing the ball to senior center Jorden Kaufman, who caught the ball and gracefully laid it in for the win.

How can you not root for a team that has had so many losing seasons in recent years? How can you not root for a team that plays in the shadows of a much more successful football program? How can you not root for a team that has had a fair amount of transfers leave the program in recent years (including this season’s leading scorer in the nation)?  The 2016-17 season will be another losing season for Penguins basketball.  But it already feels a lot better because they just made their first Horizon League Tournament semi-final game in 15 tournament appearances.  Since becoming an NCAA Division 1 team in the 1981-82 season, Youngstown State has made it to just one postseason tournament, the 2013 CIT (Collegeinsider.com Tournament). Winning two games in a conference tournament may not seem like a big deal, but it is for the Penguins.  It is the first time they have ever done that in the Horizon League, and the first time they won two games in any conference tourney since the 1998 Mid-Continent Conference tourney. Youngstown State is already a special college basketball story for not only beating top-seeded Oakland, but it was how they beat them that was so memorable. Head Coach Jerry Slocum has won over 700 games as a college basketball head coach. He would likely trade a couple hundred of those if his team could just get the next two. But this Youngstown State team has been a great story in this college basketball season, regardless of if they finally make the NCAA Tournament or not.

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Morse Connects With Kaufman to Lead Youngstown State to Epic Upset Over Oakland

With 3.3 seconds left and down one point, prolific scoring guard Cameron Morse drew all five Oakland defenders outside of the perimeter. He then rifled a pass into the paint area where a wide-open Jorden Kaufman caught the pass and laid the ball in as time expired, giving the ninth-seeded Youngstown State Penguins the improbable 81-80 win.  The game

Cameron Morse

Junior guard Cameron Morse was fantastic in YSU’s win. Photo courtesy of ysusports.com

was close throughout, with neither team leading by more than six in the second half.  After Morse banked home a jumper with 1:47 left in the game, YSU led 79-75.  But then Oakland stormed back by making two shots that got very favorable bounces, first a three from Sherron Dorsey-Walker, and then a Jalen Hayes hook shot from the paint on the next possession. After a couple of lengthy time stoppages for official reviews, regarding the ball going out of bounds and the subsequent substitutions, the Penguins finally had a chance to win, down just 80-79. Oakland had two fouls to give and they used them both, which left such a small amount of time for the Penguins to work with.  But it was just enough for them to win the game and not leave any time for Oakland to even inbound the ball again. Morse led all players with 34 points and had a team-high 5 assists. His last dime was undoubtedly the biggest one in YSU history. Kaufman added 22 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Despite only attempting 9 free throws, the Penguins made up for it by going 7-16 from three point range, and shot 44.2% from the field overall, which included 6 more made field goals than Oakland.  Hayes led the Golden Grizzlies with 27 points and 13 rebounds, while his frontcourt partner Isaiah Brock added 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Martez Walker added 22 points and Dorsey-Walker added 16 points and 8 assists.

 

The bad news for Oakland (24-8) is that they will not be returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.  The good news is that they did clinch a berth in the NIT because of them being the top-seeded team in the Horizon League.  The Golden Grizzlies have never played in the NIT before.  As for Youngstown State (13-20), they will look to continue their amazing run on Monday night when they play the winner of #4 Northern Kentucky and #5 Wright State. Two more wins will earn the Penguins a spot in their first ever NCAA Tournament.  This game will live on, not only as one of the biggest upsets in Horizon League tourney history, but also with one of the most memorable finishes.

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2016-17 HLeagueHoops Season Awards

Player of the Year: Alec Peters (Sr.) Valparaiso.

Defensive Player of the Year: Tai Odiase (Jr.) UIC

Freshman of the Year: Corey Allen, Detroit Mercy

*Most Improved Player: Justin Mitchell (Jr.) Wright State

**Transfer of the Year:  Bobby Word (Jr.) Cleveland State

Shooter of the Year:  Grant Benzinger (Jr.) Wright State

Low-Post Player of the Year: Carson Williams (Fr.) Northern Kentucky

Coach of the Year:  John Brannen, Northern Kentucky

*Only players who played in the Horizon League in the previous season are eligible for Most Improved Player.

**Only first-year Horizon League players who transferred from a JUCO or 4 year college or university are eligible for Transfer of the Year and All-Transfer Team.

 

All H-League Gold Team

Mark Alstork (Jr.) Wright State

Jalen Hayes (Jr.) Oakland

Alec Peters (Sr.) Valparaiso

Drew McDonald (So.) Northern Kentucky

Tai Odiase (Jr.) UIC

 

All H-League Silver Team

Cameron Morse (So.) Youngstown State

Shane Hammink (Sr.) Valparaiso

Lavone Holland II (Jr.) Northern Kentucky

Martez Walker (Jr.) Oakland

Jaleel Hogan (Jr.) Detroit Mercy

 

All H-League Bronze Team

Charles Cooper (Sr.) Green Bay

Rob Edwards (So.) Cleveland State

Corey Allen (Fr.) Detroit Mercy

Sherron Dorsey-Walker (Sr.) Oakland

Steven Davis (Sr.) Wright State

 

All H-League Defensive Team

Isaiah Brock (Fr.) Oakland

Josh McFolley (So.) Detroit Mercy

Tevonn Walker (Jr.) Valparaiso

Kenneth Lowe (Sr.) Green Bay

Tai Odiase (Jr.) UIC

 

All H-League Freshman Team

Corey Allen, Detroit Mercy

Isaiah Brock, Oakland

Tarkus Ferguson, UIC

Marcus Ottey, UIC

Carson Williams, Northern Kentucky

 

All H-League Transfer Team

Bobby Word (Jr.) Cleveland State

Stevie Clark (Jr.) Oakland

Clint Robinson (Jr.) UIC

Mike La Tulip (Sr.) Wright State

Jeremiah Bell (So.) Milwaukee

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Ferguson, Matthews, and Odiase Lead Flames Past Titans in Back-and-Forth Battle

In a game that had 19 lead changes, UIC endured past Detroit Mercy in an instant classic, 74-69. Both teams shot tremendously well behind the arc, while they struggled from two-point range. The Flames shot just 34.1% from two-point range, while they were a sizzling 45.5% (10-22) from downtown. The host Titans shot a paltry 26.7% from two-point range, while they were an impressive 45% (9-20) from three.  The biggest difference in the game, and the reason why the Titans did not make many two-pointers, was because of the Image result for uic flamesFlames stellar defense in blocking 12 shots. Not surprisingly, junior standout Tai Odiase had 5 blocked shots. There was a great sequence less than three minutes into the game, in which Odiase first blocked Corey Allen’s layup attempt, and then quickly recovered to block Jaleel Hogan’s shot from the paint.  Then, immediately on the other end, Odiase’s great defense was rewarded as he converted on an easy slam dunk. Odiase, the frontrunner for Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, added 7 points and 7 rebounds. What is so impressive about the Flames defense was the variety of blocked shots: From help a help defender anticipating a shot by moving from the weak side; to timing it right to block a jump shooter (which is very difficult to do); to a guard sticking with a ball handler and then blocking his shot as he drives to the basket.

Redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews provided much of the early offensive spark for the Flames, as he finished with 19 points. Matthews has been on absolute tear as of late, averaging 19.6 points per game in his last six contests. Freshman Tarkus Ferguson really led the charge in the second half, as he finished with 20 points, including 4-8 from three-point range. Power forward Clint Robinson was the Flames most efficient player, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds in just 12 minutes of play.   The Titans were led by freshman star Corey Allen, who had a game-high 21 points.  The H-League’s best three-point shooter continued to exhibit his long-range prowess, as he went 5-10 from downtown. The Titans were up by as many as 8 points on two separate occasions, but the Flames quickly narrowed the gap at both points in the game. Titan big men Jaleel Hogan and Gerald Blackshear were solid, combining for 22 points and 15 rebounds.  But the Titans interior defense gave up crucial baskets late in the game in the paint, which proved to be a big difference. The Flames also made some crucial free throws down the stretch, going 6-8 in the final two and a half minutes of the game.

This was a very entertaining game that featured two young teams, who should be significantly better next season.  But both are still very good right now, and will be difficult match-ups for any opponent in the upcoming Horizon League Tournament. UIC improves to 14-13 overall and 7-7 in league play, which will almost assuredly earn them a sixth place finish in the final league standings. Don’t forget that they are prevailing without their superstar guard Dikembe Dixson. Detroit Mercy falls to 6-20 overall and 4-10 in league play.  Seeing as they are currently one of four teams with 4 conference wins, the Titans will likely finish anywhere from 7th to 10th place. On Sunday afternoon, the Titans will host Valparaiso, while the Flames will travel north on I-75 to play at Oakland.

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Green Bay Pounds Valpo to Keep Pace in Horizon League Standings

In a battle of two of the best rebounding teams in the country, Green Bay (11th at 40.7 rpg) dominated the glass, as well of the turnover battle, en route to an emphatic 86-69 win over league-leading Valparaiso (21st at 39.9 rpg). Despite having two seven footers, and one of the nation’s best rebounders in Alec Peters, Valpo got pushed around on the boards all day, as Green Bay outrebounded them 53-32. The Phoenix also had 20 offensive rebounds, which led to a lot of second-chance scoring opportunities and a major reason the free throw disparity was so huge. Equally impressive was that Green Bay only had 4 turnovers in the first 30 minutes, and finished with just 8 total. The Phoenix had a balanced scoring attack, with five players in double-figures, led by Kerem Kanter with 17 points and Charles Cooper with 15, while Turner Botz and Warren Jones each added 12. TheImage result for green bay phoenix Phoenix never relinquished their lead after going up 6-4 in the early minutes. Green Bay was up by nine points at halftime, and that lead swelled up to as much as 23 points in the second half. Valparaiso did not give up though, as they cut the deficit to 10 points with just about two and a half minutes left. But Green Bay settled down and worked the clock down to get good shots. This can be difficult for them to do because it is in contrast to their high-tempo style of play. Both teams shot an unimpressive 41 percent from the field. But the big difference offensively was that Green Bay attempted 35 free throws (making 24), while Valpo attempted only 18 (making 11).  Peters led all players with 20 points, but he failed to reach double-digits in rebounds for just the third time in the last 15 games. Tevonn Walker added 16 points in the defeat.

This is a particularly impressive win for Green Bay, given the fact that they lost at Valpo by 24 points a few weeks ago.  More importantly, the Phoenix improves to 9-3 (15-9 overall) in the Horizon League, putting them just a half-game behind Valpo’s 9-2 (19-5 overall) record. Both teams firmly hold the league’s top two spots, which is important to get the opening round bye in the Horizon League Tournament. Green Bay has recovered nicely following Sunday’s shocking one-point loss at Detroit Mercy. But now they will embark on a tough four-game road stretch, where all of their games are on the road, beginning Thursday at Northern Kentucky. Meanwhile, Valpo looks to recover back at home, as they begin a two-game stand on Thursday against Cleveland State. Don’t be surprised if these two teams wind up playing one another in the championship game at Joe Louis Arena.  Not only have they distanced themselves as the league’s two best teams, they are also the two most experienced teams who are led by seasoned upperclassmen. If they do meet in the title game, it should be an epic because, unfortunately, the Horizon League will not be getting any at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. Just like last season, Green Bay is starting to peak at the right time.

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