It’s been a “Whirlwind,” says Youngstown State head coach Jerrod Calhoun.
Originally supposed to play in The Basketball Classic’s second round at Wofford, the Penguins (19-14) have spent this week in California instead. The game with Wofford never materialized, and YSU “Advanced” to the Classic quarterfinals, where they’ll face Fresno State tonight in The Golden State.
Tipoff is set for 10 pm in FSU’s Save Mart Center (ESPN +, 570 AM WKBN). YSU advanced to this point with a 70-65 win over Morgan State in the tournament’s first round. This will be the first meeting between the two programs. YSU is seeking its second 20-win season in Division I play in program history.
“It’s been a really unique experience for our guys to spend time on the West Coast in (Los Angeles) at the various things we’ve been able to do,” Calhoun said. “So that part has been really, really exciting for our guys. And then we (left Tuesday night) to bus over to Fresno and play a very, very good Fresno State team. “
The Bulldogs, which topped Eastern Washington 83-74 in their tourney opener, hail from the Mountain West Conference and enter at 20-13 overall and are No. 73 in the NCAA’s NET rankings – the highest rated team YSU will have faced this season. West Virginia is presently 78th and was the previous top-rated team in NET on YSU’s schedule.
“They were probably just a couple of games away from playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Calhoun said. “They lost at San Diego State in (double) overtime, Wyoming (twice by a total of six points), and the Mountain West sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. So you’re playing a top 75 team in the country in Fresno State clear across the country. It’s a great opportunity for our guys to play meaningful basketball deep in March. “
Exciting, but also a challenge. The Bulldogs are paced by star center Orlando Robinson, a 7-footer who Calhoun says has NBA potential. He’s averaging 19.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, while Isaiah Hill adds 10.1 points and Anthony Holland scores 9.6.
Calhoun says the Bulldogs operate inside-out, and “Everything starts and ends with Orlando Robinson.”
“Whatever action, initial action, they run, it ends with the ball going inside to him,” Calhoun added. “This kid has seen double teams, triple teams; he’s seen it all. I really like his game about him because he’s got a good feel and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and he’s seeing that many double teams. That speaks volumes to how he understands the game. “
Robinson has the second-most assists of any Fresno State player this year with 93. Hill has 101.
To slow Robinson and the Bulldogs down, Calhoun says YSU will mix things up and “Give a steady dose of everything.” As such, expect some man-to-man, zone and even some traps to try and turn the ball over.
The Penguins also will try to speed FSU up, the coach added, because the Bulldogs don’t operate with a lot of tempo, and will need to attack the glass especially well.
“We need to get out and run,” Calhoun said. “We need to score early in the shot clock. We don’t want to play against a set defense. We have to get our players in attack mode. “
He noted that Fresno State’s last opponent, Eastern Washington, scored 73 points on the Bulldogs – well above the FSU defense’s average points allowed mark of 59 – by using tempo and hitting 3-pointers.
Playing such a talented team this late into March is a critical building block for YSU’s program, Calhoun said.
“Nobody on our roster has ever done it, so this will prepare our guys for the future,” he noted. “If you’re going to have a successful program, you have to get used to playing in late March and preparing. So it’s an exciting trip for everybody. “