Flashes beat Green Bay 64-59 and move on to play Butler in WNIT second round

WNIT scoreThere are so many different stories from Kent State’s game against Wisconsin-Green Bay Thursday night, but the biggest is this:

It was Kent State 64, Green Bay 59 for Kent State’s first WNIT victory ever and first postseason win since 1996. None of Kent State’s players were even born then.

The Flashes advance to the second round of the tournament to play at Butler at 7 p;m. Saturday.

Here are some of the key threads from the game:

  • Kent State scored 13 more points than teams averaged against Green Bay, the fourth-best defensive team in the country by some ratings.
  • KSU’s was the dominant defense Thursday. The Flashes forced 15 turnovers and scored 12 points off of them. Green Bay was able to take 48 shots, 12 fewer than the Flashes.
  • Flashes trailed by 13 points in the third quarter. They scored the last nine points of the quarter and outscored Green Bay 25-16 in the fourth quarter.
  • Senior Merissa Barber-Smith, playing in front of her family for the first time in her college career, had 15 rebounds and made two critical free throws in the fourth quarter. Senior Alexa Golden had 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
  • Redshirt junior Megan Carter had 21 points, including 12-of-14 free throws, to lead KSU. Freshman Asiah Dingle had 15 points, two assists and two steals. Freshman Lindsey Thall had three three-point baskets in the fourth quarter.
  • Carter, Golden, Barber-Smith and coach Todd Starkey agreed it was the team’s biggest win in Starkey’s three seasons at Kent State. For the three players, it was the biggest in their four years as Flashes.

Here’s a great video clip of the KSU locker room celebrations.

The offense

The Flashes only made 30 percent of their shots against the tough Green Bay defense. But they did get to the foul line in the second half, and that’s where they won the game.

“We were much more aggressive in the second half,” Starkey said. “We’ve been saying all season that the aggressor has the advantage.”

So the Flashes drove to the basket. Dingle was hard to stop; Green Bay hadn’t seen many guards in the Horizon with her quickness.

“She’s unique,” Starkey said. “She made a couple of those attacking drives to the basket and got the basket. She got a high level of confidence from that. And when she does that, she gets better on the defensive end. And the team feeds off of that.”

Carter got to the foul line six times in the third quarter and eight in the fourth. She made 10 of those shots.

“I knew I wasn’t shooting well,” she said, “so I wanted to get to the free-throw line and make sure my mechanics were good when I got there.”

What about the mechanics?

“I’m not thinking. I just go through my routine. Three dribbles, look at the basket and shoot it. It’s muscle memory.”

The defense

Starkey praised Golden, the leader of the KSU defense all season, for the work she did when the player she was guarding didn’t have the ball.

“If you turn your head, they’re going to cut or move,” Golden said. “We really had to play great on-ball defense and play in our gaps and know where our man and the ball was at all times.”

Green Bay made 43 percent of its shots and 54 percent of its 3-pointers, but Kent made the Phoenix work to get the shots off. Green Bay made 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point arc in the second quarter when it took the lead. But it was able to got off only six 3-pointers in the second half.

The Flashes had 10 steals for the game, led by Golden’s four and two from Dingle and Barber-Smith.

Green Bay tried to pound the ball to 6-3 senior Madison Wolf against Barber-Smith in the fourth quarter. Kent’s center picked up a couple of fouls and tried a different tactic.

“I thought that when she gets the ball and turns around, she’s just going to try to bulldoze her way to the basket,” Barber-Smith said. “So I will put my hands up and just see how it goes. Maybe she’ll make it, maybe she won’t. And I’m getting the rebound if she doesn’t.”

The players

BARBER-SMITH got a ton of rebounds — 15. Over the last month, she’s averaged more than 13.

“I wasn’t shooting much today,” she said. “But I’m going to provide rebounds no matter what. And we needed those rebounds.”

Starkey said Barber-Smith made a huge difference.

“Merissa did a great job of offensive rebounding and kicking it out,” he said “I can think of four or five possessions in the second half when she got an offensive rebound and saved a possession.”

Kent had five second-chance points. Green Bay had zero.

Barber-Smith is from Madison, Wisconsin, which is about two hours away from Green Bay. Because the trip from Madison to Kent is so far, her family had never seen her play.

Playing in front of them “really, like, burned fire in my heart,” she said.

And what did they say?

“Oh, you’re so great. We’re so happy you came out here. We love you, dude.”

GOLDEN, as it seems every game, went to the floor hard on a rebound in the first half and lay on the floor for 30 seconds. She popped up and jogged off the court, went to the locker room briefly and came back for the fourth quarter.

“That was a little harder than usual,” she said. “I’ll probably be sore, but it’s fine. We got the win. That’s all I care about.”

The victory

“Defensively, they are just so physical and very difficult to score against,” Starkey said. “The second quarter (when Green Bay outscored KSU 20-9) was obviously proof of that. We needed to be the same way. We needed to make sure that we matched their toughness.”

After trailing 43-30 with 2:14 to go in the third quarter, KSU went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter, then took the lead with about four minutes to go in the game.

“At the last media timeout (about 30 seconds before KSU went ahead). we were really loose in the huddle and like, ‘We’re not going anywhere. ‘” Starkey said. “We’re going to play this out to the end.’

“And our players were smiling and really connected. They wanted to win. They were excited about it. They had confidence that they were going to win.

“I wonder if their huddle was a little more tense.”

Golden put it like this:

“We knew the fourth quarter had to be the best quarter that we’d played all year.”

The big plays

Here are seven:

  • With 1:29 to go in the third quarter, Thall found freshman Hannah Young in the corner, and Young hit a 3-point shot.  “We were really struggling to score at that point,” Starkey said. “And that really kind of broke it open for us.”
  • With 14 seconds to go in the quarter, Dingle poked the ball away from the player she was guarding and went three-quarters of the court for a layup and was fouled. That made is 43-39 Green Bay going into the fourth quarter.
  • With 4:28 to go in the fourth quarter, Golden fed Thall for a 3-point basket. Carter was fouled as players jockeyed for position for the rebound. She hit both free throws for a five-point play for the Flashes. It made the scored 54-52 Green Bay.
  • 30 seconds later, Dingle found Carter open on the left side for the three-point basket that put Kent State ahead 55-54. The Flashes never trailed after that.
  • 40 seconds after that, Dingle stole the ball in front of the Green Bay basket. Starkey called time while she was sitting on the floor.
  • 12 seconds later, Dingle drove to the basket and kicked the ball out to Thall, who hit her third three-pointer of the quarter. “We told Lindsey to loop behind the drive, and she hit the big 3” Starkey said. “She listened. So that’s two freshmen listening and executing down the stretch.”
  • And with 1:04 to go, Barber-Smith was fouled after grabbing a rebound with KSU ahead 58-56.

Barber-Smith is not Kent State’s best shooter. She was making 44 percent going into the game and had missed two free throws in the first half.

She hit both shots. (“Biggest free throws of her career,” Starkey said.)

“I heard someone say, ‘She doesn’t want these,'” Barber-Smith said. “And I’m like, ‘All right, then’

“So I’m out to the free throw line, and I was imagining myself in practice again while we do those pressure free throws, when we have to run if we don’t make them. I remember for those, I always smile. It  like releases the dark energy.

“So I walk the your free throw line, and I start smiling. I’m like, ‘All right, this isn’t so bad.‘ I made the first one. Then I’m like, ‘All right, so these are do it again.’ I shot the second and it went in. And I’m like, ‘Well, okay.'”

Box score

Notes

  • The victory moves Kent State’s record to 20-12, the Flashes’ first 20-win season since 2010-11. They’re now 1-4 in the WNIT.
  • Green Bay lost its fifth WNIT game. It has never won, though it has victories in the NCAA Tournament. The Phoenix finish the season at 22-10.
  • Kent State committed a season-low eight turnovers. “When possessions are so valuable, you can’t squander the opportunity,” Starkey said.
  • Green Bay made four of its last five shots of the first half, including three 3-pointers, to take a 29-21 lead.
  • Thall picked up two first-quarter fouls and played only four minutes in the first half. She didn’t commit a foul in the second and played all 20 minutes.
  • KSU outrebounded the Phoenix 39-35 and outscored them on fast breaks 6-0. Green Bay outscored the Flashes 26-14 in the paint.
  • Attendance was 1,269 in Green Bay’s Kress Center, which is used only for women’s basketball.

About Butler

Butler (22-9) routed Northeastern 89-72 Thursday. The Bulldogs finished third in the Big East with an 11-7 record. Their RPI is 69 and Omni ranking 67. (RPI focuses on record and strength of schedule. Omni also takes into account wins against good competition, margin of victory and recent record.)

With the Green Bay win, Kent’s RPI increased seven spots to 76 Its Omni ranking was 118 before Thursday’s game.

Driving time to Butler is about five-and-a-half hours. Here are directions to Hinkle Field House, where Saturday’s game will be played. I don’t find ticket prices online.

Butler led the Big East in scoring defense (57.9), field goal defense (36.8 percent), steals (328), and turnovers forced (18.6). Michelle Weaver was the Big East defensive players of the year; Tori Schickel (12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds) was second-team all-conference and coach Kurt Godlevske was Big East coach of the year.

“It’s a challenge,” Starkey said. “But at this time of year, everything’s a challenge. You’re just trying to enjoy the ride.”

Butler had never hosted a WNIT game before Thursday’s meeting with Northeastern.

Kent State’s team bused to Milwaukee after Thursday’s game and was traveling on to Butler Friday. Starkey said assistant coach Morgan Toles had already started on the scout report for the game — just to be prepared. He also praised Allison Seberger, the team’s director of basketball operations, for handling the logistics of setting up travel to Green Bay on two days notice, then starting again for a second trip at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Winner of the Butler-KSU game will play the winner of the game between Cincinnati, which beat Youngstown State 76-62, and the winner of Friday’s game between Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Updated WNIT bracket

Other MAC scores in the WNIT

 

  • Toledo 71, Seton Hall 65.
  • Western Kentucky 67, Miami 63
  • Ohio 81, High Point 74.
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WNIT 2019: Flashes face Green Bay, one of nation’s top mid-major teams

Team

Flashes Ali Poole (23), Megan Carter (31), Mariah Modkins 5) and Lindsey Thall. (Photo by David Dermer from KSU website.)

Kent State’s task against Wisconsin-Green Bay in the WNIT Thursday is not an easy one.

The Flashes are going up against a perennial mid-major power, a team that has made postseason 20 years in a row. They’re playing one of the best defensive teams in the country. Green Bay allows only 51 points a game.

They are playing at Green Bay, where the Phoenix were 13-2 this season. It’s the first postseason game Green Bay has ever played on its home floor. The Phoenix have mostly played in the NCAA Tournament, and they’ve never hosted a home WNIT game.

KSU had one of the toughest travel assignment in the WNIT. The Flashes left Kent at about 4 a.m. Wednesday for a flight to Wisconsin. When they played in the WNIT two years ago, they had a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Ann Arbor.

The game is at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. in Green Bay) and will be telecast on ESPN3.

“It’s a tough draw, and our margin for error in this game will be very small,”  coach Todd Starkey told Allen Moff of the Record-Courier this week.”They are so rigid defensively, a really tough fundamental team. Their starting lineup is all fourth- or fifth-year players.

“But our team is excited to play. It’s bonus basketball for us, and we’re proud to represent the MAC in a field that’s stacked with good teams.”

Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth, who has won 410 games in two stints at Green Bay and five years at Michigan, had nice things to say about KSU, too.

They are really good,” he said in the Green Bay OPress Gazette.. “The MAC is a really good conference. They have a lot of teams in postseason play. AIt seems like any one of them could have finished on top, with Kent State being one of those teams.

“Kent State beat Youngstown State by 30. They lost to Wright State by six. They beat Oakland and they beat Northern Kentucky. They are really good.”

All four of those teams, like Green Bay, are members of the Horizon League.

Wright State was the first team other than Green Bay to win the Horizon regular season outright in more than 20 years. The Raiders beat Green Bay in two out of three games, winning by 18 at home, losing by 19 in Green Bay and winning by three in the league tournament.

Green Bay won two out of three against YSU and swept the season series against Oakland and Northern Kentucky.

One nice note on the game: It’s a chance for friends and family of senior Merissa Barber-Smith to see her play in person close to home. Barber-Smith, Kent’s leading rebounder, went to high school in Madison. That’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Green Bay.

About the game

Kent State (19-12, tied for fifth in the MAC) at Wisconsin-Green Bay (22-9, second in the Horizon League) at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Kress Center in Green Bay. Time is 7 p.m. Eastern. Winner will advance to play Butler or Northeastern.

About Green Bay

RPI: 69 of 351 teams as compiled by there NCAA. Omni Rankings: 54(RPI emphasizes record and strength of schedule. Omni also takes into account record against good teams and margin of victory. It emphasizes recent games.) Schedule strength: 4. Fifteenth-ranked mid-major team by CollegeInsider.com.

LAST GAME: Lost to Wright State 55-52 March 12 in finals of Horizon League Tournament.

KEY TEAM STATS 

(From HerHoopStats.com, an analytics service)

  • Scores 63.1 points a game, 196th of 351 Division I teams. Opponents score 53.4 (fifth).
  • Field-goal percentage: 41.5 (114th).
  • 3-point percentage: 34.0 (69th). Percentage of points from three-points: 30.5 (116th). 2-point percentage: 45.3 (133rd).
  • Free throw percentage 65.9 (279th).
  • Offensive-rebounding rate: 31.6 percent (198th). Defensive rebounding rate: b (48th). (Rebounding rate is the percent of possible offensive rebounds a team actually gets.)
  • Assist rate (percentage of baskets with assists): 61.2 (59th). Turnover rate: 16.9 percent (69th). Steals per game: 9.1 (69th). Blocks per game: 3.1 (187th). Foul rate: 25.1 percent (207th).
  • Field-goal defense: 39.3 (fourth in Division I).
  • Opponents’ 3-point percentage: 27.2 (14th). Opponents 2-point percentage: 40.0 (36th).
  • Opponents assist rate: 55.5 (168th). Opponents’ turnover rate 21.6 (61st). Opponents steal rate: 9.3 (62nd).

KEY PLAYERS

  • 5-foot-8 junior guard Frankie Wurtz: 10.4 points per game, 4.4 rebounds.
  • 5-9 senior guard Laken James: 9.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.1 steals. Second-team all-Horizon.
  • 5-8 senior guard Jen Wellnitz,: 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.7 steals. Horizon League defensive player of the year and first-team all-league.
  • 6-3 freshman forward Madison Wolf,: 8.1 points, 7 rebounds.

Kent State

RPI: 83. Omni Ranking: 118. Schedule strength: 88.

LAST GAME: Lost to eventual-tournament champion Buffalo 85-52 in MAC quarterfinals March 13.

KEY TEAM STATS 

  • Scores 65.2 points a game, 149th of 351 Division I teams. Opponents score 62.9 (123rd).
  • Field-goal percentage: 37.0 (288th). 3-point percentage: 32.1 (133rd). 2-point percentage: 39.9 (305th).
  • Free throw percentage 73.0 (79th).
  • Offensive-rebounding rate: 31.2 percent (215th). Defensive rebounding rate: 69.8 (100th).
  • Assist rate: 48.2 (317th). Turnover rate: 18.3 percent (131). Steals per game: 8.0 (147th). Blocks per game: 4.0 (73rd). Foul rate: 24.4 (162nd).
  • Field-goal defense: 38.3 (82nd). Opponents’ 3-point percentage: 31.9 (198th). Opponents 2-point percentage: 41.8 (81st).
  • Opponents’ assist rate: 56.4 (192nd). Opponents’ turnover rate 21.5 (62nd). Opponents/ steal rate: 9.8 (98th).

KEY PLAYER STATS

  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.0 points per game. Free-throw percentage: 73.4. All-MAC third team.
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 7.4 points. Steals: 2.8. Assists: 2.7. Rebounds: 5.5. All-MAC defensive team.
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points. Free-throw percentage: 77.9 . Steals: 2.0. Assists: 2.5. MAC all-freshman team. Runner-up for freshman of the year.
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.4 points. 3-point percentage: 40.1.  Blocked shots: 1.8. Rebounds: 4.8. MAC all-freshman team.
  • 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.5 rebounds. Blocked shots: 1.2.
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.1 points. Rebounds: 4.2.

To follow the game

Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play

Video is through ESPN3. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer or through the ESPN app.

Live statistics are available through the Green Bay website.

Links

Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Detailed media game notes from Kent State.

Preview from Green Bay website, including links.

Detailed media game notes from Green Bay.

WNIT bracket

Flashes to play at Green Bay on Thursday in WNIT first round

Dingle driving

KSU’s Asiah Dingle is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13 points a game and a member of the MAC’s all-freshman team. (File photo by David Dermer.)

Kent State will open WNIT play Thursday at Wisconsin-Green Bay, a mid-major power for more than two decades.

Game time is 7 p.m. Eastern time, 6 in Green Bay and will be on ESPN3. Team left for Wisconsin before dawn Wednesday.

Green Bay went 22-9 this season and finished second in the Horizon League with a 15-3 record. It lost in the conference tournament final 55-52 to Wright State, a team that beat KSU 61-55 in December. Green Bay’s RPI is 69.

Green Bay has won at least 20 games every season since 1999-2000. Until this year, they had won 20 straight Horizon League championships.

The Phoenix have made a postseason tournament every year since 1998 — 17 times in the NCAA and four times in the WNIT. They reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2010-11.

“They’re a tough draw,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They play a different style of defense that’s tough to prepare for in a short time. But we’ll get it together.”

The Phoenix went 5-6 in a non-conference schedule ranked fourth hardest in the country by WarrenNolan.com.

They beat 23-10 Missouri, 25-7 Maine, 17-13 Dayton, 15-18 Wisconsin and Division II Wisconsin Parkside.

They lost to 16-14 Northwestern, 26-7 DePaul, 26-6 South Dakota State, 26-5 South Dakota and 26-7 Marquette.

They were ranked 15th in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major top 25.

Green Bay and Kent State played in 1994, 2003 and 2004, with the Phoenix winning all three. The first two games were by more than 20 points; the third was 63-57 in Kent.

As Starkey said, Green Bay plays big-time defense. The Phoenix allowed 52.4 points a game, fourth best in the country, and a shooting percentage of 34.4, eighth in the country. They allowed the fewest field goals in Division I.

Kent State had one of the better defenses in the MAC, but its numbers weren’t close to that — opponents scored 62.1 points a game and shot 37.9 percent.

Green Bay averages 63.1 points on offense, about 3 points fewer than Kent State. The Phoenix are a deliberate team, ranking 337th (of 351 teams) in the country in the number of possessions per game.

Only one Green Bay player averaged more than 10 points a game, but three more average more than eight and three more average more than six. Ten average more than 10 minutes per game.

Kent State played four Horizon League teams in the preseason and lost only to Wright State. Green Bay won two of three games with Youngstown State, a team KSU beat by 28 points in one of its best games of the season. The Phoenix swept Northern Kentucky and Oakland, teams Kent State defeated, and lost two of three to Wright State.

The winner of the KSU-Green Bay game will play the winner of the game between Butler and Northeastern. The second-round game will be played March 23-26.

The Flashes are going to the WNIT for the second time in three years.

Two years ago, Kent State lost to eventual-champion Michigan in the first round of the WNIT 67-60.

“To get there two out of our first three years means a lot,” Starkey said. “We always have high expectations, but it was a long shot to do that right out of the gate.

“For us to make this field speaks volumes about this program. We did it in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year with five freshmen. It means we’re recruiting well, we’re developing players and doing things that can really lead to future success.”

Kent’s upperclassmen, Starkey said, “know how hard it is to get in the WNIT.”

“The freshmen will be excited about it,” he said. “But I think they also will learn to appreciate it even more the longer they’re here.”

On Wednesday, the Flashes lost to eventual champion Buffalo 85-52 in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament. It was KSU’s worst margin of defeat this season and came five days after Kent had upset the Bulls 62-53 in the last game of the regular season. But Starkey said the team is putting that behind them.

“We knew beating Buffalo twice in one week was going to be a tall order,” he said. “They’re a better team than us. So we move on.”

The team took a few days off and has had good practices the last two days, he said.

The Flashes will practice in Kent on Tuesday and probably leave for Green Bay Wednesday. Travel plans were still being worked out Monday night.

Getting to Green Bay

Best way to get there seems to be to fly to Milwaukee and rent a car for the two-hour drive to Green Bay. Southwest has two non-stop flights a day for about $450 roundtrip. Other flights are one stop with a layover for about the same price. Drive time from Kent is about eight-and-a-half hours.

The rest of the MAC

In the NCAA tournament, Central Michigan got an eighth seed and will play No. 9 Michigan State in the first round at Notre Dame. If they win, they’ll play to No. 1 seeded Irish, assuming Notre Dame beats

Buffalo is a 10 seed and will play No. 7 Rutgers at Connecticut. Winner of the Buffalo game will play the winner of the Connecticut-Towson game. Connecticut got a second seed in the tournament, the first time since 2006 the Huskies haven’t been a No. 1. Louisville got the top seed in that region.

In the WNIT:

  • High Point will play at Ohio.
  • Seton Hall will play at Toledo.
  • Western Kentucky will play at Miami.

Four other Ohio teams are in the tournament:

  • Moorhead State plays at Ohio State Wednesday.
  • Youngstown State plays at Cincinnati Thursday.
  • Dayton plays at Northwestern.

WNIT seeding isn’t as clear-cut as the NCAA, but it looks like top seeds are Arkansas, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Arizona.

Link to WNIT bracket.

Release announcing pairings.

 

 

Flashes make WNIT and await announcement of opponent

Kent State is headed in the WNIT for the second time in three years.

The Flashes were one of 32 teams announced Monday. Pairings will come later tonight. First-round games will be played on campus sites Wednesday through Friday. Game times will be announced Tuesday.

Kent State will definitely be on the road. Teams bid a minimum of $6,500 to host a home game, and KSU decided not to do that.

The WNIT tries to minimum travel expense and missed class time in the first round. So the initial games are almost always played within driving distance. Best guess is the Flashes could be as close as Ohio State and Cincinnati or as far away as Butler (Indiana) or Georgetown (Washington, D.C.).

MAC teams Ohio, Miami and Toledo also are in the WNIT field. Ohio was one of the last teams out in NCAA selection.

Central Michigan and Buffalo made the NCAA field.

Two years ago, Kent State lost to eventual-champion Michigan in the first round of the WNIT 67-60.

“To get there two out of our first three years means a lot,” Starkey said. “We always have high expectations, but it was a long shot to do that right out of the gate.

“I think for us to make this field speaks volumes about this program. We did it in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year with five freshmen. It means we’re recruiting well, we’re developing players and doing things that can really lead to future success.”

Kent’s upperclassmen, Starkey said, “know how hard it is to get in the WNIT.”

“The freshmen will be excited about it,” he said. “But I think they also will learn to appreciate it even more the longer they’re here.”

On Wednesday, the Flashes lost to eventual champion Buffalo 85-52 in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament. It was KSU’s worst margin of defeat this season and came five days after Kent had upset the Bulls 62-53 in the last game of the regular season. But Starkey said the team is putting that behind them.

“We knew beating Buffalo twice in one week was was going to be a tall order,” he said. “They’re a better team than us. So we move on.”

The team took a few days off and has had good practices the last two days, he said.

Here’s the WNIT post announcing the field:

 

 

 

Update: CMU, Buffalo make NCAA tournament; Kent still on track for WNIT

Buffalo action 3

KSU junior Ali Poole in action vs. Buffalo in the MAC Tournament. (Photo by Austin Marisasy.)

Update: No three-bid league for the MAC

Central Michigan and Buffalo are indeed the only MAC teams to make the NCAA field. No. 8 Central will play No. 9 Michigan State in a very interesting match-up. No. 10 Buffalo will play No. 7 Rutgers. Bracket was released hours early because of an ESPN mistake.

Ohio was third on the NCAA’s list of “first four teams out.”

It still looks as if Kent State will make the WNIT, though the Flashes definitely won’t play in Dayton and may be less likely to play at Cincinnati.

But the Mid-American Conference’s stock seems to be falling for the NCAA Tournament.

In a new wrinkle this year, the NCAA selection committee released a “debatable eight” list last night, outlining eight teams in contention for the last four spots in the tournament. The list includes Ohio, which a few days ago seemed to have a pretty good chance at making the tournament. Ohio went 27-5 on the season and finished second in the MAC.

Here’s the full list as announced on ESPN yesterday. (ESPN broadcasts the women’s NCAA tournament):

  • Arkansas (20-11, RPI 67, Omni ranking 71.)
  • Auburn (21-9, RPI 50, Omni 47.
  • Indiana (20-12, RPI 48, Omni 42.)
  • Ohio (27-4, RPI 34, Omni 74) .
  • Princeton (22-9, RPI 44, Omni 61).
  • Tennessee (19-12, RPI, Omni 49).
  • TCU (20-10, RPI 58, Omni 43).
  • UCF (26-6, RPI 15, Omni 64).

The list was out of date almost as soon as it was released. Princeton beat Penn in the finals of the the Ivy League tournament shortly after the NCAA named the eight. It’s unclear whether the Tigers would be replaced on the debatable list; I’ve seen nothing that indicated they would be.

Since the debatable eight list came out, I’ve seen no NCAA bracket that included Ohio.

RPI emphasizes a team’s record and strength of schedule. It is based 25 percent on a team’s record, 25 percent on its opponents’ record, and 50 percent on its opponents’ opponents’ record. Road victories are weighted and home losses are weighted more than twice as much as how wins and road defeats. The flaw in the RPI is that you get lots of credit for playing good teams; the RPI doesn’t take into account whether you beat them. So the RPI has fallen into disfavor in recent years; the NCAA men’s committee has dropped it entirely.

The Omni rankings were pointed out to be this week by the KSU athletics communication and women’s basketball people. They’re broader, also including things like wins against stronger teams, margin of victory (counting for less as the margin gets bigger) and heavier of results of recent games. 

The WNIT says it uses both the RPI and broader measures.

What seems to be hurting Ohio is its strength of schedule. One service ranked their schedule 270th hardest out of 351 teams.

Kent and the WNIT

The unofficial word from the KSU athletic department is that Dayton is definitely out as a first-round opponent. The city is hosting the “First Four” of the NCAA men’s tournament, which means Dayton won’t be hosting any first-round women’s game. As expected, sources say Kent State won’t be hosting a game.

They also say Cincinnati (21-10, RPI 77, Omni 62) is less likely than I thought because the city is so centrally located that it’s an attractive site for many teams.

So that leaves Ohio State (14-14, RPI 101, Omni 77) among my previous predictions as a likely site. Other possibilities include (by distance, with closest first) West Virginia (20-10, RPI 79, Omni 26), IUPUI 19-11, RPI 135, Omni 88), Butler (21-9, RPI 74), RPI 56, Omni 67), American 22-10, RPI 71 Omni 113), Georgetown (16-15, RPI 71, Omni 59),  Virginia Tech (20-11, RPI 73, Omni 39), Purdue (19-15, RPI 89, Omni 75), Indiana (20-12, RPI 48, Omni 42).

Kent State’s record is 18-12, RPI is 83 and Omni ranking is 118. Yes, the Flashes won 19 games. But none of the ranking services count non-Division I games in their thinking. KSU played Division II Clarion on New Year’s Eve.

The Omni website includes a projected bracket of the WNIT. They put Kent State at Cincinnati.

The WNIT does seed after a fashion — putting teams in top, middle and bottom tiers. Top and bottom play, as do two middle teams. Looking at Omni’s bracket, KSU would be in the bottom tier.

So add that into the equation and we get these possible opponents (taking into account distance and my guess on tier): Cincinnati (I’m not giving up), West Virginia, Butler, Virginia Tech, Georgetown,.

Assuming Ohio doesn’t make the NCAA, the MAC would have four teams in the WNIT: Ohio, Miami, Kent State and Toledo.

Central Michigan and Buffalo should make the NCAA.

I’m writing at 4 p.m. Monday. We’ll know for sure in about seven hours.

 

 

 

 

All about the WNIT, the ‘consolation’ tournament Kent State is likely to make

Buffalo action 2

KSU leading scorer Megan Carter in action against Buffalo in the MAC Tournament. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)

 

Kent State’s women are very likely to play in the 64-team Women’s National Invitational Tournament, which starts this week. Here’s what you need to know about it:

What is the WNIT? 

It’s the second major postseason tournament for Division I women’s basketball teams. You might call it somewhat of a consolation prize for good teams that didn’t make the NCAA field.

Who gets in?

Automatic bids go to the highest-ranking team that didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament in each of the 32 women’s conferences. In the Mid-American Conference, that’s likely to be Miami. The Redhawks have a long shot of making the tournament; if they do, the highest ranking team is Kent State.

After the automatic bids are at-large spots for 32 other teams. WNIT rules say they are selected using at least six women’s basketball-ranking systems and gives examples using several RPI systems, which emphasize more a team’s record and strength of schedule. and others using broader criteria, including record against  strong opponents and margins of victory.

Then they add factors like how well a team was playing at the end of the season, common opponents and key injuries.

So how does Kent State do in the criteria?

KSU’s RPI is in the low to mid 80s (of 351 teams) across various services. In broader measures, the Flashes drop to 120 to 130.

Two years ago Kent’s RPI was in the high 90s, and the Flashes made the tournament. Coach Todd Starkey said he thought KSU’s resume made a strong case this season. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said Saturday he expected three teams to make the NCAA and four to get in other postseason tournaments. Those would likely be Miami, Kent State, Toledo and Northern Illinois.  I’m more dubious about NIU.

When will we know?

The WNIT field is announced a few hours after the NCAA selection at 6 p.m. Monday. So we’ll know if the Flashes made the tournament about 9 p.m. Pairings are announced a few hours later.

Where and when would Kent State play?

First-round games are Wednesday to Friday this week. All games are played at campus sites.

The WNIT tries to minimum travel costs in the early rounds, so the Flashes likely would play within fairly easy driving distance. Two years ago they played at Michigan. in the Bob Lindsay era, they played at Michigan, Duquesne and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.

Teams can bid for home game. It costs a minimum of $6,500 to host a first-round game. Costs go up as teams advance. If two teams bid, the WNIT says it decides based on fan base, location, previous games with WNIT opponents and other factors. The WNIT website says multiple times that a team has to make the field first; it can’t buy its way in by promising to bid big on hosting a game.

Kent State showed no interest in hosting a game two years ago, and I don’t hear anything to believe that would be different now.

MAC teams have hosted games before. Toledo actually won the WNIT in 2011 and played every game at home. Bowling Green just missed the NCAA in 2014 and hosted every game until it lost in the quarterfinals.

Kent State is 0-4 in WNIT games. The only postseason game the Flashes have ever won was a first-round victory over Texas A&M in 1996 they’re 0-3 in other NCAA games.

So about a specific place?

We know where it won’t be. The WNIT won’t schedule a first-round game against a team in the same conference or a team a school played during the regular season. 

Besides MAC schools, that eliminates Duquesne and Youngstown State, teams likely to make the WNIT field whom KSU played in the non-conference. Wright State and Robert Morris, two other teams the Flashes played, have made the NCAA Tournament as their conference champions. So has North Carolina State. North Carolina is likely but not guaranteed.

Obviously we won’t know for sure until Monday. A lot depends on what bubble teams make the NCAA tournament. Relatively nearby teams in that category are Indiana and West Virginia, according to ESPN. (The network also has Ohio as one of the last four teams in and Miami as one of the group of “next four teams out.”)

My best guess would be that the Flashes would travel to Cincinnati (21-10, RPI 77), Ohio State (14-14, RPI 101) or Dayton (17-13, RPI 118). Kent hasn’t played OSU since 1981 and Dayton since 1979. It played Cincinnati in 2013.

Other possibilities are (in order of distance) West Virginia (20-10, RPI 79), Butler (21-9, RPI 74), RPI 56), Virginia Tech (20-11, RPI 73) and Georgetown (16-15, RPI 71).

All those sites would be good places for Miami and Toledo, too.

Is the WNIT seeded?

Sort of. According to the WNIT website, the selection committee looks at its field and parts teams in top, middle and top tiers. In the first round, top tier teams play bottom tier ones, and middle-tier teams play each other. I’d guess Kent State is in the lower half to the middle tier. That , though Ohio State would be fun.

 

 

Buffalo beats Ohio to claim NCAA bid. Could Bobcats, CMU, even Miami join it?

Buffalo champs

The Bulls, their trophy and championship hats and shirts. (Photo from MAC website.)

Buffalo, a team that had more than its shares of ups and downs through the season, won the MAC Tournament Saturday with a solid 77-61 victory over Ohio.

The Bulls (23-9) get the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next week, but they’re unlikely to be the only MAC team in the field. Regular-season champion Central Michigan (25-7, RPI 32) is a very good bet to get an at-large bid. Ohio (27-5, RPI 35) has a strong chance. I even saw one bracketology site that had Miami (22-8, RPI 46)  in the NCAAs. Miami lost to Ohio 74-48 in the semifinals,

The MAC has never had three, let alone four, teams in the NCAA Tournament (men’s or women’s). Buffalo and Central Michigan made it last year, and it was the first time in 23 years the MAC had had two teams. Both of those teams reached the NCAA Sweet 16, the first time any MAC women’s team had gotten that far and the first time a mid-major conference had put two teams in the Sweet 16.

Buffalo’s championship capped a season which saw it start the season without its second-best player, center Summer Hemphill, because of academic problems. The Bulls still went 8-3 in the non-conference season, with two losses coming to No. 7 Oregon and No. 6 Stanford.

Hemphill returned for MAC play, but Buffalo lost its opener at home to Ohio in overtime. The Bulls then won six in a row and eight of nine, losing only at CMU. Then they lost three of four in mid-February, including defeats at last-place Bowling Green and eighth-place Akron.

Buffalo won six of its last seven, including three tournament games, by an average of 20 points. Only loss in that time came at Kent State, 62-53, last Saturday. Buffalo avenged that defeat with an 85-52 trouncing of the Flashes in the MAC quarterfinals.

The Bulls finished fourth in the MAC at 12-6.

Cierra Dillard led Buffalo with 22 points against Ohio and was named tournament MVP. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Hanna Hall, who made five 3-point baskets and had 17 points against Ohio, and Hemphill, who had a tournament-record 21 rebounds and 16 points. Central’s Reyna Frost and Ohio’s Cece Hooks also were all-tournament.

Game story from MAC.

The MAC is likely to place two other teams into postseason play. Any of the top four who don’t make the NCAA will go to the WNIT, probably along with Kent State (19-12, RPI 83) and Toledo (20-11, RPI 85). Overall the MAC had the eighth-highest league RPI of 32 conferences.

NCAA pairings will be announced on ESPN at 6 p.m. Monday. WNIT field will be announced a few hours later on the WNIT website, with pairings following later Monday night.

The NCAA selection committee will reveal its eight bubble teams at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN’s SportsCenter. The committee chair will reveal the “debatable eight” in alphabetical order, then discuss it with network analysis. Of the eight, four will make the tournament, four will not. This is something I’ve never seen done before. I’m sure it’s designed to hype the selection process. Link to ESPN story on selection in general.

All the RPIs come for RealTimeRPI.com. As it sounds, the site computes current RPI after every game. Other sites and the NCAA sometimes have rankings slightly differently, but they rarely are more than three or four spots apart.

Here are the bracket projects I saw Saturday night:

ESPN (updated Saturday)

  • Buffalo 10th seed.
  • Central Michigan 8.
  • Ohio 11.

(Has Ohio as one of “last four in” and Miami as one of “second four out.”)

ESPN bracketology page

HerHoopStats (Friday)

  • Buffalo 10.
  • Ohio 10.
  • Central Michigan 5.

HerHoopStats bracketology

RealTimeRPI (Saturday)

  • Buffalo 10.
  • Miami 12.
  • Ohio 10.
  • Central Michigan 10.

RealTimeRPI bracketology 

College Sports Madness (Saturday)

  • Buffalo 11
  • Central Michigan 7

Listed Ohio as first of “first eight out.” Last eight in were Tennessee, TSU, Indiana, Clemson, Kansas State, UCF, Auburn and Clemson.

College Sports Madness Bracketology

Men’s championship

Buffalo made it a sweep of the basketball championships with an 87-73 win over Bowling Green Saturday night.

It was a strange game. Buffalo took as 15-point lead in the first half, then BG ended the half on a 25-11 run to cut the halftime lead to 39-38.

The second half was within three points for 14 minutes and was still a six-point game with four minutes to go. The Bulls ended on an 16-2 run.

Jeremy Harris scored 31 points for Buffalo.

Buffalo also took a double championships three years ago. The last time before that was two wins by Kent State in 2002.

Buffalo upsets Central Michigan and will meet Ohio in MAC finals

MAC bracketBuffalo, the team that knocked Kent State out of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday, knocked out No. 1 seed Central Michigan in the semifinals on Friday 82-77.

The Bulls (22-9) will play No. 2 seed Ohio (27-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the tournament championship and a guaranteed bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For the MAC, Buffalo’s beating CMU (25-7) might be a very good thing. Central, which finished the season with an RPI of 29 (out of 351 Division I teams), had been  almost certain to get an at-large bid no matter the MAC Tournament.

Now the league is guaranteed at least two bids for only the second time in 23 years. Buffalo and Central made last year’s tournament. Each advanced to the Sweet 16, the first time any MAC team had gotten so far.

The MAC could get three bids. Ohio’s RPI is 33 and Buffalo’s is 31. RPI used to be a major factor in the tournament selection, but it’s less so these days. Most important is “quality wins” over high-ranking teams. Ohio and Buffalo have a few. Central has more. And RPI’s that high may be hard to ignore in a 64-team field.

I’ve seen at least one “bracketology” that had all three teams making the tournament.

The Ohio-Buffalo matchup in the finals is almost a full circle for the league. The teams met in the MAC opener in early January, with Ohio edging Buffalo 74-71 in overtime at Buffalo. When the two teams met a second time at Ohio two weeks ago Buffalo rolled over the Bobcats 73-43.

In its last six games, the Bulls have beaten Ohio by 30, Miami by 20, Akron by 14, Kent State by 33 and Central Michigan by five. Its only loss was at Kent State last Saturday 62-53.

Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, the MAC’s runner-up for player of the year and second-leading scorer in the country, had 30 points. Center Summer Hemphill had 24 and nine rebounds.

Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost, the player of the year winner, had 21 points and 13 rebounds. Buffalo held all-MAC guard Presley Hudson, one of the league’s best shooters, to 3-of-15 from the field and 2-of-10 from 3-point distance.

Ohio routed Miami 74-48 in Friday’s other semifinals. The two teams had split in the regular season, each winning close games on the other team’s home floor. Erica Johnson, the MAC’s freshman of the year, led the Bobcats with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists. High scorer for Miami was Kendall McCoy with 10. Miami’s all-MAC guard, Lauren Dickerson, went 2-for-20 from the field and scored five points.

Miami won 11 MAC games in a row at midseason but lost four of its last six — two to Ohio, one to Buffalo and one to Kent State.

Saturday’s finals are broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.

 

Playing its best, Buffalo overwhelms KSU in MAC quarterfinals 85-52

Golden hug (1)Senior Alexa Golden and coach Todd Starkey as she leaves Wednesday’s quarterfinals. It’s not likely that it was Golden’s last game; Kent State has a good chance of a bid to the WNIT. We’ll find that out next week. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)

 

When Kent State beat Buffalo at the M.A.C. Center Saturday, the Flashes played one of the their best games of the season, the Bulls one of their worst.

In Wednesday’s MAC quarterfinals, Buffalo was back to its top style of play and routed Kent State 85-62.

The Bulls reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season and have the 37th best RPI (of 351 Division I teams) in the country this season. In the quarterfinals against Kent, they beat their season average of 76 points, made 50 percent of their field goals (they made 26 percent against KSU Saturday) and held Kent State to 30 percent shooting.

Buffalo (21-9) will play No. 1 seed Central Michigan (25-6) in Friday’s semifinals. Central needed a 3-point shot at the buzzer of regulation to force overtime against No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan, then won 88-80.

Kent State (19-12) likely has at least one more game ahead of it. The Flashes, with an RPI in the high 70s, are a good candidate for the WNIT. When they made that tournament two years ago, their RPI was in the 90s. Announcement of the WNIT field will come Monday, a day after the bracket is set for the NCAA Tournament.

On Wednesday, Buffalo was much better than KSU.

“They’re the most athletic team in the league,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They came out rested and probably a little angry from the game a few days ago.

“Personnel for personnel, if you tell me we’re going to play Buffalo two times in a week, we probably won’t have a great chance of winning both of those games. I’m not sure we have a great chance of winning one.”

He smiled a little ruefully.

“I guess we picked the wrong one to win,” he said.

The game went as many of KSU’s losses have gone this season. The Flashes missed their first four shots. Buffalo made its first five, and KSU was behind 11-0 after three minutes. Kent scored seven in a row of its own to get within four. But Buffalo just extended its lead from there.

“When we haven’t started a game shooting the ball well, we’ve struggled,” Starkey said “They had a great game plan and executed it.

“They have the ability to really disrupt everything you do if they stay disciplined defensively. Some of it has to do with their active hands. And they can kind of flip a switch and take things to a different level defensively.”

As for Buffalo’s offense, KSU guard Megan Carter put it this way:

“They were just getting good looks, and they were converting.”

Buffalo made 26 of 52 shots from the field, 7-of-16 from three-point distance and 26-of-30 from the free-throw line. The Bulls had 17 assists, led by sophomore Hannah Hall’s five.

Hall had started the first 22 games of the season. When she struggled in February, coach Felisha Legette-Jack tried bringing her off the bench. Hall played just eight minutes against Kent State Saturday.

Wednesday she played 36 minutes, made 4-of-5 three-point shots and scored 16 points.

As usual, senior Cierra Dillard led Buffalo in scoring, this time with 22 points. That was three points below her average; she’s second in Division I at 25.4 points a game. She also had four assists and three steals.

Carter, Kent State’s leading scorer from the first game of the year, had 19 points and tied a career high with seven rebounds. When she came out of the game with about five minutes to play, she looked exhausted.

“I was just trying to play hard for the team and for the seniors,” she said. “I came with Lex and Mer, then I got hurt my freshman year, so I’m still a junior. We’ve been through a lot — a not-so-great season, a coaching change, then coach Starkey comes in and completely changes the whole culture.

“To get to Cleveland three times is not easy, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”

“Lex and Mer” are seniors Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith. Golden had five steals, three assists and five rebounds. Barber-Smith blocked two shots and had five rebounds. 

Starkey took one more opportunity to praise his seniors.

“Those kids gave me everything,” he said. “They didn’t have to trust me. I didn’t recruit them. But they did….they just trusted us. They wanted to win.

“They both mean a lot to me, and they both have been through a lot in different ways. They’ve been able to really set the tone. I cannot think of two better players to set the foundation for where we want to go. They’re great role models for our younger players. They kind of fostered them along and get them to where we need to go.”

Starkey didn’t promise in so many words to be back in Cleveland but certainly sounded upbeat.

“I think we have great things ahead of us,” he said. “I’m really proud of our freshmen. We threw them into the fire; their first games were against North Carolina and N.C. State. We’ve had our ups and downs, but they’ve battled through and had good success late in the season.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.‘ And for all of our underclassmen, this isn’t a final defeat. I’m really pleased with where we’re headed.”

Box score

Golden the wounded warrior

Senior Alexa Golden had ice packs on practically every joint in her body as she walked out of the locker room Wednesday.

Golden has been playing hurt the second half of the season and, indeed, for most of her career.

Wednesday she went down hard as she stole the ball in the first quarter. She ran down the court favoring her right arm and came out of the game for about a minute-and-a-half.

Then she returned and played on until Starkey emptied the bench in the last five minutes.

“Her shoulder has been bothering her for a few weeks now,” the coach said. “As of a week ago, she was having trouble just lifting her arm up.”

(Golden didn’t even hold her framed jersey above her head at Senior Day.)_

“She aggravated that today, and she was really struggling to be who she is,” Starkey said.

Golden, he said, “probably is the all-time leader in NCAA history in ice bags used over four seasons.

The view from Buffalo

In the postgame press conference, Buffalo coach Legette-Jack, Hall and Dillard praised Kent State as a “great team” but said the key to the game was focusing on what the Bulls were doing.

Hall: “On defense, we locked in. We set that tempo. We dictated where we wanted them to go. We knew their personnel very well, and the way we communicated on defense tonight compared to the way we did last week — and even in most of our other games — was amazing.

“I think we haven’t shown what we can do yet. This is a really special and very skilled group. When we come together, it’s something amazing.”

Dillard: “When you have your teammates firing on all cylinders like today and just playing their roles, it was easy just to be myself and play the flow of the offense.”

Legette-Jack: “I think I have one of the most special players in the country (in Dillard), and in order for her to be seen the way she should be, we have to play a lot more basketball. She’s done so much for Buffalo and for me. I want to continue to give back to her by letting the world see why I’m so happy every day. ”

Notes

  • The 33-point margin of defeat was Kent State’s worst of the season. Previous widest was a 17-point loss to North Carolina State, which is 26-5 and ranked 10th in the country.
  • Freshman Lindsey Thall was the only KSU player besides Golden to score in double figures. She had 12 with two three-point baskets and a blocked shot. (She leads the MAC in both categories.)
  • Everyone else struggled. Barber-Smith had six points, which is above her average. But freshman Asiah Dingle went 1-for-7 shooting and five points. She had six turnovers. Golden took only two shots and didn’t score. Neither did junior Ali Poole, who averages more than nine points a game. Freshman Hannah Young had seven points, her most since Dec. 31, in 11 minutes.
  • The Flashes made 18-of-60 shots — eight more attempts than Buffalo had. They were 5-of-20 on 3-pointers.
  • At one point, the specialty statistics were overwhelming in Buffalo’s favor. They ended closer: in the paint, it was Buffalo 32-22; off turnovers Buffalo 19-13; on second chances, Buffalo 6-5, and off the fast break, Buffalo 13-9
  • Buffalo out rebounded Kent State 39-29. The Bulls committed 11 turnovers, Kent State 14. The Flashes had just nine assists, but they made only 18 baskets.

Quarterfinal scores

All of the higher-seeded teams won.

  • No. 1 Central Michigan (25-6) 88, No. Eastern Michigan (14-17) 80 in overtime.
  • No. 4 Buffalo (21-9) 85, No. 5 Kent State (19-12) 52.
  • No. 3 Miami (23-7) 72, No. 6 Toledo (20-11) 54.
  • No. 2 Ohio (26-4) 72, No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-13) 56.

Central and Buffalo play at 11 a.m. Friday in the semifinals. Miami and Ohio play at 1:30 p.m. Broadcast is on ESPN+.

Finals are at 11 a.m. Saturday on the CBS Sports Network.

 

 

 

 

MAC Madness: Kent State vs. Buffalo (again) in tournament quarterfinals

Merissa vs BG

Against Bowling Green Monday, Merissa Barber-Smith had one of KSU’s best games of the season by any player. She had 20 rebounds, tied for seventh in school history, 10 points and three blocked shots. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)

 

The baseball term is “rubber game.”

The football term is “sudden death” (or “sudden victory,” as some try to call it),

The basketball term is “March Madness” as Kent State plays in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals. The Flahses face Buffalo for the second time in five days and the third time this season.

Last Saturday the Flashes beat Buffalo 62-53 at the M.A.C. Center in the final  game of the regular season. It was a solid offensive and great defensive effort for the Flashes, who held Buffalo 24 points below its scoring average. The Bulls made only 26 percent of their shots, 14 points below their average and a season low.

A month earlier Buffalo built a big first-half lead and fought off a Kent State rally to win 75-66. In that game, Buffalo made 42 percent of its shots. KSU had the shooting problems in that game, making just under 30 percent in the first half. In the second, they made 52 percent.

So the teams meet again at about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. It’s a true rubber game, the deciding contest in a three-game series.

And the stakes are what they always are in the postseason: The winner advances, probably playing league-champion Central Michigan in the semifinals. The loser goes home and waits for a WNIT bid, something both teams have a good shot at.

The questions that will decide the game are these:

  • Can Kent State keep playing complete games? In beating Akron in overtime last week, Buffalo on Saturday and Bowling Green in the tournament opener Monday, KSU lost just three quarters by a total of seven points. For most of the season, the Flashes have played as they did in the first Buffalo game — two or three good quarters, one or two bad ones.
  • Can Kent’s defense against play as well as it did against the Bulls on Saturday? Will Buffalo struggle on offense two games in a row? Buffalo has had six games this season in which it has shot less than 30 percent. It’s never had two games like that in a row.
  • Can Kent State contain Buffalo star guard Cierra Dillard again? She’s the No. 2 scorer in Division I, averaging 25 points a game. Against KSU Saturday, she scored 18 and fouled out with six minutes left. She has fouled out five times this season.
  • Can Kent State keep getting the great scoring balance it has had over the last three games? The Flashes had four players score in double figures against Akron and Buffalo and five against Bowling Green. It’s hard to defend a team when everyone can score.
  • Can 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith keep playing the best basketball of her career? She has made five of her 13 starts in KSU’s last five games and averaged 13.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots. She scored nine points against against Akron and 10 points against Bowling Green — her two best games of the season. She has made 12 of her 18 shots in five games — way above her average earlier in the season. She’ll need to play well. Buffalo has big, strong rebounders.

Buffalo was one of the best teams on the conference for most of the season. The Bulls’ RPI is 37 of 351 Division I teams.

For three of the last four games, the Flashes played like one of the best teams in the conference.

The question for Wednesday: Can they keep it up?

About the game

No. 4 seed Buffalo (20-8 overall) vs. Kent State (19-11) at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.

About Buffalo

IN THE MAC: Finished fourth at 12-6, a game ahead of Kent State and three games behind first-place Central Michigan. Runner-up to Central in last year’s MAC Tournament, got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16.

RPI: 37 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 64. 19th-ranked mid-major team by CollegeInsider.com. Beat Kent State 75-66 in Buffalo on Feb. 9, lost at Kent State 62-53 on March 9.

LAST GAME: Lost to Kent State on Saturday. Had first-round bye in the tournament.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

(I’m switching to conference-game-only statistics because they better reflect how a team is playing now.)

  • Scores 76.3 points a game, second in MAC. Opponents score 67.5 (fifth). Field-goal percentage: 42.0 (fourth). Field-goal defense: 39.3 (fourth).
  • 3-point percentage: 31.2 (ninth). 3-point baskets per game: 6.9 (seventh). 3-point defense: 30.2 (third). Free throw percentage 76.3 (second).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-5.1 (second). Offensive rebounds per game: 14.9 (first).
  • Turnover margin: Plus-2.3 (third). Steals per game: 9.4 (second). Blocked shots per game: 3.0 (fourth).

KEY PLAYERS

  • 5-foot-9 senior guard Cierra Dillard: 25.2 points per game, first in MAC and second in nation). Assists per game: 6.4 (first). Steals: 2.7 (second). Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (11th). Three-point percentage: 32.4 (10th). Three-pointers per game: 3.2 (second). Free-throw percentage: 79.7 (sixth). All-MAC first team. Runner-up for MAC player of the year.
  • 6-1 junior center Summer Hemphill: 13.6 points (14th). Rebounds: 10.4  (second). Field-goal percentage: 59.2 (first). Free-throw percentage: 69.4 (17th). Blocks: 1.2 (fourth). Al-=MAC second team.
  • 6-2 junior center Theresa Onwuka (9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds).

Kent State

IN THE MAC: Finished regular season tied for fifth at 11-7.

RPI: 77. Schedule strength: 88. Lost at Buffalo 75-66 on Feb. 9. Beat Bulls in Kent 62-53 on March 2.

LAST GAME: Beat Bowling Green 86-62 Monday in tournament first-round game in Kent.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

  • 65.7 points a game (eighth in MAC). Opponents average 63.4 (second).
  • Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (last). Field-goal defense: 39.2 (third). Free-throw percentage: 72.7 (sixth).
  • 3-point percentage: 33.0 (sixth). 3-point baskets per game: 7.2 (sixth). Three-point defense: 32.0 (sixth).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Offensive rebounds per game: 12.4 (second). Turnover margin: Plus 0.4 (fifth).
  • Blocked shots: 4.2 (first). Steals: 8.2 (third).

KEY PLAYER STATS

  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.3 points per game, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (ninth). 3-point percentage: 40.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.4 (12th). All-MAC third team.
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 8.4 points. Steals: 3.3 (first). Assists: 3.1 (15th). Blocks: 0.7 (16th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th). All-MAC defensive team.
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Field-goal percentage: 36.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.6 (ninth) . Steals: 2.0 (eighth). Assists: 2.3 (24th). MAC all-freshman team. Runner-up for freshman of the year.
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.7 points. 3-point percentage: 45.8 (first). 3-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.9 (first). Rebounds: 5.0. All-MAC freshman team.
  • 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.2 rebounds (11th). Blocked shots: 0.8 (tied for seventh).
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.8 points. Rebounds: 4.2.

To follow the game

Action starts a half hour after Eastern Michigan-Central Michigan game ends, probably about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. It’s about an hour’s drive from Kent. Here are directions from the Q’s website. There’s an attached parking garage and many other garages and surface lots close by. General admission tickets are $10 and a ticket covers all four Wednesday games.

Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson does play-by-play

Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. The network will carry all MAC Tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer, or through the ESPN app.

Live statistics are available through the MAC website.

Links

Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Preview from Buffalo website, including links.

Detailed media game notes from Buffalo.

Final MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.

Final MAC standings

Tournament pairings

Wednesday’s quarterfinals

  • No. 9 Eastern Michigan (14-16 overall, 6-12inn regular MAC season) vs. No. 1 Central Michigan (24-6, 15-3), noon.
  • No. 5 Kent State (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 4 Buffalo (20-9, 12-6), about 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-12, 10-8) vs. No. 2 Ohio (25-4, 14-4), about 5 p.m.
  • No. 6 Toledo (20-10, 11-7) vs. No. 3 Miami 22-7, 13-5), about 7:30 p.m.

Games start a half hour after the previous one ends.

All games are on ESPN+, which costs $4.99 per month.

Friday’s semifinals 

  • Central Michigan-Eastern Michigan winner vs. Buffalo-Kent State winner, 11 a.m.
  • Ohio-Northern Illinois winner vs. Miami-Toledo winner, about 1:30 p.m. 

(Both games on ESPN+)

Saturday’s finals

  • Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network.