What we learned from the trip (part 2): Shooting, rebound and assists

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Sophomore guard Hannah Young in action in British Columbia. She made all four of her 3-point shots in KSU’s final game. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

In Part 1 of the post after the women’s games in Vancouver, we talked about the growth of point guard Asiah Dingle, the strong performance of KSU’s three freshmen and the implications of a team that scored 287 points in three games.

As with that post, we have to warn that big wins against less-good opposition makes any conclusions tentative at best. The teams the Flashes played seemed similar to Division II competition in the U.S. — substantially less that what they will face in the MAC.

Shoring up weaknesses

Kent State had a 20-13 season last year, but two big things jumped out in postseason analysis:

  • KSU was not a good shooting team — especially 2-point shooting, where they ranked 308th of 351 teams in Division I at at 39.5%. When Kent State lost, especially to teams below it in the standings, it was usually because it struggled to make baskets.
  • The Flashes weren’t very good at setting each other up to score. Kent ranked 311th in the country with 10.6 assists per game. KSU had assists on 48.6% of its baskets.

Coaches have been working to correct both.

“There are two ways you get better,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview before the Vancouver trip. “You develop your current players, and we’ve addressed it in our daily workouts. Then you recruit better scorers.

“We have three players in our freshman class who can really score the basketball and finish plays. All three of them are effective 3-point shooters, but none of them are only 3-point shooters. Two can really finish around the basket — not from a traditional post player standard, but they can really finish.”

The evidence from the trip:

  • The three freshmen combined to make 45% of their shots from both 2- and 3-point range. Take out Nila Blackford’s 4-for-15 day against Vancouver Island, and they made 48% of their 2-point shots. Katie Shumate was 15 for 28 from 2-point range. Clare Kelly was 9 of 18 on 3-point shots.

Part of that could was likely the level of competition. But the freshmen’s shooting percentage was considerably higher than that of returning starters Megan Carter and Lindsay Thall. Neither had good trips, but Carter was third-team all-MAC last season and Thall made the all-freshman team and led the league in 3-point shootings.

Dingle, whose shooting percentage last year was 38, made 52% of her shots in Vancouver.

Dingle also led the way in a big improvement with assists. She average 6.7 a game, more than two-and-a-half times numbers last year. As a team, KSU averaged 16.3 assists though it had assists on only 43% of baskets.

Again, conclusions are very hard to draw. First problem is the competition. Second is the fact no Flash played more than 25 minutes in any game. So Kent State was using players and combinations we won’t see a lot in the regular season. And the team had only practiced four hours a week as a team through most of the summer and is in far from regular-season form.

But I’m encouraged.

Replacing what was lost

The Flashes lost only two players to graduate, but Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith were the teams best defensive players and best rebounders. ]

Golden was on the MAC’s all-defensive team last season and was the heart and voice of KSU’s defense as a four-year starter.

“Are we going to have somebody that’s ready right away to just step in and replace what she gave us?” Starkey asked. “No. But we have people who can play defense.”

Kent State gave up 58.7 points a game on the trip. Throw away the 25 points VK Select scored in a sloppy fourth quarter, and it’s probably closer to 55. KSU gave up 62 points a game last season. Scoring was likely higher on the trip because of international rules that included a 24-second shot clock instead of the 30 the NCAA uses.

Opponents made 36.6% of their shots, about 3 points better than last season.

The Flashes outwhelmed all three teams in rebounding, which isn’t unusual when a Division I team plays a lower division one. The closest margin was 54-44 against the University of British Columbia. It was 54-27 against Vancouver Island. The Flashes averaged 22.3 offensive rebounds.

Their best rebounders were freshmen — Blackford at 7.7 and Shumate at 7.3. Again, that was in less than 25 minutes a game. Shumate had 12 rebounds in one game, Blackford 10 in another. Blackford is 6-foot-2 and Shumate 5-11.

Barber-Smith, who was 6-4, led KSU in rebounding last season at 7.2 in about 17 minutes a game.

“Do we have anybody on the team that’s going to get 17 rebounds the way Merissa did?” Starkey said. “Probably not. But we do have some players who could get 12 and be able to score 12 points.”

Barber-Smith never scored 12 and scored more than five only six times.

The 6-4 center who won’t play

The Flashes do have a legitimate center on their roster. Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 junior transfer from Indiana, has to sit out this season because of NCAA rules. Marchese was the only player besides Dingle to score in double figures all three games, and she seemed to play closer to 15 minutes a game. She made 15 of her 20 shots.

The starters

Kent State used different starting lineups in all three games, and all 13 players on the roster started at least one game.

The University of British Columbia game had probably the closest thing to a true starting lineup the the Flashes as at this early point: Dingle, Carter and Shumate at guards and Thall and Blackford at forward. Senior Ali Poole could be in the mix at either guard or forward, too, but she was hurt and didn’t play on the trip.

The other combinations:

VK Select: Senior Sydney Brinlee at forward junior Monique Smith and junior Margaux Eibel, Dingle and Carter at guard.

Vancouver Island: Marchese at center, sophomore Annie Pavlansky at forward and Kelly with sophomores Mariah Modkins and Hannah Young at guard.

The outlook

I was optimistic about the team, and nothing from the Canada trip dispelled that. The team got extra practice, some game experience and a visit to a beautiful place. Dingle and the freshmen showed more than I had expected, and I knew they were good.

There’s a long time and a long way to go before practice starts in October and the team opens at Duquesne on Nov. 4. But this could be a very good team.

Let’s end with a quote from Dingle from the only game covered by a Vancouver newspaper:

“We’re trying, practicing hard, playing hard,” Dingle said. “We definitely are expecting to do some big things. We hopefully will.”



What we learned from Flashes’ three exhibition wins in Vancouver

Image-1Asiah Dingle in action against Vancouver Island University. Dingle averaged 16.7 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 steals. (Photo from VIU Twitter feed.)

First, two big qualifiers:

  1. All this is second hand through quotes and statistics. Sadly, I wasn’t on the trip.
  2. The competition wasn’t nearly as tough as the Flashes will face in the MAC this season. (More on that at end of post.)

Dingle ups her game

Asiah Dingle was already one of the Flashes’ best players. The 5-foot-4 point guard from Massachusetts was on the MAC all-freshman team (likely runner-up for freshman of the year) and was KSU’s second leading scorer.  Her aggressive drives to the basketball and her leadership on the fast break were a key factor in Kent’s 20-13 season.

Dingle needed to work on assists, where she averaged 2.3 a game. That’s very low for a point guard. She was second on the team in turnovers and her assist/turnover ratio was 0.8, again very low for a point guard. (The MAC assist leader averaged 6.2 a game; the league’s best assist/turnovers ratio was 2.7).

On the trip, Dingle averaged 6.7 assists per game and had an assist/turnover ratio of 2.1.

“It’s something we’ve been focusing on,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We’re wanting her to really share the ball, making those players around her better.”

Dingle made 21 of 40 shots in the trip (52.5%) and 2 of 8 three-pointers (25%). Her numbers last season were 37% and 18%.

She averaged 6.3 steals a game on the trip. Part of that was the quality of the competition, but it’s still an impressive number. Last season Dingle averaged 2.0, which was eighth in the MAC.

All of my season statistics are conference games only. I’ve found it to be a better indication of ability at the end of the season.)

Three impact freshmen

This year’s freshman class may be just as good as last year’s, which was one of the best in school history. Freshman last season score 44 percent of KSU’s points, led by Dingle’s 13.1 and Lindsay Thall’s 10.7. Kent’s five freshmen averaged a total of 20 points a game. They scored 44% of the teams points — third highest in the country.

On the trip, KSU’s new freshmen averaged 31 points a game.

Katie Shumate, a 5-11 wing from Newark, averaged 12.3 points a game. Her 19 points against the University of British Columbia was the highest total on the trip. She also had 12 rebounds, the most in a game on the trip. She blocked four shots and had five steals. “She impressed me a lot,” senior Megan Carter said. “She has a high motor and just doesn’t stop.”

Nila Blackford, a 6-2 forward from Louisville, led KSU in rebounding with a 7.3 average and scored nine points a game. Half of her rebounds were offensive.

Clare Kelly, a 5-9 guard from Olmsted Falls, made nine of her 18 three-point shots. She scored 12 points against British Columbia, 11 against Vancouver Island University and six against VK Select, a club team.

None of them (or anyone on the roster) played more than 25 minutes a game.

Another way to look at is this: KSU has its top four scorers back from last season. Three of its top five scorers on the trip were incoming freshmen. A fourth was a transfer. Dingle was the fifth. (Senior Ali Poole, fourth on the team in scoring last season, didn’t play on the trip because of an injury suffered in practice in Kent.)

A lot of scoring, a lot of weapons

The Flashes averaged 95.7 points a game. Five players scored in double figures in every game.

Eight different players scored in double figures at least once. Eleven of the 13 players made at least one three pointer.

“It was nice to see multiple players making shots,” Starkey said after the Vancouver Island game. “The versatility of scoring we have is really going to help us.”

Carter said the multiple 3-point shooters allows her and Dingle to drive to the basket with more ease. “It definitely spaces the floor,” she said.

Scores were somewhat inflated by the use of the international 24-second clock (the NCAA’s shot clock is 30) and having just eight seconds (instead of 10) to get the ball over half court.

The 3-point international distance is about 16 inches farther than the NCAA women’s. KSU made 30.8 of its 3-pointers, down about 2 points from last season. But Lindsay Thall, who led the MAC in 3-point percentage last season and who has no problem shooting from any distance, made just 4 of 27. From watching her in practice last week, she should be fine this season.

About the competition

Both university teams the Flashes played had good records last year, but at least the University of British Columbia was missing some of its starters because school wasn’t in session.

I’d guess the competition was along the lines of Division II teams in the U.S. Kent State played two such teams last season and beat them 77-48 and 92-38 — similar margins to their wins in Vancouver.

Still, we can compare the Flashes’ scores to Alabama’s two games against the same competition the previous week. Alabama was 14-17 last season and 11th in the 14-team SEC. Its RPI was 159 of 351 schools. Kent State was 20-13 and fifth in the MAC with an RPI of 83.

Alabama beat VK Select 104-64. Kent State beat them 90-68, though the Flashes led by 38 — almost Alabama’s margin — going into the fourth quarter. KSU beat the University of British Columbia 94-54. Alabama beat them 104-74.

So things were pretty similar between the Flashes and a somewhat below average Power Five school.

Links to stories on the three games, including links to their box scores:

KSU 90, VK Select 69. Nine steals for Dingle. KSU took 38-point lead into fourth quarter.

KSU 94, University of British Columbia 54. All three freshmen scored in double figures, led by Katie Shumate’s 19.

KSU 103, Vancouver Island University 54. Flashes were 13 of 33 from 3-point distances, best of the trip.

I’ve got some other notes on the trip I’ll add tomorrow — things like how some veteran players did, how the team did on correcting last season’s weaknesses, the starting lineups. I’m trying not to have so many very long posts this year.

Flashes finish Vancouver trip with 3 wins, 287 points

Team in BC

The tea in British Columbia. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

The KSU women put up their third overpowering victory on their trip to British Columbia Monday, trouncing Vancouver Island University 103-54.

The Flashes had won their first two games 90-68 over VK Select, a club team, and 94-54 over the University of British Columbia.

Sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle led KSU with 16 points, seven assists  and four steals. In the three games, she scored 50 points (16.7 per game), had 20 assists (6.7) and 19 (6.3) steals in less than 25 minutes a game. Last season she averaged 12.9 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals.

As a team last season, the Flashes scored 65.6 points game and gave up 62.5. On the trip, they averaged 95.7 and gave up 58.7.

The competition this season will be much tougher than the trip. But the statistics do show the Flashes have a lot of offensive firepower and almost certainly will score more. Dingle, whose freshman assist total was low for a point guard, seems to have stepped up her passing game. She was runner-up for MAC freshman of the year last season.

The Flashes had five players score in double figures for the third game in a row.

Transfer Linsey Marchese scored in double figures for the third game in a row with 14 points on six of seven shooting. Marchese, a 6-4 center who played two years at Indiana, won’t be eligible until the 2020-21 regular season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Senior guard Megan Carter, KSU’s leading scorer last season, had her best game of the trip with 14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. Sophomore guard Hannah Young scored 12 points on 4-for-4 three-point shooting.

The three Kent freshman continued to put up good numbers. Guard Clare Kelly had 11 points and made 3-of-5 three-pointers. Forward Nila Blackford shared the rebounding leadership with Carter at 10 and scored nine  points. Wing Katie Shumate, who averaged 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in KSU’s first two games, took only five shots. She scored five points, had two rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block.

Sophomore wing Annie Pavlansky, playing on her birthday, had seven points, four rebounds and two assists. Sophomore guard Mariah Modkins had three steals and four assists.

All 13 players who got into the game scored. Senior Ali Poole was hurt in practice last week and didn’t play on the trip.

Jay Fiorello, the assistant sports communication director for women’s basketball, emailed after midnight (Kent time) that wifi was spotty on the ferry from Vancouver Island and quotes from coach Todd Starkey and others wouldn’t be coming until later. I’ll add them Tuesday.

The team will spend the rest of the week sightseeing and return to Kent Friday.

Box score







KSU’s 3 freshmen score 42 as Flashes win big again in Vancouver

Flashes Earn 90-68 Victory to Begin Canadian Tour

KSU’s Lindsay Thall goes to the basket in Saturday’s game. (Photo from KSU website.)

Five Kent State players — including all three freshmen — scored in double figures as the Flashes overpowered the University of British Columbia 94-54 Sunday.

It was the second straight win on the team’s exhibition tour of Vancouver. Saturday the Flashes beat VK Select, a club team, 90-68.

Freshman Katie Shumate led KSU with 19 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. She made 9 of 18 shots, had seven offensive rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.

Sophomore Asiah Dingle scored 17 points for the second straight game and added six assists and six steals. Saturday she had nine steals and seven assists.

Freshman Clare Kelly had 12 points on 4-of-8 three-point shots, and freshman Nila Blackford scored 11 and had five rebounds. 6-foot-4 transfer Linsey Marchese, who isn’t eligible to play until the 2020-21 season, had 10 points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. She’s allowed to play on a summer exhibition tour.

All 13 Flashes played at least six minutes. Eleven scored. No one played more than 25 minutes; only three played more than 20.

“We did much better from start to finish,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview relayed through assistant sports communication director Jay Fiorello “I was really pleased with our defensive focus. We had a lot fewer lapses and letdowns.

“Everybody’s kind of still trying to figure out what their role is and how to play with and off of each other. So it was nice to see some good offensive flow and better execution.”

On Shumate, a 5-11 guard from Newark, Starkey said:

“She’s just such a versatile player. She really can score on all three levels, and it’s also a nice to have a guard leading you in  rebounding as well. She did a really good job of just being active all over the court and just making plays, worrying less about making mistakes and just going out and trying to make something happen.”

Shumate, who scored 11 points with six rebounds Saturday, said she was especially happy with her offensive rebounding.

“I need to work on my decision-making after I crash and just keep trying to get extra possessions,” she said.

Shumate said a new rule this season that resets the shot clock to 20 seconds (instead of 30) after an offensive rebound changes strategy.

“I can’t pull it out,” she said. “There’s not enough time. So I have to look for a quick score after getting a rebound if I can or hit someone that’s wide open.”

Box score

Dingle the thief

Dingle’s nine steals Saturday would have tied for fourth place in school history had it happened in the regular season. The record is 10.

“I like disrupting the ball, making them speed up,” she said.
Dingle said she liked the 24-second clock of international rules. “I’m a fast bird,” she said.

Of her near triple-double Saturday: “I did OK. I definitely have to get better — getting into the floor a little earlier and do some more finishing (around the basket).”


  • Kent State beat its first two opponents by 22 and 40 points. Alabama played the same two teams last week and beat VK Select by by 40 and the University of British Columbia by 30. The Flashes led VK Select by 38 going into the fourth quarter.
  • KSU has outscored opponents 106-53 combined in the first halves in its two games. The Flashes have had 33 steals and forced 50 turnovers.
  •  Sophomore Lindsay Thall, who led the MAC in blocked shots last season, blocked four on Sunday. Her teammates blocked four more.
  • Kent State will play the final game of the trip at Vancouver Island University Monday.

Live action

The KSU Twitter feed had a lot of video from Sunday’s game. Here are some:







Flashes rout Vancouver club team 90-68 behind Dingle’s 9 steals

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On Friday, the team was able to do some sightseeing in British Columbia. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

Sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle had nine steals, seven assists and 17 points as the Kent State women’s team beat club team VK Select in the first game of its exhibition tour of British Columbia.

The Flashes build an 82-44 lead through three quarters, then emptied the bench in a sloppy fourth quarter. Final score in Vancouver was 90-68.

Four other KSU players scored in double figures. Freshman guard Katie Shumate had 13 points and sophomore forward Lindsay Thall 12. Sophomore guard Hannah Young and transfer center Linsey Marchese each score 10 points.

Marchese also had 11 rebounds for a double-double in her first time in a Kent State uniform. Marchese played her first two years at Indiana and won’t be eligible for regular season play until 2020-21 because of NCAA transfer rules. She is allowed to play in the summer international exhibitions.

Shumate and fellow freshman Nila Blackford also had eight rebounds each.

“We did a nice job on offensive third quarter,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview relayed through Jay Fiorello, the associate sports communications director for women’s basketball. “We put up 33 points, created turnovers and were able to get some easy baskets.

“It was good to get our legs under us after being on a plane all day yesterday. We showed lots to work with and a lot to improve.”

Dingle, Starkey said, was “the dominant player on the floor — almost a triple double in limited minutes.”

“She’s just very disruptive player defensively, was able to get some points in transition and scored the ball most efficiently for us,” the coach said.

Starkey said it was nice to see Marchese on the court.

“She was provide some things for us that we didn’t have last year like ability to score around the basket,” Starkey said. “She did nice job offensive rebounding and  finishing around the basket was able to finish. I know she was excited about getting out and playing these three games.”

The Flashes play the University of British Columbia Sunday afternoon and Vancouver Island University Monday.

Box score



Women’s basketball team ready for 3 exhibition games on Canadian trip

In a way, we could say that the women’s 2019-20 basketball season starts Saturday.

The Flashes play the first of three exhibition games in Vancouver, Canada, on their first summer international tour.

Kent State plays VK Select at 10 p.m. Kent time Saturday (7 p.m. in British Columbia). The VK Select is a club or AAU-like team.

On Sunday, the Flashes play the University of British Columbia. That team seems equivalent to a Division I U.S. team. It went 20-8 last season but the coach was quoted on the team’s website in saying he wouldn’t have a full roster because school is out of session.

Monday they’ll play Vancouver Island University, which went 18-1 last season and seems to be analogous to a Division II or NAIA school in the U.S.

It’s pretty hard to find information about schools in another country in the summer. Even the Kent State coaches don’t know a whole lot about their opponents.

“Our understanding is the University of British Columbia is the best team we’ll face,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We’re really trying to say focused on us.”

Besides the games, trips like this give teams eight days more days of practice time, a chance to see a different part of the world and time for off-court bonding. The NCAA allows a school to take one international trip every four years. Kent State will tour the Vancouver area for about three days after the games.

Alabama made a similar tour earlier this month and overwhelmed VK Select 104-64 and the University of British Columbia 104-74. The Crimson Tide also beat the University of Victoria 111-62.

Alabama was 14-17 last season with an RPI of 157. Kent State was 20-13 with an RPI of 83. It would be an interesting matchup between the Flashes and Alabama.

The games will be played using international rules — a 24-second clock instead of the NCAA’s 30 seconds, eight seconds to get the ball past midcourt instead of 10, and a 22-foot 3-line line, about 16 inches farther than U.S. women’s college basketball. (KSU’s men will use the longer distance this season; the women may go to it in 2020-21.  Currently there are two 3-point arcs in the M.A.C. Center.)

An early look at the Flashes

I watched practice on Wednesday and saw a lot of talent on this year’s version of the Flashes.

Kent State returns 83.6 percent of its scoring from last season and three-and-a-half starters (junior Ali Poole and senior Merissa Barber-Smith split starting time at forward). The team’s three freshmen were all high school all-staters and looked very good.

Nila Blackford, a 6-1 forward from Louisville, looks as if she can score inside and is one of the fastest players on the team. Starkey said she and 5-11 guard Katie Shumate (Newark High School) so far are the best offensive rebounders on the team. Both seemed to be playing with the starters Wednesday, as much as a team can have starters in August.

5-9 guard Clare Kelly (Olmsted Falls High School) showed the 3-point shooting she was known for in high school (she made one from about 27 feet look easy) and was especially effective with jump shots at the end of press breaks.

All three certainly look as if they’ll be in KSU’s main rotation this season. (I’ve got a whole post coming up on the freshman.)

6-2 sophomore forward Lindsay Thall looked even better and more confident than she was last season, when she made the all-MAC freshman team and led the league in 3-point percentage. Point guards Asiah Dingle, another all-freshman team member, and Mariah Modkins looked at least as quick as last season, and Starkey said both have improved their 3-point shooting. Senior Megan Carter looked like the same player who led the Flashes in scoring and was on the all-MAC third team.

Poole, who started at forward last season, hurt her knee about 30 seconds after I walked into practice and watched the rest from the sidelines. I’m not sure how serious the injury was, but coaches weren’t calling for trainers and stretchers.

Starkey said he thought every player on the team had improved her game. I thought senior forward Sydney Brinlee, KSU’s No 4 post last season, and junior guard Margaux Eibel, who has played sparingly, looked good. Sophomore guard Hannah Young looked in great shape but didn’t particularly stand out.

Linsey Marchese, the team’s 6-4 transfer from Indiana, should have quite an impact when she becomes eligible next season. KSU’s most recent 6-4 players — Barber-Smith and 2016 grad Cici Shannon, were long and lean. Marchese is solid and strong and moves like the Big Ten player she was. She will be allowed to play in the games in Vancouver.

Starkey said he’s encouraged by what he sees. What I saw was a team that could well be a contender in the MAC this year.

Women’s season starts early, includes OSU at home, 6 teams that won 19 games

Non-conference 2019

Graphic is from team Twitter feed. Player is senior forward Sydney Brinlee.

The only surprise in the official release of Kent State’s non-conference schedule is how early the season starts.

The first game — at Duquesne in Pittsburgh — is on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The KSU press release on the schedule said it was the earliest start of a season in school history. Last year’s first game was Nov. 9; an exhibition game was played Nov. 4.

The highlights of the schedule had leaked out over the last three weeks as other teams announced their schedules.

The Flashes play three Big Ten teams — Ohio State at home, Michigan on a neutral site and at Purdue. They play two teams that made the NCAA tournament last year and three more than made the WNIT. Six opponents won at least 19 games.

KSU plays four home games, four at two neutral-site tournaments and three road games.

Here’s a quick look:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 5: at Duquesne (19-13 in 2018-19, RPI 138).
  • Saturday, Nov. 9: at Youngstown State (22-10, RPI 122).
  • Friday, Nov. 15: vs. Michigan (22-12, RPI 46) at Akron Classic.
  • Saturday, Nov. 16: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (7-22, RPI 337) at Akron Classic.
  • Thursday, Nov. 21: Ohio State (15-16,RPI 101).
  • Sunday, Nov. 24: Robert Morris (22-11, RPI 179).
  • Tuesday, Dec. 3: St. Bonaventure (6-22, RPI 262).
  • Sunday, Dec. 8: at Purdue (19-15, RPI 90).
  • Thursday, Dec. 19: vs. Georgia Southern (7-22, RPI 287) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Friday, Dec. 20: vs. Troy (22-9, RPI 93) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Monday, Dec. 30: Hiram (10-16 in Division III.

The non-conference highlight is still the Nov. 21 home game against Ohio State, the first time the Flashes and Buckeyes have played since 1981. It’s also the first time OSU has played a MAC school on the road since a game at Bowling Green in 2000.

KSU coach Todd Starkey said the scheduling wasn’t as hard as the history would suggest.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” Starkey said in an interview in late July. “I think more power Power Five teams are looking for quality road games as opposed to just a blowout win in a home game.

The NCAA’s decision-making for the March tournament is driving the trend toward tougher non-conference games, Starkey said. The top 16 teams in the tournament get to host the first two rounds in the NCAA. The deciding factor on getting a seed in the top 16 can be strength of schedule or “quality wins.”

“A lot of Power Five teams are looking for quality road venues where a game is probably winnable,” Starkey said. “It’s better for Ohio State to beat us at our place than to beat us at their place.”

In almost all ratings systems, road victories are weighted far more heavily than home wins. In the RPI, winning on the road is worth twice as much as winning at home. The best way to jump in the RPI always has been to beat a good team on the road.

KSU ought to be a good team, if not the quality of a Big Ten contender. The Flashes return 83.6% of their scoring from a team whose RPI last season was 83rd among 351 teams. That ranking actually higher than Ohio State’s 101, though the Buckeyes will have a very different team this season. Their freshman class is rated among the top five in the country.

Of teams on the KSU schedule, only Michigan (46) had a higher RPI ranking than Kent State last year. Purdue was 90th. Next best is Troy, the Sun Belt team that KSU will play in a pre-Christmas event in Las Vegas. It ranked 93rd last season.

Six of KSU’s Division I opponents had an RPI below 140 in 2018-19. A seventh is Robert Morris, which went 22-11 and won the Northeastern Conference. But the NEC had the second lowest conference RPI among the 32 leagues in Division I. So the weak schedule dragged down its RPI.

The Flashes open with road games at Duquesne and Youngstown State, both teams it played in Kent last season. Then they play at the Akron Classic against Michigan and Purdue Fort Wayne (once Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, then just Fort Wayne for a few years).

They then play three straight home games before traveling to Purdue, then travel to the Las Vegas event between the end of classes and Christmas.

KSU plays Division III Hiram Dec. 30 before opening MAC play later that week. The MAC schedule hasn’t been announced yet.

KSU press release on the schedule.

Earlier posts on the Ohio State game and Vegas tournament and on the Purdue and Michigan games.

Is the schedule harder?

I’d say it is slightly tougher.

KSU plays three Power Five conference schools. Last season it played two — North Carolina and North Carolina State.

But N.C. State finished ninth in the RPI and Carolina 38th. KSU also played Wright State, which ended the regular season ranked 59th.

Michigan ranked the best among 2019-20 opponents at 46th. Purdue was 90th, Troy 93rd and Ohio State 101st.

Last year’s rankings are an imperfect measure, of course, because the teams don’t have the same personnel. For example, two years ago Duquesne ranked 72nd in the RPI with a 25-8 record. It had all five starters returning last season, but the Dukes won six fewer games.

I did a quick check of the rosters of the opponents. Duquesne lost four starters, but the Dukes have had one of the country’s top mid-major programs over the last decade. It’s hard to imagine their having a weak team.

Every other team seemed to have at least a solid core returning. All five Purdue starters are back. Ohio State and Michigan have strong freshman classes.

Six teams on the schedule ranked in the nation’s top 140 in RPI. Last year’s schedule had five.

Last year’s opponents included four teams with RPIs above 240. This year’s has three. Two teams last year ranked above 300. Only Purdue Fort Wayne does this season.

(There are 351 Division I teams.)

“I like a rigorous non-conference schedule,” Starkey said, “and I like giving our players the opportunity  to play against those name schools they grew up dreaming of playing for or against. It also helps the profile of our program regionally and nationally to be able to play with and against those teams.”

He said two or three Power Five teams a year is about the right number.

Then, he said, you “balance it out.”

“Playing a weak non-conference does not prepare you for this league,” Starkey said. But, he added, “you can overschedule and lose your team’s confidence by playing you to too rigorous a schedule.”

All of the RPI rankings come from realtimeRPI.com, one of several services that compile the ratings. They’re based 25% on a team’s record, 25% on its opponents’ record and 50% on opponents’ opponents’ record. A home win now counts as 0.6 win while a road win counts as 1.4 wins. A home loss equals 1.4 losses, and a road loss counts as 0.6 loss.

Playing the Big Ten

Kent State has played three Big Ten teams in a season once before. In Starkey’s first season tin 2016-17, the Flashes played Iowa and Minnesota in a December road trip, then played Michigan in the WNIT. They lost all three games.

Kent State has an all-time record of 5-34 against current Big Ten teams.

The Flashes’ last game was a 54-41 loss at Michigan in 2017. Their last win was 77-66 over Indiana in Kent in 2001.

I plan a game-by-game rundown of the schedule soon.

But first I have to do a preview for the Flashes’ first international summer trip. They leave at 4:30 a.m. for Vancouver, Canada, on Friday and will play three exhibition games. I’ll be posting about the games and the trip (though I’m not traveling).

I also finally have the material for the long-promised look at KSU’s three freshmen. I watched practice Wednesday, and they look very good.


Flashes will head to Vancouver in August for first international trip

Summer group (1)

The women’s team celebrated the end of July workouts in 1980s style. Asiah Dingle tutu, however, is timeless.  One player’s father commented in a tweet, “Hard work and fun?? Something special happening @KentStWBB. Sooo happy my kid is part of it. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)

The Kent State women will head to Vancouver, Canada, in two weeks for the team’s first international summer competition in school history.

The Flashes will travel from Aug. 9-16 and play three college teams, along with seeing the sights in the Canadian West.

The NCAA allows teams to take an international summer trip every four years. The KSU men’s team has made some trips — most recently to Costa Rica in 2017. I have a memory of the volleyball team going overseas some years ago but couldn’t find anything in a quick online search.

I caught coach Todd Starkey on the phone Friday. He was just back from his last big recruiting trip of the summer (he took two calls from recruits during the interview). He said he had concentrated so much on recruiting and summer workouts that he didn’t know all the details about the trip — including the teams the Flashes were playing.

“We going to break down all the Canada stuff at a staff meeting Monday,” he said.

KSU will play three games against college teams.

“That’s just about the right amount, so you’re not exhausted,” Starkey said. “From what I understand, it will be a good mix of games — kind of three levels of teams.”

The trip, he said, is something that has been in the works for several years.

“As we were trying to build our program, this is one of the things that we really wanted to we accomplish the first four years,” he said.

The cost of the trip, Starkey said, was spread over two years’ budgets and included some money the team had saved and raised in the last few years. (He didn’t want to say how much it was costing. I’d estimate it will be well into the tens of thousands but considerably less than European trips that other schools have taken.)

“It’s really not overextending the budget at all,” he said.

The trip gives the team extra practice time and game experience beyond what it could get on campus, where the NCAA limits coaches to four hours a week of practice time with players. The team can spend another four hours on organized conditioning.

On the trip, they can practice just as if it were in the middle of the season.

“It won’t be like the hyper intense atmosphere that we have in February and March,” he said. “We don’t want to bury them — just build team rapport and competitive chemistry.

“The timing is great for us. We have a really good core of returning players, along with three freshmen and a transfer. It’s a chance to get experience practicing and playing together before the season starts.”

There also will be sightseeing and team bonding, the coach said.

“It’s a location that a lot of our players would never necessarily choose to go to, and  it’s one of the most beautiful places anywhere,” Starkey said.

Starkey said he plans to do such a trip every four years.

“Virtually everybody is doing some sort of an international experience for players,” he said. “Teams that aren’t doing something can eventually fall behind in recruiting.”



As CMU’s Guevara retires, here’s a look at the state of MAC coaches (it’s good)

Guevara (1)

CMU’s Sue Guevara coached for a total of 39 years at seven different schools, including seven as head coach at Michigan and 12 as head coach at Central. (Photo from Central Michigan website.)

Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara, one of the MAC’s longest serving and most successful coaches, announced she was retiring last week.

Central had won three straight regular season MAC championships under Guevara. Her 2017-18 team was one of the most successful in league history, going 30-5 and reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. In 12 years at CMU, Guevara went 216-151 and won four MAC championships and three MAC tournaments.

The timing of her retirement was unusual; she been in charge of summer practices and camps and was recruiting players as late as last month. But she said in a press release that retirement was something she had been thinking about since the end of last season. She just turned 65, by far the oldest of MAC women’s coaches.

Guevara’s recruiting had been outstanding in the last eight years or so. This year’s graduating class included MAC player of the year Reyna Frost and Presley Hudson, one of the best three-point shooters in league history. (Presley won the three-point shooting contest for women and men at this year’s NCAA tournament.) The 1917-18 MAC player of the year was Central’s Tinara Moore. In 2014, Chrystal Bradford was league player of the year and the No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft. That was the highest ever for a MAC player.

The new Central coach is Heather Oesterte, Guevara’s associate head coach for seven years and an assistant two years before that. Oesterle had been a player for Guevara when Guevara was head coach at Michigan in the early 2000s.

That’s obviously great for continuity in recruiting and system of play for Central Michigan. It’s no guarantee of success. Jennifer Roos was the top assistant to Curt Miller when Bowling Green dominated the MAC in the mid-2000s. Roos had two really good years, including a 30-5 season with one of the MAC’s best teams ever in 2013-14. Her teams never won more than 11 games after that, and she was fired after the 2017-18 season.

The only other time I can remember a MAC assistant or associate moving up was when Melissa Jackson replaced Jodi Kest at Akron after the 2017-18 season. Kest “retired”; she had won more games than any other Akron coach but went 9-21 her last two season. Kest  was an assistant at Division II Lynn University in Florida in 2018-19 and just became an assistant at Division I High Point University in North Carolina.

Jackson went 16-15 in her first season, but Akron was 7-11 in the MAC.

I spent some time comparing league coaches’  records. Here’s what I found:

MAC coaches’ records while in league

(Listed by overall winning percentage.)

  • BOB BOLDON, Ohio. 130-64 (.670). One overall MAC championship, one tournament title, three MAC East titles. One NCAA appearance, three WNIT bids (four wins). Starting seventh year.
  • TRICIA CULLOP, Toledo. 241-123 (.662). One MAC championship,  one MAC tournament title. four MAC West titles, one NCAA appearance, seven WNIT bids (WNIT title in 2011-11, 11 total WNIT wins). 13th year.
  • FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK, Buffalo. 142-85 (.626). Two MAC tournament championships, one MAC East title. Three NCAA tournament appearances (won three games and reached Sweet 16 in 2017-18), One WNIT bid. Eighth year.
  • LISA CARLSEN, Northern Illinois. 66-49 (.573). One WNIT appearance. Fifth year.
  • BRADY SALLEE, Ball State. 128-98 (.547). Six WNIT appearances. Ninth year.
  • TODD STARKEY, Kent State. 52-45 (.536). One MAC East title. Two WNIT appearances. Fourth year.
  • MELISSA JACKSON, Akron, 16-15 (.516), Second year.
  • SHANE CLIPFEL, Western Michigan. 80-79 (.503). One WNIT appearance. Eighth year.
  • FRED CASTRO, Eastern Michigan. 31-62 (.333). Fourth year.
  • ROBYN FRALICK, Bowling Green. 9-21 (.300). Second year.
  • HEATHER OESTERTE, Central Michigan. 0-0. First year.
  • DEUNNA HENDRIX, Miami. 0-0. First year.

GUEVARA’s .587 winning percentage had been third among current coaches. Her 12 year was second longest.

Coaches’ overall winning percentage (at current and previous schools) are quite similar. Biggest exception is BG’s Fralick at .824. She went 104-3 with a national championship and two other Final Four appearances at Division II Ashland. Hendrix’s record at High Point University was 125-93 (.573) with two WNIT appearances.

Jackson, Clipfell, Castro and Oesterte have been head coaches only in the MAC.

IT’S NO WONDER the league is the best its ever been. Eleven of 12 coaches have winning records. (That counts Guevara and includes Fralick’s and Hendrix’s overall records.)

Current coaches (including Guevara) have won 24 WNIT and five NCAA games (two by Guevara and three by Legette-Jack) while they were in the MAC.

Flashes will play Purdue and Michigan — along with OSU

MiciiganPurdue 2

Kent State will play three Big Ten teams this season. In addition to a home game against Ohio State announced Friday, the Record-Courier said on Saturday that Michigan and Purdue are also on the schedule.

The Michigan game is part of the Akron Classic, where Kent and Akron play the same teams over two days. It alternates between Akron and Kent. Last year the event was in mid-November in Kent.

Michigan was 22-12 last season. It lost two of its top three scorers, including 6-5 all-Big Ten center Hallie Thome. But it looks as if it has a good incoming freshman class.

Kent State played well but lost against the Wolverines in the 2017 WNIT and in a non-conference game in December 2017.

The game at Purdue, which was 19-15 last season, will be Dec. 8, according to the Purdue website. The Boilermakers have lost three times to MAC schools in the last two years — twice to Ohio twice and once to Ball State. They beat Central Michigan and Miami twice and Ball State once in the same time period.

In the Record-Courier story by Allen Moff, KSU coach Todd Starkey called the December game against OSU “a great matchup.”

“Our goal is to see if we can fill the M.A.C. Center, put on a great game and create a lot of buzz for Kent State and Ohio State women’s basketball,” he said. “It will be a great road game for Ohio State. We’re two teams in Ohio with great traditions that are trying to re-establish ourselves. Maybe this will spark a little in-state rivalry.”

“Being able play Power 5 schools at home is the next step toward increasing our profile. When we play those games, we’re not just trying to make money, we’re trying to compete and put ourselves in position to win.”

Moff called this year’s OSU game “arguably the most intriguing non-conference home game in program history.”

I can’t argue with that.

Moff’s story also said that KSU would play a return game at Ohio State in 2020.

The Flashes also will play this season at Youngstown State and Duquesne. KSU beat Youngstown and lost to Duquesne in Kent last season.

KSU’s full schedule is expected to be released in the next week or so.