- For many years, Kent State was a major player in MAC women’s basktball. Four years ago it won 20 games. The next year it won six, long-time coach Bob Lindsay was fired, and Danny O’Banion was brought in to rebuild the program.
Here are my keys to her third season:
1. Cut down on turnovers. Before Friday’s opener, I had this at Key No. 2. Then the Flashes had 27, leading to 33 points — far more than their six-point margin of defeat.
The team averaged more than 20 turnovers per game last year, worst in the MAC, and their turnover margin was minus 4.83, second worst in the league. (Miami, which was tied with Ken tand Ohio for last place, was worst at minus 5.23.)
The team has averaged more than 20 for three years, including Lindsay’s last season.
There are reasons things could be better this year. Kent’s two graduating seniors were first and third on the team in turnovers last year. Point guard Mikell Chinn is a far better ball handler than Ashley Evans, who started last year at point and alternated between point and shooting guard after Chinn moved into the starting line-up. Amber Dunlap, who played guard and wing, was third in turnovers and led the team in turnovers per minute. Larissa Lurken, the starter at wing this year and most of last year, is a much better ball handler than Dunlap. She had 50 (!) fewer in about as many minutes.
A key to the turnover question is 6-1 senior forward Montia Johnson, the Flashes’ leading returning scorer. She tied with with Evans for most turnovers with 75 last year. Johnson can be a very active player and tries to make things happen. But sometimes bad things happened. Johnson had six turnovers in the opener.
She and 6-4 center Cici Shannon were supposed to have worked a lot on their footwork in the off-season to cut down on the turnovers. Shannon had just one turnover in her 20 minutes Friday.
Unknown quantities are guards Melanie Stubbs, who missed last season with an injury, and Krista White, who averaged just 12 minutes a game. White had four turnovers, Stubbs one Friday. Very unknown are the freshmen — point Naddiyah Cross and guard-wing Madison Ridout. Cross is vital; there is no other logical point guard. She looked very good in Kent’s exhibition, much less so Friday. She was the point on a very good Centerville High School team that scored a lot of points.
North Dakota forced most of Friday’s turnovers. It is a quick, up-tempo team. It was also 6-24 last year.
2. Score more — a lot more. This was my top concern before Kent’s exhibition and opener. But it scored shot 58 percent in the exhibition and 48 percent against North Dakota. It averaged 38 percent last year. It scored more than 68 points only three times.
For the year, Kent averaged just 54.5 points last year, worst in the league by seven points. It’s average scoring margin was minus 14 last year — worst in the MAC.
3. Find a consistent scorer. No player has averaged in double figures in three years. The scorer could be Lurken, who had 22 points in the exhibition and 14 Friday. She averaged about 10 when she was healthy last year. It could be freshman Jordan Korinek, who led Kent State with 23 points in its exhibition. She averaged a double-double at Akron St. Vincent St. Mary’s and was the best post player in Ohio Division II. She had nine points at North Dakota State, but only two in the second half.
Or the dominant scorer could be a senior. Read on.
4. Get a good year from the seniors.
At 6-4, Shannon could be a dominating presence in the league. She led the MAC with 2.5 blocks a game last year. She could easily average more than 3.5. She blocked six blocked shots Friday while scoring 17 points and getting 10 rebounds (in just 20 minutes). Last year she averaged only 7.2 points a game and scored in double figures only about 10 times. She’s never been a huge scorer at any level — at Kent State, Southern Illinois (where she played for two years) and in high school. She worked a great deal on scoring and footwork in the off-season. But she has to stay on the court. Se played only 20 minutes Friday and averaged 3.2 fouls a game last year, fouling out three times.
Johnson, the 6-1 forward, had six double-doubles last year. She led the team in scoring (9.0, rebounding (7.1) and shooting percentage (48). And then, some games she would score six points and almost disappear. She absolutely has to cut down on turnovers.
Chinn, the point guard, won’t be a scorer. (She averaged 2.6 points a game last year.) But the team runs through her. She was sixth in the league in steals and can disrupt the other teams’ offense terribly with pressure on their point guards.
5. Get 40 points a game from the post. That’s where Kent State’s scoring potential is. There’s Shannon. And all four forwards, including freshmen Korinek and McKenna Stephens, were 1,000-point scorers in high school. Stephens, a transfer from Michigan State who will be eligible second semester, was district player of the year at Uniontown Lake High School. Sophomore Janae Peterson averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds a game her senior year at Temescal Canyon High School in California.
(The team, but the way, had 34 points in the post Friday.)
6. Make more three-point shots. Other teams collapsed into a tight two-three zone on Kent most of last season. Kent took only 10 three-point shots per game and averaged only 27 percent. Lurken is a proven shooter. The rest of Kent’s roster has made a total of one three-point shot in college. That was by Chinn, who was 1 of 19 last year.
Freshman Madison Ridout, a 1,300-point scorer in high school, can shoot from distance. But it took Lurken half the season last year to get used to the speed of the college game. Freshmen Korinek and Cross are supposed to be able to shoot the three, but neither took a three-point shot in the exhibition and neither made the one shot they each took at North Dakota State.
SUMMARY: O’Banion went 3-27 her first year. She was 7-23 last year. My guess is that her team will either win four more games again for a total of 11. Or they could — like last year — slightly more than double the previous year’s win total. That would be 15 — or a .500 season.
I’d take that.