In Kent State first six conference games this season, the Flashes went 1-5. Opponents outscored the Flashes by an average of 18.3 points per game.
Aside from 55-48 victory at home against an injury-ridden Bowling Green, there was little good to say.
Since then, the Flashes are 2-6. They beat Northern Illinois at home and Bowling Green on the road. They lost by just two points on the road to Central Michigan and Buffalo. They lost by just seven at Akron. They led first-place Ohio by two points at halftime. Opponents have outscored them by an average of only 6.5 points.
Yes there was a disastrous first half in a 70-53 loss to Eastern Michigan and a disastrous game in a 58-44 loss to last-place Miami in that stretch.
But we can say that Kent is playing its best basketball of the season — probably the best of coach Danny O’Banion’s three seasons and Bob Lindsay’s final season before that.
Wednesday the Flashes play Akron again. They’re hardly favored — Akron is still in second in the MAC East at 9-5, 19-6 overall. Kent State is 3-11, 5-20. But they may have about as good a chance as they’ve had since they last beat the Zips in February 2012. (The score was 77-76 at Kent.)
What makes the Flashes better?
You can probably start with seniors Mikell Chinn and Cici Shannon.
Chinn suffered a concussion at Kent State’s Thanksgiving tournament in San Luis Obispo, California. She missed eight games. She moved back into the starting line-up against Miami, where her six assists against two turnovers were one of the only bright spots.
Then she had five assists and six key foul shots in the win against Northern Illinois. She had seven assists and five rebounds at Buffalo. She had 10 assists and seven points (one off her career high) in Saturday’s win at Bowling Green.
She is second in the MAC in assists in conference games with an average of 4.9 per game. She’s fourth in assist/turnover ratio and 11th in steals.
“Our offensive production over the last two weeks has really improved, and I think a large part of that is due to her,” O’Banion told KentWired, the online edition of the Kent Stater. “Our challenge has been running offense well enough and maintaining possession well enough so that can actually execute our offense.”
Shannon has been the MAC’s most dominant rebounder. She has averaged 10.9 rebound a game in conference play, two more than the next best player. She’s third in the conference in blocked shots and 26th in scoring, despite every team collapsing on her defensively. O’Banion calls her the most improved player on the team.
Quick comparisons on Kent State against a year ago:
- The Flashes’ record is 5-20 compared with 6-19 at this time last year.
- Their scoring margin is -10.7, compared to 13.4 a year ago. Their field goal percentage is 41.3, up 3 percentage points from a year ago. It’s more than 43 percent in conference play, third in the conference.
- Three-point shooting is about 3 percentage points better, too, and the Flashes are averaging 3.3 three-pointers a game, compared with 3.0.
- Their rebounding margin is +2.0, compared to -0.7, and their turnover margin, while still last in the conference, is -4.6 compared to -5.4. Assists are up almost two per game.
- About the only thing that’s significantly worse is foul shooting, which at just 60 percent is down 6 percentage points from last year.
- Their RPI is 292 compared to 303 a year ago. Schedule strength is 191, compared to 179 in 2913-14. (I suspect the schedule strength will go up; Akron and Ohio, whom they play at home next week, both have RPIs under 75.