Last year Kent State went 2-9 in non-conference games. Eight of those games were on the road, including two at a neutral site in a tournament. The Flashes were 1-2 at home, 1-6 on the road, and 0-2 in the tournament.
This year coach Danny O’Banion set out to give her young team a home court advantage. Seven of Kent’s 10 non-conference games — and six of its first seven — are at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.
“For a team of 10 freshmen and sophomores, it’s the only way we can be successful,” O’Banion said at this week’s coaches’ luncheon.
It’s an interesting group of opponents. Real Time RPI rates the schedule as fourth hardest in the MAC (though I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that before the season starts). Toughest schedules are Central Michigan, Miami and Eastern Michigan.
Kent plays four teams that won at least 19 games and made postseason tournaments last year. Toughest looks to be Minnesota, which was 23-10 and sixth in the Big Ten last season. KSU plays the Gophers in Kent the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team. Minnesota is the first Big Ten team I can remember coming to Kent in my 28 or so years of following women’s basketball.
The other three winning teams are all Ohio schools from the Horizon League — Wright State, Cleveland State and Youngstown State.
None of the other six teams had close to a winning record last season. Best was North Dakota Street, which was 11-18 and sixth in the Summit League. KSU lost its opener in North Dakota last year by six points.
Total record last season for this year’s non-conference opponents was 141-164. Real Time RPI ranks Kent State’s schedule as 139th in the country out of 349 teams.
Last year’s opponents had a record of 168-155 against Division I teams. Real Time RPI had KSU’s strength of schedule at 158th.
Here’s a look at the non-conference opponents:
Nov. 15: Colgate (9-22, 7-11 and seventh in Patriot League last season.. Two starters, nine lettermen returning. Kent State beat the Raiders 62-61 last year on the road on a last-second shot. Picked seventh in Patriot League this year.
Nov. 17: Wright State (25-9, 12-4 and second in Horizon League in 2014-15. Lost in first round of WNIT). One starter, five letter winners returning. Picked second in Horizon this season.
Nov. 19: At Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne (9-21, 3-13 and ninth in Summit League). Two starters, seven letter winners returning. Picked ninth in Summit.
Nov. 24: Minnesota (23-10, 11-7 and sixth in Big Ten. Lost in first round of NCAA tournament). Four starters, eight letter winner returning. Picked about sixth in Big Ten again.
Nov. 28: Malone (8-18, 6-16 in Division III Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contest). Three starters, six letter winners returning.
Dec. 2: Cleveland State (19-13, 10-6 and third in Horizon League. Lost in first round of WNIT). Three starters, seven letter winners returning. Picked sixth in Horizon this season. CSU beat Kent State 69-67 in Cleveland last year.
Dec. 5: North Dakota State (11-18, 7-9 and sixth in Summit League). Three starters, seven lettermen returning. Picked sixth in league this season. North Dakota State beat Kent State 74-68 in Bismarck in last season’s opener.
Dec. 8: At Bradley (6-24, 5-13 and eighth in Missouri Valley Conference). Four starters, nine letter winners returning. Picked ninth in league this season.
Dec. 12: At Youngstown State (21-11, 9-7 and fourth in Horizon League. Lost in first round of WNIT). Three starters, eight letter winners returning. Picked fourth in Horizon. YSU beat Kent State 68-49 in Kent last season.
Dec. 22: Brown (10-18, 4-10 and seventh in Ivy League. Four starters, eight letter winners returning. Picked seventh in Ivy League.
(Returning starters is sort of a messy statistic. I considered someone a starter if they had started more than 10 games last season or started a previous year and missed last year because of injury.)