When you looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, it looked as if the Flashes’ contest against Brown Tuesday afternoon was a very winnable game.
The Bears were 10-18 last season and seventh in the Ivy League.
But Brown comes to town with an 8-1 record, second only to Youngstown State (9-1) of Kent State’s preseason opponents.
Brown’s opponents have been nothing special — the Bears have played only one team (Rhode Island) with a winning record. Their loss was to 4-4 Manhattan, and their strength of schedule, according to RealTimeRPI, is 328 (of 350 teams). Brown’s own RPI is 140, fourth highest of the team’s KSU will have faced after Youngstown State (77), Wright State (82) and Minnesota (85).
Kent State’s RPI is 331 and schedule strength 300.
The Flashes have had 10 days to take final exams and recover from a 91-61 beating at the hands of Youngstown State.
“Exam week gives is a chance to re-emphasize the way we want to play,” coach Danny O’Banion said at last week’s coaches’ luncheon.
One key thing, she said, is working on the Flashes’ match-up zone, which is new to the team this season.
“We thought it was best with all the new players we have,” O’Banion said. “It lets us focus on one system instead of looking at 15 different offensive sets” as the team prepares for a game.
The Flashes have 10 freshmen and sophomores on a 15-person roster, plus two junior college transfers. Among those, 10 are new to the KSU program.
Youngstown State battered Kent’s zone with quick perimeter passing and had 29 assists on 31 baskets.
“We need to recognize personnel better,” O’Banion said. “We need to adjust when someone’s got a hot hand, even if the scouting report said otherwise.”
KSU’s three-point defense has been spotty. In five games, the Flashes have held the opponents to less than 25 percent on three-pointers, but teams that passed well against the zone have beaten it.
Brown will be a challenge in the long-range shooting department. The Bears average 18 three-point shots a game and have make 34 percent of them. Five-foot-seven freshman guard Shayna Mehta set a school record in their Dec. 6 victory over Bryant, making 7 of 7 three-pointers. In the game, Brown made 11 of 20.
Mehta has twice been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week. In the other two weeks of the season, Brown’s Erika Steeves, a 6-foot-2 freshman forward, has won the award. Steve leads the Bears in rebounding with a 7.0-per-game average and has had two double-doubles this season.
Mehta and senior guard Jordin Alexander lead Brown in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
Kent State’s leading scorer is sophomore Jordan Korinek, who averages 16.2 points a game. Youngstown State and Bradley slowed her down in her last two games with physical defense inside, and that’s something O’Banion said the team would be working on in practice.
The Flashes, she said, almost like each other too much — they sometimes don’t want to challenge teammates enough in practice.
“We’ve been having a lot of individual conversations with players behind the scenes,” she said, “so they will know what to tell each other.”
She still likes her team a lot despite a 3-6 record.
“This is the most talented group we’ve had,” O’Banion said. “They just need to keep working through consistency of preparation and execution.”
Tuesday’s game starts at 2 p.m. in the MACC.
O’Banion said the afternoon start was at the request of Brown, which wanted its players able to get flights to their homes after the game. KSU also will break for the holidays after Tuesday and return to practice Dec. 27. The Flashes open the conference season at Central Michigan Jan. 2.