As I wrote earlier, new women’s coach Todd Starkey and I didn’t get a lot of time to talk about the team itself in my recent interview. I hope to talk to him further on that, probably in August after he returns from recruiting.
But here’s what I did learn:
Fifteen of the 16 players on the roster are on campus. The 16th, he said, was home for medical reasons. He wouldn’t identify her, but I’m sure it is Savannah Neace, a 6-3 freshman who didn’t play or practice significantly all season. Neace suffered near-disabling headaches. I’m not sure she’ll ever be healthy enough to play, but she’s still on scholarship and still active on social media with her teammates.
Former coach Danny O’Banion called Neace a “project.” She set high school records for shot blocking but was clearly not a player expected to make a contribution right away.
Redshirt freshman guard Megan Carter had been cleared to practice after surgery on her knee and shoulder. She hurt her knee in Kent State’s third game last season. After surgery on it, she later had surgery on a shoulder she dislocated in high school and reinjured in the Kent State weight room.
Carter was one of the top recruits of her class. She averaged 19 points a game in high school and had a reputation of being a very sure ball handler. She can play either point or shooting guard.
Starkey said the players had been receptive to the new coaching staff and seemed to have good chemistry. He said the team was made up of “high character” players. Their spring GPA was in the 3.30 range.
The coach said the team could use more “elite talent” (couldn’t any team?), but that did make me think about the high school records of team members.
Jordan Korinek, all-MAC honorable mention last season as a sophomore, was first-team her senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary and was called the best post player in Division II.
She’s the only first team all-stater on the roster.
Guard Alexa Golden was second team all-state in Pennsylvania and incoming freshman guard Ali Poole second team all-state in Ohio last season. Forward McKenna Stephens was third team all-Ohio, though her top sport was softball. Wing Tyra James was honorable mention in Ohio Division I, Carter “special mention” in Michigan’s top division (roughly equivalent to third team in Ohio). Junior Larissa Lurken was honorable mention all-state in Minnesota.
The rest of the team’s players were almost all all-league or all-district, but that’s definitely two steps below elite level.
In an interview with the Record-Courier, Starkey talked more about the current roster.
On the “very talented” Korinek: “I think we’re going to try to utilize her skill set maybe in a little bit different way then she’s been utilized before.”
That will be interesting to see develop. Korinek led KSU in scoring and rebounding and was used primarily in the post. She’s supposed to be solid shooter from all over the court – even three-point range – but that hasn’t really materialized so far. I would think Starkey would need to develop another force in the post in order to use Korinek a lot away from the basket. Stephens, who started at the other forward spot for most of the season, was at her best shooting from mid-range last season.
6-1 junior transfer Zenobia Bess (Illinois State and Gahanna Lincoln High School) is likely to get a look inside. It would be nice if 6-4 sophomore Merissa Barber-Smith developed into a rotation player. She averaged only four minutes a game in 17 games as a freshman. O’Banion said she was physically well beyond where former center Cici Shannon was at this point in her career.
On Lurken, who’s almost certain this season to become KSU’s first 1,000-point scorer since 2011, Starkey said: “Lurken can shoot the basketball. We’re going to try to put her in some situations to shoot a higher percentage from the 3-point line.”
Lurken has been KSU’s only major three-point threat in her three years on campus. But she’d go 6 for 11 some games and 1 for 14 others; some games she’d get fewer than five shots off as other teams focused on her. O’Banion tried to find plays to get her open. But that’s why Starkey is here instead of the former coach: to find new ways to get more out of players.
(An interesting statistic that I stumbled on: Lurken’s 200 three-point attempts in 2014-15 were the most in KSU history. Her 64 three-point baskets that season were third. Somehow neither of those numbers have made it into the KSU record book. Last season Lurken was 54 of 171, which is eighth and third all time at KSU. She has averaged about 32 percent over three seasons.)
In the Record-Courier interview, Starkey didn’t mention other players by name. Here’s what he said:
“I think there’s some talent, but a lot of the other pieces are kind of up in the air. There’s a lot of personnel returning, but how do you use them and what are the right combinations of players to use? A lot of it will depend on how they take to our system and our defensive mentality. Who are the players that are mentally tough enough to defend at the level we’re going to ask them to defend at?
“In that same context, who can help us score the ball? We’ve got to get our average points per game up and our points allowed down. Those are the two easiest statistics to work toward to get you closer to winning more games.”
A link to the R-C article is here, but it’s behind a paywall. You either need to be a subscriber or buy a day’s pass to the paper to see it.
One more interesting thing: Starkey said having the maximum 15 players on scholarships probably isn’t ideal. People can get frustrated and unhappy for lack of playing time, he said. Twelve plus two or three walk-ons might a more reasonable number, he said. “By conference season, you’re usually playing a seven, nine, ten player rotation.”
The full roster is unusual in the 25 years I’ve been following KSU basketball. It’s the only year O’Banion was at the maximum. Bob Lindsay sometimes had only 10; he might have had 14 or 15 in a few of his early years.
Coming up: a tough schedule
Starkey said KSU’s schedule should be released soon.
He said it may be the most challenging in school history. Already announced is a Thanksgiving visit to the Gulf Coast Showcase, where the Flashes will complete with seven teams that won at least 26 games last season. (KSU won six.) They’ll open with Baylor, which has won two national championships in 15 years.
Starkey said KSU will play two Big Ten teams on the road. One, I’d guess, is Minnesota, which visited the MACC last season.
A team learns by playing good opposition, the coach said.
“I’m not sure what our record will be,” he said. “But we certainly will have a better RPI.”
RPI – full name Ratings Percentage Index – is a way to rank teams based on their record and the quality of their competition.
Only a fourth of the ranking is based on a team’s own record. Another fourth is a team’s opponents’ record, and half is the record of opponents’ opponents.’ Some services add a bonus for wins on the road.
RPI tracks well with other top 25 rankings and success in the NCAA tournament. A weak conference RPI by the MAC last year may have cost Ohio University an at-large bid to the tournament. OU went 26-7 last season and 16-2 in the MAC but was upset by Buffalo in the conference tournament.
The league hasn’t had two tournament bids in 20 years. (Kent State and Toledo both made it in 1996.)
The MAC’s overall RPI last season was 11th and strength of schedule 13th of 32 Division I conferences. KSU’s RPI last season was 318th of 349 teams. Its schedule was ranked 192nd hardest. Three MAC teams had even lower schedule strengths. Only three MAC teams ranked in the top 100 in schedule, and the best of those was 95th (Ball State).
Top RPI in the conference was Ohio at 51. Second was Ball State at 64, third Central Michigan at 67, according to RealTimeRPI.