Even though 14 members of the Kent State women’s basketball team return from last season, you may not recognize what you see on the court.
New coach Todd Starkey has spent the summer and early fall putting in the beginnings of new offensive and defensive systems.
Gone will be the dribble-drive offense and match-up zone defense that dominated last year’s play — a 6-23 season that led to former coach Danny O’Banion’s contract not being renewed.
In its place will be a motion offense that emphasizes passing and screens, and a defense that starts with a half-court man-to-man.
Starkey last week sat down with me for a 90-minute interview. Overall, he says, the team is ahead of where he thought it would be.
Over the next week, we’ll cover what he said about his style of play, his roster and his first months of recruiting.
Since Starkey arrived in April, he’s been able to practice with his team two hours a week while school (including summer school) was in session. NCAA rules allow the team to do another six hours of strength and conditioning exercises a week in the off-season.
Regular season practice starts Oct. 3. KSU’s first game is at home against Bradley on Friday, Nov. 11.
“We have just been able to put a skeleton in,” Starkey said. “Until we get into full practice, all we have are glimpses.”
But, he said, so far the team’s “buy-in has been fantastic.
But almost everything he’s taught so far has been new.
“There’s not a lot of carryover,” Starkey said. “The principles we’re using on offense and defense are quite different — the players have said so.”
When Starkey talked about his offense, he must have used the word “screen” a dozen times. He spoke of screens to get a shooter open, screens to get the screener open, screens to get someone like junior forward Jordan Korinek — an all-MAC honorable mention player who led the KSU in scoring and rebounding last season — open in many ways. Much of KSU’s offense last season was devoted to getting Korinek the ball in the post.
“We’ll play a style that won’t let other teams just focus on her,” the coach said. “She has ability in the post, as a mid-range shooter, as someone who can face the basket, and to shoot the three.”
When Starkey talked about the best three-point shooters on the team, he mentioned Larissa Lurken, who almost certainly will become the leading three-point scorer in school history this season, freshman Ali Poole — and Korinek.
Korinek had a reputation as a good outside shooter coming out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, and O’Banion often talked about her as a three-point threat. But in two years when she scored 662 points, Korinek has taken only 26 three-point shots. She’s made six. Listening to Starkey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her take well over 60 this season.
(That’s not as crazy as it may sound. Lindsay Shearer, who had about as many points as Korinek after two seasons, averaged almost 70 three-point shots in 2005 and 2006. Tracy Lynn averaged more than 100 her junior and senior years in 1991 and 1992. Like Korinek, both were post players.)
Starkey talked about using screens to get Lurken better shots. While the senior guard has made 146 three-point shots in three years, she’s averaged about 31 percent on them. But through most of her time at KSU, she’s been the team’s only three-point threat, and other other teams would try to smother her.
Point guard was probably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and the position is still unsettled.
Back are the two players who split the job last year — junior Naddiyah Cross and sophomore Paige Salisbury, along with sophomore Taylor Parker, who played sparingly. Back and healthy is redshirt freshman Megan Carter, a highly regarded recruit who was knocked out for the season by a knee injury in KSU’s third game.
“I can’t say how it is going to play out,” Starkey said. “I suspect we’ll take some of the focus out of having a point guard always bringing the ball up court and always starting the plays in motion.
“We can get the ball to any number of people on a break and can advance the ball on a pass.”
On defense, Starkey said, his system is to start with a basic half court man-to-man and “builds out from there.”
“We’ll have some zone looks and some press looks, but the techniques in the man-to-man are the base,” he said. “We need to be a very adaptable defense with multiple styles that make us hard to scout.”
Kent State played a match-up zone almost exclusively through the first two-thirds of last season but began to play its best when it mixed in a good bit of man-to-man late in the season.
Starkey said that some MAC coaches he had previously known have told him that he had better players than he thought he was getting. He said he certainly couldn’t predict a record for the Flashes in 2016-17.
“I’ve told the players what we want to be is the team that nobody wants to face in the MAC tournament,” he said.
Next: a look at the team player-by-player and position-by-position.