Friday’s opener: It’s time to see what a Todd Starkey team looks like

Most of the players are the same, but it’s a new coach, a new offense and a new defense for Kent State’s women’s basketball team as it opens the 2016-17 season tonight at the MACC against Bradley.

The game starts at 7 p.m.

The opponent is a good one to see where the Flashes stand in comparison to the team that went 6-23 last season. Bradley beat Kent State 68-60 in Peoria last season. Kent committed 24 turnovers in that game, which led to 20 Bradley points. KSU scored 11 points off Bradley turnovers. Even up those numbers, and the games is a toss-up.

Bradley has a lot of similarities to Kent State. The Braves, 9-22 last season, also have a new coach and new offensive and defensive systems. Three starters return from that team, which is picked to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Bradley’s strength last season was defense, where it ranked fourth in its conference. The 61.5 points a game the Braves allowed were the lowest for the team since 1978-79.

“They play extremely hard, especially on defense,” new KSU coach Todd Starkey said. He became KSU’s sixth women’s coach in April after Danny O’Banion’s contract wasn’t renewed. She was 21-98 in four seasons. Starkey had been an assistant for two years and Indiana and a successful Division II head coach for nine years before that.

Bradley and Kent State have exchanged video from last season, but Starkey said it’s not much to dwell on.

“It’s an advantage and disadvantage for both teams — not knowing each other,” he said. “Their system is different, our system is different, but there are still a lot of the same pieces.”

Junior guard Anneke Schluter, who led Bradley in scoring at 9.5 points a game last season, returns. She had 18 points, including four three-pointe baskets, against KSU last season.  5-foot-10 forward Leti Lerma, who had 19 points against Kent, is the only senior on the roster. She had 16 points and 11 rebounds in Bradley’s 62-45 exhibition win over Missouri-St. Louis Saturday.

Kent State didn’t play an exhibition this year but did go to overtime in a closed scrimmage last weekend against Cleveland State.  (Starkey didn’t give a lot of details; he’s not allowed to say much by the NCAA.) Cleveland State beat KSU 60-49 at Kent in the regular season last year.

The coach seemed encouraged by the scrimmage. He said he thought the team’s defensive intensity, something he’s stressed since he arrived, was good at times. He said the team did not shoot well but found a way to stay in the game with defense. Jordan Korinek, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, had 24 points and 13 rebounds agains Cleveland State.

The Kent State offense fans see Friday will likely emphasize more passing than we saw last year and more screens to get the shooters open. Korinek will spend less time in the post and likely will shoot more jump shots and even a few three-pointers.

The defense will start with a (Starkey hopes) hard-working half-court man-to-man, with some trapping, zone and press mixed in.

Who’s going to play?

Starkey wouldn’t name a starting line-up, but here’s my best guess:

Korinek, of course, at one forward. She averaged 15.5 points last season and is a preseason all-MAC East selection.

Juniors McKenna Stephens or Zenobia Bess at the second forward. Stephens started almost every game last year after she recovered from early season knee problems. She’s got a good 15-foot jump shot and can shoot from longer.  Bess is a 6-1 transfer from Illinois State who played high school basketball in Gahanna. She sat out last season because of NCAA rules. Bess is a traditional  post player whom Starkey calls the best screener on the team. I’d bet on Stephens starting Friday because she has more experience.

Senior guard Larissa Lurken, who’s started almost every game since she arrived on campus four years ago. She was Kent’s second leading scorer last season and leading scorer two seasons ago. Starkey said she had shown her best defensive focus and intensity of practice in the last 10 days and argued she could be an all-conference player if her defense continues to improve.

Sophomore guard Alexa Golden or freshman guard Ali Poole. Golden, a defensive  specialist, started 17 games a year ago. Poole, the only true freshman on the team, has shown a good outside shot and good basketball sense in practice. Again, I’d bet on experience starting in the first game.

Junior point guard Naddiyah Cross or redshirt freshman Megan Carter. Cross has started at least 15 games in both her years on campus. Carter was injured in the third game last year but has shown an ability to make her own scoring opportunities in practice. Again, I’d vote for Cross — the player with the most experience — starting.

But the less experienced people will play a lot. And I couldn’t even guess who will be starting three games from now.

You can also expect Merissa Barber-Smith, the tallest player on the team at 6-4, senior forward Chelsi Watson and maybe senior Keziah Lewis to see significant action.

Starkey said 13 of the 14 players on the roster got in against Cleveland State. He’s also said he hopes to cut the rotation down as the season progresses.

How good is this team?

I really have no idea. It’s nice to have experience for the first time in years, but the new systems and coaches negate that somewhat. I also always remember a coach telling me years ago that a team that couldn’t win as juniors won’t necessarily win as seniors.

Bess, Carter and Poole all look like legitimate Division I players who will upgrade the talent level on the team. But losing James, the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago, will hurt.

I think Starkey has a system he believes in and will be a good in-game coach, something that could mean two or three more wins over the course of a year.

I would be overjoyed if this team approached a .500 season. More realistic, I think, would be about 10 wins (which would be three more than any season in the last five years). A contender in the MAC? Only if everything broke their way.

In a week, I’ll do my annual “keys to the season” column. But let’s see what a Starkey team looks like first.

If you can’t go

  • You can see the video stream on live on kentstatesports.com/watch, starting at 7 p.m.
  • You should be able to hear the game on Golden Flash iHeart radio at http://www.iheart.com/live/golden-flashes-radio-6068/, though the link wasn’t up to date earlier today.
  • Live stats will run at sidearmstats.com/kent/wbball.
    In-game updates on Twitter will be at @KentStateWB.

 

Here’s a link to the KSU website preview of the Bradley game, which in turn has links to the team’s roster, schedule and 2015-16 statistics.

Here’s a link to a video posted today that summarizes Starkey’s approach to the team. It’s edited from the team’s preseason press conference.

Here’s the Facebook Live video of Thursday’s FlashTalk weekly interview program with men’s coach Rob Senderoff, football coach Paul Haynes and Starkey. The Starkey interview starts about 40 minutes into the one-hour show and includes discussion of the Bradley game and his newly announced recruiting class. Senderoff comes first in the show, then Haynes.

Here’s a link to the the Bradley website preview, which also links to its roster and statistics.

 

 

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