Updated with comments from coach Todd Starkey on Facebook Live Tuesday
Kent State is the surprise team of the MAC East. The Flashes have already won more games than they did all last season.
But Northern Illinois, KSU’s Wednesday opponent at the M.A.C. Center, is the astonishing team of the MAC West.
Northern was 13-17 a year ago and and last in the Western Division. The Huskies were picked fifth in the division this season.
And they come to Kent State with a 10-4 record, 3-0 in the MAC, as the second-highest scoring team in Division I.
The Huskies average 90.6 points per game. They’ve scored more than 100 points three times. They’ve scored more than 90 five times. They’ve scored less than 80 once. They’re coming off an 88-80 victory over defending MAC champion Ohio.
Like Kent State, Northern has done it with pretty much the same players they had a year ago. The Huskies returned four starters and 95 percent of their scoring.
All five of their starters — and one reserve — average in double figures. Three of them average more than 17 points a game.
Their leader is 5-10 senior guard Ally Lehman, who has had two triple-doubles this season and is in the top 10 in the MAC in 10 different categories. She’s eighth in the conference in scoring (16.9), second in rebounding (10.9) and second in assists (7.3). She scored 48 points and had 21 rebounds in NIU’s double overtime win over Milwaukee early this season.
Lehman isn’t even Northern’s leading scorer. That player is sophomore wing Courtney Woods, who scores 17.6 points a game and leads the MAC in three-point baskets per game with 3.1. And Woods isn’t NIU’s most accurate three-point shooter. That person is senior forward Cassidy Glenn, who makes 46.4 of her three-point shots. Glenn also averages 17.6 per game.
As a team, NIU leads the MAC in three-point field goal percentage (38.1) and is second in three-pointers per game (7.4). They lead the league is overall field goal percentage (44.6) and free-throw percentage (90.9).
Northern’s scoring is a huge jump from last season, when the Huskies averaged 67 points a game. Their up-tempo game came with coach Lisa Carlsen, a former Division II coach of the year at Lewis University who came to NIU last season.
The Huskies don’t play a lot of defense. They give up the most points in the conference — 80.7 — and are second to last in field goal percentage defense (41.3). Kent State is last in field goal defense (42.2) and second to last in scoring defense (71.7 points per game).
KSU actually played the one team in the country that scores more points than Northern in No. 3 Baylor and held the Bears 10 points below their 94-point average. They used a 2-2-1 zone press in that game — not so much to steal the ball but to slow Baylor down. I’d suspect they’ll do the same thing against Northern.
“Northern Illinois a very different team than in the past,” Kent State coach Todd Starkey said on Facebook Live Tuesday. “They’ve completely shifted the culture. It’s going to be really important for us to make sure that we try to make them uncomfortable. This is a team that if they get in a rhythm and able to shoot the ball in areas where they’re comfortable, they’re very dangerous. We’re really gong to have to defend the transition and the three-point line.
“They’re probably the hottest team in the MAC right now. They just had a big upset win over Ohio and probably are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Kent State (7-8, 1-2 MAC) is coming off of its second best offensive performance in six years. The Flashes scored 86 points in their win at Eastern Michigan Saturday.
The most points KSU has scored this decade came against Northern Illinois last season in a 95-85 victory in Kent when Larissa Lurken scored 37 points.
Lurken has scored more than 30 twice this season and leads the MAC in scoring at 22.2 points pregame, which is eighth in the country. She had 28 and 10 rebounds at Eastern Saturday and was one of three Kent State players to have double-doubles. Jordan Korinek had season highs in scoring (21) and rebounding (13). McKenna Stephens had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
KSU and Northern Illinois have two common opponents so far this season, both victories for each team. Kent State beat Bradley by 25 at home and Eastern Michigan by 19 on the road. NIU beat Bradley by 30 at Bradley and Eastern by 12 at home.
Northern’s RPI is 104, third best in the MAC; KSU’s is 176, its best in six years. KSU has played a tougher schedule (160 of 349 teams) than Northern (230). RPIs are from WarrenNolan.com. (Link is to all MAC RPIs; click on the team to see individual schedule strengths.)
If you can’t go to the Northern Illinois game
- Video starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday
- Audio at about 6:45 on Golden Flash iHeart radio and 640 AM WHLO.
- Live statistics though the KSU website.
- In-game updates on Twitter at @KentStatwbb.
Kent State statistics, with links to roster and schedule/results.
MAC statistics and standings.