Why is Kent State so much better than a year ago?
The Flashes are 11-10, 5-4 in the MAC. Last year, with essentially the same players, they were 6-23 and 3-15.
Let me offer three reasons:
- KSU’s players have improved with an extra year’s experience. I always thought last year’s team was somewhat better than its record, anyway.
- New coach Todd Starkey has installed better offensive and defensive schemes, and his game plans and in-game adjustments and coaching have been very good.
- But I’d argue the biggest reason is the emergence of Larissa Lurken as Kent State’s first real star in many years. Reasons one and two affect this: Lurken has had a year to improve, and Starkey has given her a system she can thrive in and brought out the best in her.
A year ago, Lurken was a pretty good player on a pretty weak team. She was KSU’s second-leading scorer and didn’t even get an honorable mention on the all-league team.
This year she’s a candidate for player of the year in the Mid-American Conference. She leads the conference in scoring at 23.1 points per game and ranks first in the country in free throws attempted and made. By the end of the season, she’ll easily have taken and made more free throws this year than in her three previous ones combined.
She’s seventh in the MAC in free throw percentage, seventh in blocked shots, 10th in three-point baskets per game, 14th in three-point percentage and 15th in rebounding (seventh in defensive rebounds).
Lurken is averaging 9 points a game more than she did last year and, both she and Starkey agree, playing better defense. Her ability to draw fouls has kept some of KSU’s best opponents’ off the court for extended periods with foul trouble.
Add that together, and I’d argue she’s worth at least 12 points a game more than she was a year ago.
Add 12 to each of the Flashes’ games last season and their record would have been 16-13. Three other games were decided by 12 points.
We could argue that’s sort of a nonsense “what-if” exercise. But I think it means something.
The big change for Lurken has been her ability to drive, draw fouls and score at the free throw line.
“She’s got to be the best in the country at this point,” Starkey said after she scored 31 points — 19 at the foul line — against Bowling Green Saturday. “You have to play up on her, or she’ll knock down shots. She’s really developed a great shot fake and drive. You have to stay up on her because her pull-up jumper is so nice. And they can’t stay in in front of her when she drives without fouling.”
Lurken and the Flashes host Miami at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center.
Miami is 7-14, 1-7 in the MAC. The Redhawks’ only conference win has come against 1-7 Eastern Michigan.
Kent State is 11-10 and 5-4 at the halfway point of the MAC season. They’re tied with Buffalo for second place in the MAC East, two games behind Ohio, and tie with Buffalo and Western Michigan for the fifth best record in the league. The first four teams in the league get first-round byes at the MAC Tournament. Ahead of KSU is 6-2 Central Michigan, 7-2 Ball State and and Ohio, and 8-1 Northern Illinois.
Miami, like Kent, had a very tough first-half conference schedule. Its opponents, including Eastern, have a combined record of 91-47. KSU’s opponents are 69-54. But the Redhawks haven’t beat any team — conference or non — with a winning record. They’re RPI is 209 of 349 teams, which is 10th in the MAC. Kent State has beaten five teams with winning records and has an RPI of 113, fifth in the league.
Miami is led by one of the better freshmen in the MAC. Lauren Dickerson, a 5-3 guard from Indianapolis, is the only Miami player to start all of its 21 games. She’s averaging 14.9 points a game (highest for a freshman in the conference) and has made 33 of 98 three-point shots (33.7 percent). She’s also averages almost four assists, two steals and four rebounds a game.
No other Miami player averages more than 8 points. Sophomore guard Leah Purvis scored 23 against Ohio Saturday and has average 11.2 since joining the starting lineup Jan. 11.
Starkey said Tuesday that it was possible that guard Alexa Golden, who missed Saturday’s game with an injury, would play Wednesday. In answer to an email questions, he said she had gone through non-contact drills in Monday’s practice.
The Flashes missed Golden, who is KSU’s best defender, Saturday when Bowling Green’s top two guards combined for 48 points. Carly Santoro had 32.
Starkey said KSU might have won by double digits with Golden in the lineup.
Santoro scored 20 points of Bowling Green’s 30 points in the third quarter .
It was, Starkey said, “a situation when we would put Lex on her and told her, ‘Don’t let her drive right. Just stay there and guard her.'”
If you can’t go to the game
- Video starts at 7 p.m. on the Kent State website.
- Audio starts at 6:45 on Golden Flash iHeart radio and 640 AM WHLO.
- Live statistics can be followed though the KSU website.
- In-game updates on Twitter are at @KentStatwbb.
\MAC statistics and standings.
Preview from KSU website, including links to statistics, roster and schedule/results.
Preview from Miami website, including lengths to statistics, roster and schedule/results.