The women’s basketball team is headed to Las Vegas over Thanksgiving to play in one of the toughest tournaments in the nation outside of the NCAA tourney itself.
The Flashes are part of an eight-team field in the Play4Kay Shootout, a tournament that features six 2017 conference champions, including KSU’s win in the MAC East last season.
The eighth team is Memphis, whose associate head coach is Danny O’Banion, the former Kent head coach whose contract wasn’t renewed in 2016 after an 21-98 record in four years.
Kent State opens Thanksgiving Day against Stanford, the traditional women’s power that made the Final Four last season. Stanford actually is the other team that didn’t win its conference; the Cardinal were second in the Pac 12 to Oregon State.
If KSU were to pull the upset of the year — perhaps of the decade — against Stanford, it would play the winner of the Gonzaga-Belmont game. Otherwise it plays the loser. The third game of the tournament would come against Florida Gulf Coast, Ohio State, DePaul or Memphis.
Here’s the field:
- Belmont, 2017 Ohio Valley Conference Champions (27-6 record).
- DePaul, 2017 Big East Champions (27-8).
- Florida Gulf Coast, 2017 A-Sun Champions (26-9).
- Gonzaga, 2017 West Coast Conference Champions (26-7).
- Kent State, 2017 MAC East Champions (19-13).
- Memphis, fifth place (tie) in American Athletic Conference (14-16).
- Ohio State, 2017 Big Ten Champions (28-7).
- Stanford, 2017 NCAA Final Four (32-6), second in the Pac 12.
The field is very much like that of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida last season, in which Kent State faced No. 4 Baylor is its opener. Every other team in that tournament won at least 26 games the previous season. Kent had won six.
But the tournament proved to be a defining moment for the Flashes, which many of us feared would be a series of demoralizing blowouts. Instead, Kent St took Western Kentucky to overtime, then beat Florida Gulf Coast. Both those teams went on to win their conferences and play in the NCAA tournament.
Those games propelled Kent State to its first winning season in six years and first MAC division title since 2003.
“The field may be even harder,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said in an interview this week.
Details on the tournament, including ticket and hotel information, are at http://kay.bdglobalsports.com.
The tournament is named after Kay Yow, a former N.C. State head women’s basketball coach who went through three bouts with breast cancer before she died in 2009. Kent State and almost every other women’s team in the country has a “Play4Kay” game during the season that raises money for research and honors breast cancer victims, survivors and their families.
Here’s the bracket. All times are Pacific (Las Vegas’s time zone). Kent is three hours later.
Details on the tournament, including ticket and hotel information, is at http://kay.bdglobalsports.com.