Somehow it seemed that the non-conference season was so concentrated that I never found the spot to write my usual “Keys to the Season” post.
But since MAC play starts Saturday, it’s a good time now.
The Flashes are sitting pretty much where they were at this time last season. They’re 7-5 and have shown potential. But right now I wouldn’t call them a championship contender.
How can we? I know I’ve carped on this, but the team has beaten one team with a winning record and no team with an RPI better than 200.
Nine MAC teams have a winning record and an RPI of at least 170. Six have RPIs better than 115.
A year ago the Flashes were 6-6 going into conference play. We were ecstatic. Kent State hadn’t been at .500 in five years. All I really hoped for was for the team to keep it up and break even on the season.
And in one of the great stories I’ve watched in 50 years of following sports, KSU won 13 conference games and the MAC East and finished 19-13.
Can the Flashes do it again?
It’s certainly possible, but like last year, things have to fall in place. The three key ones:
1. The Flashes have to show the consistency they did in their two final non-conference games. KSU spent its first 10 games playing a couple of good quarters in every game, even against teams like Stanford and Florida Gulf Coast, Gonzaga and Wright State (three top mid-majors). But the Flashes lost all of those games by double digits because they only played a couple of good quarters. They always had at least one really bad quarter that put the them out of the game.
Against No. 24 Michigan and Robert Morris, the Flashes played about as hard on defense for 40 minutes as a team can play. Michigan scored 54 points — 20 below its season average. Robert Morris, the favorite to win the Northeastern Conference, scored 31 — half its average and the fewest points a Kent State team has allowed in 21 years.
If KSU plays like that through the conference season, it will be another fun ride.
2. The Flashes have to cut down their turnovers. Their margin is minus-3.7, the worst in the MAC by two a game.
That’s got to come back to a break-even point.
3. They need a spark from Megan Carter, the redshirt sophomore guard who missed the first semester because of academic problems. It’s not that Carter is a bad or unmotivated student; she was a pre-med major and got in over her head in some lab classes last spring.
She’s now a public health major and eligible for the second semester. Back in September, I asked coach Todd Starkey what he thought keys to the season were. He immediately answered: “What happens when we get Megan Carter back?”
Carter played starter minutes for the second half of the conference season last year and averaged about 10 points a game in that time. Starkey says she’s looked even better in practice this year — “our best perimeter scorer.”
If her presence means five points a game more than KSU did in the non-conference schedule, the Flashes should contend.
One thing Carter gives Kent State is a player who makes things happen. Even as a freshman, she was among the best on the team at creating her own shot — by driving, pulling up for a jumper or hitting a three-point shot. The Flashes have needed that badly this season in some possessions as the shot clock wound down.
Some secondary needs:
- Get Jordan Korinek help in scoring. Korinek, the team’s 6-3 preseason all-MAC forward, averages 18.8 points a game. The Flashes have to get at least three players a game in the eight- to 12-point range. Carter can do that. So can McKenna Stephens, Ali Poole and Alexa Golden — even Naddiyah Cross on occasion.
- Keep up their good rebounding. The Flashes average a plus-5.6 rebounding margin, third best in the MAC. They outrebounded Robert Morris 44-21. They outrebounded Michigan and its all-Big Ten center by four.
- Keep scoring from the foul line. Kent State led the nation in made free throws last year and won at least 10 games at the foul line. Despite the graduation of Larissa Lurken, who set an NCAA record in scoring from the line last season, Kent State still ranks 14th in the country and is outscoring opponents by seven points a game in free throws.
The path to a MAC East title
SWEEP THE SEASON SERIES from four of these five teams: Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green, Miami, Ohio and Akron. The Flashes swept all five last season, but Bowling Green and Miami have better records and higher RPIs than Kent State does at this point.
SPLIT WITH BUFFALO AND NORTHERN ILLINOIS. The road to the East goes through Buffalo, which is 9-2 and has an RPI of 30. NIU swept the Flashes last season.
WIN AT LEAST ONE OF THEIR FOUR single games with West Division teams. Those are games in Kent against 11-0 Ball State and 7-5 Western Michigan and away games against 8-3 Central Michigan and 9-3 Toledo. Best chance is Western, which Kent State beat in Kalamazoo last season. The game is Kent’s first home MAC game, on Jan. 6.
That would be 12 wins. KSU was 13-5 in the MAC last season.
Right now, on paper, KSU is no better than the sixth or seventh best team in the 12-team MAC. That’s based on record, RPI and team statistics.
But on paper includes 10 inconsistent non-conference games. It includes 12 games without Megan Carter.
As they did last season, the Flashes will have to prove on the court that they’re better than their non-conference record.