Central Michigan was the clear preseason favorite in the Mid-American Conference, The Chippewas got 10 of 12 votes to win the MAC West, 10 of 12 to win the MAC overall, and nine of 12 to win the MAC Tournament.
They’ve done nothing to dispel that since conference play started.
Central is the only team undefeated in conference play at 4-0. The Chipps are second in the league in scoring (82.3 points a game). They’re first in shooting percentage (45.6), first in three-point baskets per game (9.8), first in free-throw percentage (82.9). They’re overwhelmingly first in rebound margin (plus-10.2, five ahead of any other team).
They’re the only team to beat Ball State (14-1), and they did it at Ball State.
They’re Kent State’s challenge on the road Saturday.
The Flashes are 2-2 in the MAC, 9-7 overall. Both wins have come over Eastern Michigan, the second a 76-69 victory Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center.
After that game, coach Todd Starkey mused that he hadn’t yet figured this year’s team out.
“As frustrated as I am with this group at times, our RPI is still better than it was at this point last year. Our conference record is better than it was this point last year,” he said. “But it still feels like we are climbing up a pretty muddy slope right now. You start making some progress, and you slide back down.”
Starkey’s biggest complaint this season has been a lack of consistent intensity. Except for an overpowering defensive effort in a 46-31 win over Robert Morris and a strong effort in a loss to No. 23 Michigan, the Flashes have had at least one bad quarter in every game.
Wednesday it was the second, when KSU went three of 20 from the field and was outscored 19-9.
“We’ve played much better than this before in this season,” Starkey said. “I think teams have figured us out a little bit, so we’ve got to find a new rhythm and a new flow of things, and I think maybe some things can break open for us.”
But, he said, “our next four games games are really tough.”
After traveling to Central, the Flashes go to 8-7 Bowling Green, then host Ball State, then play at 10-5 Toledo.
In Central, the Flashes play a team with two preseason all-MAC West players (point guard Presley Hudson and forward Tinara Moore) and a third playing near an all-MAC level. That’s Reyna Frost, a 6-foot junior who is third in the nation in rebounding at 13.3 a game. She also averages 14 points a game and scored 25 at Bowling Green Wednesday in a 90-54 win.
Hudson is fourth in the MAC in scoring at 18.4 points a game, first in free-throw shooting (92 percent), first in three-point baskets per game (4.0), third in three-point percentage (44.8) and third in assists (5.6 per game). Moore is sixth in the conference in scoring (16.9), third in rebounding (9.1), third in field-goal percentage (57.2) and first in blocked shots (2.1).
The worst thing you can say about Central is the team doesn’t get a lot of points from its bench. Four starters average in double figures and the fifth averages 9.5. But no one else on the team averages more than 3.7.
Kent State’s depth isn’t any better. Its five starters all average at least 30 minutes a game; top reserve Megan Carter averages 24.8. Next highest is 6-4 junior Merissa Barber-Smith, who missed Wednesday’s game with illness and, Starkey said, is likely to miss more. Next highest is junior Tyra James, who has played less than a minute on the MAC.
Carter (12.3 points a game), Jordan Korinek (19.9), McKenna Stephens (10.3), Ali Poole (8.4) and Alexa Golden (8.3) all have solid averages, and point guard Naddiyah Cross had a career-high 24 points Wednesday. Next highest scorer is James at 2.8.
To follow the game
Action starts at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Video is on ESPN3. You can follow it online if your subscribe to ESPN on cable or on satellite.
Audio starts at about126:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.
Live statistics will be available through the Central Michigan website.
Kent State website, including links to statistics, roster, schedule/results, record book and more.
MAC statistics. including standings.