We’re halfway through the conference season, and the Kent State women’s basketball team is far from where we hoped as it starts second-round action against Bowling Green at home Wednesday night.
The Flashes are 3-6 in the MAC. That is:
- One more loss than they had all last season, when they unexpectedly went 13-5 and won the East Division.
- In ninth place in the conference overall. That’s not good. The first four teams in the standings get a bye to the conference tournament quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena. The next four host a home game in the the first round of the tournament. Seeds 9 through 12 have to play on the road. The Flashes are one game out of eighth and two games away from a four-way tie for fourth.
So what’s happened?
- The Flashes lost two games I thought they would win — at Bowling Green and at Akron. Both those teams are below KSU in the standings. They won one game I thought they would lose — at Toledo, which has the fourth best overall record in the conference. They lost two two games I thought were possible wins — at Northern Illinois and at home against Western Michigan. And they lost to Central Michigan and Ball State, two of the best teams in the league.
This time last season KSU was 5-4 and had won three games no one before the season would have expected them to win — at Ohio, at Western Michigan and against Toledo in Kent.
- KSU really hasn’t found a way to compensate for the loss of Larissa Lurken, last year’s MAC player of the year. She was the only starter to graduate, but she left a 24-point hole in the starting lineup and she was a perimeter threat that every team had to account for.
The returning starters and top reserves all are playing as well or better than they did last season. They just aren’t playing 24 points better.
Senior forward Jordan Korinek is the star we expected her to be, averaging 20 points a game, about two points better than she did in conference play last season. (I’m going to compare current stats to conference stats because Kent came into its own last year in the MAC season.)
Forward McKenna Stephens has about the same stats. Junior Alexa Golden and senior Naddiyah Cross are up about three points each, and Megan Carter is up about five. Sophomore Ali Poole stepped into Lurken’s spot in the starting lineup and is averaging about 8.5 points a game, up six points from last season. That’s good improvement but far from the 10 points a game Lurken jumped between her junior and senior years.
Lurken also was the team’s clear leader, steadied the team when it needed it and was the player with the ball when Kent needed her. There’s been no one like that this season.
So will things get better? Here’s how they could:
- The Flashes play six of their last nine games at home, where MAC teams usually have the advantage.
- Someone may step up. The Flashes really jelled in the second half of the season last year, going 8-1. Korinek, Stephens and Carter all made major jumps in their play. My candidates this season would Poole, who has shown streaks of scoring, and further improvement from Carter, the team’s second leading scorer since she became eligible after sitting out the first semester.
- The Flashes find better ball handling — they’re last in the conference in turnovers and haven’t shown signs of improving. It has to happen, I think, to get anywhere beyond eighth place.
- Their schedule may be easier. Six MAC teams have RPIs in the nation’s top 100. KSU played four of them the first half. Buffalo is the only powerhouse in the East (16-3 and 7-1). But I figured the records of the Kent’s opponents in the first half — 39-41 in the MAC and 104-77 overall — and its opponents in the second half — 37-42 in the league and 105-73 overall. The’s much closer than I expected. (I doubled the record of any team KSU played twice to get the right weighting).
I think the season comes down to the series against Ohio and Miami. Both teams have better records than Kent — but not that much better. Ohio is 5-4 and 10-9. Miami is 4-5 and 12-8, with a softer non-conference schedule than Ohio. The Flashes’ remaining three away games are at those teams and Buffalo. They also play them in Kent, of course.
So here’s the second half:
The Flashes have a solid chance of beating Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Miami at home. (They did lose to all three on the road.)
They have to go 2-2 or 3-1 against Miami and Ohio.
Any win against Buffalo would be an unexpected bonus.
So would be 5-4 or 6-3 second half and a 9-9 or 8-10 MAC record overall. 9-9 should get the first-round home game in the tournament. 8-10 would be iffy.
That would add up to about a .500 season overall (16-14 or 15-15, plus their record in the MAC tournament).
Two years ago — when Kent State hadn’t had a winning record in five years — we would have been delirious at the prospect.
Last year spoiled us.
Wednesday’s game vs. Bowling Green
At the time, it was the most disappointing game of the season to me.
On Jan. 17, Bowling Green beat the Flashes 60-50 at BG. That is Kent State’s lowest point total of the MAC season and third lowest of the season. (Those other two games are sort of anomalies. One was a 54-41 loss to No. 13 Michigan at Michigan. The other was a 46-31 victory at Robert Morris, which currently has a 16-4 record, though against strength of scheduled rated 332 of 349 Division I teams.)
In the first Bowling Green game, Jordan Korinek had seven points — the only time all year she hasn’t scored in double figures. The Flashes made 34 percent of their shots and 16 percent of their three-pointers. They made 20 turnovers. They were outscored 20-4 over the last eight minutes. It was pretty grim.
Since then, BG has lost three in a row by an average of 19 points. Kent State has lost two of three.
Bowling Green’s best players are guard Carly Santoro, who averages 13.4 points and 9.5 rebounds, and guard Sydney Lambert, who averages 10 points and leads the team in three-point shooting.
To follow the game
Action starts at 7 p.m. at the MACC.
Video is on ESPN3. You can follow it online if your subscribe to ESPN on cable or on satellite.
Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio and WHLO 640.
Live statistics will be available through the Kent State website.
Preview from the Kent State website, including links to statistics, roster, schedule/results, record book and more.
Preview from the Bowling Green website, including links.
MAC statistics, including standings.