North Carolina to New Jersey: A look at KSU’s 2018 non-conference opponents

Here’s the promised game-by-game analysis of Kent State’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming season.

Kent State was 13-19 last season, 5-13 and 10th in the 12-team Mid-American Conference. The Flashes lost three starters, including all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek, the team’s leading scorer. They return second-leading scorer Megan Carter and three-year starter Alexa Golden. A strong freshman class includes point guard Asiah Dingle, Massachusetts player of the year as a senior, and Hannah Young, a four-time all-state guard in Virginia.

Kent’s RPI last season was 149 of 349 Division I schools. RPI is a rating system based on a team’s record and strength of schedule. Five of the Flashes’ Division I non-conference opponents had better RPIs last season. Five had worse.

SLIPPERY ROCK

12-16 in Division II in 2017-18. Tied for 10th in 18team Pennsyklvania State Athletic Conference with 10-12 record.

This is the first exhibition game since Todd Starkey became coach three years ago. The NCAA allows an exhibition and a closed scrimmage or two closed scrimmages. Scrimmages are usually against neighboring Division I schools and provide better competition. Exhibitions are against non-Division I schools but give fans a chance to see the team. KSU had a closed scrimmage against Cleveland State in Starkey’s first year and scrimmages against CSU and Xavier last year. Slippery Rock game is Sunday, Nov. 4.

KSU’s last exhibition was against Division III Hiram in 2015 and terribly one-sided. Slippery Rock, though not a particularly good Division II school, should provide better competition. (Division III schools allow no athletic scholarships. Division II allow the equivalent of 10 full scholarships, which could be split into some partial scholarships. Division I schools like Kent State have 15 full scholarships.)

AT NORTH CAROLINA

15-16 last season. Finished 12th of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 4-12 record. RPI 114.

In Sylvia Hatchell’s 32 years as head coach, the Tarheels have won a national championship, made the Final Four three times, the Elite Eight six times, and the Sweet Sixteen 14 times. But in the last three seasons Carolina has been 14-18, 15-16 and 15-16. The Tarheels return four starters, including all-ACC guard Paris Kea, who has the highest scoring average in school history at 18.3. Also back is 6-4 center Janelle Bailey, who was ACC rookie of the year last season. Game is Friday, Nov. 9.

AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE

26-9. Tied for fourth in ACC at 11-5 and tied for fourth in ACC. RPI 16. Lost to NCAA tournament runner-up Mississippi State in Sweet 16.

The Wolfpack lost their 6-2 leading scorer and 6-5 starting center, so they’ll be rebuilding their front line. But coming in are a 6-5 freshmen center, a 6-4 freshman forward, and a 6-2 freshman forward. All are rated in the top 15 in the country at their positions.  Game is Sunday, Nov. 11.

The North Carolina trip is a homecoming of sorts for Starkey, who was head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina for nine years. It’s also near home for sophomore point guard Erin Thames, who grew up in Charlotte. Also from not far away is freshman Young, who played at Brookville High School in Forest, Virginia, about two hours away.

NORTHERN KENTUCKY

 9-22. Eighth in Horizon League with 6-12 record. RPI 256.

Lost to Kent State 59-54 in opener last season. Top three scorers and seven of top eight return. Three high school recruits who were on various all-state teams, including one 3,000-point scorer. Game is Saturday, Nov. 17, as part of Kent State Classic,

OAKLAND

15-16. Was 7-11 and seventh in Horizon League. RPI 195.

Just one player who started more than seven games returns, along with another who averaged 11 points, mostly off the bench. Seven-member freshman class includes top-ranked point guard in Canada and two all-state players, plus 6-4 forward. Game is Sunday, Nov. 18, as part of Kent State Classic.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE

16-16. Finished fifth in Horizon League at 11-7. RPI 154. Lost to SUNY Binghamton in first round of WNIT.

Penguins lost to Kent State 55-44 in Youngstown in second game of season last year and was 8-13 before going 7-1 in February. Leading scorer Sarah Cash is one of four returnees who started more than 10 games. Looks like good three-person freshman class, but top player blew out her ACL in West Virginia state tournament in March. Game is Tuesday, Nov. 20, in Kent.

DUQUESNE

25-8. Finished second in 14-team Atlantic 10 with 11-3 record. RPI 72. Advanced to WNIT Sweet 16.

This could be one of the best teams Kent State plays all season. The Dukes return all five starters from a team that went 25-8. They also have a player who missed all of last season with an injury but started 15 games as a freshman, along with a transfer from Maine who was sixth player of the year in the America East Conference as a freshman. One of the East’s better Mid-Majors, the Dukes have won at least 20 games nine of the last 10 years. They beat Kent State soundly twice during the Danny O’Banion years. Game is Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Kent.

AT WRIGHT STATE

23-11. Finished 12-6 and third in Horizon League. RPI 92. Lost to Toledo in first round of WNIT.

This is the fourth straight year the Flashes have played Wright State, and the Raiders have been very good competition. They’ve beaten KSU three of the four years; KSU’s win in Dayton two years ago was one of the best road wins of Kent State’s 19-13 season. Wright State has won 20 games eight of the last nine season but hasn’t been able to get by Wisconsin Green Bay to win the Horizon League. The Raiders return three starters but lost their two best — Horizon player of the year Chelsea Welch and Lexi Smith, who had 1,063 points and 840 rebounds in four years. Game is at Wright State on Sunday, Dec. 2.

AT ROBERT MORRIS 

25-8. Won the Northeast Conference with a 16-2 record. RPI 123. Lost in conference tournament finals and in first round of WNIT.

The Flashes played one of their best games of the year and one of their best defensive games in decades when they beat the Colonials 46-31 at Robert Morris in December. Robert Morris has two two straight Northeast Conference titles and 20 games in four of five years, but they have played weak schedules and are in a weak conference. Their strength of schedule last season was 313 of 349 Division I teams. The Colonials have two starters returning; losses included NEC player of the year Anna Niki Stamolamprou. Game is at Robert Morris on Friday, Dec. 7.

AT ST. BONAVENTURE

8-22. Finished 3-13 and 13th in Atlantic 10. RPI 260.

Kent’s second Atlantic 10 opponent lost their leading scorer but returns four others who started at least 19 games. The Bonnies also have a transfer who started 27 games at Charleston and two incoming freshman who won honors on New York City high school teams.  Game is Monday, Dec. 17, at St. Bonaventure.

AT NJIT

4-26, 2-12 and last in eight-team Atlantic Sun Conference.  RPI 339.

It’s officially the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but even the school website emphasizes NJIT. Highlanders’ RPI of 339 (of 349 teams) is the worst of all KSU opponents. Team has a new coach in Mike Lane, former top assistant at Bucknell, and returns six of seven top scorers. Game is in Newark on Friday, Dec. 21.

CLARION

7-21 in Division II and was 2-20 and last in 18-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Flashes haven’t played a game like this in many years — a tune-up against a non-Division I school right before the conference season. Several other MAC schools play such games routinely. Clarion returns all of its key players but its leading scorer. Game is in Kent on Monday, Dec. 31.

So how will Kent do?

The Flashes could have as many as three freshmen, plus a junior college transfer, in the starting lineup. So it’s very hard to get a handle on this team yet. The incoming class is supposed to be one of best in school history.

Looking at the schedule:

North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duquesne look very hard to beat. Wright State is likely to be good again.

The Northern Kentucky, St. Bonaventure, NJT and Clarion games look winnable and Oakland, Youngstown State and Robert Morris look competitive.

That’s somewhere between 4-7 and 7-4 in the non-conference.

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