A first look at an image from the video introduction the team will be using this season. Players are (from left), redshirt junior guard Megan Carter, freshman guard Hannah Young and freshman point guard Asiah Dingle. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)
Here’s Kent State women’s basketball coach Todd Starkey’s formula for 2018-19:
- Lots of good young players.
- Better guard play.
- Better shooters.
- More points. A lot more points.
Starkey’s 2017-18 team was 13-19 and averaged 62 points a game — last in the MAC. It was seven points below the league average and 20 points below league-leading Central Michigan. It was nine points below KSU’s 71-point average in 2017-18, when the Flashes surprised everyone with a 19-13 record and a MAC East championship.
Getting back into the 70s is key to the upcoming season, Starkey said .
“Sixty-two points probably will put us right squarely on 5-13 again in the league,” Starkey said at the team’s preseason press conference this week. “We want to average well over 70 — the higher 70s —if we can.”
That’s a kind of basketball we haven’t seen in the M.A.C. Center in almost 20 years.
The last Kent State team to average 75 points was the MAC East championship team of 2001, which went 21-8 overall and 14-2 in the MAC. Only three teams, including the 2016-17 Flashes, have averaged more than 70 since. The Flashes went four years from 2011 to 2015 without averaging 60 a game.
Then add KSU’s losses to graduation: leading scorer Jordan Korinek (19.8 points a game) and third-leading scorer McKenna Stephens (9.9 points).
So where are all of these points going to come from?
Redshirt junior guard Megan Carter was Kent’s second-leading scorer at 10.2 points a game and, with more consistency, could average at least five points more. But punch is going to have to come from the newcomers, especially the five freshmen.
“They were recruited to have a big role right away,” Starkey said. “I think we have the ability with these new players to play faster, to be able to shoot the ball from the three-point line, and take a few more calculated risks out on the floor defensively to create some offense.”
Freshman guards Asiah Dingle, Hannah Young and Annie Pavlansky all averaged more than 19 points a game as high school seniors. Forward Lindsay Thall averaged 13.5 and led her team in three-point shooting. Guard Moriah Modkins was the assist leader for state-runner-up Solon High School, which outscored its opponents by 22 points a game.
“We’ve got people can make shots,” Starkey said. “It gives us a lot of offensive options.”
Last season Kent State’s offense went through the 6-2 Korinek, the fifth leading scorer in Kent State history. But when the Flashes were forced to score from the outside, things got tough.
KSU was last in the conference in three-point shots taken (16.5 per game) and baskets made (4.6). It was last in three-point percentage (27.7).
Shooting percentage by KSU guards on all shots was 30.6. By comparison, Western Michigan — which was in the middle of the conference standings and in shooting percentage — had guards who made 37.7 percent of their shots.
“That’s what really kept us away from being over .500,” Starkey said. “. So we addressed it recruiting. Now it comes down to whether they can make those shots in games.”
College basketball, the coach said, “is a guard’s game.”
“Your guards have the ball in their hands the majority of the time,” he said. “So if your assist/turnover ratio isn’t very good, if you can’t shoot the ball from the perimeter, if you can’t create shots for your teammates, it really limits what you’re capable of doing.
“This year we have a much wider array of possibilities because our guard play, talent level and depth is significantly better.
“We’ll have to get creative in post scoring and interior scoring, but not all interior scoring is done by post players with their back to the basket. Interior scoring also comes off of drives and finishes at the basket. It comes from dump-off passes to post players.”
Question marks for Starkey are defense and rebounding.
“College defense is really new to seven of our players,” he said. “So we’re really teaching it from the ground up, and there are going to be some gaps.”
But, he said, “we actually have the ability to be more talented defensively once they’ve learned things.”
Rebounding, Starkey said, is likely to follow the pattern of his first two years.
“We haven’t really had a natural rebounder,” the coach said. “But we also haven’t been at the bottom of the league, either.”
The last two years KSU has had three players average between six and eight rebounds a game. The Flashes actually were second in rebounding margin in the MAC last year and sixth in 2016-17.
One thing that will help rebounding is the return of 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith, who missed the entire conference season last year with a medical issue. “Her rebounds per minute have been the best on our team over the last two years,” Starkey said.
The 6-2 Thall was a good rebounder in high school; Sydney Brinlee, a 6-foot transfer from Highland Community College in Kansas, was the second-leading rebounder on a team that was runner-up in the Division II Junior College NCAA tournament.
But she and six of her teammates have never stepped onto a court for a Division I game.
“Mental toughness — the toughness that gets you through a long college season — is probably going to be the biggest key,” Starkey said. “We just don’t know what that’s going to look like until they’re tested.”
The team’s first tests will be doozies. The Flashes open on the road at North Carolina on Nov. 9 and North Carolina State on Nov. 11.
More coverage is coming
I’ll be writing a lot more between now and the team’s open exhibition against Slippery Rock on Sunday, Nov. 4, at the M.A.C. Center.
There’s more from the preseason press conference, including some specifics on individual players I hadn’t heard before. I’ve got some observations from practice last week, then was able to interview some of the freshmen. And senior guard Alexa Golden and redshirt junior Megan Carter had some interesting things to say at press day.