The Flashes’ huddle. (File photo from KSU website.)
Can a team have a “must-win” game in its conference opener?
For Kent State, beating Eastern Michigan is almost essential to making the first division of the Mid-American Conference this season.
Both the Flashes and Eastern have 7-4 records. KSU is higher in every national ranking system I can find. It’s a home game for the Flashes. Kent beat EMU twice last year, though the Flashes are such a different team, that doesn’t count for much.
And it’s likely not going to be easy.
“There are no easy wins in the MAC,” KSU coach Todd Starkey has said often. “The league is as good top to bottom as it’s every been.”
The game is at 5 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. It’s the first game of a doubleheader with the KSU men, who play Bowling Green a half hour after the women finish. One ticket gets you in both games.
Like Kent State, Eastern is coming off a win over a Division II school, Northwood, 53-39. The Flashes beat Clarion 92-38 on Monday. Eastern, like KSU, has beaten only one team with a winning record; that was Illinois State (6-4) in its opener. No other team the Eagles have won against is better than 2-12. Their best game was a 72-66 loss at Illinois Dec. 1 and a 73-63 loss to Butler (12-1) Dec.21.
KSU beat 9-3 Youngstown State, 62-34. Next best record for a defeated opponent is 3-10.
Kent’s RPI is 140 (of 351 teams), according to WarrenNolan.com. Eastern’s is 221.
Eastern’s 7-4 record is the best in the three years of coach Fred Castro, who was a highly regarded assistant coach at the University of Washington before EMU hired him. Castro has had two of the MAC’s best recruiting classes in two years. Last season the Eagles surprisingly were in the first division of the MAC for half the season but faded toward the end.
As it usually does, Eastern plays tough pressure defense. The Eagles are second in the conference in field goal defense at 35.4 percent. (Kent State is first at 34.9.) Eastern in third in the MAC in steals (9.55 per game) (KSU is 8.55) and has a plus-2.82 turnover margin. (KSU’s is plus-4.09.)
The teams are 11th and 12 in the conference in assists and assist-to-turnover margin and among the worst in scoring and shooting percentage.
Top Eastern scorers are three guards — 5-8 redshirt sophomore Corrione Cardwell (14.6 points per game), 5-8 redshirt senior Danielle Minott (13.5) and 5-10 sophomore Courtnie Lewis (11.6). Cardwell is averaging 10 points more than she did as a freshman. Minott was Eastern’s leading scorer last season and a preseason all-MAC West selection. Lewis made last year’s all-freshman and third–team all-MAC teams.
Top rebounder is 6-1 redshirt senior forward Lorraine Enabulele at 6.3 per game. Freshman point guard Jenna Annecchiarico. a 5-5 four-star recruit from New York, leads the MAC and is third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.8). (Kent’s best is Alexa Golden at 1.05.) Annecchiarico averages 5.2 assists per game, eighth in the league.
Keys to the game simply seem to be (1) which team wins the turnover battle and (2) which team shoots better.
To follow the game
The game starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center. Reserved seat tickets are $10, general admission $5. S KSU students get in free. Your women’s ticket also gets you into the KSU men’s game against Bowling Green, which follows the women’s.
Video is through ESPN3. You can get if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. David Wilson is the play-by-play announcer.
Audio starts at about 4:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack is the announcer.
Live statistics are available through the KSU website.
Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.
Detailed media game notes for Kent State.
Preview from Eastern Michigan website, including links.
Media notes for Eastern Michigan.
In case you missed it, here are the wbbFlashes Keys to the MAC season, a detailed look on where the team stands now.