Ali Poole (23), Asiah Dingle (3) and Hannah Young (32) celebrate at KSU’s 58-47 win at Toledo Saturday. (Photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU Twitter feed.)
Quite suddenly and remarkably, Kent State has become one of the top four teams in the Mid-American Conferences.
The Flashes are one of two teams with a 3-0 record. Their 58-47 win at Toledo Saturday jumped them 23 spots in the NCAA’s RPI rankings to 73rd. That’s fourth highest in the MAC and the highest for Kent State in at least 10 years.
They are 10-4 overall, their best start since 2010-11, and have won seven straight games.
Before the conference season, KSU was around eighth in the 12-team MAC in five national rankings systems I found. The team was far behind the top six.
Since then, the Flashes have beaten three solid and successively better MAC teams — Eastern Michigan (currently 8-6), Northern Illinois (9-6) and Toledo (9-5). The win at Toledo was especially impressive. The Rockets win 75 percent of their home games. The win made a big different in the RPI, which heavily rewards beating a good team on the road.
The Flashes’ reward:
They travel Wednesday to Ohio, one of the two top teams in the MAC.
The Bobcats are 13-1, losing only to first-place Central Michigan in Athens, 88-70. Their RPI is 51 of 351 Division I teams. They beat Purdue (13-5, RPI 45) at home, 80-73, and Buffalo (10-4, RPI 37) on the road in overtime, 74-71.
Ohio ranks fifth in the country in scoring (83.6 points a game) and 25th in offensive efficiency, accordion to Her Hoop Stats, an analytics site. The Bobcats are 20th in the country in field goal percentage (46.5) and 17th in three-point percentage (38.0). Their 13.9 turnovers per game is 37th lowest in the country.
“3-0 is certainly a good place to be,” coach Todd Starkey said after the Toledo game. “I think it gives us some confidence.
“Our job now is to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves. I think we’ve done a good job so far in conference play and taken things one game at a time. We’re just have to they don’t think they’re better than we are yet.
And, the coach emphasized, “We’ve only played three conference games. There is a lot of basketball left.”
Ohio, Starkey said, “is a very good team and can beat you in a lot of different ways.”
Under coach Bob Bolden, the Bobcats have always had a high-powered offense, usually playing four guards. They shoot often and well and far. A total of 36 percent of their shots are three-pointers, the 34th highest percentage in the country.
Top scorer is last year’s MAC freshman of the year, 5-8 guard Cece Hooks, who averages 16.6 points a game. Sophomore forward Gabby Burris averages 15.0 and, at 5-fooot-11, leads the team in rebounding at 5.6 per game. Dominique Doseck, a 5-8 senior guard, leads the league in three-point percentage at 45.5.
Defense isn’t as good. Ohio gives up 65 points per game, seventh in the MAC. Opponents make 39 percent of their shots, sixth in the league, and 32 percent of their three-pointers, which is 10th. The Bobcats’ rebounding margin is minus-2.9, second worst in the MAC.
OU is, however, a very good ball-hawking team. The Bobcats have a turnover margin of plus-eight per game. That’s four better than any other team in the MAC. They lead the league in steals at 11.93 per game.
Kent State has somewhat opposite strengths. The Flashes are second in the league in scoring defense (59.0 per game) and first in field-goal defense (39.0 percent). They are, though, last in three-point field goal defense (32.9).
Although KSU’s offense has improved throughout its winning streak, it’s sixth in the MAC at 67.3 points a game. Its field goal percentage is 10th at 38.2. KSU ranks third in the conference in turnover margin at plus-four.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Before MAC play started, I thought Kent State had very little chance of winning of beating a team like Ohio. The Flashes are still underdogs. Keys are whether Kent’s good defense can slow down Ohio’s outstanding offense and whether the Flashes can score against OU’s average defense. Ohio always plays well at home. But two years ago, Kent State went into Athens with an 8-9 record and handed OU its first home loss of the season, 68-65. The Flashes went on to win the MAC East.
To follow the game
The game starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Convocation Center at Ohio University. It’s a three-hour drive from Kent. Here are directions from the OU website. General admission tickets are $10.
Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson does play by play.
Video is through ESPN3. You can watch if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. It’s free.
Live statistics are available through the Ohio website.
Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.
Ohio website, including links.