A first look at 2019-20: Another 20-win season is very much a possibility

Workout spring 2019 (1)

KSU’s returning players mug for the camera at the end of spring workouts in April. (Photo from team’s Twitter feed.)

We’re a little less than three months from the end of last season and a little more than five months from the beginning of the next. So why not take a first detailed look at the Flashes of 2019-20?

Kent State returns three-and-a-half starters and 84 percent of its scoring from last year’s team, which produced KSU’s first 20-win season in nine years and its second post-season tournament victory ever.

The Flashes lose guard Alexa Golden, who anchored the team’s defense for four years and was invaluable in everything except scoring. The other is center Merissa Barber-Smith, who was dominant rebounder and defender over the team’s last seven or eight games. But she never was a significant scorer.

KSU’s top four scorers do return and  clearly will be the core of the team in 2019-20. But the Flashes have a three-woman incoming class that may be just as good as last year’s — and that class was one of the best in KSU history.

Let’s start with the returnees, listed in decreasing scoring average:

  • Redshirt senior guard Megan Carter, the Flashes’ leading scorer (15.9 points a game) and perhaps the most improved player on the team. She had been the team’s second-leading scorer the year before but was wildly up and down. This season she was extraordinarily consistent — above 15 points in 24 of 33 games. There were many reasons for KSU’s seven-win improvement last season, but without Carter, the Flashes would have been a .500 team at best.
  • Sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle (12.9 ppg). She was runner-up for MAC freshman of the year and still has perhaps the most upside potential on offense on the team. Dingle was ferocious driving to the basket and leading the fast break, and was one of the team’s best defenders. But she still is figuring out when she should not drive, when to pass the ball and how to score consistently on more than layups. She made progress, but a team’s point guard has to average more 2.5 assists per game and shoot better than 16 percent from 3-point distance.
  • Sophomore forward Lindsey Thall (10.1 ppg). She had a freshman year just about as good as Dingle and also has a potentially big upside. Thall led the MAC in 3-point percentage (in league games, which is my benchmark) and in blocked shots. For her to move from all-freshman to all-MAC, she needs to boost her inside offense and rebounding. She and coach Todd Starkey talked about the scoring inside all season, and she showed signs of it as the season went on. Still, 59 percent of her shots and 58 percent of her points came from 3-point distance. In a Record-Courier interview, Starkey said the Flashes were working on offensive adjustments to get Thall more shots.
  • Senior Ali Poole (8.8 ppg), who moved from wing to forward last season and started more than half the time. Unless she makes a huge jump, she’s not likely to be one of the stars of the team. But she’s more than solid.
  • Sophomore guard Mariah Modkins (3.2 ppg), who backed up Dingle at point, sometimes playing beside her. Generously listed at 5-1, she’s not an offensive threat, but she’s a a quick defender who gave opposing guards of any size problems last season. Her 3-point shot is good enough so that teams can’t ignore her, and she’s not afraid to drive if she sees an opening
  • Sophomore guard Hannah Young (3.1 ppg) was the freshman who most underperformed her statistics from high school, when she scored 1,998 points and was a four-time all-stater in Virginia. She averaged only 10 minutes a game, but she was playing behind Golden and Carter, the Flashes’ most experienced players. She’ll be fighting with the freshman guards for Golden’s starting spot.
  • Senior forward Sydney Brinlee was the the team’s fourth forward and junior forward Monique Smith the fifth in 2018-19. Brinlee contributed more significant minutes; neither is likely to challenge for a starting job.
  • Sophomore Annie Pavlansky, who had the highest high school average (21 ppg) among KSU’s freshman, and junior Margaux Eibel, a former walk-on, averaged fewer than three minutes in the seven games they played last season.

Guard Jess Wallis, who would have been a senior, is transferring. Center Amanda Sape, who would have been a junior, has left the team to concentrate on academics. Neither contributed significantly last season.

Kent’s three incoming freshman all had excellent senior years in high school and have a good shot at playing significant minutes.

  • Nila Blackford, a 6-1 forward from Manual High School outside Louisville, was a finalist for Miss Basketball in Kentucky. I’m not sure that’s quite as impressive as it sounds. She was regional player of the year, and all 16 regional winners were finalists for Miss Basketball.. But it’s clear than Blackford is an excellent basketball player. She averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds as a senior and looks to be the inside scorer than Barber-Smith never was. When she signed with Kent, Starkey said she could be a power forward or a wing. She tweeted this summer that she had been working on her guard play. She certainly should challenge Poole for playing time at forward.
  • Katie Shumate, a 5-11 guard from Newark High School who was district player of the year for the second straight year. (Ohio has 16 districts, as Kentucky as 16 regions). Shumate was second-team all state for the second year in a row after being first team as a sophomore. She should be a leading challenger for Golden’s spot in the starting lineup. In an interview after Shumate signed with with Kent, Starkey compared her to four-year starter Golden — “only two inches taller.” She led Newark, a high school power coached by her father, J.R., in eight statistical categories as a senior and is in the school’s top 10 all time in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists. Starkey said she’d be the the team’s “most versatile defender from Day One.”
  • Clare Kelly, a 5-8 guard from Olmsted Falls and, according to Starkey, one of the best 3-point shooters in the state. She also was second-team all Ohio in the state’s largest division after being third team as a junior and second team as a sophomore. She averaged 18.5 points last season and scored about 1,500 points in her high school career. It’s not likely she’ll challenge Carter for a starting job, but having a great shooter off the bench could be quite an asset. Carter, Young and Poole are all sold 3-point shooters, but someone in Thall’s league shooting at distance from the other side of the court would be a big offensive weapon.

In November, Starkey called all three incoming freshmen “can’t miss players.”

(I’m working on a detailed rundown of the incoming freshmen’s senior years. It should be posted within a week.)

So here’s the playing roster for 2019-20. (The Flashes also added a promising transfer who will have to sit out next season. More on that later.)

POINT GUARD: 5-4 sophomore Asiah Dingle, 5-1 sophomore Mariah Modkins. 5-7 senior Megan Carter also can play point.

SHOOTING GUARDS AND WINGS (the positions are pretty interchangeable in the KSU system): Carter, 5-10 sophomore Hannah Young, 5-11 freshman Katie Shumate, 5-8 freshman Clare Kelly, 5-11 junior Margaux Eibel and 6-foot sophomore Annie Pavlansky. 6-foot senior Ali Poole and 6-1 freshman Nila Blackford also could play wing.

FORWARD: 6-2 sophomore Lindsay Thall, 6-foot senior Ali Poole, 6-1 freshman Nila Blackford, 6-foot senior Sydney Brinlee, and 5-11 junior Monique Smith.

By class it’s:

FRESHMEN (3): Blackford, Shumate, Kelly.

SOPHOMORES (5): Dingle, Thall, Kelly, Modkins, Pavlansky.

JUNIORS (2): Smith, Eibel.

SENIORS (3): Carter, Poole, Brinlee.

So how good will this team be?

On paper, it looks strong. There is as much scoring returning as any team in the MAC, and potential for even more from Dingle, Thall and Young. The three incoming freshmen averaged a total of 53 points a game in high school.

The Flashes’ strength last season was defense, and they’ve lost all-MAC defensive team member Golden. Barber-Smith was a powerful defensive presence in the post, especially late in the season. The two also were KSU’s top rebounders.

Shumate and Young are likely to be good defenders, but we can’t expect them to fully replace a four-year starter like Golden. Bradford almost certainly will score more than Barber-Smith, but I doubt whether she’ll put up 18 rebounds in a game, which Barber-Smith did three times (with seven more games above 10).

Bradford has more speed and quickness than Barber-Smith, which should fit well with the faster-paced offense Starkey installed last season. She also could be the post scoring threat the Flashes didn’t have last season. Shumate and Kelly were excellent shooters in high school. The three freshmen could help correct Kent State’s shooting problems from last season, when the Flashes were last in the conference in shooting percentage and even worse in two-point percentage (308th of 351 Division I teams). And I’m sure the returning players will be working very hard on their shots this summer and fall.

I would think the team would score more points than last season but probably give up more points, too.

There’s no doubt that next year’s team easily looks capable of another 20-win season.

Can it contend in the MAC? It depends a lot on the rest of the league. MAC powers Central Michigan and Buffalo lost outstanding seniors but still have excellent rosters. Ohio is losing only one starter. Miami has a lot back.

Other schools have good recruiting classes, too. In fact, a service called ASGR Basketball in January ranked KSU’s class only seventh best in the MAC. Of course, the same service ranked KSU eighth the year before, and the Flashes placed two players on the MAC’s all-freshman team and got 44 percent of their scoring from first-year players.

In any event, I’m very much looking forward to the new season.

From 973 freshman points to 231 3-pointers: the numbers that made the 2018-19 season.

Kent State 2018-19 season statistics

A 6-4 transfer from Indiana

The one thing the Flashes need to fill out their roster is another post player who’s a strong rebounder and defender.

They have one. She just can’t play for another year.

Early this month, Starkey announced the signing of transfer Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 center who played at Indiana the last two seasons. She has two years of eligibility left but will sit out the season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Marchese averaged fewer than two points and two rebounds in about 11 minutes a game in both years.

At Archer High School outside Atlanta, she was rated a three-star prospect by ESPN and the No. 14 center in the country in her class. ProspectsNation rated her No. 81 overall in the country. As a junior, she averaged 13.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in Georgia’s top division. (I can’t find senior stats online, but she was on one 10-player all-state team I saw.)

Marchese may be a player who is a better fit at a good mid-major than she was in the Big Ten. She’ll join five other players in KSU’s gifted class of 2022.

Starkey was an assistant at Indiana before becoming KSU head coach three years ago. He wouldn’t have coached Marchese but likely was involved at least somewhat in her recruiting. Marchese is the first transfer from a four-year school in Starkey’s time at Kent State.

Kent State still has one open scholarship, but I think it’s unlikely Starkey is likely to save it for next year’s class.

A commenter on the Flash Fanatics KSU fan bulletin board wrote this about Marchese:

“IU didn’t get her the ball in the post. They were guard scoring team. She is a beast and one of the toughest if not toughest post in the Big Ten.

1,500 pt scorer in high school.. 700 bounds.. Prospect Nation 4 star .. 14th best post (2017) class. i’ve watched this kid. She will score in bunches.. Kent going to have a different look when she is ready to roll.”

I know nothing about the poster; it actually was his or her first comment on the bulletin board. But it sounds nice.

The bulletin board is worth following. Here’s the link. Most comments, as you’d expect, are football and men’s basketball. Most of the women’s basketball posts are by me, with occasional comments from other fans.

Notes

  • Casey Santoro, a rising senior at Bellevue High School who verbally committed to Kent State in February, was first-team all-Ohio and district player of the year for the second year in a row. She’s a 5-4 point guard who averaged about 22 points a game.
  • Kent State posted a team GPA of 3.458 in the spring. Two players had a 4.0 GPA, eight were higher than 3.4.

The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee has recommended several minor rules changes for 2019-20.

  • The shot clock would be reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound or a non-shooting foul in the front court. The move is designed to “enhance the pace of the game…because a full 30-second shot clock is not needed since the offensive team is already in the front court.”
  • After a two-shot technical fouls, the shooting team would get possession of the ball. The ball had been going to the team that would have had possession before the technical.

The committee also recommended a trial of a deeper 3-point arc in next year’s WNIT and other postseason tournaments. The line would be moved to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. That’s about 17 inches farther than the current distance. Any change in regular season games wouldn’t take effect until at least the next season or 2021-22. The chair of the committee admitted the proposal “hasn’t seen a lot of support from the membership,”

The changes still have to be approved by a broader group, but it wasn’t clear from the NCAA release what group that was.

 

 

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