Women’s season starts early, includes OSU at home, 6 teams that won 19 games

Non-conference 2019

Graphic is from team Twitter feed. Player is senior forward Sydney Brinlee.

The only surprise in the official release of Kent State’s non-conference schedule is how early the season starts.

The first game — at Duquesne in Pittsburgh — is on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The KSU press release on the schedule said it was the earliest start of a season in school history. Last year’s first game was Nov. 9; an exhibition game was played Nov. 4.

The highlights of the schedule had leaked out over the last three weeks as other teams announced their schedules.

The Flashes play three Big Ten teams — Ohio State at home, Michigan on a neutral site and at Purdue. They play two teams that made the NCAA tournament last year and three more than made the WNIT. Six opponents won at least 19 games.

KSU plays four home games, four at two neutral-site tournaments and three road games.

Here’s a quick look:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 5: at Duquesne (19-13 in 2018-19, RPI 138).
  • Saturday, Nov. 9: at Youngstown State (22-10, RPI 122).
  • Friday, Nov. 15: vs. Michigan (22-12, RPI 46) at Akron Classic.
  • Saturday, Nov. 16: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (7-22, RPI 337) at Akron Classic.
  • Thursday, Nov. 21: Ohio State (15-16,RPI 101).
  • Sunday, Nov. 24: Robert Morris (22-11, RPI 179).
  • Tuesday, Dec. 3: St. Bonaventure (6-22, RPI 262).
  • Sunday, Dec. 8: at Purdue (19-15, RPI 90).
  • Thursday, Dec. 19: vs. Georgia Southern (7-22, RPI 287) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Friday, Dec. 20: vs. Troy (22-9, RPI 93) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Monday, Dec. 30: Hiram (10-16 in Division III.

The non-conference highlight is still the Nov. 21 home game against Ohio State, the first time the Flashes and Buckeyes have played since 1981. It’s also the first time OSU has played a MAC school on the road since a game at Bowling Green in 2000.

KSU coach Todd Starkey said the scheduling wasn’t as hard as the history would suggest.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” Starkey said in an interview in late July. “I think more power Power Five teams are looking for quality road games as opposed to just a blowout win in a home game.

The NCAA’s decision-making for the March tournament is driving the trend toward tougher non-conference games, Starkey said. The top 16 teams in the tournament get to host the first two rounds in the NCAA. The deciding factor on getting a seed in the top 16 can be strength of schedule or “quality wins.”

“A lot of Power Five teams are looking for quality road venues where a game is probably winnable,” Starkey said. “It’s better for Ohio State to beat us at our place than to beat us at their place.”

In almost all ratings systems, road victories are weighted far more heavily than home wins. In the RPI, winning on the road is worth twice as much as winning at home. The best way to jump in the RPI always has been to beat a good team on the road.

KSU ought to be a good team, if not the quality of a Big Ten contender. The Flashes return 83.6% of their scoring from a team whose RPI last season was 83rd among 351 teams. That ranking actually higher than Ohio State’s 101, though the Buckeyes will have a very different team this season. Their freshman class is rated among the top five in the country.

Of teams on the KSU schedule, only Michigan (46) had a higher RPI ranking than Kent State last year. Purdue was 90th. Next best is Troy, the Sun Belt team that KSU will play in a pre-Christmas event in Las Vegas. It ranked 93rd last season.

Six of KSU’s Division I opponents had an RPI below 140 in 2018-19. A seventh is Robert Morris, which went 22-11 and won the Northeastern Conference. But the NEC had the second lowest conference RPI among the 32 leagues in Division I. So the weak schedule dragged down its RPI.

The Flashes open with road games at Duquesne and Youngstown State, both teams it played in Kent last season. Then they play at the Akron Classic against Michigan and Purdue Fort Wayne (once Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, then just Fort Wayne for a few years).

They then play three straight home games before traveling to Purdue, then travel to the Las Vegas event between the end of classes and Christmas.

KSU plays Division III Hiram Dec. 30 before opening MAC play later that week. The MAC schedule hasn’t been announced yet.

KSU press release on the schedule.

Earlier posts on the Ohio State game and Vegas tournament and on the Purdue and Michigan games.

Is the schedule harder?

I’d say it is slightly tougher.

KSU plays three Power Five conference schools. Last season it played two — North Carolina and North Carolina State.

But N.C. State finished ninth in the RPI and Carolina 38th. KSU also played Wright State, which ended the regular season ranked 59th.

Michigan ranked the best among 2019-20 opponents at 46th. Purdue was 90th, Troy 93rd and Ohio State 101st.

Last year’s rankings are an imperfect measure, of course, because the teams don’t have the same personnel. For example, two years ago Duquesne ranked 72nd in the RPI with a 25-8 record. It had all five starters returning last season, but the Dukes won six fewer games.

I did a quick check of the rosters of the opponents. Duquesne lost four starters, but the Dukes have had one of the country’s top mid-major programs over the last decade. It’s hard to imagine their having a weak team.

Every other team seemed to have at least a solid core returning. All five Purdue starters are back. Ohio State and Michigan have strong freshman classes.

Six teams on the schedule ranked in the nation’s top 140 in RPI. Last year’s schedule had five.

Last year’s opponents included four teams with RPIs above 240. This year’s has three. Two teams last year ranked above 300. Only Purdue Fort Wayne does this season.

(There are 351 Division I teams.)

“I like a rigorous non-conference schedule,” Starkey said, “and I like giving our players the opportunity  to play against those name schools they grew up dreaming of playing for or against. It also helps the profile of our program regionally and nationally to be able to play with and against those teams.”

He said two or three Power Five teams a year is about the right number.

Then, he said, you “balance it out.”

“Playing a weak non-conference does not prepare you for this league,” Starkey said. But, he added, “you can overschedule and lose your team’s confidence by playing you to too rigorous a schedule.”

All of the RPI rankings come from realtimeRPI.com, one of several services that compile the ratings. They’re based 25% on a team’s record, 25% on its opponents’ record and 50% on opponents’ opponents’ record. A home win now counts as 0.6 win while a road win counts as 1.4 wins. A home loss equals 1.4 losses, and a road loss counts as 0.6 loss.

Playing the Big Ten

Kent State has played three Big Ten teams in a season once before. In Starkey’s first season tin 2016-17, the Flashes played Iowa and Minnesota in a December road trip, then played Michigan in the WNIT. They lost all three games.

Kent State has an all-time record of 5-34 against current Big Ten teams.

The Flashes’ last game was a 54-41 loss at Michigan in 2017. Their last win was 77-66 over Indiana in Kent in 2001.

I plan a game-by-game rundown of the schedule soon.

But first I have to do a preview for the Flashes’ first international summer trip. They leave at 4:30 a.m. for Vancouver, Canada, on Friday and will play three exhibition games. I’ll be posting about the games and the trip (though I’m not traveling).

I also finally have the material for the long-promised look at KSU’s three freshmen. I watched practice Wednesday, and they look very good.

 

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