Women’s basketball team ready for 3 exhibition games on Canadian trip

In a way, we could say that the women’s 2019-20 basketball season starts Saturday.

The Flashes play the first of three exhibition games in Vancouver, Canada, on their first summer international tour.

Kent State plays VK Select at 10 p.m. Kent time Saturday (7 p.m. in British Columbia). The VK Select is a club or AAU-like team.

On Sunday, the Flashes play the University of British Columbia. That team seems equivalent to a Division I U.S. team. It went 20-8 last season but the coach was quoted on the team’s website in saying he wouldn’t have a full roster because school is out of session.

Monday they’ll play Vancouver Island University, which went 18-1 last season and seems to be analogous to a Division II or NAIA school in the U.S.

It’s pretty hard to find information about schools in another country in the summer. Even the Kent State coaches don’t know a whole lot about their opponents.

“Our understanding is the University of British Columbia is the best team we’ll face,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We’re really trying to say focused on us.”

Besides the games, trips like this give teams eight days more days of practice time, a chance to see a different part of the world and time for off-court bonding. The NCAA allows a school to take one international trip every four years. Kent State will tour the Vancouver area for about three days after the games.

Alabama made a similar tour earlier this month and overwhelmed VK Select 104-64 and the University of British Columbia 104-74. The Crimson Tide also beat the University of Victoria 111-62.

Alabama was 14-17 last season with an RPI of 157. Kent State was 20-13 with an RPI of 83. It would be an interesting matchup between the Flashes and Alabama.

The games will be played using international rules — a 24-second clock instead of the NCAA’s 30 seconds, eight seconds to get the ball past midcourt instead of 10, and a 22-foot 3-line line, about 16 inches farther than U.S. women’s college basketball. (KSU’s men will use the longer distance this season; the women may go to it in 2020-21.  Currently there are two 3-point arcs in the M.A.C. Center.)

An early look at the Flashes

I watched practice on Wednesday and saw a lot of talent on this year’s version of the Flashes.

Kent State returns 83.6 percent of its scoring from last season and three-and-a-half starters (junior Ali Poole and senior Merissa Barber-Smith split starting time at forward). The team’s three freshmen were all high school all-staters and looked very good.

Nila Blackford, a 6-1 forward from Louisville, looks as if she can score inside and is one of the fastest players on the team. Starkey said she and 5-11 guard Katie Shumate (Newark High School) so far are the best offensive rebounders on the team. Both seemed to be playing with the starters Wednesday, as much as a team can have starters in August.

5-9 guard Clare Kelly (Olmsted Falls High School) showed the 3-point shooting she was known for in high school (she made one from about 27 feet look easy) and was especially effective with jump shots at the end of press breaks.

All three certainly look as if they’ll be in KSU’s main rotation this season. (I’ve got a whole post coming up on the freshman.)

6-2 sophomore forward Lindsay Thall looked even better and more confident than she was last season, when she made the all-MAC freshman team and led the league in 3-point percentage. Point guards Asiah Dingle, another all-freshman team member, and Mariah Modkins looked at least as quick as last season, and Starkey said both have improved their 3-point shooting. Senior Megan Carter looked like the same player who led the Flashes in scoring and was on the all-MAC third team.

Poole, who started at forward last season, hurt her knee about 30 seconds after I walked into practice and watched the rest from the sidelines. I’m not sure how serious the injury was, but coaches weren’t calling for trainers and stretchers.

Starkey said he thought every player on the team had improved her game. I thought senior forward Sydney Brinlee, KSU’s No 4 post last season, and junior guard Margaux Eibel, who has played sparingly, looked good. Sophomore guard Hannah Young looked in great shape but didn’t particularly stand out.

Linsey Marchese, the team’s 6-4 transfer from Indiana, should have quite an impact when she becomes eligible next season. KSU’s most recent 6-4 players — Barber-Smith and 2016 grad Cici Shannon, were long and lean. Marchese is solid and strong and moves like the Big Ten player she was. She will be allowed to play in the games in Vancouver.

Starkey said he’s encouraged by what he sees. What I saw was a team that could well be a contender in the MAC this year.

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