What we learned from the trip (part 2): Shooting, rebound and assists

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Sophomore guard Hannah Young in action in British Columbia. She made all four of her 3-point shots in KSU’s final game. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

In Part 1 of the post after the women’s games in Vancouver, we talked about the growth of point guard Asiah Dingle, the strong performance of KSU’s three freshmen and the implications of a team that scored 287 points in three games.

As with that post, we have to warn that big wins against less-good opposition makes any conclusions tentative at best. The teams the Flashes played seemed similar to Division II competition in the U.S. — substantially less that what they will face in the MAC.

Shoring up weaknesses

Kent State had a 20-13 season last year, but two big things jumped out in postseason analysis:

  • KSU was not a good shooting team — especially 2-point shooting, where they ranked 308th of 351 teams in Division I at at 39.5%. When Kent State lost, especially to teams below it in the standings, it was usually because it struggled to make baskets.
  • The Flashes weren’t very good at setting each other up to score. Kent ranked 311th in the country with 10.6 assists per game. KSU had assists on 48.6% of its baskets.

Coaches have been working to correct both.

“There are two ways you get better,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview before the Vancouver trip. “You develop your current players, and we’ve addressed it in our daily workouts. Then you recruit better scorers.

“We have three players in our freshman class who can really score the basketball and finish plays. All three of them are effective 3-point shooters, but none of them are only 3-point shooters. Two can really finish around the basket — not from a traditional post player standard, but they can really finish.”

The evidence from the trip:

  • The three freshmen combined to make 45% of their shots from both 2- and 3-point range. Take out Nila Blackford’s 4-for-15 day against Vancouver Island, and they made 48% of their 2-point shots. Katie Shumate was 15 for 28 from 2-point range. Clare Kelly was 9 of 18 on 3-point shots.

Part of that could was likely the level of competition. But the freshmen’s shooting percentage was considerably higher than that of returning starters Megan Carter and Lindsay Thall. Neither had good trips, but Carter was third-team all-MAC last season and Thall made the all-freshman team and led the league in 3-point shootings.

Dingle, whose shooting percentage last year was 38, made 52% of her shots in Vancouver.

Dingle also led the way in a big improvement with assists. She average 6.7 a game, more than two-and-a-half times numbers last year. As a team, KSU averaged 16.3 assists though it had assists on only 43% of baskets.

Again, conclusions are very hard to draw. First problem is the competition. Second is the fact no Flash played more than 25 minutes in any game. So Kent State was using players and combinations we won’t see a lot in the regular season. And the team had only practiced four hours a week as a team through most of the summer and is in far from regular-season form.

But I’m encouraged.

Replacing what was lost

The Flashes lost only two players to graduate, but Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith were the teams best defensive players and best rebounders. ]

Golden was on the MAC’s all-defensive team last season and was the heart and voice of KSU’s defense as a four-year starter.

“Are we going to have somebody that’s ready right away to just step in and replace what she gave us?” Starkey asked. “No. But we have people who can play defense.”

Kent State gave up 58.7 points a game on the trip. Throw away the 25 points VK Select scored in a sloppy fourth quarter, and it’s probably closer to 55. KSU gave up 62 points a game last season. Scoring was likely higher on the trip because of international rules that included a 24-second shot clock instead of the 30 the NCAA uses.

Opponents made 36.6% of their shots, about 3 points better than last season.

The Flashes outwhelmed all three teams in rebounding, which isn’t unusual when a Division I team plays a lower division one. The closest margin was 54-44 against the University of British Columbia. It was 54-27 against Vancouver Island. The Flashes averaged 22.3 offensive rebounds.

Their best rebounders were freshmen — Blackford at 7.7 and Shumate at 7.3. Again, that was in less than 25 minutes a game. Shumate had 12 rebounds in one game, Blackford 10 in another. Blackford is 6-foot-2 and Shumate 5-11.

Barber-Smith, who was 6-4, led KSU in rebounding last season at 7.2 in about 17 minutes a game.

“Do we have anybody on the team that’s going to get 17 rebounds the way Merissa did?” Starkey said. “Probably not. But we do have some players who could get 12 and be able to score 12 points.”

Barber-Smith never scored 12 and scored more than five only six times.

The 6-4 center who won’t play

The Flashes do have a legitimate center on their roster. Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 junior transfer from Indiana, has to sit out this season because of NCAA rules. Marchese was the only player besides Dingle to score in double figures all three games, and she seemed to play closer to 15 minutes a game. She made 15 of her 20 shots.

The starters

Kent State used different starting lineups in all three games, and all 13 players on the roster started at least one game.

The University of British Columbia game had probably the closest thing to a true starting lineup the the Flashes as at this early point: Dingle, Carter and Shumate at guards and Thall and Blackford at forward. Senior Ali Poole could be in the mix at either guard or forward, too, but she was hurt and didn’t play on the trip.

The other combinations:

VK Select: Senior Sydney Brinlee at forward junior Monique Smith and junior Margaux Eibel, Dingle and Carter at guard.

Vancouver Island: Marchese at center, sophomore Annie Pavlansky at forward and Kelly with sophomores Mariah Modkins and Hannah Young at guard.

The outlook

I was optimistic about the team, and nothing from the Canada trip dispelled that. The team got extra practice, some game experience and a visit to a beautiful place. Dingle and the freshmen showed more than I had expected, and I knew they were good.

There’s a long time and a long way to go before practice starts in October and the team opens at Duquesne on Nov. 4. But this could be a very good team.

Let’s end with a quote from Dingle from the only game covered by a Vancouver newspaper:

“We’re trying, practicing hard, playing hard,” Dingle said. “We definitely are expecting to do some big things. We hopefully will.”


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