The MAC released the women’s conference schedule today.
Kent State (11-7 in the MAC last season, 20-13 overall), have its top four scorers and 84% of their points back, along with three freshmen who were impressive in the team’s summer exhibition trip to British Columbia.
Notes on the KSU league schedule (non-conference schedule was released weeks ago):
- The Flashes open conference play at Ball State on Saturday, Jan. 4.
- The good: It’s always good to play early conference games away, when students haven’t returned to campus. It’s also nice to take longer trips before the semester starts so students don’t miss class.
- The bad: Kent State played its worst MAC game of the season at Ball State when it made just 24% of its shots and lost to the 11th-place Cardinals 48-44. A strange but awful statistic: KSU hasn’t won at Ball State since 1997. Because Ball State is in the MAC’s Western Division, the Flashes only play there every few years, but still…
- The opponent: Ball State (3-15 in the MAC last season and 8-23 overall) ought to be substantially improved. The Cardinals have their top four scorers back, plus a star freshman who was injured early last season. They have been one of the MAC’s better teams over the last decade. Last year’s team struggled in large part because its best two returning players graduated early and transferred to other Division I schools.
- The Flashes open at home the next Wednesday, Jan. 8, against Eastern Michigan
- The good: Coach Todd Starkey has beaten EMU six straight times since he became head coach in 2016.
- The bad: Eastern’s recruiting classes have been rated among the best in the MAC every year since Fred Castro became coach the same year as Starkey did. The Eagles have yet to have a winning season under Castro, but you fear that eventually they’ll put it together.
- The opponent: Eastern finished ninth in the MAC last season at 6-12 and was 14-17 overall.
- MAC teams play every school in their division twice. They play all teams in the other division but only two of them twice. Kent plays Ball State (see above) away and in Kent. The Flashes play Toledo home and away. KSU had beaten Toledo three straight times in Toledo, where the Rockets generally dominate. Toledo is always in the MAC first division and likely will be again.
- Kent State plays its two single away games at Western Michigan and at Central Michigan. Both are about a four-and-a-half-hour bus rides. The Western game is the Saturday before classes start; the Flashes play Central on a February Wednesday. Central won the MAC last season but lost two all-conference players. WMU was 10th.
- Western Division teams that KSU plays only in Kent are Northern Illinois (10-8 and 19-13 overall last season) and Eastern Michigan (see above).
- The Flashes finish the season with five straight games against Eastern Division teams. Their last game is against Buffalo for the sixth season in a row, this year at Buffalo. The Bulls, second in the MAC last season, lost a lot to graduation but have a strong freshman class.
The MAC ranked eighth of 32 conferences last season. It will tough again. Central Michigan and Buffalo both made the NCAA tournament last season. On paper, no team except Ohio looks that good at this point.
Ohio, which went 27-5 last season (14-4 MAC) and just missed the NCAA tournament, has its best four starters back and figures to be the MAC favorite.
Both Buffalo (23-9, 12-6) and Central Michigan (25-4, 25-7) lost a lot to graduation, but I’m sure they’ll be good again. Both won their first game in the NCAA tournament last season.
Kent State (11-7, 20-13) and Toledo (11-7, 20-11) should be competitive with any of those schools.
Miami went 23-8 last season (13-5 MAC) and has its best two players (but no other starters) back and a new coach. Northern Illinois (10-8 MAC, 19-13) lost its top scorer but has its other starters back.
Ball State (3-15, 9-23) and Western Michigan (4-14, 10-20) get key players back from injury and could be substantially better.
Eastern Michigan (6-12, 14-17) still hasn’t proven it can win.
I’ll be surprised if Akron (7-11, 16-14) and Bowling Green (2-16, 9-21), both rebuilding with second-year coaches, make the top half of the league.