Senior Megan Carter (31) was the top scorer on last year’s team, averaging 15.9 points per game. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)
Kent State’s first two games this season could give us an excellent signal on just how good this team is.
The Flashes open at Duquesne on Tuesday. Four days later they play at Youngstown State.
The games may be the most important of the non-conference season.
Yes, KSU plays three Big Ten teams — Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue. But any win there will be an upset.
But those first two games are winnable. They’re definitely not easy; both Duquesne and Youngstown State have well-established winning programs. Both are on the road, where statistics say winning is more than twice as difficult as winning at home.
But Kent State beat YSU 62-34 in Kent last season in its best non-conference game. The Flashes lost to Duquesne in Kent 77-72 in a game they led going into the fourth quarter.
Both Duquesne and Youngstown State lost significant strength to graduation. The Dukes graduated four starters and their top three scorers. YSU lost its top two scorers.
But the team’s programs are strong. Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 has won at least 20 games in nine of the last 11 years, and 18 and 19 in the two other years. Youngstown of the Horizon League has averaged 18 wins a season over the last seven years.
Kent State has at least its top three scorers, all starters, back from a team that went 20-13 a year ago. Senior Ali Poole, who started 19 of KSU’s 33 games last season and was its fourth-leading scorer, has missed almost all of the preseason with a knee injury.
None of that guarantees victories. But it should give us a quick look at how competitive the 2019-20 Flashes will be.
The non-conference schedule game-by-game:
AT DUQUESNE, Tuesday, Dec. 5
Last season: 19-13 overall, third in Atlantic 10 at 11-5. Won seven of its last eight games, losing in the A10 semifinals. 10-6 at home. Missed postseason play for the first time since 2007-08. Picked ninth of 14 teams in A10 this season. Beat Kent State 77-72 in Kent last season and has won four in a row against Flashes and five of seven overall.
Last season RPI: 137. Power Ranking: 71.
Lost four starters and top three scorers. Has 6-4 freshman center and four other players taller than 6-2, though none of the returnees have been major contributors. Recent teams have been guard-dominated.
Game will be at about 8:30 at PPG Paint Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the second game of a doubleheader with Duquesne men, who play Princeton.
AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE, Saturday, Dec. 9
Last season: 22-10 and third in the Horizon League at 13-5. Was 16-1 at home. Lost by two points to Green Bay in conference tournament semifinals. (Kent State beat Green Bay in WNIT). Lost to Cincinnati 76-62 in WNIT. Picked fourth in Horizon this season. Lost to Kent State 62-34 in Kent. KSU has beaten Penguins three straight years and leads 27-14 in the series overall.
YSU’s last year’s RPI 122. Power Rating 113.
Lost two starters, who were the team’s top scorers. Top returning scorer is 6-3 forward Mary Dunn, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. Has 6-4 junior transfer from Western Michigan. She wasn’t a starter there.
Vs. MICHIGAN at Akron Classic, Friday, Nov. 15
Last season: 22-12 and fourth in the Big Ten. Lost to Louisville in second round of NCAA. Picked second in the Big Ten by conference coaches and fourth by media. Kent State is 0-5 against the Wolverines.
Last season’s RPI: 46. Power Rating: 61.
Returns two starters plus Naz Hilman, a 6-2 forward who was Big Ten freshman of the year, all-Big Ten first team and conference sixth player of the year last season.
Vs. PURDUE FORT WAYNE at Akron Classic, Saturday, Nov. 16
Last season: 7-22. tied for sixth in Summit League at 3-13. Picked last in nine-team conference this season. Is 1-1 against Kent State.
Last season’s RPI: 337. Power Rating also 337.
Returns three starters but lost two two scorers.
Vs. OHIO STATE at M.A.C. Center, Thursday, Nov. 21
Last season: 14-15, fifth in Big Ten at 10-8. Lost to Morehead State in first round of WNIT. Not in the top five in preseason picks in Big Ten (preseason rankings only include five). 5-0 all-time against Kent State, but teams haven’t met since 1982.
Last year’s RPI: 101. Power Ranking: 125.
Lost three starters. Returns Dorka Juhasz, a 6-4 sophomore forward who was second- team all-Big Ten last season and member of all-freshman team. She’s a preseason all-Big Ten selection. Recruiting class includes five players ranked in top 65 in the country by ESPN, headed by Kierstan Bell of Canton McKinley, Ohio’s Miss Basketball last season.
Vs. ROBERT MORRIS at M.A.C. Center, Sunday, Nov. 24
Last season: 22-11. First at 16-2 in Northeast Conference. Lost to Louisville, at that point No. 1, in first round of NCAA. Unanimous pick to win conference again. Kent State leads 6-5 in series and has won two of three in last three years.
Last year’s RPI: 179. Power Rating: 134 .
Lost three starters but returns five of top six scorers.
Vs. SAINT BONAVENTURE at M.A.C. Center, Tuesday, Dec. 3
Last season: 6-22, finishing 5-12 and 11th in Atlantic 10. Picked 13th this season. Kent State won at Saint Bonaventure last season, 76-64, but trails 7-5 in overall series.
Last year’s RPI: 262. Power Rating: 267.
Returns four starters but lost leading scorer. Added Division II junior college player of the year
AT PURDUE, Sunday, Dec. 8
Last season: 19-15, thing for 10th at 8-10 in Big Ten. Was 13-4 at home. Picked fifth in Big Ten by conference coaches. 2-2 all-time against Kent State with KSU wins coming in the early 1980s.
Last year’s RPI: 90. Power Rating: 94.
All five starters and five leading scorers back. Top returnee is Ae’Rianna Harris, two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Also returns first-team all-conference guard Karissa McLaughlin. Both are preseason all-Big Ten picks.
Vs. GEORGIA SOUTHERN at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, Thursday, Dec. 19
Last season: 7-22, last in Sun Belt Conference at 2-15. Picked 11th in Sun Belt this season. 2-2 vs. Kent State all time.
Last year’s RPI: 287. Power Rating: 299.
Three starters return, including leading scorer. New coach Anita Howard had 66-25 record at Division II Columbus State.
Vs. TROY at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, Thursday, Dec. 19
Last season: 22-9, fourth in Sun Belt at 13-5. Lost 93-89 to Alabama-Birmingham in first round of WNIT. Picked second in Sun Belt this season. First meeting between two teams.
Last year’s RPI: 93. Power Rating: 84.
Returns three starters and four of five top scorers.
Vs. HIRAM at M.A.C. Center, Monday, Dec. 30.
Hiram was 10-16 in Division III last season.
PREDICTION: Somewhere between 5-6 and 8-3
Unless the Flashes completely fall apart, they should beat Purdue Fort Wayne, St. Bonaventure, Georgia Southern and Hiram.
On their home court in Kent, they should be favored over Robert Morris.
That would be five wins.
It sure would be nice to beat a Big Ten team, but it would be unexpected at the least.
So that leaves the first two games at Duquesne and Youngstown State, plus the matchup against Troy in Las Vegas, as the keys to the preseason.
All should be good games. Kent State could win them all. It could lose them all, though I’d think that would be less likely.
That adds up to a non-conference record between 5-6 and 8-3. I’d lean toward the 7-4 or 8-3 end of the scale.