2-0 Flashes getting big numbers from freshmen, still learning on defense

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Freshman Nila Blackford had 19 rebounds and 25 points in two games last week. (Photo from KSU website.)

NEW:

We’re No. 8.

Want a crazy number? Kent State is eighth in the country in super-early RPI rankings, according to RealTimeRPI, the service I use most. That’s out of 353 Division I teams.

Of course RPIs based on two games don’t mean much of anything. But, heck, it’s fun to see it. Kent State got its ranking by winning two games on the road against decent opponents. Road wins count heavily toward a good ranking.

RPI is based on a team’s record, its opponents record and opponents’ opponents’ record. Home wins count 0.6. Road wins count 1.4. Neutral site games — like KSU’s game against Michigan at the Akron Classic this Friday — count 1.0. RPI is used to some extent for  seedings in postseason tournaments and as fodder for fan discussions.

According to the RealTimeRPI rankings, No. 1 is TCU. Princeton is second and Navy third. Oregon, the top-ranked team in both the Associated Press and coaches’ poll, isn’t even ranked yet because it hasn’t played a regular season game. It only beat the U.S. National team in an exhibition game Sunday.

RealTimeRPI also does Power Rankings, which also take into account a team’s record last season, margin of victory and other factors. Kent State is 180th in that one. And so early-season rankings go.

If you follow the link, the rankings may well have changed. ReadTimeRPI updates them constantly.

About the freshmen and the defense

It’s Michigan week — featuring the first of three games against Big Ten teams — for the Kent State women’s basketball team.

The Flashes face the No. 24 Wolverines at 2 p.m. Friday in the Akron Classic at the James A. Rhodes Arena. Later in the preseason, they face Ohio State in Kent and Purdue in West Lafayette.

Michigan is 2-0, with wins in Ann Arbor over Western Michigan (76-55) and Bradley (77-57). We’ll be writing a lot more about the Wolverines this week, but first let’s take stock of Kent State, which is 2-0 with road wins against Duquesne and Youngstown State.

Freshman punch

First-year players Nila Blackford and Katie Shumate played key roles in the Flashes’ wins. Shumate scored 17 points against Duquesne and 16 against YSU and leads the Flashes in scoring at 16.5 points a game. Blackford led KSU in rebounding in both games (nine against the Dukes, 10 against the Penguins). She also averages 12.5 points a game.

“It’s a nice thing to have those two,” coach Todd Starkey said, “and they’re just learning as they go. They’ll continue to get better and better. I’ve just told them, ‘You two just play hard, and we’ll make corrections as you go. I don’t want you to play passive.'”

Blackford worked very hard under the basket in both games. She had six offensive rebounds in the first half against YSU. Against Duquesne, she grabbed a rebound in traffic in the last minute to keep the score tied.

“She’s a lot to handle,” Starkey said. “She got really frustrated (against Youngstown) when she struggled to finish. If she makes some of those layups, she’s probably got 25 points instead of 14.”

Blackford is a 6-2 forward from Louisville. She was all-state first team, regional player of the year and a finalist for Kentucky Miss Basketball. She comes from an athletic family. Her mother played basketball and her father played football at the University of Louisville.

Shumate, a 5-11 guard from Newark, is from another family of athletes. Her father, JR, was her high school coach and leads one of the most successful programs in the state. Her sister, Emma, just verbally committed to West Virginia. Her brother was a sophomore at Walsh University and was freshman of the year in the Division II Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Katie was second team all-state and district player of the year in high school.

Shumate is second on the team in rebounding to Blackford, averaging six per game. She’s also second on the team in steals and tied for second in assists and blocked shots. She’s probably been KSU’s best defender in both games. Saturday she held Youngstown point guard Chelsea Olson, who had a triple-double in YSU’s opener, to five points, three assists and six rebounds.

“Katie always takes on the difficult tasks,” senior guard Megan Carter, KSU’s leading scorer last season, said after the Youngstown game. ” and I think that starts in practice. She guards  me every day. So Megan, I’ll be there. We go at it pretty much every day.”

Unsettled defense

Still, Starkey thinks the Flashes need the most work on defense. In both games, Kent had one terrible quarter and was solidly behind after the first half.

“The defense right now is a little bit of our Achilles heel,” the coach said. “We’ve got to get better at communication and shore things up, especially against Michigan on Friday.”

Opponents shot better than 50% in the first half of both games. But the Flashes allowed Duquesne to 13 in the fourth quarter and YSU to 12 in the fourth quarter and seven in overtime.

“Much better defense down the stretch,” Starker said after both games.

The view from Youngstown State

Coach John Barnes, as quoted in the Jambar, YSU’s student newspaper:

““I think it was a hard fought game against a good team. [We were] in a position to win the game. They did either a good job of taking it away from us, or we did a good job of giving it to them.”

“We just were very soft. I think our toughness was not there when it came down the stretch. Throughout the game, we played hard and we were pretty tough, but when it came to crunch time, we had a lot of bad turnovers and mental mistakes.”

““Turnovers (YSU 22, KSU 10) and offensive rebounds (KSU 18, YSU 9) were the difference.”

Notes

  • Kent State averaged 79.5 points in its first two games and gave up 74.0. That’s well above both numbers last year, when KSU averaged 65.5 and allowed 63.2. KSU’s shooting percentage is 39.0, slightly better than last year’s 37.2. Its defensive percentage is 46.3, way above last season’s 38.4. Three-point defense is about the same, so opponents are doing much better inside the arc, where the new lineup struggling some with team defense.
  • Kent State’s turnover margin averaged plus-9.5 in the two games. They averaged 14.5 more points off turnovers than their opponents. Last season the turnover margin was plus-5.2 and points-off-turnover margin was plus-2.7. Starkey has made it a point of emphasis this season to score more off the other team’s mistakes.
  • All five Kent State starters average in double figures. But all five average more than 34 minutes a game. Shumate played all but one minute against Duquesne; Blackford played all but one minute against Youngstown. Next highest is another freshman, Clare Kelly, who played seven minutes in both games.
  • Sophomore guard Hannah Young saw her first action of the season Saturday, playing three minutes. She was one of the team’s top reserves last season.
  • Sophomore Annie Pavlansky, just about the last person off the bench last year, played minutes in a close game for the second straight time. She’s from Cortland, about 17 miles from Youngstown. She has filled in for Blackford and Lindsay Thall at forward.
  • KSU has averaged just 8.5 assists in the two games. Last season the Flashes averaged 10.6 assists, which was 311th of 351 Division I teams.

Around the MAC

  • Ohio (1-1) 81, American (0-1) 69 at Ohio. Ohio, which lost its opener to No. 21 Syracuse, is the MAC favorite. American was picked fifth in the Patriot League. Ohio’s Erica Johnson had the team’s first triple-double in history — 24 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists.
  • Northern Illinois (1-1) 74, North Dakota State (0-2) 68 in overtime at North Dakota State. NIU was picked second in the MAC West. North Dakota State was picked seventh in the Summit League.
  • Bowling Green (2-0) 79, Morehead State (0-1) 65 at Bowling Green. BG was picked last in the MAC East. Morehead State made the WNIT last season and was picked fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference.
  • Dayton (2-0) 60, Toledo (1-1) 42 in Toledo. Dayton was picked second in the Atlantic 10. Toledo was picked third in the MAC East.
  • Buffalo (2-0) 81, Niagara (0-2) 67 at Niagara. Buffalo is picked second in the MAC East. Niagara was picked seventh in the Metro Atlantic.
  • Akron (1-0) 63, St. Bonaventure (1-2) 65 at St. Bonaventure. Akron was picked fifth in the MAC East. St. Bonaventure, which plays at Kent Dec. 3, was picked 13th in the Atlantic 10.
  • No. 18 DePaul 98 (1-0), Miami (0-1) 79 in preseason WNIT at DePaul. Miami was picked fourth in the MAC East.
  • No. 24 Michigan 76 (2-0), West Michigan (0-1) 55 at Michigan. Kent State plays Michigan Friday. Western was picked fifth in the MAC East.

 

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