Lindsay Thall is Kent State’s second-leading scorer at 16 points a game and has blocked six shots in two games. (Photo by David Dermer.)
Kent State coach Todd Starkey had just been asked about the challenges No. 24 Michigan will present to his team in its game on Friday.
“Oh, wow,” he said. “Where do I begin?”
Let’s try this:
- Michigan starts two sophomores who were high school all-Americans.
- One, 6-2 forward Naz Hillmon, was Big Ten freshman of the year last season and a unanimous preseason all-Big Ten selection this year.
- All five starters are taller than six feet. (“Bigger than we are at every position,” Starkey said.)
- 6-foot-4 freshman Izabel Varejão, niece of former Cav Anderson Varejao, comes off the bench.
- Michigan was 22-12 last season and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Media members picked the Wolverines second in the Big Ten this season.
Michigan is 2-0, with 20-point home wins over mid-majors Western Michigan and Bradley. Both of those teams ranked lower than KSU last season. Kent State is also 2-0 with close road wins over mid-majors Duquesne and Youngstown State.
The game is at the unusual time of 2 p.m. Friday at the James A. Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron. It’s part of the Akron Classic, a two-day event in which Kent and Akron play the same teams. Next year the event will be in Kent and be the Kent State Classic.
The Flashes will play Purdue Fort Wayne at noon Saturday.
“It’s going to be a task for us,” Starkey said. “We’re going to have to play much better and more efficient basketball than we have in our first two games.”
Like Michigan, Duquesne was bigger than Kent State at most positions. The Dukes outrebounded KSU 29-17 on the way to a seven-point first-half lead. Kent State managed a 17-15 rebounding edge in the second half, when some of Duquesne’s bigger, more experienced players were in foul trouble.
“In our first two games, we didn’t come out and play our best to start with,” Starkey said, a statement echoed by players Asiah Dingle and Megan Carter after the Youngstown State game, when KSU trailed by five at halftime.
“And we’ve have to get much better ball movement,” Starkey said. “We’re trying to do way too much one-on-one basketball, trying to create things ourselves as opposed to sharing the ball. Ball movement and spacing are the enemy of defenses. So we’ve got to get better.”
The Flashes have 17 assists on 53 baskets this season. Their 8.5 average is even worse than last year, when the Flashes ranked 311th of 351 teams at 10.6 per game.
“Defensively we’ve have to be be a lot more connected,” the coach said. “When there’s better communication on the defensive side, you can do some things to counter the other team is doing.”
Starkey has talked a lot about “connection” this season. It’s more than just players talking to each other on defense, he said.
“It’s a level of comfort with playing with the people around you,” he said. “And that only comes with experience. When you’re playing three players that weren’t even a part of the program last year, that affects the chemistry onto court — not how they get along, but how they function together as a unit. We’re going to get better. But it’s something that we knew was probably going to be the case” early in the season.
KSU’s top five players — Carter, Dingle, freshman guard Katie Shumate, freshman forward Nila Blackford and sophomore forward Lindsay Thall — have averaged 37 minutes apiece in two games. (That’s somewhat distorted by the five-minute overtime at Youngstown State.)
Next highest is freshman guard Clare Kelly’s seven minutes and senior forward Sydney Brinlee and sophomore guard Mariah Modkins’ five and a half minutes.
“That’s a puzzle piece that we’re working through, and it’s certainly on the front burner,” Starkey said. “I just have to do a better job of our substitution patterns. It’s my continuing to grow my level of trust with certain lineups.
“We’ve got to get more minutes from our bench players, but it can’t just be a matter of just playing people to play them. We need people that are ready to come in and contribute.”
Kent State’s top five all average in double figures. Outside of them, KSU has scored a total of eight points this season.
- Senior Ali Poole, who suffered a knee injury in August, didn’t dress against Youngstown after playing 13 minutes at Duquesne. “It’s kind of tweaked again,” Starkey said. “We’re working to get her back on the court, but we don’t know the exact timeline.” Poole started 19 games last season and was KSU’s fourth leading scorer.
- Michigan’s Hillmon went to high school at Cleveland’s Gilmour Academy and was twice Ohio Division II player of the year. She is a close friend of Kent State guard Mariah Modkins, who played with her in AAU basketball. Modkins went to Solon High School.
- Wolverine point guard Amy Dilk was a five-star recruit out of Carmel High School in Indiana. She was the state’s Miss Basketball in 2018.
- Kent State has played Michigan twice in Starkey’s four seasons. The Flashes have played well in both games, but lost 67-60 in the WNIT in 2016 and 54-41 in non-conference play in December 2016 after leading at halftime. Overall KSU is 0-5 against the Wolverines. All of the games have been in Ann Arbor.
- Purdue Fort Wayne, KSU’s Saturday opponent, is 2-1 but lost to the MAC’s Ball State by 31 points on Tuesday. The school has variously been called Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, IPFW and just Fort Wayne over the last five years.
- Akron is 1-0 after a 63-54 victory at St. Bonaventure Monday. Kent State plays Bonaventure at the M.A.C.C. on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
- Kent State’s RPI, which was eighth of 353 Division I teams earlier in the week, has dropped to 63rd without the Flashes’ playing a game. Ball State, which is 1-1, is the new eights. Early season RPIs make no sense because there is not enough data for a decent computation.
How to follow the game
The game starts at 2 p.m. in Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena, which is a 20-minute drive from Kent. If you’re using a GPS, the address is 373 Carroll St, Akron. Here are directions and parking information from the school website. Tickets are $6 and also get you into the Akron-Fort Wayne game, which starts a half hour after the KSU game ends. Parking at UA’s nearby garages is $3 to $5.
Saturday’s game against Fort Wayne starts at noon.
As far as I can tell, neither game is televised.
Radio broadcast should start about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio and WHLO (640 AM). Broadcast of the Fort Wayne game should start about 11:45 a.m.
Live statistics during both games can be found on the Akron website.
Preview from KSU team website, including links to roster, schedule, statistics and more.
Detailed media game notes from Kent State.
Preview from Michigan website, including links.