Freshman Nila Blackford leads the Flashes in scoring at 13.5 points a game. But at one time or another, Sophomores Asiah Dingle and Lindsey Thall and senior Megan Carter all have held the scoring lead. All average in double figures, as does freshman Katie Shumate. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)
Earlier this week we wrote what Kent State needed to do to have a successful MAC season. But how successful can they be?
Everything — for the Flashes and every other team in the league — depends on how well they play on the road.
Let’s look at the league as a whole. Here’s how I’d rank the teams right now, grouped as teams I see as fairly even):
1-2-3. Central Michigan (7-4, RPI 55), Buffalo (9-2, RPI 70), Ohio (7-4, RPI 123).
4-5. Ball State (8-4, RPI 88), Kent State (7-4, RPI 76).
6-7-8. Akron (8-4, RPI 135), Miami (7-5, RPI 133), Bowling Green 76-5, RPI 119).
9-10. Western Michigan (7-4, RPI 176), Northern Illinois (4-7, RPI 165).
11-12. Eastern Michigan (5-6, RPI 199), Toledo (5-6, RPI 218).
RPI takes into account a team’s record and strength of schedule. Road wins are rewarded. Home losses hurt more.
I think that Akron, Bowling Green and Western Michigan may not be as good as the records say. Northern Illinois and Toledo may be better. But but that’s a discussion for another time.
Two things to notice: The MAC has no outstanding team so far. Last year, Central, Buffalo and Ohio all ranked in the top 35 in the RPI. Central and Buffalo made the NCAA tournament. Ohio was one of the best teams that didn’t.
But the MAC has no particularly weak team either. There are 351 Division I teams. The MAC’s lowest is Toledo at 218.
So we may see a lot of upsets this season, and upsets often come when a weaker team wins on its home court.
That’s why I say that road wins are the key to the season for KSU and all MAC teams.
GAMES THE FLASHES SHOULD WIN: Home games against Miami, Akron, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Toledo. (6 wins)
GAMES THE FLASHES SHOULD BE FAVORED: Ball State at home. Western Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois on the road. Say they win three of four. (3 more wins.)
That would be nine wins or a .500 season.
TOSS-UPS: Akron, Bowling Green, Miami on the road.
KSU AS UNDERDOG: Buffalo and Ohio at home. At Ball State.
HARD TO WIN: Central Michigan, Buffalo and Ohio on the road.
Win two of three of the toss-ups and one of the three “underdog games” and the Flashes are 12-6.
Win none of those, lose one more “favored” game and get upset at home, and it could be 7-9.
Win an extra “favored” game and knock off Buffalo or Ohio once, and we’re looking at 14-4 and a chance for the MAC title.
One last look at the key games: At Akron. At Bowling Green. At Northern Illinois. At Western. At Toledo. At Northern. At Ball State.
See the pattern?
In non-conference play, Kent State went 2-1 in true road games. The Flashes won by two points at Duquesne, a team similar in record and RPI to Ball State. They won in overtime at Youngstown State, a team similar to Akron and Miami.
At a neutral site, they lost in the last 20 seconds to to Troy, a team similar in record to Buffalo, Central and Ohio. (Other losses were to Ohio State at home, Purdue away and Michigan at a neutral site. No MAC team looks that good.)
7-9 to 12-6. Watch the road games, starting Saturday at Ball State.