Here’s the promised game-by-game analysis of Kent State’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming season.
Kent State was 13-19 last season, 5-13 and 10th in the 12-team Mid-American Conference. The Flashes lost three starters, including all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek, the team’s leading scorer. They return second-leading scorer Megan Carter and three-year starter Alexa Golden. A strong freshman class includes point guard Asiah Dingle, Massachusetts player of the year as a senior, and Hannah Young, a four-time all-state guard in Virginia.
Kent’s RPI last season was 149 of 349 Division I schools. RPI is a rating system based on a team’s record and strength of schedule. Five of the Flashes’ Division I non-conference opponents had better RPIs last season. Five had worse.
12-16 in Division II in 2017-18. Tied for 10th in 18team Pennsyklvania State Athletic Conference with 10-12 record.
This is the first exhibition game since Todd Starkey became coach three years ago. The NCAA allows an exhibition and a closed scrimmage or two closed scrimmages. Scrimmages are usually against neighboring Division I schools and provide better competition. Exhibitions are against non-Division I schools but give fans a chance to see the team. KSU had a closed scrimmage against Cleveland State in Starkey’s first year and scrimmages against CSU and Xavier last year. Slippery Rock game is Sunday, Nov. 4.
KSU’s last exhibition was against Division III Hiram in 2015 and terribly one-sided. Slippery Rock, though not a particularly good Division II school, should provide better competition. (Division III schools allow no athletic scholarships. Division II allow the equivalent of 10 full scholarships, which could be split into some partial scholarships. Division I schools like Kent State have 15 full scholarships.)
AT NORTH CAROLINA
15-16 last season. Finished 12th of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 4-12 record. RPI 114.
In Sylvia Hatchell’s 32 years as head coach, the Tarheels have won a national championship, made the Final Four three times, the Elite Eight six times, and the Sweet Sixteen 14 times. But in the last three seasons Carolina has been 14-18, 15-16 and 15-16. The Tarheels return four starters, including all-ACC guard Paris Kea, who has the highest scoring average in school history at 18.3. Also back is 6-4 center Janelle Bailey, who was ACC rookie of the year last season. Game is Friday, Nov. 9.
AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE
26-9. Tied for fourth in ACC at 11-5 and tied for fourth in ACC. RPI 16. Lost to NCAA tournament runner-up Mississippi State in Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack lost their 6-2 leading scorer and 6-5 starting center, so they’ll be rebuilding their front line. But coming in are a 6-5 freshmen center, a 6-4 freshman forward, and a 6-2 freshman forward. All are rated in the top 15 in the country at their positions. Game is Sunday, Nov. 11.
The North Carolina trip is a homecoming of sorts for Starkey, who was head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina for nine years. It’s also near home for sophomore point guard Erin Thames, who grew up in Charlotte. Also from not far away is freshman Young, who played at Brookville High School in Forest, Virginia, about two hours away.
9-22. Eighth in Horizon League with 6-12 record. RPI 256.
Lost to Kent State 59-54 in opener last season. Top three scorers and seven of top eight return. Three high school recruits who were on various all-state teams, including one 3,000-point scorer. Game is Saturday, Nov. 17, as part of Kent State Classic,
15-16. Was 7-11 and seventh in Horizon League. RPI 195.
Just one player who started more than seven games returns, along with another who averaged 11 points, mostly off the bench. Seven-member freshman class includes top-ranked point guard in Canada and two all-state players, plus 6-4 forward. Game is Sunday, Nov. 18, as part of Kent State Classic.
16-16. Finished fifth in Horizon League at 11-7. RPI 154. Lost to SUNY Binghamton in first round of WNIT.
Penguins lost to Kent State 55-44 in Youngstown in second game of season last year and was 8-13 before going 7-1 in February. Leading scorer Sarah Cash is one of four returnees who started more than 10 games. Looks like good three-person freshman class, but top player blew out her ACL in West Virginia state tournament in March. Game is Tuesday, Nov. 20, in Kent.
25-8. Finished second in 14-team Atlantic 10 with 11-3 record. RPI 72. Advanced to WNIT Sweet 16.
This could be one of the best teams Kent State plays all season. The Dukes return all five starters from a team that went 25-8. They also have a player who missed all of last season with an injury but started 15 games as a freshman, along with a transfer from Maine who was sixth player of the year in the America East Conference as a freshman. One of the East’s better Mid-Majors, the Dukes have won at least 20 games nine of the last 10 years. They beat Kent State soundly twice during the Danny O’Banion years. Game is Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Kent.
AT WRIGHT STATE
23-11. Finished 12-6 and third in Horizon League. RPI 92. Lost to Toledo in first round of WNIT.
This is the fourth straight year the Flashes have played Wright State, and the Raiders have been very good competition. They’ve beaten KSU three of the four years; KSU’s win in Dayton two years ago was one of the best road wins of Kent State’s 19-13 season. Wright State has won 20 games eight of the last nine season but hasn’t been able to get by Wisconsin Green Bay to win the Horizon League. The Raiders return three starters but lost their two best — Horizon player of the year Chelsea Welch and Lexi Smith, who had 1,063 points and 840 rebounds in four years. Game is at Wright State on Sunday, Dec. 2.
AT ROBERT MORRIS
25-8. Won the Northeast Conference with a 16-2 record. RPI 123. Lost in conference tournament finals and in first round of WNIT.
The Flashes played one of their best games of the year and one of their best defensive games in decades when they beat the Colonials 46-31 at Robert Morris in December. Robert Morris has two two straight Northeast Conference titles and 20 games in four of five years, but they have played weak schedules and are in a weak conference. Their strength of schedule last season was 313 of 349 Division I teams. The Colonials have two starters returning; losses included NEC player of the year Anna Niki Stamolamprou. Game is at Robert Morris on Friday, Dec. 7.
AT ST. BONAVENTURE
8-22. Finished 3-13 and 13th in Atlantic 10. RPI 260.
Kent’s second Atlantic 10 opponent lost their leading scorer but returns four others who started at least 19 games. The Bonnies also have a transfer who started 27 games at Charleston and two incoming freshman who won honors on New York City high school teams. Game is Monday, Dec. 17, at St. Bonaventure.
4-26, 2-12 and last in eight-team Atlantic Sun Conference. RPI 339.
It’s officially the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but even the school website emphasizes NJIT. Highlanders’ RPI of 339 (of 349 teams) is the worst of all KSU opponents. Team has a new coach in Mike Lane, former top assistant at Bucknell, and returns six of seven top scorers. Game is in Newark on Friday, Dec. 21.
7-21 in Division II and was 2-20 and last in 18-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
Flashes haven’t played a game like this in many years — a tune-up against a non-Division I school right before the conference season. Several other MAC schools play such games routinely. Clarion returns all of its key players but its leading scorer. Game is in Kent on Monday, Dec. 31.
So how will Kent do?
The Flashes could have as many as three freshmen, plus a junior college transfer, in the starting lineup. So it’s very hard to get a handle on this team yet. The incoming class is supposed to be one of best in school history.
Looking at the schedule:
North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duquesne look very hard to beat. Wright State is likely to be good again.
The Northern Kentucky, St. Bonaventure, NJT and Clarion games look winnable and Oakland, Youngstown State and Robert Morris look competitive.
That’s somewhere between 4-7 and 7-4 in the non-conference.
The 2018-19 schedule the Kent State women released last week looks a little easier and more balanced than last season’s.
The Flashes play fewer top teams and fewer weak teams.
We’re talking just about the non-conference schedule. The MAC, which was the eighth-best conference by RPI last season (out of 32), looks as good or better.
The non-conference schedule
With opponents’ records and RPI from last season
- Sunday, Nov. 4: Slippery Rock (12-16 in 2017-18) (exhibition).
- Friday, Nov. 9: at North Carolina (15-16, RPI 114).
- Sunday, Nov. 11: at North Carolina State (26-9. RPI 16).
- Saturday, Nov. 17: (Kent State Classic), Northern Kentucky (9-22, RPI 256)
- Sunday, Nov. 18: (Kent State Classic): Oakland (15-16, RPI 195).
- Tuesday, Nov. 20: Youngstown State (16-16. RPI 154).
- Wednesday, Nov. 28: Duquesne (25-8, RPI 72).
- Sunday, Dec. 2: at Wright State (23-11, RPI 92).
- Friday, Dec. 7: at Robert Morris (25-8, RPI 123).
- Monday, Dec. 17: at St. Bonaventure (8-22, RPI 260).
- Friday, Dec. 21: at New Jersey Institute of Technology (4-26, RPI 339).
- Monday, Dec. 31: Clarion (7-21 in Division II).
- There are five home and six away games, plus a home exhibition.
- The Flashes open with weekend games at North Carolina and North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are the team’s only games against Power 5 opponents. KSU also had two last year — Stanford and Michigan.
- Kent State plays three non-conference teams whose RPI was in the top 100 at the end of last season — North Carolina State (16), Duquesne (72) and Wright State (92). Last season the Flashes played five teams in the top 100 — Stanford (13), Michigan (34), Gonzaga (37), Florida Gulf Coast (44) and Wright State (92). RPI rankings are based on a team’s record and strength of schedule.
- The Flashes play two teams whose RPI last season was higher than 250 — Northern Kentucky (256) and NJIT (339). Last season the Flashes played four teams with an RPI over 250 — Northern Kentucky (256), Southeastern Louisiana (297), Detroit (327), Eastern Kentucky (315). (There are 349 Division I schools. Kent State’s RPI last season was 149.)
- North Carolina State reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Robert Morris, Wright State, Duquesne and Youngstown State made the WNIT.
- KSU non-conference opponents had a 166-169 record in 2017-18. Last year’s non-conference opponents were 185-177.
- Kent plays its first Division II opponent — Clarion University — in Todd Starkey’s three years’s as coach. The Dec. 31 game is the last before MAC play starts against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 5 in Kent.
- Overall, KSU plays one fewer non-conference game than last season and no holiday tournament. (My impression is that the three-game tournaments the Flashes played the last two years counted as two games against the maximum number allowed by the NCAA.)
- The Flashes do have a tournament of sorts — in Kent. The Flashes play Northern Kentucky and Oakland of the Horizon League on Nov. 17 and 18 in “Kent Classic.” The same opponents will play Akron on opposite days, still at the MACC. Starkey and former Akron coach Jodi Kent worked out an arrangement where Akron and Kent would alternate hosting the event. Last season’s “Akron Classic” was at the James A. Rhodes Arena. The idea is to cut down on travel expenses for visiting teams. The last time Kent hosted a similar event was in the early 1980s, when the Flashes had a “holiday classic” at Thanksgiving for about five years.
- The non-conferences schedule has four Horizon League teams (Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Youngstown State and Wright State), two ACC schools (North Carolina and N.C. State) and two from the Atlantic 10 (Duquesne and St. Bonaventure). Robert Morris plays in the Northeastern Conference and NJIT in the Atlantic Sun.
- In MAC play, the Flashes will play Western Division opponents Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan twice. They’re home against the West’s Central Michigan and Northern Illinois and away against Ball State and Toledo.
- Other than the North Carolina trip, it’s a very compact schedule geographically. Next farthest south is Wright State in Dayton, about a three-hour drive. Farthest trips west are Western Michigan and Ball State, both about four hours. Farthest east is Newark, New Jersey, against New Jersey Institute of Technology. Next farthest east is St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., about a three-hour drive.
- The schedule includes the first exhibition game of the Starkey era — a Sunday, Nov. 4, meeting with Division II Slippery Rock. Last year the Flashes had two closed scrimmages. His first season had one closed scrimmage.
- After the opening exhibition, the Flashes play the two games in North Carolina, then four in a row at home, then four in a row on the road, then Clarion at home, then the MAC season.
I’ll run through the non-conference schedule game by game in the next post, with a little analysis on each opponent.
Kent State added two transfers from strong junior college programs and a 6-2 post player from Long Island in the April signing period.
IJAH FLETCHER, a 6-2, 225-pound post from Hicksville High School in Nassau County, New York. She averaged 20.8 points a game as a senior, sixth in her county, which is one of New York State’s largest. I couldn’t find any other complete stats, but looking at box scores, she often had double digit rebounds. One game she had 21 rebounds and 16 points. An opposing coach called her “one of the top inside threats in the county.” She was honorable mention all state as a junior; I couldn’t find New York’s 2018 all-state teams online. Her high school team was 14-7.
The Flashes needed another post player. Their top three forwards in 2017-18 — leading scorer Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Zenobia Bess graduated. Top returner is 6-4 Merissa Barber-Smith, but she didn’t play the second half to he season because of a medical issue. As a sophomore, she showed potential to be a stronger rebounder and defender. Rising sophomore Amanda Sape, who is 6-3, also returns, but she played only eight minutes all season and scored one point. Sape averaged a double-double in high school but had shoulder surgery last summer and didn’t practice until just before the season started. The only forward among recruits who signed in November is 6-2 Lindsey Thall of Strongsville, who averaged 13.5 points and 7 rebounds as a senior and scored as much from the outside as the inside.
SYDNEY BRINLEE of Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas, is another post, albeit a somewhat undersized one. I saw her listed variously from 5-10 to 6 feet. She was the second leading rebounder (7.3 per game) on a junior college team that went 35-1 and lost in the Division II junior college national semifinals. She averaged 8.8 points a game on 50.2 percent shooting. At Latta High School in Ada, Oklahoma, she averaged 11.1, 8.8 rebounds and three blocks a game in her senior year on a team that went 24-8 and reached the state quarterfinals. I’m pretty sure she’s the first Kent State player from Oklahoma.
JESSEE WALLIS is a 5-10 guard from Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. She played on a junior college team loaded with players with Division I ambitions, and competition for playing time apparently was vicious. Wallis was injured a good portion of her freshman year and averaged 2.6 points per game last season. During her senior year at Rhea County High School in Evansville, Tennessee, she averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game and scored 23 points in a Georgia-Tennessee all=star game after her senior year. She’s supposed by be a good shooter who worked to improve her ball handling and defense at Walters. Her team went 30-6 and reached the final eight of Division I junior college tournament.
Researching Wallis and Brinlee gave me a little bit of a picture into top-tier junior college basketball. Both Walters State and Highland Community colleges are consistent major junior college powers.
At Walters State, only one player averaged in double figures on a team that scored 71 points a game; six averaged between 5.9 and 9.6 points. And this was team that won 30 games. The idea, it seems, is to give everybody exposure to four-year university coaches.
In an interview with Wallis after she signed with Kent State, Wallis’s hometown paper called the junior college “cutthroat basketball.” Wallis herself said it was “probably the hardest two years of basketball I’ve ever played.”
“Everyone is trying so hard not only to win but also trying to grab the attention of coaches,” she said. “These last two years have just been incredibly competitive the entire time.”
Brinlee started 35 of the team’s 36 games at Highland but averaged just 18.4 minutes a game. Twelve players averaged more than 10 minutes.
Wallis will be fighting for playing time at Kent State, too. KSU’s top three returning scorers are Megan Carter, Alexa Golden and Ali Poole — like Wallis, all shooting or wing guards. One of the Flashes’ best incoming freshmen is Hannah Young, a four-time all-state player in Virginia. At 5-10, wing will be her logical position in college. Another freshman is 5-11 Annie Pavlansky of Lakeview High in Cortland, who averaged 21 points per game her senior year. Also in the mix is 5-11 Monique Smith, perhaps the best athlete in last year’s freshman class.
In the story about Wallis’ signing, Kent coach Todd Starkey said: “We already have some great dynamic guards, but we were looking for junior college players who could come in and provide some experience and great leadership. We know Jessee can do that and more for us.”
It’s very hard to evaluate what impact April signees will have on a team. An overwhelming majority of the best players sign with colleges before the beginning of their senior year; they often verbally commit as much as a year earlier. I can’t remember the last time a late signee played a major role any time in her career at Kent State.
Junior college players are a different story. Because the forward positions are so wide open for the Flashes, I would guess Brinlee will play significant minutes. That need may create an opening for Fletcher, too, and Sape will in effect be repeating her freshman year.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if, with all those 5-10 and 5-11 wings, we saw some four-guard offense for the Flashes in 2018-19.
Two players transfer
Starkey had three scholarships to offer because two reserves on last year’s team have left the program.
One was Tyra James, a 5-11 wing who sat out two of her four seasons in Kent with knee injuries. She blew out one knee the week in the last week of practice before the first game of her freshman year. She came back the next season to be the team’s third-leading scorer. Last season she hurt the other knee before official practice started in October.
This season she was about the third person off the bench in non-conference play, barely played in the first 12 conference games, then played more than 20 minutes in five of the last six games. James had a lot of athletic ability. In the one year she played for former coach Danny O’Banion, she was often the one with the ball in her hands at the end of a close game. But she tried to make things happen so much that she almost always struggled with turnovers. She never quite clicked in Starkey’s system, either.
O’Banion mentioned her in the same breath with Korinek when she talked about that recruiting class, which was the former coach’s best. Had she not been hurt, things could have been different for her and the Flashes. My contact with her was always good; she worked hard to come back after every injury.
The other transfer out is Kasey Toles, who played in 11 games as a freshman, mostly in the non-conference season. She hurt her ankle early in MAC play and wasn’t on the bench for much of the end of the season. She scored 10 points in her Kent State career. Toles is the sister of Kent State assistant Morgan Toles.
The 2018-19 Flashes
So barring someone leaving the team late, here’s the roster for next season:
POST: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith, 5-11 junior Sydney Brinlee, 6-3 sophomore Amanda Sape, 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall, 6-2 freshman Ijah Fletcher.
GUARD-FORWARD: 6-foot junior Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, 5-11 freshman Annie Pavlansky, 5-10 freshman Hannah Young,
SHOOTING GUARD: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden, 5-7 junior Megan Carter, 5-10 junior Jessee Wallis, 5-11 sophomore walk-on Margaux Eibel.
POINT GUARD: 5-6 sophomore Erin Thames, 5-3 freshman Asiah Dingle, 5-foot freshman Mariah Modkins.
By class, it’s:
- Freshmen (6): Thall, Fletcher, Young, Pavlansky, Dingle, Modkins.
- Sophomores (4): Sape, Smith, Thames, Eibel.
- Juniors (4): Poole, Carter, Brinlee, Wallis.
- Seniors (2): Golden, Barber-Smith.
Kent State’s 2018 recruiting class looks as if it could be the best in school history.
KSU added three players — a freshman post player and two junior college transfers — in the late signing period earlier this month. I’ll wrap that up in the next post. But the five who signed letters of intent in November will be the core of the Class of 2022.
I wrote the coaches of the five players or sportswriters who covered them. Here’s what I learned:
5-10 guard-forward from Brookville High School, outside Lynchburg in south central Virginia
Young finished her career with 1,998 points in an overtime loss in the state quarterfinals. She was first team all-state in Virginia Class 3 for the third year in a row, Class 3 player of the year as a junior and second-team all-state as a freshman. Her teams went 97-12 over four years.
As a senior, she averaged 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.3 blocks on a team that went 24-4.
As a junior, Young averaged 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds as state player of the year in her class. Made 53 percent of her field goals and 43 percent of her three-point shots. Team went 27-2 and reached state semifinals.
As a sophomore, she averaged 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds on the first team in school history to make the state tournament. As a freshman, she averaged 17 points a game on 21-1 team.
From Ben Cates, who covered her as a sportswriter for the News & Advance in Lynchburg:
“Hannah can post up inside, drive through the lane for high-percentage shots or drain shots from beyond the arc. A fierce competitor who cares for her teammates, she has always displayed a high degree of sportsmanship.
“Not only will Hannah go down as one of the most talented athletes in her school’s history, she will be remembered for her kind spirit and ability to lead effectively while serving as a role model for young students and athletes.”
5-3 point guard, Archbishop Williams High School, Braintree, Massachusetts (outside Boston)
Dingle averaged 19 points, 4.5 assists, five rebounds and five steals per game during her senior year in leading her team to the state championship. Boston Globe player of the year in Massachusetts. Dingle shot 52 percent on two-point shots and 25 percent on three-pointers.
She scored more than 1,500 points in her career, and her team won three state championships in four years.
In her junior year, she was the only 11th grader on the Globe’s all-scholastic team and averaged 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals a game.
From her coach, Matt Mahoney:
6-2 forward, Strongsville (Ohio) High School
Thall averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds. 1.6 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals on team that went 21-5 and reached regional finals for the second time in school history. She led her team in three-point baskets (36) and three-point percentage (36.2) and overall shot 39 percent from the field. She was on Plain Dealer’s all-area first team, was third-team all-district, honorable mention all-state.
As a junior, Thall averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks and once blocked 14 shots during a game. She was listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN. Her mother, Dawn, is one of the leading scorers in Strongsville basketball history.
From her coach, Jeff Eicher:
“Kent State is not only getting an outstanding basketball player but, more importantly, an outstanding individual. Besides Lindsey’s skills on the court, her positive leadership qualities were the main reason we had one of the best season’s in school history.
“She is a versatile player who can pass very well and shoot the three-point shot. Inside she is a great rebounder and has the instincts and timing to block shots. As a leader, she makes everyone feel they have an important role on the team. Lindsey is a program changer. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes at Kent.”
5-11 guard-forward, Lakeview High School, Cortland (Ohio)
“Annie is the most deserving athlete I have ever had the privilege of coaching. Her work ethic can only be overshadowed by her willingness to be the best teammate possible.
“In her senior year, she was the sole focus of the opposing team’s defensive strategies. Annie handled that burden with great maturity and strength. Her leadership helped bring a very young core of varsity athletes into the game of basketball. Throughout this season, the team looked to Annie for everything, and she always delivered her best as an athlete and person.
Mariah “Ri” Modkins
5-foot point guard, Solon (Ohio) High School
Modkins averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals on a team that went 26-3 and lost in the state finals by four points. The Comets averaged 22.2 points more than their opponents, so, the writer who covered them said, Modkins and the other starters rarely played a lot in the fourth quarter.
Modkins played with four other senior starters, including all-stater Valencia Myers, who is bound for Florida State. So her role was definitely not as a scorer.
From Tony Lang, who covered her as sports editor of the Solon Times:
“Mariah Modkins is a kinetic guard who provides relentless effort in all facets of the game. She has the ball-handling skills to break ankles and create space for her go-to running floater, she shoots the three with confidence and her on-ball defense produces turnovers time and time again.
“She draws charges, anticipates passing lanes and simply competes at a high level from start to finish. And perhaps most notable, Modkins understands and accepts her ever-changing role. She doesn’t care about individual spotlight. She does whatever it takes to help her team win.”
The biggest thing we know about next year’s women’s basketball team is it will be very different from this year’s.
Three starters are gone, including Jordan Korinek, the Flashes’ leading scorer and one of the top players in Kent State history. So is McKenna Stephens, who started with Korinek at forward for most of the last three years,
Six freshmen are incoming, in what looks like the best recruiting class in school history.
It will be the first true Todd Starkey team. The coach inherited a complete roster his first season and won a MAC East championship with it. Every starter in the 2017-18 season was a Danny O’Banion recruit; none of the five freshmen Starkey’s staff brought in averaged more than 10 minutes a game.
That sure won’t be true next year.
I’m guessing three freshmen will start.
So the question of the next season is simple: Can Kent State win with freshmen, even very good freshmen?
First, let’s talk about the key players returning. They’re a solid base but can’t carry the team by themselves. Key people are:
- Senior guard Alexa Golden, who has started 76 games in her three years at Kent. You think of Golden as a defensive specialist, and that was her role for her first two years. She started to show more scoring at the end of her sophomore year (she led the team in three-point percentage) and in non-conference play this season, when she averaged just over 9 points a game. But she scored nine or more only three times in KSU’s 18 conference games. Part of that was because of her role shifted when Megan Carter returned to the lineup; part was the fact Golden played the last half of the season was severe shin splints. Golden is a critical piece for the 2018-19 team; she’ll likely be the main senior leader and anchor the defense. She also is a tenacious and determined rebounder for a 5-9 guard.
- Junior guard Megan Carter, the team’s second-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) and the first player off the bench this season. Carter was the team’s go-to perimeter player after she became eligible second semester. At times she was very good; at times she would miss 10 shots in a game.
- Junior guard Ali Poole, probably KSU’s most improved player this season. Poole was the only new starter on this season’s team and averaged 7.1 points per game, four points more than her freshman year. Her defensive was markedly better. Poole, like Carter, was a big scorer in high school.
Two other key returnees:
- Senior wing Tyra James, KSU’s third-leading scorer two years ago as a sophomore. James missed all of 2016-17 with a injury and barely played in the conference season until the last five games, when she averaged more than 20 minutes and eight points a game. James can have turnover problems and a tendency to try too hard to make things happen
- Senior Merissa Barber-Smith, the teams ‘s tallest player at 6-4. Barber-Smith missed the last 15 games of the season with a medical issue but told me late in the season that she planned to return. At times during her junior year she could be dominant in rebounding and defense and seems to play her best against tall and talented opponents. She’s the only post player returning with any experience. She’s never been a big scorer in college or high school.
Of the five freshmen who finished the season (one left after the end of the semester), point guard Erin Thames played the most minutes — 9.7 a game. But two of the incoming freshmen play the point, including the player of the year in Massachusetts. So Thames will have lots of competition for playing time. I still think the best of the class is Monique Smith, a 5-11 forward-guard from San Diego who averaged a double-double her last three years in high school.
As for the incoming freshmen:
- Start with point guard Asiah Dingle, the Boston Globe’s player of the year in Massachusetts. She’s 5-3 (I’ve seen her listed up to 5-5) and helped her team to three state championships in four years. 19.5 points a game, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals. “Most dynamic player in the state,” her coach wrote me.
- Perhaps just as good is 5-10 guard Hannah Young, who was Virginia’s Class 3 player of the year in 2016-17. She was first-team all-state for three years, second-team as a freshman and never averaged less than 17 points a game.
- Annie Pavlansky, a 5-11 guard-forward from Lakeview High School in Cortland. All-state third team as a senior, second team as a sophomore (she was hurt her junior year). Averaged 21 points as a senior, 19 as a junior and about nine rebounds a game throughout high school.
- Lindsey Thall, a 6-2 forward from Strongsville whose highlight film was as much three-point shots as inside moves. Strong rebounder and shot blocker (once blocked 14 shots in a game). “A program changer,” her coach says. With Korinek and Stephens graduating, Flashes will need her.
- Mariah “Ri” Modkins, a 5-foot point guard from Solon whose high school team was one of the best in the state. She averaged about 9.6 points and 4.6 assists as a senior and is tough on-the-ball defender.
The Flashes added two players in the April signing period — 6-2 post player Ijah Fletcher from Hicksville High School on Long Island and junior college transfer Jessee Wallis, a 5-10 guard from Walters State Community College, a perennial junior college power in Tennessee. Fletcher averaged about 21 points a game her senior year; Wallis was a 1,000-point scorer in high school. It’s very difficult to evaluate April signees; the best players usually commit before their senior years. I’ll have more on Fletcher and Wallis when I round up the senior-year performances of the recruiting class.
So here’s the roster. I’d think someone will be transferring out because I count 16 scholarship players, and the team can have 15 scholarships. I haven’t heard anything official; the new roster is posted at the start of summer, when the freshmen arrive.
POST: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith; 6-3 sophomore Amanda Sape, who scored one point as a freshman; 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall; 6-2 freshman Ijah Fletcher.
GUARD-FORWARD: 6-1 senior Tyra James, 6-foot junior Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, 5-11 freshman Annie Pavlansky, 5-10 freshman Hannah Young, 5-10 junior Jessee Wallis. (I’ll explain the “guard-forward” in a minute.)
SHOOTING GUARD: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden, 5-7 junior Megan Carter, 5-10 sophomore Kasey Toles, 5-11 sophomore walk-on Margaux Eibel.
POINT GUARD: 5-6 sophomore Erin Thames, 5-3 freshman Asiah Dingle, 5-foot freshman Mariah Modkins.
By class, it’s:
- Freshmen (6): Thall, Fletcher, Young, Pavlansky, Dingle, Modkins.
- Sophomores (5): Sape, Smith, Toles, Thames, Eibel.
- Juniors (3): Poole, Carter, Wallis.
- Seniors (3): Golden, James, Barber-Smith.
So what kind of team will next year’s Flashes be (besides very young)?
Without Korinek, it certainly will look very different on the court. She averaged 20 points a game; Kent’s offense went through her. There’s nobody remotely like that on next year’s roster. Even Thall is a very different kind of player.
That’s why I emphasized “guard-forward,” which may be more than the traditional wing. All of the players I listed have some size and most played some post in high school (though it’s a lot easier to be a 5-10 forward in high school than college). All have solid rebounding statistics at some point in their career.
I can see the team playing, at least some of the time, what coaches call a “four-out” — a post and four players on the perimeter. Ohio has played that kind of offense successfully for several seasons.
The team has a lot more outside shooters; it — I hope — is likely to move out of last in the MAC in three-point shooting.
I think the team will have considerably more speed and quicker hands on defense.
I’m sure Starkey and his staff have been retooling his offense and defense to reflect the new personnel.
A contender? Unlikely. A .500 team? Maybe. Better than this year’s 13-19 record. Maybe. With so much new, it’s impossible to guess.
The team is probably at least a year away. But Starkey is so high on the freshmen (as are their high school coaches) that I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen next November.
This is the second and final part of our wrap-up of Kent State’s 2017-18 season.
Five key numbers
That’s how many fewer per game Kent State scored in MAC games this season compared to last. KSU averaged 62.8 points, 11th in the 12-team MAC. In the end, you don’t win if you don’t score. Most of the loss, of course, was because of the graduation of Larissa Lurken, who led the conference in scoring in 2016-17.
Kent State’s field goal percentage. This is, obviously, one of the biggest reasons the Flashes didn’t score. It was second lowest in the MAC and 4 percentage points below the previous season, which was just fifth in the conference. Three-point percentage was even worse: 25.2. That’s two-and-a-half points below any other team in the league, and 12 points lower than Central Michigan, which led the MAC. KSU made 4.2 three-point shots per game, last in the league.
Kent State’s turnover margin, tied with Bowling Green for worst in the league. KSU has been at or near the bottom of the league in turnovers and turnover margin for six years, going back to Bob Lindsay’s last season as coach. Even last year’s championship team was 10th in turnovers committed and seventh in margin.
(I used conference-only statistics for the first three categories because I think it’s the best comparison between the this season and last. KSU won eight of its last nine games on its way to a MAC East title in 2016-17. This year’s team lost eight of its last 10.)
That’s the average RPI of the seven teams Kent State beat in non-conference play. Compare that to the average RPI of KSU’s Mid-American opponents — 115. That may tell you why KSU’s 7-5 non-conference record was so much better than its 5-13 conference record. The Flashes had a strange non-conference of really good teams and pretty weak teams, with not much in the middle.
The highest RPI of a non-conference team the Flashes beat was Robert Morris’s 124. The only others better than 250 were Youngstown State (154) and Memphis (197). The average RPI of KSU’s five non-conference losses was 44, topped by No. 13 Stanford. The Flashes’ RPI, by the way, was 152 (of 349 teams).
The number of points Jordan Korinek scored this season, third most in Kent State history. I remember Korinek’s first game — an exhibition against Ohio Christian in 2014. She scored 23 points on 10 of 11 shooting and had 10 rebounds, You could tell she was going to be something special.
She ended her career as one of Kent State’s best players ever — 1,786 points, fifth in school history, and in the school’s career top 10 in eight statistical categories. Add two that academic all-American and all-MAC honors and a 4.0 GPA in special education. I feel lucky to have gotten to know her a little in my time writing the blog.
Five key games
KENT STATE 46, ROBERT MORRIS 31 on Dec. 19
You might call this the high point of KSU’s season. It was the last game before Christmas and conference play, and the Flashes’ defense was overwhelming. Robert Morris’s 31 points were the third lowest allowed in Kent State history. The Robert Morris game came right after KSU led Michigan at the half in another great defensive effort. It looked as if the season might be coming together.
(RMU went on to finish the season 24-8, win the Northeast Conference and be ranked at times in the Mid-Major Top 25. But the Colonials played a soft schedule; their RPI of 124 was below six MAC teams.)
NORTHERN ILLINOIS 81, KENT STATE 79 on Jan. 3
Kent State had beaten Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti in its first MAC game and led by eight points with eight minutes to go in the third quarter. But the Flashes committed seven turnovers the rest of the way. This game may have been when the season turned. A win would have made KSU 2-0 with both wins on the road and given confidence that might have carried over to the rest of the season.
BOWLING GREEN 60, KENT STATE 50 on Jan. 17
Two weeks after the Northern game, we knew how bad the season might get. Four days after scoring 84 points against eventual-league champion Central Michigan, the Flashes scored 50 at BG, which tied for last in the MAC. Ten days later KSU would lose at Akron, the other last place team
MIAMI 58, KENT STATE 35 on March 3
We thought the Flashes had hit bottom. Starkey wondered in interviews whether the team had given up on the season. 35 points were the fewest the Flashes had scored in five years. Things went so bad so quickly that the coach substituted for all five starters three-and-a-half minutes into the game. I turned off that game feeling as down as I had in the worst of the bad years.
KENT STATE 80, TOLEDO 76 on March 5
This game gave us hope for the future. Just two days after that dreadful performance in Miami, the Flashes played their best game of the season in the first round of the MAC tournament. They beat Toledo at Toledo for the second time in the season — in overtime — behind 20-point games from Jordan Korinek, Naddiyah Cross and Megan Carter. Coupled with a decent performance against Buffalo in the tournament’s second round, Kent State went into the off-season with a much better feeling than had the year ended in Miami.
Here’s link to first postseason wrap-up post.
Next time, we’ll look at returning and incoming players and the outlook for next season.
Central Michigan and Buffalo are the first two Mid-American Conference teams to make the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in the same year since 1996.
Both were 11 seeds.
So far, each team has beaten a No. 6 seed and a No. 3 seed.
Their average margin of victory has been 17.5 points. Closest game was nine points. Buffalo, which finished second to Central Michigan in the MAC, has won by 23 and 21.
The numbers are beyond upsets. They’re really beyond the term “Cinderella team.”
Central finished the regular season 28-4, Buffalo 27-5 (with two losses to Central). Those of us in the MAC knew how good they were.
So how did the tournament selection committee get the seedings so wrong?
HISTORY: The conference has no record of success in the NCAA tournament. Before this season, it was 8-43. Only Bowling Green in 2007 had ever made it to the Sweet 16. Other MAC teams have had records as good as this year’s top teams — Ohio 27-5 in 2014-15, Bowling Green 30-5 in 2013-14 and 31-4 in 2006-07. But none have made any noise in the tournament.
QUALITY WINS: The RPI got it right this season on the MAC. Before tournament selections were announced, Central’s was 15th in the RPI, Buffalo 22nd. By themselves, those numbers should have meant substantially higher seeds.
But the RPI is somewhat out of favor these days. It is based 25 percent on a team’s record, 25 percent on its opponents’ record and 50 percent on its opponents’ opponents’ record. Road wins get a significant bonus; home losses are penalized.
So RPI rewards a tough schedule. But it doesn’t emphasize how well a team actually did against difficult competition.
And here’s where the MAC fell down. In the regular season, no Mid-American team beat an outside school with an RPI in the top 25. Buffalo’s best win was over No. 64 Nebraska, Central’s against No. 109 Iowa State. The conference best was Toledo’s win over No. 31 Dayton.
Even Buffalo and Central Michigan’s losses weren’t to schools in the top 10. Other MAC schools played tougher teams — Toledo vs. Louisville, Ohio vs. Virginia, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois vs. Iowa, Kent State vs. Stanford. But they all lost. (Here are the conference RPIs from WarrenNolan.com, the site I use before it breaks things down by conference and team.
Buffalo and Central Michigan have more than made up for that in the tournament. Buffalo has beaten No. 19 South Florida 102-79 and No. 9 Florida 86-65. Central Michigan beat No. 28 LSU 78-69 and No. 7 Ohio State 95-78. (All rankings are RPI.)
At one point, I was going to write that the MAC didn’t get good seeding for lack for respect. But respect is earned. And the MAC record — before this March — hadn’t done a lot to earn it.
After Buffalo and Central Michigan’s run, next year may be different.
But it’s always been hard for MAC schools to schedule Power Five teams; the prestige schools have much more to lose than win in playing them. Getting a big school to travel to a MAC school is very difficult.
After this year’s NCAA tournament, it may be even more so.
If, as we wrote over the weekend, Saturday was the best day in MAC women’s basketball history, what do we call today?
Perhaps 10 times as good.
Both Buffalo and Central Michigan pounded — just absolutely routed — No. 3 seeds and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Only one other MAC (Ball State in 2007) in history had ever made the Sweet 16.
How many times has any mid-major conference — men’s or women’s — placed two teams in the Sweet 16? (Never in the women’s tournament, according to ESPN, which didn’t mention the men).
And this is especially unusual in the women’s tournament, which has tended to have far fewer upsets.
Central beat Ohio State 95-78 in Columbus, though at St. John’s Arena, not Ohio State’s home court. That’s 17 points over the team ranked 10th in the country in the last AP Poll. CMU only beat Kent State by four. Central won only one MAC game by more than 17 points.
Buffalo (29-4) beat No. 11 Florida State on FSU’s home floor by even more, 86-65. The Bulls shot near 50 percent from the field for the second tournament game in a row and held Florida State to 33 percent. Buffalo had led the MAC in field goal defense in the regular season. Cierra Dillard had 22 points after scoring 36 in Buffalo’s 102-79 victory over No. 19 South Florida in the first round.
FSU ends its season at 26-7.
Central Michigan (30-4) made a season-high 14 three-point baskets. Point guard Presley Hudson had five of them and 28 total points. That’s the same number as Ohio State all-American Kelsey Mitchell, who ended her career as the second-leading scorer in NCAA history. Her Buckeyes end the season at 28-7.
The four victories Central and Buffalo have achieved are half as many as the entire MAC had won in history before this tournament. Counting their wins, the conference is now 12-43.
For Buffalo, it’s defending national champion South Carolina. After that, it would be No. 1 Connecticut, assuming the Huskies beat 10th-seeded Virginia.
Central plays No. 6 Oregon. Then it would be first-seed and No. 5 Notre Dame, if Notre Dame beats fourth-seeded Texas A&M.
Both games are Saturday and on ESPN3.
NCAA women’s bracket, with scores of all games.
Today was the best day in MAC women’s basketball history.
Buffalo and Central Michigan both won first-round games over higher-seeded opponents. Both were clearly the better team on the court.
Buffalo was absolutely dominating. The Bulls beat South Florida, 102-79. A hundred points. A 23-point margin. This from a team that was the MAC runner-up and got into the tournament with the league’s first at-large bid in 22 years.
Central Michigan beat LSU, 78-69. The Chippewas never trailed by more than two and led by at least seven throughout the fourth quarter.
Both Buffalo and CMU were No. 11 seeds. That means the selection committee thought 10 teams in their brackets were better. South Florida and LSU were six seeds. The only higher seed to win in the first round was No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, which beat Missouri, 80-70.
The wins were the first ever in the NCAA tournament for Central and Buffalo.
Central Michigan (29-3) will play No. 3 seed Ohio State (28-6) in Columbus on Monday, and Buffalo (28-4) will play third-seeded Florida State (26-6). Buffalo’s game will be at Florida State. Ohio State’s will be St. John Arena, not on campus, because the Ohio high school state tournament is being held there. (To keep attendance up, the NCAA schedules first-round women’s games on the home court of the highest-seeded team in the four-team grouping. In the men’s tournament, all games are at neutral sites.)
Toledo and Kent State won first-round games in 1996, Toledo by 12 over Mississippi and KSU by four over Texas A&M. Both MAC schools were 10 seeds. Kent State got in the tournament as an at-large team, the last MAC school to do so before Buffalo.
Bowling Green is the only MAC team to win a second-round game. In 2007, they were a 7 seed and beat No. 10 seed Oklahoma State 70-66, then No. 2 seed Vanderbilt 59-56. They lost in the Sweet 16 to Arizona, 67-49.
Ball State beat Tennessee as a 12 seed in 2009. Otherwise, today’s two 11 seed wins were the lowest seeded teams to win. Toledo was also an 11 seed when it beat Rutgers in 1991.
A year ago, Kent State’s magical season season ended with a good loss at Michigan in the WNIT.
The Flashes had won 13 more games than the previous year, jumped more RPI spots than any team in the country and won the MAC East for the first time in 12 years.
We knew the encore would be hard.
I’m not sure we thought it would be this hard.
Kent State finished this season with a 13-19 record — the reverse of last year’s 19-13. Picked second in the MAC East, the Flashes finished a distant fourth. Overall, they were 10th in the MAC.
This post will start to wrap up the 2017-18 season. We’ll look at players today; next we’ll look at numbers and games that made a difference.
Later we’ll look ahead to next season, check how the recruiting class did in their senior year in high school, and maybe get a year-end interview with coach Todd Starkey.
When Starkey became head coach in April 2016, he inherited a 6-23 team that had been mired in the depths of the MAC for five years. We’d have been happy with a .500 season. Heck, we’d have been delighted with 10 wins.
Instead we got a miracle season. Everything fell into place. Starkey instilled a new attitude and new offensive and defensive systems. Larissa Lurken went from the second-best player on Kent State’s team to the best player in the MAC. Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Megan Carter made major jumps as offensive players in the MAC season. (Despite Lurken’s 23 points a game, Kent State was a .500 team before those three came into their own.)
This season almost nothing fell into place. Every starter but Lurken returned, but all of them averaged within two points of what they did the previous season.
That’s not saying that group had bad years.
Korinek was all-MAC and academic all-American. She scored the third most points in a season in Kent State history. Every opponent built its game plan around stopping her. Not many did. She scored more than 30 points three times, more than 20 points 16 times, more than 15 points 24 times.
Who knows how many games Kent State would have won had Stephens not come back for a final year of eligibility? She got her undergrad degree in May but decided last summer to return as a grad student for her last year of eligibility. She led Kent State in rebounding in 11 games and averaged the same solid 10 points a game she did in the Flashes’ championship run.
Carter missed the first semester because of one of the strangest academic ineligibilities in in college basketball; her pre-med major was too much, and tough lab classed killed her GPA. She became KSU’s second-leading scorer when she returned. While she was sidelined in fall, Starkey said he thought she could make a big difference in Kent State’s offense when she returned. That never happened; we probably expected too much for a sophomore. Carter’s scoring kept Kent State in some games, but in others she’d struggle terribly (two for 20 in Kent’s first game against Akron, for example). Carter averaged 10.2 points a game. How many points did Lurken average when she was a sophomore? 11.1.
Alexa Golden played her usual great defense and became an intense rebounder from her guard position. But Starkey said she played most of the season on legs that sometimes hurt so much that she didn’t practice. At the end of last season and in the non-conference season, Golden showed potential as a scorer, especially as a distance shooter. But she only scored more than eight points four times in 18 conference games. She scored fewer than five points 11 times.
Sophomore Ali Poole took Lurken’s spot in the starting lineup. Her defense was greatly improved and her scoring was up to 7.1 points a game — far from Lurken numbers (but, to be honest, not far from Lurken’s sophomore numbers).
Naddiyah Cross was an unsung starter — 91 of 123 games in her four years. She averaged four points a game for her career (5.1 this season). But the Flashes won three games this season because she did score — 19 points in an overtime win at Eastern Kentucky, 24 points in a seven-point win over Eastern Michigan, 20 points in KSU’s overtime upset of Toledo in the MAC Tournament. But the game I’ll remember is her brilliant defensive performance at Michigan, when she played the chaser in a box-and-one defense and held all-American guard Katelynn Flaherty to four points, second lowest in Flaherty’s career.
Tyra James returned after missing all last season with a knee injury, but her numbers weren’t anywhere near the 10 points a game she averaged two years ago. Her minutes were limited until the last six games of the season. I thought she made a difference once she played; I wish we had seen more of her earlier. That also would have eased the load in the rest of the guards, who played a lot of minutes and may have worn down.
A year ago, Starkey credited junior Merissa Barber-Smith with making the difference in the Flashes’ winning three games. KSU was counting on Barber-Smith, the tallest player on the team at 6-4, as its key post reserve. Instead, Barber-Smith went out with a medical issue on January. Senior Zenobia Smith stepped in, but she’s four inches shorter and couldn’t take over the backboards and block shots the way Barber-Smith could.
Kent State’s freshman class was recruited in the three months after Starkey arrived. By that time, most of the best high school seniors had been committed to other colleges for months. Starkey put together what looked like a solid class, but none of them really had an impact on this season. Erin Thames, who had the least impressive high school statistics of the group, actually played the most minutes as a serviceable back-up point guard. Monique Smith, who had the most impressive high school record of the group, showed some potential, leading the team with six rebounds at Miami.
Kent State won the MAC East last season because Lurken averaged 10 points a game more than she did as a junior in a classic breakout season.
To do as well this year, the Flashes needed a breakout season from someone else.
They didn’t get it.