Women’s season starts early, includes OSU at home, 6 teams that won 19 games

Non-conference 2019

Graphic is from team Twitter feed. Player is senior forward Sydney Brinlee.

The only surprise in the official release of Kent State’s non-conference schedule is how early the season starts.

The first game — at Duquesne in Pittsburgh — is on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The KSU press release on the schedule said it was the earliest start of a season in school history. Last year’s first game was Nov. 9; an exhibition game was played Nov. 4.

The highlights of the schedule had leaked out over the last three weeks as other teams announced their schedules.

The Flashes play three Big Ten teams — Ohio State at home, Michigan on a neutral site and at Purdue. They play two teams that made the NCAA tournament last year and three more than made the WNIT. Six opponents won at least 19 games.

KSU plays four home games, four at two neutral-site tournaments and three road games.

Here’s a quick look:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 5: at Duquesne (19-13 in 2018-19, RPI 138).
  • Saturday, Nov. 9: at Youngstown State (22-10, RPI 122).
  • Friday, Nov. 15: vs. Michigan (22-12, RPI 46) at Akron Classic.
  • Saturday, Nov. 16: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (7-22, RPI 337) at Akron Classic.
  • Thursday, Nov. 21: Ohio State (15-16,RPI 101).
  • Sunday, Nov. 24: Robert Morris (22-11, RPI 179).
  • Tuesday, Dec. 3: St. Bonaventure (6-22, RPI 262).
  • Sunday, Dec. 8: at Purdue (19-15, RPI 90).
  • Thursday, Dec. 19: vs. Georgia Southern (7-22, RPI 287) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Friday, Dec. 20: vs. Troy (22-9, RPI 93) at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
  • Monday, Dec. 30: Hiram (10-16 in Division III.

The non-conference highlight is still the Nov. 21 home game against Ohio State, the first time the Flashes and Buckeyes have played since 1981. It’s also the first time OSU has played a MAC school on the road since a game at Bowling Green in 2000.

KSU coach Todd Starkey said the scheduling wasn’t as hard as the history would suggest.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” Starkey said in an interview in late July. “I think more power Power Five teams are looking for quality road games as opposed to just a blowout win in a home game.

The NCAA’s decision-making for the March tournament is driving the trend toward tougher non-conference games, Starkey said. The top 16 teams in the tournament get to host the first two rounds in the NCAA. The deciding factor on getting a seed in the top 16 can be strength of schedule or “quality wins.”

“A lot of Power Five teams are looking for quality road venues where a game is probably winnable,” Starkey said. “It’s better for Ohio State to beat us at our place than to beat us at their place.”

In almost all ratings systems, road victories are weighted far more heavily than home wins. In the RPI, winning on the road is worth twice as much as winning at home. The best way to jump in the RPI always has been to beat a good team on the road.

KSU ought to be a good team, if not the quality of a Big Ten contender. The Flashes return 83.6% of their scoring from a team whose RPI last season was 83rd among 351 teams. That ranking actually higher than Ohio State’s 101, though the Buckeyes will have a very different team this season. Their freshman class is rated among the top five in the country.

Of teams on the KSU schedule, only Michigan (46) had a higher RPI ranking than Kent State last year. Purdue was 90th. Next best is Troy, the Sun Belt team that KSU will play in a pre-Christmas event in Las Vegas. It ranked 93rd last season.

Six of KSU’s Division I opponents had an RPI below 140 in 2018-19. A seventh is Robert Morris, which went 22-11 and won the Northeastern Conference. But the NEC had the second lowest conference RPI among the 32 leagues in Division I. So the weak schedule dragged down its RPI.

The Flashes open with road games at Duquesne and Youngstown State, both teams it played in Kent last season. Then they play at the Akron Classic against Michigan and Purdue Fort Wayne (once Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, then just Fort Wayne for a few years).

They then play three straight home games before traveling to Purdue, then travel to the Las Vegas event between the end of classes and Christmas.

KSU plays Division III Hiram Dec. 30 before opening MAC play later that week. The MAC schedule hasn’t been announced yet.

KSU press release on the schedule.

Earlier posts on the Ohio State game and Vegas tournament and on the Purdue and Michigan games.

Is the schedule harder?

I’d say it is slightly tougher.

KSU plays three Power Five conference schools. Last season it played two — North Carolina and North Carolina State.

But N.C. State finished ninth in the RPI and Carolina 38th. KSU also played Wright State, which ended the regular season ranked 59th.

Michigan ranked the best among 2019-20 opponents at 46th. Purdue was 90th, Troy 93rd and Ohio State 101st.

Last year’s rankings are an imperfect measure, of course, because the teams don’t have the same personnel. For example, two years ago Duquesne ranked 72nd in the RPI with a 25-8 record. It had all five starters returning last season, but the Dukes won six fewer games.

I did a quick check of the rosters of the opponents. Duquesne lost four starters, but the Dukes have had one of the country’s top mid-major programs over the last decade. It’s hard to imagine their having a weak team.

Every other team seemed to have at least a solid core returning. All five Purdue starters are back. Ohio State and Michigan have strong freshman classes.

Six teams on the schedule ranked in the nation’s top 140 in RPI. Last year’s schedule had five.

Last year’s opponents included four teams with RPIs above 240. This year’s has three. Two teams last year ranked above 300. Only Purdue Fort Wayne does this season.

(There are 351 Division I teams.)

“I like a rigorous non-conference schedule,” Starkey said, “and I like giving our players the opportunity  to play against those name schools they grew up dreaming of playing for or against. It also helps the profile of our program regionally and nationally to be able to play with and against those teams.”

He said two or three Power Five teams a year is about the right number.

Then, he said, you “balance it out.”

“Playing a weak non-conference does not prepare you for this league,” Starkey said. But, he added, “you can overschedule and lose your team’s confidence by playing you to too rigorous a schedule.”

All of the RPI rankings come from realtimeRPI.com, one of several services that compile the ratings. They’re based 25% on a team’s record, 25% on its opponents’ record and 50% on opponents’ opponents’ record. A home win now counts as 0.6 win while a road win counts as 1.4 wins. A home loss equals 1.4 losses, and a road loss counts as 0.6 loss.

Playing the Big Ten

Kent State has played three Big Ten teams in a season once before. In Starkey’s first season tin 2016-17, the Flashes played Iowa and Minnesota in a December road trip, then played Michigan in the WNIT. They lost all three games.

Kent State has an all-time record of 5-34 against current Big Ten teams.

The Flashes’ last game was a 54-41 loss at Michigan in 2017. Their last win was 77-66 over Indiana in Kent in 2001.

I plan a game-by-game rundown of the schedule soon.

But first I have to do a preview for the Flashes’ first international summer trip. They leave at 4:30 a.m. for Vancouver, Canada, on Friday and will play three exhibition games. I’ll be posting about the games and the trip (though I’m not traveling).

I also finally have the material for the long-promised look at KSU’s three freshmen. I watched practice Wednesday, and they look very good.

 

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Flashes will head to Vancouver in August for first international trip

Summer group (1)

The women’s team celebrated the end of July workouts in 1980s style. Asiah Dingle tutu, however, is timeless.  One player’s father commented in a tweet, “Hard work and fun?? Something special happening @KentStWBB. Sooo happy my kid is part of it. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)

The Kent State women will head to Vancouver, Canada, in two weeks for the team’s first international summer competition in school history.

The Flashes will travel from Aug. 9-16 and play three college teams, along with seeing the sights in the Canadian West.

The NCAA allows teams to take an international summer trip every four years. The KSU men’s team has made some trips — most recently to Costa Rica in 2017. I have a memory of the volleyball team going overseas some years ago but couldn’t find anything in a quick online search.

I caught coach Todd Starkey on the phone Friday. He was just back from his last big recruiting trip of the summer (he took two calls from recruits during the interview). He said he had concentrated so much on recruiting and summer workouts that he didn’t know all the details about the trip — including the teams the Flashes were playing.

“We going to break down all the Canada stuff at a staff meeting Monday,” he said.

KSU will play three games against college teams.

“That’s just about the right amount, so you’re not exhausted,” Starkey said. “From what I understand, it will be a good mix of games — kind of three levels of teams.”

The trip, he said, is something that has been in the works for several years.

“As we were trying to build our program, this is one of the things that we really wanted to we accomplish the first four years,” he said.

The cost of the trip, Starkey said, was spread over two years’ budgets and included some money the team had saved and raised in the last few years. (He didn’t want to say how much it was costing. I’d estimate it will be well into the tens of thousands but considerably less than European trips that other schools have taken.)

“It’s really not overextending the budget at all,” he said.

The trip gives the team extra practice time and game experience beyond what it could get on campus, where the NCAA limits coaches to four hours a week of practice time with players. The team can spend another four hours on organized conditioning.

On the trip, they can practice just as if it were in the middle of the season.

“It won’t be like the hyper intense atmosphere that we have in February and March,” he said. “We don’t want to bury them — just build team rapport and competitive chemistry.

“The timing is great for us. We have a really good core of returning players, along with three freshmen and a transfer. It’s a chance to get experience practicing and playing together before the season starts.”

There also will be sightseeing and team bonding, the coach said.

“It’s a location that a lot of our players would never necessarily choose to go to, and  it’s one of the most beautiful places anywhere,” Starkey said.

Starkey said he plans to do such a trip every four years.

“Virtually everybody is doing some sort of an international experience for players,” he said. “Teams that aren’t doing something can eventually fall behind in recruiting.”

 

 

As CMU’s Guevara retires, here’s a look at the state of MAC coaches (it’s good)

Guevara (1)

CMU’s Sue Guevara coached for a total of 39 years at seven different schools, including seven as head coach at Michigan and 12 as head coach at Central. (Photo from Central Michigan website.)

Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara, one of the MAC’s longest serving and most successful coaches, announced she was retiring last week.

Central had won three straight regular season MAC championships under Guevara. Her 2017-18 team was one of the most successful in league history, going 30-5 and reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. In 12 years at CMU, Guevara went 216-151 and won four MAC championships and three MAC tournaments.

The timing of her retirement was unusual; she been in charge of summer practices and camps and was recruiting players as late as last month. But she said in a press release that retirement was something she had been thinking about since the end of last season. She just turned 65, by far the oldest of MAC women’s coaches.

Guevara’s recruiting had been outstanding in the last eight years or so. This year’s graduating class included MAC player of the year Reyna Frost and Presley Hudson, one of the best three-point shooters in league history. (Presley won the three-point shooting contest for women and men at this year’s NCAA tournament.) The 1917-18 MAC player of the year was Central’s Tinara Moore. In 2014, Chrystal Bradford was league player of the year and the No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft. That was the highest ever for a MAC player.

The new Central coach is Heather Oesterte, Guevara’s associate head coach for seven years and an assistant two years before that. Oesterle had been a player for Guevara when Guevara was head coach at Michigan in the early 2000s.

That’s obviously great for continuity in recruiting and system of play for Central Michigan. It’s no guarantee of success. Jennifer Roos was the top assistant to Curt Miller when Bowling Green dominated the MAC in the mid-2000s. Roos had two really good years, including a 30-5 season with one of the MAC’s best teams ever in 2013-14. Her teams never won more than 11 games after that, and she was fired after the 2017-18 season.

The only other time I can remember a MAC assistant or associate moving up was when Melissa Jackson replaced Jodi Kest at Akron after the 2017-18 season. Kest “retired”; she had won more games than any other Akron coach but went 9-21 her last two season. Kest  was an assistant at Division II Lynn University in Florida in 2018-19 and just became an assistant at Division I High Point University in North Carolina.

Jackson went 16-15 in her first season, but Akron was 7-11 in the MAC.

I spent some time comparing league coaches’  records. Here’s what I found:

MAC coaches’ records while in league

(Listed by overall winning percentage.)

  • BOB BOLDON, Ohio. 130-64 (.670). One overall MAC championship, one tournament title, three MAC East titles. One NCAA appearance, three WNIT bids (four wins). Starting seventh year.
  • TRICIA CULLOP, Toledo. 241-123 (.662). One MAC championship,  one MAC tournament title. four MAC West titles, one NCAA appearance, seven WNIT bids (WNIT title in 2011-11, 11 total WNIT wins). 13th year.
  • FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK, Buffalo. 142-85 (.626). Two MAC tournament championships, one MAC East title. Three NCAA tournament appearances (won three games and reached Sweet 16 in 2017-18), One WNIT bid. Eighth year.
  • LISA CARLSEN, Northern Illinois. 66-49 (.573). One WNIT appearance. Fifth year.
  • BRADY SALLEE, Ball State. 128-98 (.547). Six WNIT appearances. Ninth year.
  • TODD STARKEY, Kent State. 52-45 (.536). One MAC East title. Two WNIT appearances. Fourth year.
  • MELISSA JACKSON, Akron, 16-15 (.516), Second year.
  • SHANE CLIPFEL, Western Michigan. 80-79 (.503). One WNIT appearance. Eighth year.
  • FRED CASTRO, Eastern Michigan. 31-62 (.333). Fourth year.
  • ROBYN FRALICK, Bowling Green. 9-21 (.300). Second year.
  • HEATHER OESTERTE, Central Michigan. 0-0. First year.
  • DEUNNA HENDRIX, Miami. 0-0. First year.

GUEVARA’s .587 winning percentage had been third among current coaches. Her 12 year was second longest.

Coaches’ overall winning percentage (at current and previous schools) are quite similar. Biggest exception is BG’s Fralick at .824. She went 104-3 with a national championship and two other Final Four appearances at Division II Ashland. Hendrix’s record at High Point University was 125-93 (.573) with two WNIT appearances.

Jackson, Clipfell, Castro and Oesterte have been head coaches only in the MAC.

IT’S NO WONDER the league is the best its ever been. Eleven of 12 coaches have winning records. (That counts Guevara and includes Fralick’s and Hendrix’s overall records.)

Current coaches (including Guevara) have won 24 WNIT and five NCAA games (two by Guevara and three by Legette-Jack) while they were in the MAC.

Flashes will play Purdue and Michigan — along with OSU

MiciiganPurdue 2

Kent State will play three Big Ten teams this season. In addition to a home game against Ohio State announced Friday, the Record-Courier said on Saturday that Michigan and Purdue are also on the schedule.

The Michigan game is part of the Akron Classic, where Kent and Akron play the same teams over two days. It alternates between Akron and Kent. Last year the event was in mid-November in Kent.

Michigan was 22-12 last season. It lost two of its top three scorers, including 6-5 all-Big Ten center Hallie Thome. But it looks as if it has a good incoming freshman class.

Kent State played well but lost against the Wolverines in the 2017 WNIT and in a non-conference game in December 2017.

The game at Purdue, which was 19-15 last season, will be Dec. 8, according to the Purdue website. The Boilermakers have lost three times to MAC schools in the last two years — twice to Ohio twice and once to Ball State. They beat Central Michigan and Miami twice and Ball State once in the same time period.

In the Record-Courier story by Allen Moff, KSU coach Todd Starkey called the December game against OSU “a great matchup.”

“Our goal is to see if we can fill the M.A.C. Center, put on a great game and create a lot of buzz for Kent State and Ohio State women’s basketball,” he said. “It will be a great road game for Ohio State. We’re two teams in Ohio with great traditions that are trying to re-establish ourselves. Maybe this will spark a little in-state rivalry.”

“Being able play Power 5 schools at home is the next step toward increasing our profile. When we play those games, we’re not just trying to make money, we’re trying to compete and put ourselves in position to win.”

Moff called this year’s OSU game “arguably the most intriguing non-conference home game in program history.”

I can’t argue with that.

Moff’s story also said that KSU would play a return game at Ohio State in 2020.

The Flashes also will play this season at Youngstown State and Duquesne. KSU beat Youngstown and lost to Duquesne in Kent last season.

KSU’s full schedule is expected to be released in the next week or so.

Flashes will host Ohio State in November, play in December Las Vegas event

The Kent State women will play Ohio State for the first time since 1981.

The game will be at the M.A.C.C in Kent on Nov. 21. Word came of the game when OSU’s non-conference schedule was announced Thursday. Kent State’s schedule should be announced in the next few weeks. Last season it was announced Aug. 4

Ohio State finished 14-15 last season, 10-8 and fifth in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes lost to Moorhead State in the first round of the WNIT. Last year’s team had lost all five starters from the previous year, including Kelsey Mitchell, the No. 2 scorer in OSU history.

So the Buckeyes put together a roster with five graduate transfers, three freshmen, two seniors and a junior. 

This year’s freshman class is ranked in the top four in the country and includes five players ranked in the top 65 by ESPN. Highest ranked is No. 6 Kierstan Bell, a McDonalds’s All-American from Canton McKinley. Bell, a 6-1 guard, was Ohio player of the year three time. She averaged 28.8 points a game as a senior and 33.3 as a junior. The only other high school player ever to be player of the year three times is LaBron James

The Buckeyes also return leading scorer Dorka Juhasz, a 6-4 sophomore who averaged 11.7 points a game and 5-10 sophomore guard Janai Crooms, their No. 3 scorer at 8.8 points a game.

Kent State lost to Ohio State five times between 1977 and 1981, when both were members of the Ohio Association of Intercollegiate Sports for Women. Kent State’s first varsity team played in 1974-75.

The last time KSU played a power conference team at home was in 2015, when former coach Danny O’Banion’s last team lost to Minnesota 85-73. The Flashes played North Carolina State and North Carolina on the road last year, Michigan on the road and Stanford in a holiday tournament in 2017-18, and Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan on the road in 2016-17 and Baylor in a holiday tournament that year.

KSU lost all of those games. Closest was a 67-60 loss to Michigan in the first round of the WNIT in 2017. The Flashes led North Carolina last season by two points with four minutes to go but lost 73-60.

The last time Kent State defeated a power conference team was in 2006, when the Flashes beat Washington 81-78 in overtime in Kent.

Kent State returns 84 percent of its scoring from last year’s 20-13 team, including its top four scorers — senior guard Megan Carter (15.9 points per game), sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (12.9), sophomore forward Lindsay Thall (10.1) and senior forward Ali Poole (8.8). Its three income freshmen include first-team Kentucky all-state forward Nila Blackford, and second-team all-Ohio guards Clare Kelly and Katie Shumate.

December in Vegas

Also announced this week was Kent State’s participation in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic Dec. 21-22. Las Vegas seems to have half a dozen December tournaments; this one is a decidedly mid-major affair.

On Saturday, Dec. 21, Kent State will play Georgia Southern, a Sun Belt Conference team that is rebuilding with a new coach after a 7-22 season.

The next day the Flashes play Troy, another Sun Belt team that returns three starters from a group that went 22-9 last season and made the WNIT.

Both games are at noon Las Vegas time. That’s 9 a.m. in Kent. They’re at the South Point Hotel and Casino.

Other teams in the competition — it’s not really a tournament — are Toledo from the MAC (21-12 last season), Pacific of the West Coast Conference (19-12), St. Francis Brooklyn College (18-13), Toledo plays Troy and Pacific.

Here’s the release on the tournament.

The recruiting trail

Coach Todd Starkey and his three assistants all tweeted or retweeted in June that Kent State had received a verbal commitment from a recruit. But they’re not allowed to name a recruit who hasn’t signed a national letter of intent, which happens in November. Usually the high school player, her high school or AAU team will tweet a commitment; I haven’t seen anything on Twitter or elsewhere online. We don’t even know which year she’ll enroll, though I would think would be the freshman class entering in 2020.

One player in that class had announced her commitment in March, 5-4 guard Casey Santoro from Bellevue High School in northwestern Ohio. She was district player of the year and first-team all-Ohio in both her sophomore and junior seasons and averaged 22 point a game last year.

Another rising high school senior tweeted a picture of her and KSU coaches on a recruiting visit last month. In the same tweet, Rachel Loobie also included pictures of herself at Bowling Green and Miami. The next week she visited Central Michigan. I’ve been following Loobie on Twitter since she got a KSU offer last year, and she must have a dozen Division I offers, mostly from mid-major schools. She’s a 6-foot forward from Franklin High School in Indianapolis who averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds her junior year.

The summer AAU basketball season is in its last month. Kent State coaches are on the road at four different sites, including a 1,200 (!) team event in Louisville. AAU has become a primary source of recruiting because coaches can see many players in a weekend, and the season doesn’t overlap the college season — as high school schedules do.

Kent State should have at least four scholarships to give for 2020. Seniors Carter, Poole and Sydney Brinlee are graduating. The Flashes had one scholarship left over from the this year. Junior Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 transfer from Indiana, will be eligible that season after sitting out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Golden is back in a new role

Alexa Golden, a four-year starter who got both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years, is back at Kent as a graduate assistant for the women’s team. It was a move that had been in the works for months. In an interview with Golden’s home town newspaper, Starkey said he had given her “homework” to interview KSU assistants as she applied for the job and to report on her findings to him. All current KSU assistants started as GAs.

Golden also was named Kent State’s nominee for the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year award, which goes to athletes in any sport who “distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership. Now the MAC and other leagues pick two member nominees, then the NCAA cuts it to 30, then a selection committee picks three finalists from each division. National winner is named in October.

A shorter shot clock reset

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee ratified a recommendation that the shot clock be reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound or a foul in the front court. It had been reset to the full 30 seconds. The idea is “enhance the pace of the game…because a full 30-second shot clock is not needed since the offensive team is already in the front court.”

In another small rule change, the shooting team would get possession of the ball after two-shot technical fouls.The ball had been going to the team that would have had possession before the technical.

In a potentially major rule change, women will experiment with a 22 foot, 1 3/4-inch three-point line in the WNIT and other postseason tournaments in 2020. Current distance is about 17-inches closer. The new line would be the same as international distance.

Men’s teams are going to the new distance for all play this season. It’s a pretty good guess the women will increase the distance in 2020-21.

The NCAA also tinkered with transfer rules to clarify and tighten the reasons a player could get immediate eligibility when switching teams. Some critics had said that it seems as if high-profile players got special consideration. Here’s the USA Today story on that.

In April, the NCAA rejected a rule that would have tightened requirements for graduate transfers. It also made small changes to other transfer rules. Walk-ons, for example, will not have to sit out a season if they transfer. Here’s the NCAA release and an SBNation story on the changes.

 

Starkey, already 3rd in wins as KSU coach, gets four-year extension

Starkey and bench

Kent State women’s coach Todd Starkey talking to his team last season. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

This is a slightly updated version of the story I posted yesterday with better editing and a better headline.

Coach Todd Starkey has received a four-year contract extension, the university announced today.

The new contract will run through the 2022-2023. The coach’s existing contract, signed when he was hired in April 2016, had two years left to go. No details on the new contract were mentioned in the Kent State announcement. Starkey has a 52-44 record in his three years at Kent State. He already has won the third-most games of any KSU women’s coach.

In 2016, Starkey took over a team that had gone 6-23 the years before and, with the same roster, won KSU’s first MAC East title in 13 years, finishing third on the conference overall. He was the league’s coach of the year. The team went 19-13 (13-5 in the MAC), made the WNIT and jumped 222 spots in the RPI rankings from the previous year.

The Flashes went 13-19 in Starkey’s second season.

Last season the Flashes went 20-13, finishing fifth in the MAC and fourth in the MAC East. They beat Green Bay in the first round of the WNIT, Kent State’s first WNIT win and first postseason victory in 23 years. It was the team’s first 20-win season since 2010-11.

Starkey’s team did that with two freshman starters and two other freshmen in the team’s eight-player rotation. (That freshman class was the coach’s first true recruiting class. His first class was put together in just three months after he arrived.)

This year’s team returns 87 percent of its scoring. Its three incoming freshman includes a first-team all-state forward from Kentucky and two second-team all-state guards from Ohio. A 6-4 transfer from Indiana, who was an all-stater in Georgia, will sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Under Starkey, the team has had two academic All-Americans (2018 grad Jordan Korinek twice and Larissa Lurken in 2017) and had a team GPA of 3.458 in the spring.

Quotes from the press release (these never sound like real people talking and often are written by the sports communication office:

STARKEY: “I want to thank President (Beverly) Warren, President-elect (Todd) Diacon, (Athletic Director) Joel Nielsen and (Associate Athletic Director Casey Cegles for their continued support of Kent State women’s basketball and confidence in our ability to lead the program going forward. This extension reflects the strong commitment to winning that this staff and group of student-athletes has displayed over the last few years. We are very excited about our future at Kent State and look forward to pursuing MAC championships in the years to come.”

On Twitter, Starkey wrote in a comment on the announcement: “Thank you to our staff, current and former players, and our fans! Excited for what is to come…GO FLASHES!!!” He added four lightning bolts emojis.

NIELSEN: “It’s very exciting news that Todd will continue to lead our women’s basketball program. In only three years at Kent State, he has won a MAC East Division title, led his team to the first WNIT victory in program history and had three Academic All-America selections. Todd and his staff have proven that they are capable of recruiting quality student-athletes, and we’re confident in his ability to bring championships to Kent State women’s basketball.”

In 24 hours, the Twitter announcement of Starkey’s new contract had 195 Likes, 25  Retweets and 12 congratulatory comments. More — including notes from his assistants and Cegles, who led the search that hired him — were scattered elsewhere.

Before he came to Kent State, Starkey was an assistant at Indiana and head coach at Divsion II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina, where he was national Division II coach of the year in 2009. Starkey grew up in suburban Youngstown; his father was a music professor at Youngstown State.

Link to press release.

Starkey’s biography on the KSU website.

WbbFlashes wrap-up of 2018-19 season and preview of 2019-20 season.

Commentary: Well-deserved extension adds stability for fans, recruits, program

The announcement of Starkey’s contract extension is not unexpected but most welcome. 

A relatively new and successful coach often gets one at this point in his tenure.

Starkey has done more in three years than we could have dreamed of when he was hired in 2016.

The program was in a mess when the he came to Kent. The Flashes had gone 21-98 in four years under Danny O’Banion, never winning more than seven games or finishing higher than fifth in the six-team MAC East. The year before O’Banion was hired, Bob Lindsay, who had won more games than any MAC coach in either men’s or women’s basketball, was let go after a 6-21 season (his worst record since his first season).

Many of the 2016 players had talked among themselves about transferring. 

Then, in an astonishing season, Starkey took exactly the same roster and went 19-13, winning the MAC East. Senior Larissa Lurken, who was the team’s second-best player the year before, became the best player in the MAC. It was a completely different team.

Much of that was coaching. Starkey is an excellent “X’s and O’s” — or game strategy — coach. His teams are well-prepared and mid-game adjustments are effective. He also taught his players to win. He had some good fortune — his players were better than their record the previous year, and they were able to gain confidence with some early success. By the end of the season, they expected to win.

Starkey went through his first two season with none of his “own” players. One of his recruits never started until the 2019-20 season. His first recruiting class was put together in three months, well after most high school players had committed to a school or at least narrowed their options. On paper, the class looked as if it had potential. But only one of those players is still on the roster, and she was about 10th in the rotation last season.

Starkey’s first real class — last year’s freshmen — was one of the best in school history. He says the incoming freshmen may be just as good. His first recruit for 2021 is a two-time first-stater and two-time district player of the year — before she starts her senior year.

Everything I’ve seen says Starkey is a very good person, too. He’s always been good to me, only occasionally grumping when I ask a dumb question. He’s very accessible and quotable, which every reporter hopes for from a source.

I’ve enjoyed watching the half dozen practices I’ve seen. He is a teaching coach. He will stop a drill to walk on the court and show players what they should be doing right. Some coaches just tell people what they’re doing wrong. (Starkey can be tough; I was at one practice when the team ran full-court sprints for the last 10 minutes of practice because, he told them, their effort hadn’t earned them the right to scrimmage.)

It’s clear his players like him. They smile when they talk about him. He’s had six players leave the team, but none of them had much playing time. That’s pretty standard these days. It’s when you lose current or potential significant contributors when you should worry.

He and his staff certainly like each other. One of the things that go less noticed in a team’s success is its assistants, and one of the things this staff has going for it is stability. Associate head coach Fran Recchia and assistant Morgan Toles have been with Starkey since the beginning. Assistant Mike McKee joined the staff after Starkey’s first season; one assistant had left in the middle of that first year, which makes the team’s success even more remarkable.

Starkey got new titles and raises for the assistants last season. When a coach gets a new contract, he often negotiates more money for his assistants; I hope he was able to. Kent State has a reputation for underpaying assistants in almost all sports.

So are we set for a coach for four years? Well, not quite.

Remember Buffalo men’s coach Nate Oats signed an extension with the Bulls in March, then left for Alabama two weeks later (and probably got a raise approaching a million dollars). (]’ve always suspected the extension was mostly to get Buffalo a big buyout; Alabama paid a reported $750,000 to hire him away.)

If Indiana were to contact Starkey tomorrow (it won’t —its coach is successful and established), I’m sure Starkey would take the call. He might tell them, “No, thank you.” And as I said in a post a few weeks ago, all sorts of things have to fall into place for a coach to move up to a Power Five job.

So as I wrote then, let’s enjoy a good team and good coach. We’re better off now than we were 24 hours ago. The contract extension shows fans, current players and recruits a university commitment and a commitment by him — even if it’s not ironclad.

Now Starkey and his team can concentrate attention to the most important things — preparing for the upcoming season and find more Flashes.

 

How long will Starkey stay? A conversation from a fan bulletin board

Starkey on sidelines (1)Anytime Kent State has a coach who has early success, the question comes up:

How long can the Flashes keep him or her?

We started to hear it Todd Starkey’s first year as women’s coach, when he took a roster that had been 6-23 in 2015-16 and guided the exact same players to a 19-13 record and a MAC East title in his first season.

Last season the coach took a freshman-dominated team to KSU’s first 20-win season in nine years and first postseason victory in 23.

It came up this week on Flash Fanatics, the KSU fan bulletin board. I contributed to it and thought it might be of interest to fans here. (The bulletin board is anonymous. I’ve made a couple of notes on contributors’ backgrounds.) Here’s the thread:

Dwight: The big question is, how long will Starkey be around? That’s the Catch-22 as a mid-major. If you have too much success with a new coach, you have to start over. Look at Buffalo on the men’s side and Miami on the women’s. Oats lasted three years and Duffy two years. I don’t expect Ohio’s women’s coach to be around much longer, either.

Dwight is a Toledo fan who sometimes posts on other school’s boards. He seems to be well-respected.

Fan12: If Coach gets his team to the Big Dance and wins the 1st game, then I believe he will get attention from Power Five teams….. Don’t know if Coach would be all that interested in another Mid Major rebuild. My 2 cents..

Fan12 posted for the first time this week. Based on this and an earlier post on a KSU recruit, he seems to have good sources.

Me (posting as cschierh): Whether and how quickly Starkey is likely to move on has come up a bunch of times here and on my blog. Some things to think about:

1, There aren’t a lot of Power Five openings. There were four last season.

2. Other MAC coaches also are likely candidates to move up. Buffalo’s Felisha Legette-Jack was a finalist for two of the four Power Five openings this season. Bob Boldon has 120 wins and three division titles in six seasons at Ohio. Ball State’s Brady Sallee and NIU’s Lisa Carlsen have resumes similar to Starkey’s.

3. Miami’s Megan Duffy did move to Marquette of the Big East this spring after a 44-20 record in two years. She previous had been associate head coach at Michigan. (Does the Big East make a Power Six?)

4. Women are getting the bulk of the open head coaching jobs in Division I. All four Power Five openings went to women. Of 35 Division I openings this spring and summer, women got 29 of them. Women have been 10 of the last 13 hires in the Big Ten and ACC.

I agree with Fan12 that if Starkey were to win a couple of MAC championships and some NCAA games, he’d get interest from the Power Five/Six. But Legette-Jack has already done that. Boldon has come very close to doing that. And they’re still at Buffalo and Ohio.

Successful mid-major coaches do move on. But I don’t think anything is imminent. And sometimes they stay. Sue Guevara has been at Central Michigan for 16 years, Tricia Cullop has been at Toledo for 12, and Bob Lindsay was at Kent for 23.

So for now, let’s just enjoy having a good coach and good team again.

Starkey’s bio page from the KSU website.

His record at KSU:

  • 2016-17: 19-13 (first in MAC East and third in conference overall at 13-5. MAC coach of the year. Lost in first round of WNIT.)
  • 2017-18: (13-19, 5-13 overall, fourth in MAC East and 10th overall).
  • 2018-19: 20-13 (fourth in MAC East and fifth in overall. Lost is second round of WNIT.)

A first look at 2019-20: Another 20-win season is very much a possibility

Workout spring 2019 (1)

KSU’s returning players mug for the camera at the end of spring workouts in April. (Photo from team’s Twitter feed.)

We’re a little less than three months from the end of last season and a little more than five months from the beginning of the next. So why not take a first detailed look at the Flashes of 2019-20?

Kent State returns three-and-a-half starters and 84 percent of its scoring from last year’s team, which produced KSU’s first 20-win season in nine years and its second post-season tournament victory ever.

The Flashes lose guard Alexa Golden, who anchored the team’s defense for four years and was invaluable in everything except scoring. The other is center Merissa Barber-Smith, who was dominant rebounder and defender over the team’s last seven or eight games. But she never was a significant scorer.

KSU’s top four scorers do return and  clearly will be the core of the team in 2019-20. But the Flashes have a three-woman incoming class that may be just as good as last year’s — and that class was one of the best in KSU history.

Let’s start with the returnees, listed in decreasing scoring average:

  • Redshirt senior guard Megan Carter, the Flashes’ leading scorer (15.9 points a game) and perhaps the most improved player on the team. She had been the team’s second-leading scorer the year before but was wildly up and down. This season she was extraordinarily consistent — above 15 points in 24 of 33 games. There were many reasons for KSU’s seven-win improvement last season, but without Carter, the Flashes would have been a .500 team at best.
  • Sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle (12.9 ppg). She was runner-up for MAC freshman of the year and still has perhaps the most upside potential on offense on the team. Dingle was ferocious driving to the basket and leading the fast break, and was one of the team’s best defenders. But she still is figuring out when she should not drive, when to pass the ball and how to score consistently on more than layups. She made progress, but a team’s point guard has to average more 2.5 assists per game and shoot better than 16 percent from 3-point distance.
  • Sophomore forward Lindsey Thall (10.1 ppg). She had a freshman year just about as good as Dingle and also has a potentially big upside. Thall led the MAC in 3-point percentage (in league games, which is my benchmark) and in blocked shots. For her to move from all-freshman to all-MAC, she needs to boost her inside offense and rebounding. She and coach Todd Starkey talked about the scoring inside all season, and she showed signs of it as the season went on. Still, 59 percent of her shots and 58 percent of her points came from 3-point distance. In a Record-Courier interview, Starkey said the Flashes were working on offensive adjustments to get Thall more shots.
  • Senior Ali Poole (8.8 ppg), who moved from wing to forward last season and started more than half the time. Unless she makes a huge jump, she’s not likely to be one of the stars of the team. But she’s more than solid.
  • Sophomore guard Mariah Modkins (3.2 ppg), who backed up Dingle at point, sometimes playing beside her. Generously listed at 5-1, she’s not an offensive threat, but she’s a a quick defender who gave opposing guards of any size problems last season. Her 3-point shot is good enough so that teams can’t ignore her, and she’s not afraid to drive if she sees an opening
  • Sophomore guard Hannah Young (3.1 ppg) was the freshman who most underperformed her statistics from high school, when she scored 1,998 points and was a four-time all-stater in Virginia. She averaged only 10 minutes a game, but she was playing behind Golden and Carter, the Flashes’ most experienced players. She’ll be fighting with the freshman guards for Golden’s starting spot.
  • Senior forward Sydney Brinlee was the the team’s fourth forward and junior forward Monique Smith the fifth in 2018-19. Brinlee contributed more significant minutes; neither is likely to challenge for a starting job.
  • Sophomore Annie Pavlansky, who had the highest high school average (21 ppg) among KSU’s freshman, and junior Margaux Eibel, a former walk-on, averaged fewer than three minutes in the seven games they played last season.

Guard Jess Wallis, who would have been a senior, is transferring. Center Amanda Sape, who would have been a junior, has left the team to concentrate on academics. Neither contributed significantly last season.

Kent’s three incoming freshman all had excellent senior years in high school and have a good shot at playing significant minutes.

  • Nila Blackford, a 6-1 forward from Manual High School outside Louisville, was a finalist for Miss Basketball in Kentucky. I’m not sure that’s quite as impressive as it sounds. She was regional player of the year, and all 16 regional winners were finalists for Miss Basketball.. But it’s clear than Blackford is an excellent basketball player. She averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds as a senior and looks to be the inside scorer than Barber-Smith never was. When she signed with Kent, Starkey said she could be a power forward or a wing. She tweeted this summer that she had been working on her guard play. She certainly should challenge Poole for playing time at forward.
  • Katie Shumate, a 5-11 guard from Newark High School who was district player of the year for the second straight year. (Ohio has 16 districts, as Kentucky as 16 regions). Shumate was second-team all state for the second year in a row after being first team as a sophomore. She should be a leading challenger for Golden’s spot in the starting lineup. In an interview after Shumate signed with with Kent, Starkey compared her to four-year starter Golden — “only two inches taller.” She led Newark, a high school power coached by her father, J.R., in eight statistical categories as a senior and is in the school’s top 10 all time in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists. Starkey said she’d be the the team’s “most versatile defender from Day One.”
  • Clare Kelly, a 5-8 guard from Olmsted Falls and, according to Starkey, one of the best 3-point shooters in the state. She also was second-team all Ohio in the state’s largest division after being third team as a junior and second team as a sophomore. She averaged 18.5 points last season and scored about 1,500 points in her high school career. It’s not likely she’ll challenge Carter for a starting job, but having a great shooter off the bench could be quite an asset. Carter, Young and Poole are all sold 3-point shooters, but someone in Thall’s league shooting at distance from the other side of the court would be a big offensive weapon.

In November, Starkey called all three incoming freshmen “can’t miss players.”

(I’m working on a detailed rundown of the incoming freshmen’s senior years. It should be posted within a week.)

So here’s the playing roster for 2019-20. (The Flashes also added a promising transfer who will have to sit out next season. More on that later.)

POINT GUARD: 5-4 sophomore Asiah Dingle, 5-1 sophomore Mariah Modkins. 5-7 senior Megan Carter also can play point.

SHOOTING GUARDS AND WINGS (the positions are pretty interchangeable in the KSU system): Carter, 5-10 sophomore Hannah Young, 5-11 freshman Katie Shumate, 5-8 freshman Clare Kelly, 5-11 junior Margaux Eibel and 6-foot sophomore Annie Pavlansky. 6-foot senior Ali Poole and 6-1 freshman Nila Blackford also could play wing.

FORWARD: 6-2 sophomore Lindsay Thall, 6-foot senior Ali Poole, 6-1 freshman Nila Blackford, 6-foot senior Sydney Brinlee, and 5-11 junior Monique Smith.

By class it’s:

FRESHMEN (3): Blackford, Shumate, Kelly.

SOPHOMORES (5): Dingle, Thall, Kelly, Modkins, Pavlansky.

JUNIORS (2): Smith, Eibel.

SENIORS (3): Carter, Poole, Brinlee.

So how good will this team be?

On paper, it looks strong. There is as much scoring returning as any team in the MAC, and potential for even more from Dingle, Thall and Young. The three incoming freshmen averaged a total of 53 points a game in high school.

The Flashes’ strength last season was defense, and they’ve lost all-MAC defensive team member Golden. Barber-Smith was a powerful defensive presence in the post, especially late in the season. The two also were KSU’s top rebounders.

Shumate and Young are likely to be good defenders, but we can’t expect them to fully replace a four-year starter like Golden. Bradford almost certainly will score more than Barber-Smith, but I doubt whether she’ll put up 18 rebounds in a game, which Barber-Smith did three times (with seven more games above 10).

Bradford has more speed and quickness than Barber-Smith, which should fit well with the faster-paced offense Starkey installed last season. She also could be the post scoring threat the Flashes didn’t have last season. Shumate and Kelly were excellent shooters in high school. The three freshmen could help correct Kent State’s shooting problems from last season, when the Flashes were last in the conference in shooting percentage and even worse in two-point percentage (308th of 351 Division I teams). And I’m sure the returning players will be working very hard on their shots this summer and fall.

I would think the team would score more points than last season but probably give up more points, too.

There’s no doubt that next year’s team easily looks capable of another 20-win season.

Can it contend in the MAC? It depends a lot on the rest of the league. MAC powers Central Michigan and Buffalo lost outstanding seniors but still have excellent rosters. Ohio is losing only one starter. Miami has a lot back.

Other schools have good recruiting classes, too. In fact, a service called ASGR Basketball in January ranked KSU’s class only seventh best in the MAC. Of course, the same service ranked KSU eighth the year before, and the Flashes placed two players on the MAC’s all-freshman team and got 44 percent of their scoring from first-year players.

In any event, I’m very much looking forward to the new season.

From 973 freshman points to 231 3-pointers: the numbers that made the 2018-19 season.

Kent State 2018-19 season statistics

A 6-4 transfer from Indiana

The one thing the Flashes need to fill out their roster is another post player who’s a strong rebounder and defender.

They have one. She just can’t play for another year.

Early this month, Starkey announced the signing of transfer Linsey Marchese, a 6-4 center who played at Indiana the last two seasons. She has two years of eligibility left but will sit out the season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Marchese averaged fewer than two points and two rebounds in about 11 minutes a game in both years.

At Archer High School outside Atlanta, she was rated a three-star prospect by ESPN and the No. 14 center in the country in her class. ProspectsNation rated her No. 81 overall in the country. As a junior, she averaged 13.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in Georgia’s top division. (I can’t find senior stats online, but she was on one 10-player all-state team I saw.)

Marchese may be a player who is a better fit at a good mid-major than she was in the Big Ten. She’ll join five other players in KSU’s gifted class of 2022.

Starkey was an assistant at Indiana before becoming KSU head coach three years ago. He wouldn’t have coached Marchese but likely was involved at least somewhat in her recruiting. Marchese is the first transfer from a four-year school in Starkey’s time at Kent State.

Kent State still has one open scholarship, but I think it’s unlikely Starkey is likely to save it for next year’s class.

A commenter on the Flash Fanatics KSU fan bulletin board wrote this about Marchese:

“IU didn’t get her the ball in the post. They were guard scoring team. She is a beast and one of the toughest if not toughest post in the Big Ten.

1,500 pt scorer in high school.. 700 bounds.. Prospect Nation 4 star .. 14th best post (2017) class. i’ve watched this kid. She will score in bunches.. Kent going to have a different look when she is ready to roll.”

I know nothing about the poster; it actually was his or her first comment on the bulletin board. But it sounds nice.

The bulletin board is worth following. Here’s the link. Most comments, as you’d expect, are football and men’s basketball. Most of the women’s basketball posts are by me, with occasional comments from other fans.

Notes

  • Casey Santoro, a rising senior at Bellevue High School who verbally committed to Kent State in February, was first-team all-Ohio and district player of the year for the second year in a row. She’s a 5-4 point guard who averaged about 22 points a game.
  • Kent State posted a team GPA of 3.458 in the spring. Two players had a 4.0 GPA, eight were higher than 3.4.

The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee has recommended several minor rules changes for 2019-20.

  • The shot clock would be reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound or a non-shooting foul in the front court. The move is designed to “enhance the pace of the game…because a full 30-second shot clock is not needed since the offensive team is already in the front court.”
  • After a two-shot technical fouls, the shooting team would get possession of the ball. The ball had been going to the team that would have had possession before the technical.

The committee also recommended a trial of a deeper 3-point arc in next year’s WNIT and other postseason tournaments. The line would be moved to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. That’s about 17 inches farther than the current distance. Any change in regular season games wouldn’t take effect until at least the next season or 2021-22. The chair of the committee admitted the proposal “hasn’t seen a lot of support from the membership,”

The changes still have to be approved by a broader group, but it wasn’t clear from the NCAA release what group that was.

 

 

From 973 freshman points to a record 241 3-pointers: the numbers that added up to Flashes’ 20-13 season

Huddle 424 (1)

The 2018-19 Flashes in the huddle.

It’s crazy late to be writing a season wrap-up, but once the WNIT ended, I had school and family matters that I had put off at end of the season.

So in my annual format, here are numbers that told the story of Kent State’s season.

20 wins

Kent State’s 20-13 record was its first 20-win season in eight years. It was also only their second winning season in that time; both have come in coach Todd Starkey’s three years in Kent. It included KSU’s first postseason win in 23 years, a 64-59 victory over Green Bay in the WNIT.

During the last week of the regular season, Starkey made the case that this year’s team accomplished as much as the 19-13 MAC East champion team his first season. That season — when he coached the same roster that had gone 6-23 the year before and was picked to finish last in the conference — was little short of magic.

But this year’s team was pretty special. It had lost three starters, including Jordan Korinek, one of the best players in KSU history. It had lost 69 percent of its scoring and 65 percent of its minutes played.

Yet the 2018-19 team won seven more games and scored more points than the previous season.

45 percent

Starkey and his staff recruited one of the best freshman classes in school history. Asiah Dingle (13 points per game), Lindsay Thall (10 ppg), Mariah Modkins (3) and Hannah Young (3) scored 45 percent of Kent’s points this season. That was the third highest percentage in the country. (First was Alabama State at 79 percent. Second was Winthrop at 47 percent.)

Dingle and Thall made the MAC all-freshman team, the first time in 11 years any Flash had made the team and the third time more than one player had done so.

The only freshman class in the same category as this one was Bob Lindsay’s first set of recruits in 1990-91. That group included included Tracey Lynn and Kathy Carroll, both of whom went on to be 1,000-point scorers and Michelle Burden, KSU’s all-time leader in assists. Their team, however, won three fewer games than this year’s.

320 points

That’s how many more points redshirt junior Megan Carter scored than she did in 2017-18. Part of that was because Carter missed the first semester that season with academic problems. But Carter was wildly inconsistent her sophomore year. She scored more than 20 points twice, more than 12 eight times — and fewer than 10 points 12 times.

This season she led KSU in scoring in 19 of the team’s 33 games. She scored more than 20 nine times and fewer than 10 just five times. Part of her increased scoring was that Korinek’s 20 points a game weren’t around, but Carter’s consistency was a major factor in KSU’s season.

91 steals and 250 rebounds

Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith, Kent State’s only seniors, had their best seasons.

Golden started for four years, but this season was special. Her 91 steals were the fifth most in school history and highest since 2000. She was among MAC leaders in steals, rebounds, 3-point percentage and minutes played. She led the team in taking 19 charges. After anchoring KSU’s defense for four years, she finally was named to the league’s all-defensive team.

Kent State played its best basketball of the season over its last nine games. Not coincidentally, Barber-Smith played the best of her career then. The 6-4 center averaged 11 rebounds a game over those games and had her first double-double with 20 rebounds and 10 points against Bowling Green. She led the Flashes in rebounding at 7.6 per game despite playing only the sixth highest number of  minutes on the team. Jay Fiorello, the assistant sports communication director for women’s basketball, liked to figure her rebounds per minute: It was 18.04, sixth highest in Division I.

62.5 points per game

That’s how many the Flashes allowed opponents this season and the fewest Kent State has given up since 2010-11.

I remember Starkey saying before the season started that he thought the team would be much improved offensively and would likely have to win some games by simply outscoring the opponent.

It turned out quite the opposite. The Flashes ranked third in the MAC in points allowed, first in field goal defense, first in blocked shots and second in steals. They held opponents under 60 points 14 times and won 13 of those games.

Golden said the team just bought into defense more than in previous years. The Flashes also were more athletic; the quick hands of Dingle and Modkins gave opposing point guards much difficulty.  Golden herself had at least four steals in 12 games. Thall, who showed great defensive timing, led the league in blocked shots. Barber-Smith was fifth in blocks and Golden 25th.

Plus-2.73 in turnovers

Kent State had a positive turnover margin for the first time in at least eight years. Usually, KSU has been near the bottom of the league. This season it was third.

Thank the steals by Golden, Dingle et al. KSU didn’t particular decrease its own turnovers; the Flashes just forced a lot more from their opponents.

241 3-point baskets

That’s a new Kent State team record for a season. Last year the Flashes made 146.

Leading the way was Thall, whose 66 3-pointers were the third highest in Kent State history and second highest for a freshman. She made 40 percent of her shots behind the arc for the season, third in the MAC. In conference games, she made 45.8 percent, more than 4 percentage points ahead of the second-place player and 7 points above the third.

Golden was second in Kent State 3-pointers with 47, Poole third with 46 and Carter fourth with 41. All of those numbers, plus Thall’s, would have led the team in 2017-18.

As a team, Kent State made 32.9 percent of its 3-point shots. In the 13 games the Flashes lost, they made 26.9 percent.

308th in 2-point shooting

Now some less happy numbers.

There are 351 Division I teams. Kent State’s shooting percentage on 2-point baskets was 39.5, which ranked 308th. The national average on 2-pointers was 43.9 percent.

Kent State shot above the national average just three times in 33 games.

How did that happen? The Flashes had no real post threat for high percentage baskets. Forwards Thall, Ali Poole and Barber-Smith averaged fewer than two 2-point baskets a game. Only Thall had a 2-point shooting percentage above the national average, and that was by 0.1 percentage point. She did show more post moves as the season went on, but she was best known as KSU’s top 3-point threat. Poole had played guard until this season. Barber-Smith had never been a scorer, even in high school.

The numbers aren’t available online, but the Flashes missed a ton of layups throughout the season. Dingle’s game, which made a huge difference to the team this season, is based on drives to the basket. But she spent all season learning that if she doesn’t pick her spots well, college players and college defenses can stop her. Lots of other players — guards and forward — struggled within three feet of the basket.

311th in assists

Even less good. Kent State averaged 10.6 assists per game, 311th in Division I. The Flashes had assists on 48.1 percent of their baskets, according to HerHoopStats, an analytics service. That was 316th in the country.

Part of what makes Carter and Dingle good is the ability to create their own shots, but doing so got well out of hand. At point guard, Dingle had an assist/turnover ratio of 0.78. Carter, who played shooting guard and some point, had a ratio of 0.7. Average for all players in the country was 0.82, and guards usually have the best ratios. League champion Central Michigan had a team ratio of 1.25. The league individual leader was Eastern Michigan freshman point guard Jenna Annecchiarico at 2.1. (Dingle also thoroughly outplayed her in two head-to-head matchups.)

Kent State’s passing offense seemed to get better as the season went along, and coaches stressed it on practice. I suspect they’ll be stressing it a lot more over the summer.

Points returning: 83.6 percent

KSU’s top four scorers (Carter, Dingle, Thall and Poole) return next season.

I didn’t have the patience to figure it for all MAC teams, but the only other MAC team close to that has to be Ohio, which also returns four starters plus an injured player who started two years ago.

The Flashes have a great deal to build on for 2019-2020. They had four freshmen among their top eight players this season and three incoming recruits whom Starkey called “can’t miss” prospects when they signed letters of intent.

I will do another post on the outlook for next season, probably in May. (I’m leaving for a two-week vacation on Friday.) But a quick summary:

  • All of that scoring is back.
  • This year’s freshmen should be better.
  • The incoming freshman averaged a total of about 55 point a game in their senior years. 6-foot forward Nila Blackford was first-team all-state in Kentucky and a finalist for the state’s Miss Basketball. 5-9 guard Clare Kelly of Olmsted Falls has a reputation as one of the finest shooters in the state — especially from 3-point distance. Starkey calls 5-11 guard Katie Shumate one of the best defensive and rebounding guards in Ohio. She and Kelly were second-team all-state. Shumate was district player of the year.
  • The team will have all summer to work on shooting and on passing. Remember, much of this team has played together only for a season.
  • Besides improving shooting and assists, the biggest task will be to replace rebounding, where Barber-Smith and Golden led the team.

I’m most definitely looking forward to next season.

Comings and goings and other updates

JUNIOR GUARD JESSICA WALLIS AND SOPHOMORE CENTER AMANDA SAPE have left the team. Wallis is transferring; Sape is dropping off the squad to focus on academics.

Neither played significant minutes in their time at Kent State. Sape had a strong high school record but hurt her shoulder before she she got to Kent. Wallis was a junior college transfer last season and has had a tough collegiate career. Her junior college team was an extremely competitive powerhouse, and she saw little time on the court. At Kent State, she was behind a strong mix of guards.

That leaves the Flashes with two more scholarships available for next season, but Starkey said in a Record-Courier interview that he might hold them until the 2020 recruiting class. He could bring in graduate transfers who would be eligible to play immediately or traditional transfers, who would have to sit out a season. Getting a top-flight high school recruit this late would be unusual; most sign in November.

 

MIAMI COACH MEGAN DUFFY left the school to become head coach at Marquette. She was 44-20 in two seasons with the Redhawks after taking over a program that had finished last in the MAC East in 2016-17. Her replacement is DeUnna Hendrix, who had been head coach at High Point University in North Carolina for seven years. She had a 89-43 record there.

The Miami coaching change was the only one in the MAC. Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack was reported to be a finalist for the head coaching jobs at Penn State and Georgia Tech. She signed a five-year extension with the Bulls today.

 

KSU’s ALEXA GOLDEN AND ALI POOLE were both named to the MAC’S all-academic team.

Golden has a 3.96 GPA in graduate school in sport and recreation management. She earned her bachelor’s degree in just two years at Kent State and will get her master’s degree in May. There are strong rumblings she’ll be back with the women’s team as a graduate assistant next season, when she would start on another graduate degree.

Poole has a 3.73 GPA in biology. It’s her second straight year on the all-academic team and Golden’s third straight. Freshmen and first-year junior college transfers aren’t eligible, nor are players who saw action in fewer than half of their team’s  games. That left KSU with only four eligible players this season.

 

ALLEN MOFF OF THE RECORD-COURIER had a nice season wrap-up story on the women’s team, including lots of quotes from Starkey. Here’s the link.

 

 

WNIT thoughts: 1,200 miles, 1 big win, 1(?) contract extension, 8 points in 38 seconds

carl at the Q (1)

How I spent my 70th birthday: Final regular season game on March 9, then two MAC Tournament games, preview stories on the MAC Tournament, report on post-season MAC honors. Between the tournament games (March 12), I became a septuagenarian. Then wait to see whether Kent State made the WNIT, writing four posts about the selection.

Then fly to Appleton, Wisconsin, with the Kent Stater reporter, rent a car to Green Bay, write a preview and cover the game. When they won, cancel the flight back, switch rental cars to drive eight hours to Indianapolis for the Flashes’ second WNIT game against Butler. The day after the game, crash for a day in Indianapolis, then drive to Cleveland Hopkins, return the rental and reclaim my own car.

Total: 18 stories in 18 days. About 1,200 miles of travel. I’ve been writing professionally since I was 14. This may be a record.

Now I didn’t have to practice basketball every day, nor play five games, nor get up at 3 a.m. to get to Green Bay. So I’m not saying I worked remotely as hard as Kent State’s players and coaches. But they’re not 70, either.

Photo is me at Quicken Loans Arena, taken by Stater sports editor Henry Palattella.

Carl Schierhorn, retired Kent State journalism professor, wbbFlashes writer and editor.

Thoughts from the tournament appearance that brought Kent State its first postseason victory since 1996 and only the second in school history. (First was a 72-68 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament.)

Road warriors

Kent State has played all five of its WNIT games on the road. The three other MAC teams that made the tournament this year all bid for and got home games, something that costs a minimum of $6,500 for the first round. Toledo and Ohio won, and bought a second-round game. The Rockets lost; Ohio won and will host another game Thursday.

Toledo won the WNIT in 2011, paying for and playing every game at home. Bowling Green just missed the NCAA in 2014 and hosted every game until it lost in the quarterfinals.

Best I can tell, Kent State’s bidding for a home game was never under consideration this season.

The Flashes came close to hosting a WNIT game back in 1999, when the Flashes didn’t make the NCAA despite a 22-7 record and an RPI in the mid-30s. But then coach Bob Lindsay turned down a bid from the WNIT because of the snub from the NCAA.

The Kent State men have hosted NIT games in 2000 (win over Rutgers), 2003 (loss to Charleston), 2004 (loss to West Virginia) and 2010 (win over Tulsa).

Attendance at the Green Bay game was announced at 1,269. At Butler, it was 747. Kent State averaged just over 1,000 this season and had 1,323 at its first-round MAC tournament game against Bowling Green this season.

A new contract for Starkey?

KSU coach Todd Starkey ought to be under serious consideration for a contract extension. He’s finishing the third year of the five-year agreement he signed when he became coach in 2016. When he was hired, the university said his salary was “average” for MAC women’s coaches, or in the $200,000 range.

In his three years, he’s gone 52-45 and 29-25 in the MAC. His first team, picked last in the MAC East, won the division, went 19-13 overall and went to the WNIT. He was MAC coach of the year. Last year’s team was 13-19. This year’s was 20-13, went to the WNIT a second time and won its first round game. His first true recruiting class produced two all-MAC freshman team members this season, and next year’s includes an all-state first-team player from Kentucky and two all-state second-team players from Ohio.

Men’s coach Rob Senderoff received an extension and a raise after his team won the MAC Tournament and went to the NCAA two years ago. He also got salary increases for his assistants, something Starkey achieved last summer.

38 seconds, 8 points

I knew there was a big Kent State flurry as it came back from an 13-point deficit against Green Bay in the second half, but I missed this until I read it in the Green Bay Press Gazette.

With 4:39 to go in the game, Kent State trailed 54-47.

Lindsey Thall hit a 3-point basket from the top of the key, one of three 3-pointers she made in the fourth quarter. It made the score 54-50.

While the ball was in the air, Megan Carter was knocked to the floor as she fought for position for a possible rebound. She made both foul shots. 54-52.

After Green Bay missed a shot, Thall grabbed the rebound and fed Asiah Dingle, who pushed the ball up the court and attacked the basket. The defense collapsed, and she passed to Carter, who dropped her only 3-point basket of the game.

55-54 Kent State. 4:01 to go.

Eight points in 38 seconds.

Thirty second later, Dingle stole the ball and again drove to the basket. This time she kicked out to Thall, who hit another 3.

“A lot, a lot,” Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth told the Press Gazette said of the run that changed the game. “But credit to them, they came back. They just kept going at us, going at us, going at us.”

Carter and Borseth

Scott Venci, the Press Gazette reporter, had done his homework. Right after the game was over — before he had even interviewed the Green Bay coach — he asked KSU assistant sports communication director Jay Fiorello to talk with Carter.

It turns out that when Forseth was head coach at the University of Michigan between 2007 and 2012, he had recruited Carter, who starred at Farmington Hills High School in Michigan.

Carter told Venci that she had followed Green Bay after Forseth left the Wolverines to return to Green Bay.

“Just looking online and seeing Green Bay win the tournament or the Horizon League year after year after year,” Carter said. “They have established a winning culture here. This win was tough. You don’t come by road wins, especially in this place, often.”

Forseth had coached at Green Bay from 1998 to 2007, winning or tying for league titles every year and playing in seven NCAA tournaments and two WNITs.

Forseth went 87-73 at Michigan. In his first year, the Wolverines had their first winning season and WNIT tournament appearance in six years; his last team made the NCAA tournament, Michigan’s first time in 12 years. But in five years in the Big Ten, Forseth was 38-48. He resigned in 2012 to go back to Green Bay, saying he wanted to be closer to home.

Back at Green Bay, he’s been 163-33 since and won the Horizon League every year until this season, when the Phoenix finished second by a game to Wright State.

On KSU’s Dingle, whose drives to the basket game Green Bay problems, Forseth said:

“We did a good job in the first half of containing her. (In the second half), she got in, and they hit a couple 3s behind her. The onus was on us on our end of the court.

“We just imploded like two or three possessions in a row, where we turned the ball over. That really hurt. At that point, we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, and we made a couple that hurt us.”

4 minutes, 0 shots

The last four minutes of the first half at Butler essentially ended Kent State’s season.

After Kent State had led through most of the first 14 minutes, the Bulldogs had taken a 17-14 lead. Then they turned on four minutes of defense like I have never seen. Kent never came close to getting a shot off and made seven turnovers. Over the second and beginning of the third quarters, Butler outscored KSU 27-2 and shot 71 percent.

In the reverse of the Green Bay game, Butler guard Whitney Jennings by herself scored seven points in 32 seconds.

“When Butler puts it on you, they really scramble you defensively,” Starkey said.

Butler trailed 6-5 after one quarter. Coach Kurt Godlevske told the Indianapolis Star that the Bulldogs were “giving great effort” but not getting results. After they switched to a trapping half-court defense, Kent State turnovers became Butler points.

“Once that happened, our kids’ energy went way up. They saw the ball go in a couple of times,” Godlevske said. “The next thing you know, you’re making three or four in row.”

Seven in a row, to be exact.

Over the next week or two, I’ll be offering some impressions of the people I met this season, wrapping up the season and looking ahead to next year.