Two seasons ago the Kent State men’s basketball team traveled to the Wolstein Center and were beaten by an underdog Cleveland State team, snapping a seven-game winning streak against the Vikings.
The game was just one of thirteen out-of-conference games (they were 7-6 after those games) that left much speculation as to whether Kent State’s run of 20-win seasons would come to an end. By the end of the season, the Flashes were overachieving and contending in a 21-11 season.
Other than the Cleveland State game, the 2006-2007 season brings up an interesting parallel to this year’s squad, which I lightly touched on in Saturday’s paper. Let’s go a bit deeper.
Chris Singletary and Rodriquez Sherman were both in their true freshman season and playing meaningful minutes as starters. Mike McKee and Brandon Parks, although rarely used until this year, were both red-shirt freshman.
Haminn Quaintance was in his first season and struggled learning the system. Q could look brilliant in spurts for the Flashes during that year, but could not be a major contributor because of his lack of knowledge of the system.
Former coach Jim Christian would bring Q off the bench and used his great athleticism in a way that was non-threatening to the team. Q would play six to eight minutes (he averaged 21 a game) and then sit down before he could make costly mistakes. The next year, with a stronger grasp of KSU style basketball, Q was a dominant force for entire games.
That year Christian used the inexperience to the best of its abilities and, well, faked it all the way to a 21-11 season. He brought seniors Armon Gates and Omni Smith, his two best offensive weapons, off the bench as scorers and energizers. Everyone who was around that team knew it had over achieved a bit.
Christian’s squad relied on that trademark KSU hustle and defense and scored just enough to win. (They scored 68.6 points a game and held opponents to 62.4). They also played as a cohesive unit.
This season, Ford is trying to implement six new players into his system with mixed results. Really you could stretch that number to seven, as Parks has never played meaningful minutes until now.
That is more than half the roster, as well as the coach, adjusting to the offensive and defensive schemes, the intensity that comes with KSU’s style of basketball and the target that the Golden Flashes carry on their backs as the premiere team in the Mid-American Conference.
Ford is left with the same fundamental question that Christian answered in 2006-2007: How will Kent State salvage this season and right the ship heading into conference play?
To Ford’s benefit, this year’s team is much more athletically gifted than that team of two seasons ago. Al Fisher and Tyree Evans possess prolific scoring abilities that Smith could only dream of. No disrespect to Smith, who was no slouch offensively. Smith dropped 33 on Duke, which is a feat that speaks for itself.
Singletary, who has grown up from that freshman season, has become a powerful guard, who will get some NBA looks a scout told me last year.
But, unlike the Smith and Gates run offense, one has to question whether there are enough basketballs to go around for this team. Evans, Fisher, Singletary, Rashad Woods, and now Parks are all viable offensive options who look to score when the touch the ball.
Ford denies that there is any type selfishness going on with his team and made clear that it was not a problem, but as the offense continues to sputter one has to wonder.
Fisher and Singletary have already combined to jack up 43 percent of the team’s field goals this season. Evans, in just two games, trails McKee by 11 shots attempts. McKee has played in all 11 games.
Woods seems to be out of the equation as Ford has sent him to the end of the bench. On a side note, am I the only one who gets SoundGarden’s “Black Hole Sun” echoing through my head every time he enters a game? Pass the ball for once!
In order for this team to turn around its season Evans, Fisher and Singletary must find a way to coexist and distribute the basketball a little bit better.
The Golden Flashes must also figure out a way to pick up the intensity on both ends of the court.
Too many times our offensive output has dictated our overall effort, Ford said after the recent beat down by Cleveland State.
While Kent State is scoring more (averaging 71.4 PPG) the defensive effort just doesn’t seem to be there (allowing (70.9 PPG). For a program that has been built as a toughness and defense, this is unacceptable.
As the 2006-2007 team showed, there is plenty of time to turn this season around. After all, Kent State plays in the atrocious Mid-American Conference. But as Ford said at Cleveland State:
”We have a lot of issues right now.”
Whether they win 20 games this season is truly up to them.
Side note: The headline of Saturday's story doesn't deliver the message of what the story is about. I feel the headline "Flashes' shot at 20 wins is fading fast" was unfair. Although they are struggling, They have plenty of time to turn it around.