I assume a lot of you (like me) have followed the Golden Flashes' season.
There have been some highs (like their seven-point loss at Duke, three-point loss at Butler and home win against Ohio) and some terrible lows (like their home loss to Youngstown State and road defeats to Cleveland State and Texas A&M - Corpus Christi).
At the end of last season, I wrote you probably saw the last Kent State win over Akron for a while. I stand by that. In this blog entry, I'll explain who has stepped in for the Flashes' four departed seniors, what the team does well and how they struggle...
Who plays? Without Jay Youngblood, DeAndre Haynes, Nate Gerwig and Kevin Warzynski, Kent State hoped to have offensive leaders by this time of the year. Do they? Not really.
Senior guard Omni Smith may have emerged as coach Jim Christian's go-to player during the team's win over Ohio on Saturday. The 6-3 Smith, who overcame great family problems to wind up in Division I, averages 15.1 points per game. He has some character issues to show for his rough upbringing. The team suspended him from two games for violating team rules earlier this season. Since then, however, Christian said Smith has worked harder.
Guard Armon Gates and 6-foot-7 forwards Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance all average about 10 points per game. You need to defend Gates closely on the perimeter because of his shooting ability, coach Keith Dambrot said in his weekly press conference. Quaintance, this week's MAC East Player of the Week, transferred from Jacksonville University and is playing his first year at KSU. Like Smith, Quaintance also has clashed with Christian.
Rodriguez Sherman, a freshman guard, is the fifth starter and has so-so statistics this season. He was the second-best point guard in Indiana when he came out of high school. Sherman shares time with promising sophomore Jordan Mincy.
Other bench players include underclassmen Chris Singletary, Julian Sullinger, Isaac Knight and Mike McKee.
What do they do well? Defense, for one. Christian loves to use his quick guards to trap opponents into turnovers. The Flashes almost fought back at Miami doing just that. They will prey upon a lot of young point guards and sloppy ball handlers this season. KSU forces 18.9 turnovers, which is most in the MAC. The team also has a slight advantage in steals over Akron, the second-best in that category.
KSU's half-court defense is also pretty solid. They beat Ohio by holding the hot-shooting Bobcats to just 30 percent in the second half. This season, they have held their opponents to 45.1 percent shooting, fourth-lowest in the conference.
Although I predicted a mediocre season from Kent State, I knew they would find an identity with such a great coach and historic program. Defense is that identity.
What don't they do well? Shooting is the main problem for this team. Historically, it has been a strength at KSU.
Since Quaintance gets a lot of easy buckets in the post, the team's field goal percentage isn't bad. Still, Gates is the only player who Akron needs to worry about beyond the arc. The Flashes also are atrocious at the foul line, shooting a conference-worst 64.4 percent. KSU is in the bottom half of the MAC at 34.1 percent on 3-pointers.
Kent State also is only a marginal rebounding team. Quaintance, Scott and Gates grab a lot of loose balls for their size, but aside from them, finding someone to clean the boards is tricky. Blame the Flashes' lack of height. A few 6-7 guys are as tall as Christian's rotation gets.
Overall The Zips match up great against Kent State. Dambrot knows how to get through traps. Having a senior point guard with a terrific assist-to-turnover ratio is a plus. Akron's defense also has shut down slashers this season. Their main problems have come in the post, where Kent State could find marginal success on Wednesday.
I will make my prediction Wednesday, but I am inclined to say the line should be Akron minus 12.
Until then, I welcome any of the Kent State fans to leave a comment about the upcoming game or shoot me an e-mail.