These days, any ACC preview is structured about the same: Duke, North Carolina, and everybody else. For the MAC it's starting to get to the point where — and this could be Northeast Ohio bias — it's Kent State, Akron, and everybody else. With good reason, obviously: the two teams battled all year and Kent State emerged as the regular-season victors, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, but Akron motored its way through the MAC Tournament, knocking off their rivaled Golden Flashes in the MAC Championship Game, and made the NCAAs. But KSU may have laughed last, getting into the NIT quarterfinals and bringing home hardware for Justin Greene, the MAC Player of the Year.
This year the team lost a couple key pieces, and maybe some writers are just huge on Akron at this juncture because they won a wild conference tournament an have some big strong tall men. But with what they bring back, and how they've remained at the top for many moons, it's KSU as regular season favorites until someone else says otherwise.
If any team keeps reloading in the MAC, let it be Kent State. As the conference is trying to push through a competitive nadir, the Golden Flashes have won 20 games in 12 of their last 13 seasons. (That one season? 19 wins.) That stretch has spanned four head coaches, from Gary Waters, Stan Heath, Jim Christian and Geno Ford. And now they'll try to add a fifth coach, finding continuity in only the wins and losses if the man strolling the sidelines changes nametags and they persist with this fussy NCAA rule that players can't be with the program forever.
The fifth man is Rob Senderoff, whose erring ways I've briefly chronicled already. He goofed at Indiana, he's still paying for it, but he can still coach. He's in a great position to claim another regular-season title, given that Ford, who followed the scent of money to Bradley, is the program's biggest loss. The other one is Rodriquez Sherman. Everybody else (other than reserve forward Darius Leonard, who transferred to Campbell) is back for another crack at this.
And that's scary. Sherman was a team leader and their second-best player, but the depth at guard will not cause KSU to miss him all too much — except perhaps for dunks like this:
Not sure if anyone on the team can go cross-court for a game-winning dunk, but they do have shooters. First on the list is Carlton Guyton, 40 percent accurate on threes and smart with the ball. Michael Porrini doesn't have a great shot but he's going to be that hustle-type guard who comes up with momentum-shifting plays and, shall we say "clutchy" baskets. Filling out the bench will probably be Randal Holt, another good shooter and promising sophomore Eric Gaines. I don't know how much time freshman Devereaux Manley will have this year, seeing as how he was a last-minute scholarship find after Jarekious Bradley was let go following an arrest. And Tulsa transfer Bryson Pope must wait a year.
Which brings us to the frontcourt, which might be even stronger. It begins with the two Justins — Justin Greene, the defending MAC POY and Justin Manns, a true center. Greene has a polished post game and ultimately takes high-percentage shots. Manns has a long 6'11" frame who can rebound every bit as much as Greene, as well as guard some of the bigger fellas in nonconference games. Filling out the reserve minutes will probably be incoming JUCO transfer Chris Evans, the tall Mark Henniger and the versatile Robert "Scooter" Johnson. I'm not sure how much we'll see from Rutgers transfer Patrick Jackson or Brian Frank, but if they need some additional depth they have it. Justin Brunswick can't play this year due to his transfer from Idaho State.
Kent St. Golden Flashes Basketball Roster
They get their first stab to make a national ranking run with a Tuesday, November 15 opener at West Virginia. The rest of their nonconference looks pretty promising, in terms of quality wins: Cleveland State, Morehead State, UAB, James Madison, and an ultimate test at Utah State. They are fortunate to draw WMU and Ball State as home games, so there is a bit of fortunate alignment toward them winning another 20 games — possibly scraping the underbelly of a 25-win season. Hopefully a final round against Akron doesn't sully that yet again.