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Just Saying: Who are you, Kent State?

NCAA Basketball: Kent State at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Senderoff teams at Kent State have made their mark. In Senderoff’s sixth season, the Flashes have yet to have a losing campaign.

The program has been on good footing since the late 1990’s, when Gary Waters brought it to relevance.

Senderoff’s time has been successful, but the program has yet to show it can reach the top. Hs 2014-2015 team was his most impressive on-court product with the emergence of Jimmy Hall, coupled with some tremendous talent in backcourt. It was a group that namely could really fill it up with four double-digit scorers and a strong core of guards.

Fast-forward to now, a day removed from a win over a floundering but talented Texas Longhorns squad. Winning in Austin is undoubtedly impressive and noteworthy, and could prove to be the type of win to propel the Flashes forward into conference play Jan. 3 when Kent hosts Ball State.

That game could set the tone for both teams, as both are likely to compete for their divisional crowns.

Ball State stands the better chance of being atop the West than Kent the East, but there are a number of reasons to think that this Flashes bunch has the potential to succeed and make a long-awaited MAC title run at Quicken Loans Arena in March.

A 10-6 record in 2011-2012 was only good for 4th in a loaded MAC East. With 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 came third and fifth places finishes in the East. A first place finish for Kent in 2014-2015 still resulted in an exit and unrealized potential for a super-talented group. Last year, Senderoff’s group stepped back and understandably so after the loss Kris Brewer, Devareaux Manley and Derek Jackson.

Talented sophomore Jaylin Walker (he’s averaging 14.5 points per game) demonstrated his athleticism on national television in the win over Texas with several eye-popping displays. No, he’s not going to fill it up from deep and Kent is certainly still missing that compliment to the inside presence of Jimmy Hall, but Deon Edwin and others are contributing enough to make this an intriguing bunch. At the moment, eight Flashes are averaging between 3.8 and 5.8 points per game.

Hoards of guys are getting meaningful playing time and rotations are frequent. The Flashes boast 11 players who average at least 9.9 minutes played per game.

Kent, known for being strong rebounders and showing that effort on the offensive glass, grabbed 22 offensive boards against Texas. While Hall’a 11.2 rebounds per game makes him top 10 in the country in that respect, Kent is pulling down 18.1 offensive rebounds per game.

That’s best in the nation by 1.8 boards (as of Wednesday afternoon).

Kent’s 44.4 rebounds per contest is good for seventh in the nation.

Gauging the wins and losses

After starting the year 3-0, consecutive losses to South Dakota and George Mason don’t look all that bad. Both were single-digit losses to teams with winning records with George Mason coming on particularly strong as of late. A 3-point loss to a Northeastern team that defeated Michigan State, Vermont, and Oakland is sandwiched between KSU wins over Wofford, Grambling and NJIT. Losses to Wright State and Oregon State were a but more discouraging.

But after the loss on the road in Corvallis, this Texas win sure is something to behold.

The Flashes didn’t light up the basket or scorch the nets (their shooting from deep was abysmal). Kent also turned the ball over 21 times. The Flashes just managed to outrebound a large, athletic Big 12 team 55-34. Kent eliminated the extra chances on missed Longhorn shots that normally would doom a lesser team on the road.

So here the Flashes sit 8-5 heading into MAC play. They’re looking up at Akron and Ohio, as has been the case several times in Senderoff’s tenure. Whether Kent’s whacky formula of none-too-pretty basketball finally pushes them ahead of arguably underachieving bunches of Zips and Bobcats is yet to be seen.

Something in me wants to see those three programs go at each other’s throats for the Number 1 seed for the MAC tourney.

The winning formula for Kent has to be developed over the first few weeks of MAC play, and that’s just one reason to be excited for the start of 2017. Mid-American Conference league play is nearly upon us, (and don’t you dare ever say MAC Conference play).

Kent doesn’t have the type of starting talent that some half of the conference has, but it’s a bunch that gets enough contributions from throughout the roster to turn heads.

A week into the new year after games against Ball State and Ohio, maybe we’ll have a better idea of where the Flashes stand.