Men’s basketball releases 2017-18 non-conference schedule

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The Kent State Men’s Basketball team holds the the MAC Championship trophy after beating Akron 70-65 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday, March 11, 2017. Kent State punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Cameron Hoover

The defending Mid-American Conference Tournament champion Kent State Flashes men’s basketball team released its non-conference schedule for the 2017-18 season. Four of the opponents are Division I schools coming off of postseason runs, and the schedule also includes a visit from Pac-12 doormat Oregon State University and a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Xavier University Musketeers at the Cintas Center.

To open the season, the Flashes will participate in the Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Doubleheader, a local college basketball showcase, which raises funds for the American Cancer Society. In this year’s iteration of the event, coach Rob Senderoff’s Flashes will take on the Youngstown State Penguins at Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena on Saturday, November 11. The Flashes have won its last eight meetings with Youngstown State, dating back to 2007.

This will be the first game at the helm for new Penguins coach Jerrod Calhoun, who will look to senior guard Cameron Morse (22.9 ppg in 2016-17) to shoulder most of the scoring load.

After that opener, Kent State will tip off its home schedule in a matchup with Ohio Christian University of the NAIA’s River States Conference. The Trailblazers made a run to the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Division I National Championship game before being derailed by Colorado Christian.

The next four games are a part of the Savannah Invitational, two of which are at home at the M.A.C. Center, against the SWAC’s Mississippi Valley State (7-25 last season, including a 93-63 loss to Kent State) and the Southland Conference’s Southeastern Louisiana University (16-16 last season). After these two games at home, the Flashes will travel south to Georgia for the remainder of the tournament to be played at the Savannah Civic Center against the Missouri Valley Conference’s Valparaiso and Loyola University Chicago.

After the completion of the Savannah Invitational, the Flashes will face a tough task on the road in Virginia as they travel to clash with Norfolk State. Coach Robert Jones’s Spartans stormed back from a woeful start to last season to finish 17-17 (12-4 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), winning 14 of their final 16 games before being knocked out of their conference tournament by North Carolina Central in the title game. The Spartans lost their leading scorer, Jonathan Wade (19.4 ppg), but this matchup could prove to be a challenge for a Flashes team that lost its leading scorer as well.

Next up on the docket are northeast Ohio rivals Cleveland State. The Flashes and the Vikings met up during last year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Doubleheader, with Kent State narrowly seeking out a 79-74 win in overtime behind now-departed forward Jimmy Hall’s monstrous double-double (19 points and 18 rebounds). 

Coach Chris Mack’s Musketeers (24-14, 9-9 last season) will go up against the Flashes in non-conference play during the upcoming season. Guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura led Xavier to a deep NCAA Tournament run as an 11 seed, knocking off Maryland, Florida State and number one seed Arizona before being run off the court by Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. But if Coach Senderoff and the Flashes want to make some waves around college basketball, there aren’t many better ways than an upset on a Big East powerhouse’s home floor.

Following that are two more games at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, and vs. Northeastern, before the Flashes welcome Oregon State to the M.A.C. Center.

The Beavers’ visit is the first time in 40 years that a team from a “power five” conference visited Kent State for a game.

“We’re excited to bring Oregon State to Kent, but unfortunately it will be when our students are not on campus,” Senderoff told Kent State Athletics. “It’s imperative that our community as well as all students who can make it back to campus rally around this game. We haven’t had a Power Five conference school visit the M.A.C. Center in almost 40 years, and we need to show them how much we support college basketball here in Kent, Ohio.”

A visit from a Power five school (from either the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12) can be a crucial way for a mid-major university to get a foothold in the world of college basketball. And the best news for the Flashes is that they have a legitimate shot at winning this one.

The two teams faced off last year at Oregon State, which ended in a 69-50 drubbing in favor of the Beavers. The Flashes shot just 27.6 percent from the field in that loss, including an abysmal 4.2 percent from three.

Coach Wayne Tinkle’s squad finished last season 5-27, including 1-17 in conference play without winning a single road game all season long. Even though the Beavers are getting one of their best players, star forward Tres Tinkle, back after his 2016-17 season was cut short due to a broken right wrist, they still have much to sort out before any win can be guaranteed. A victory here against a Pac-12 opponent could be a triumph for Coach Senderoff, Kent State and mid-majors everywhere.

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]