Philip Botta © 2012
The leaves have fallen, the Halloween celebrations have passed and the calendar has turned to November, which means it’s time for college basketball.
While Kent State basks in the euphoria of the football team’s 8-1 record, the basketball Flashes open the 2012-13 season at 7 p.m. Friday in the M.A.C. Center versus Drexel.
The Flashes have just one returning starter in guard Randal Holt, and last season’s sixth man, Chris Evans. Seven new faces will put on Kent State uniforms for a regular season game for the first time Friday when Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff leads his team onto the court.
Here are five points to help fans get familiar with the 2012-13 Kent State basketball team.
1. Fresh Flashes
Bryson Pope, a 6-foot-7-inch guard, transferred to Kent State after two seasons at Tulsa and, due to NCAA transfer rules, was forced to sit out the 2011-12 season. Pope did get to practice with the team last season and is acclimated with the system.
Junior forward Melvin Tabb transferred after one season at Midland College in Texas. Tabb was ranked as the No. 74 prospect coming out of high school and played at Wake Forest during his freshman season of 2010-11, but his guilty plea to theft charges resulted in his removal from the team. All charges were dismissed after he completed a diversion program, and he has been quoted as saying, “It was a lesson learned.” Standing at 6-foot-9, Tabb brings much-needed size to the Flashes’ front court and will likely see an adequate amount of playing time.
Chris Ortiz is the freshman most likely to have the biggest effect on the team this season. The 6-foot-8 forward has a sense of body control and athleticism about him that gives him a higher ceiling than most incoming freshmen. Ortiz scored two points and grabbed six rebounds in the Flashes’ exhibition victory against Rochester, but look for him to improve as the season continues.
The 5-foot-11 Kellon Thomas wowed the crowd in the dunk contest at Kent State’s preseason showcase with a two-handed, 360-degree slam. Basketball is much more than dunks, but this guard’s athleticism should give him an advantage.
2. Carrying the load
Evans was best known in 2011-12 for his acrobatic dunks and his role as the team’s best option off the bench. His role this season will be much different.
Evans will have to shoulder much of the weight offensively for Kent State. With Holt’s status still in question for the first few games of the season, this will be especially true. Evans scored 24 points in the exhibition win against Rochester and was clearly the Flashes’ best scoring option.
“He’s going to have to carry a lot,” Senderoff said. “Right now, Chris Evans has proven to some degree that he can score in a lot of different ways. I have some other guys that I think are capable of doing more. You’ll add Randal into the equation, which obviously Randal has proven he can score a little bit.”
Holt underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee during the offseason and just returned to practice last week.
3. MACC Advantage (schedule break down)
The Flashes have a favorable schedule for their young roster early in the season, with the first five games all at home — but the level of opponent is not a walk in the park.
Drexel finished 2011-12 with a 29-7 record, a Colonial Athletic Association regular season title and two wins in the National Invitational Tournament before falling to Massachusetts in the semifinals. Drexel returns four of five starters from last season, and presents a major challenge to Kent State.
“We’ve got a lot to do to fix because Drexel is enormous,” Senderoff said. “The most physical team we’ll play all year is Drexel.”
4. Running the point
Pope is also one of three players who will be expected, at least at the start of the season, to run the offense at the point guard position. At 6-foot-7, Pope doesn’t look the part of a traditional point guard, which could give him an advantage on the court and could also make him a versatile member of the roster.
He looked a little unsure during the Flashes’ 77-71 exhibition victory against Rochester, but that could easily be attributed to nerves, seeing as it was his first game action in more than a year.
“[Pope] hasn’t played in over a year,” Senderoff said, “ … so maybe that has something to do with it, maybe I’m trying to have him do too much. I’m sure there’s a combination of things … I have confidence in Bryson and I just have higher expectations than how he played [Sunday] for sure.”
5. Conference outlook
The young Flashes will face staunch, experienced MAC East division opponents in Ohio and Akron. Ohio was selected by the conference’s coaches as the team to beat in the MAC this season, and in the first edition of Bracketology by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Bobcats are the lone conference representative in the NCAA Tournament.
Contact Nick Shook at [email protected]