For the second year in a row, the Kent State men’s basketball team enters the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The Flashes (21-10, 12-4 MAC) face Buffalo (18-12, 8-8 MAC) Thursday at the Quicken Loans Arena at 7 p.m.
As the MAC Regular Season Champions, Kent State earned a first-round bye, which Geno Ford, Kent State coach, said will benefit the team in two ways.
“Number one: it guarantees you get to Cleveland. That’s the most important thing,” Ford said. “Number two: we’re a team that plays a lot of guys who are young, and a lot of them are thin and athletic. They need to be as fresh as possible. Obviously, you don’t want to win more games than you need to get to the championship.”
Senior guard Rod Sherman, who is heading to the MAC Tournament for the third time in his career, said he knows how important it is for players to rest physically and prepare mentally before playing in a game like this.
His experience has left his younger teammates seeking him out for advice.
“(Junior guard Carlton Guyton) asked me the other day, and I said you just have to compete,” Sherman explained. “You can’t be worried about anything else but what we’re focused on. Even if you’re going through something, just lay it out on the court.”
Ford said he has been encouraging the younger players to confide in Sherman, junior forward Justin Greene and sophomore guard Randal Holt, who are the only Flashes to play in a MAC Tournament before.
“In the end, they have to feel it out for themselves,” Ford said. “I know they want to play well, so that won’t be an issue. It’ll just be if they can play well.”
With the NBA arena and pressures of the tournament factoring in, it’s obvious why some players would be a little nervous.
But if they play nervous, it could send the Flashes out of the one-and-done tournament and back to Kent.
“This is a one-game season right here,” Sherman said. “That little bitty slip-up could cost us the game. We need to have the ‘I’m not gonna lose’ mentality because we could go home that same day, and I don’t want to go home the same day.”
Ford said that to keep the Flashes from repeating history and leaving after their first game, the team needs luck and attention to detail.
Even with a first-round bye, the team did not have much time between the March 4 Akron game and the first game of the tournament.
“There’s very little time to absorb a scouting report,” Ford said. “Hopefully, our schedule getting crazy down the stretch with five games in 10 days and going on that extended road trip in February will help us be more prepared for three games in a row.”
Sherman said he feels like the players and coaches are well-prepared for what awaits them in Cleveland, and everyone only has one agenda — to win.
While the MAC Regular Season Champions do pose a threat to their competition — especially after winning four post-season awards — Ford said they are not a shoo-in to win it all.
But that does not mean they are not confident.
“Fortunately, the guys in our locker room and our coaches think we’re good enough to win,” Ford said. “We’re expecting to go up and play well and cut the nets down on Saturday.”
Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected]