Five reasons why KSU will or won’t win

Chris Gates

Ask any player or coach and they’ll tell you this year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament is different. If any team can win a championship, it’s this year.

Kent State is right in the race, with a quarterfinal game against Buffalo at 2:30 p.m. today. The Flashes are in unfamiliar territory, though, missing a first-round bye for the first time since byes were instituted in 2000.

After beating Northern Illinois on Tuesday, it will take three wins in three days for Kent State to earn a MAC title and clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the other seven teams still alive in the MAC Tournament, the Flashes have strengths that could propel them to victory and weaknesses that could end their season. Here’s a look at five of each that will come in to play as the tournament continues:

Five reasons why the men will win the MAC Tournament:

1. Brandon Parks. The junior center has played in spurts all year, but he is now playing some of the best basketball of his career. If he can continue to give the Flashes quality minutes in the post, just as he has in the past two games, he might be the difference.

2. Tyree Evans. He shoots 40 percent from 3-point range and is an 82 percent free-throw shooter. The junior guard is also an underrated defender who forces steals and occasionally pulls down some big rebounds. If it’s close late in the game, Evans could be the guy on either end of the floor.

3. Home-court advantage. Sure, the games are played at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, but Kent State coach Geno Ford said the fan support in the first round was part of the difference in the game. Also, Kent State is now 19-5 since the tournament moved to the “Q.”

4. No one’s hotter. With their win in the first round of the MAC Tournament, the Flashes have won 11 of their last 13 games. No one in the MAC is anywhere near as hot over that same span.

5. Al Fisher. If there’s anyone in the conference who is going to step up and hit a shot with the game on the line, it’s him. Fisher is the most dangerous player in the MAC when he wants to be.

Five reasons why the men will lose the MAC Tournament:

1. Foul trouble. Kent State players fouled out four times in the final three games of the regular season – senior forward Julian Sullinger and Fisher fouled out once, while junior guard Chris Singletary fouled out twice and was ejected once. Having to win three games in three days, the Flashes can’t afford to have anyone miss time.

2. The dominant MAC East. Of the eight teams remaining in the MAC Tournament after Tuesday’s first round, six are from the MAC East. The Flashes did no better than split the season series with each of their divisional opponents. To win the tournament, they will have to win at least two more games against MAC East opponents.

3. Rebounding. This is one of Ford’s biggest areas of concern. Either the Flashes control the boards or they are dominated on the boards. Buffalo, their next opponent, pulled down 34 offensive rebounds in the two meetings between the teams during the regular season. If any area needs to be fixed, and quick, it’s rebounding.

4. Free-throw shooting. Kent State has consistently struggled to rack up free points at the line, shooting 65 percent as a team. Only senior guard Al Fisher and junior guard Tyree Evans shoot over 80 percent. With the game on the line, that could be trouble.

5. Offensive post production. The Flashes have gotten erratic production down low all season. During the first-round game against Northern Illinois, Kent State’s forwards combined for just 16 of the team’s 64 points. With the upper seeds all having dominant threats in the paint, the forwards have to perform to the best of their ability.

Contact principal sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].