Non-conference is a non-joke

Douglas Gulasy

A trip to Kansas heads a difficult pre-MAC season

Kent State men’s basketball coach Geno Ford knows the non-conference schedule will test his team this season.

Of the Flashes’ 14 non-conference games this season, five will be against teams that made postseason appearances last season- including the defending national champion- and four of those will be away from the M.A.C. Center.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Ford said. “There’s just not going to be a night where we can really just show up and win. We didn’t play a super-easy schedule a year ago, but it was certainly easier than the one we’ve got right now.”

The Flashes have won 20-plus games for 10 straight seasons and are one of seven programs in the country to currently have that streak. However, Ford said he didn’t want to schedule easy wins just to keep the run going.

“The 20-win streak is great (and) we definitely want to keep it going,” he said. “With that being said, there’s not a guy in our office or in our locker room that wouldn’t take 19 wins if it meant a (Mid-American Conference) championship. Twenty is not really a magic number to the players or the coaches.”

Ford said the schedule “certainly doesn’t help me sleep at night,” and no stretch should make him toss and turn more than the four games the Flashes will play from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4.

Kent State will begin that six-day stretch with two games at the South Padre Island Classic in South Padre Island, Texas. The Flashes will play Illinois of the Big Ten in the first game of the tournament and will meet either Texas A&M or Tulsa in the second round. Both Texas A&M and Tulsa made postseason play last season, with Texas A&M advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and Tulsa winning the College

Basketball Invitational.

The Flashes will play at defending national champion Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., the day after their game with either Texas A&M or Tulsa. The game against the Jayhawks will be played in legendary Allen Fieldhouse, and players are looking forward to playing in that environment.

“It’s a great experience, something you can cherish for the rest of your life (and) something you can tell your kids about,” junior guard Chris Singletary said. “But at the same time, we’ve just got to come out and play, just like any

other game.”

Singletary said after unsuccessful trips to Duke and North Carolina the past two years, the Flashes will be looking to get a big win

over Kansas.

The four-game stretch will conclude with a game against St. Mary’s on Dec. 4 at the M.A.C. Center. The game is a rematch of arguably the Flashes’ biggest victory last season, a 65-57 road win over the Gaels in the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster.

In that game, senior guard Al Fisher had a coming-out party by scoring 28 points, and senior guard Jordan Mincy shut down St. Mary’s star guard Patty Mills, now a sophomore. Mills played for Australia in the Olympics this summer and scored 20 points against Team USA, but Mincy held him to five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“Patty Mills is an exceptional player,” Mincy said. “He did some great things this summer in the Olympics, but, yeah, (I’m) looking forward to playing against him again and playing against his team again.”

While those four games highlight the non-conference schedule, Ford said the entire slate was designed to give the Flashes a better chance at a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We really tried to go out and put a schedule together where we have a chance for an at-large bid in spite of a couple losses,” Ford said. ” … What we did with this schedule was (say), ‘OK, maybe we’re not giving our kids as many opportunities for marquee wins – instead of having four or five, trying to get us to the point where we have seven (or) eight games.”

Despite the schedule giving the Flashes a better chance at getting an at-large bid, the players say their main focus is still winning the MAC and getting the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We don’t really (ever) look forward to getting an at-large or anything like that,” Singletary said. “We always just look forward to playing hard in the conference and winning the conference tournament. We don’t want to have somebody else dictate what we do – we can control our own destiny.”

Contact assistant sports editor Douglas Gulasy at [email protected].