Column: As reigning MAC champs, KSU begins play Saturday

Sean Ammerman

Since 1999, men’s basketball has been the bread and butter for Kent State sports fans looking to see respect on a national level.

The Flashes have posted at least 20 wins in each of those last eight seasons, which has in turn led to eight straight postseason births (two in the NCAA tournament, six in the NIT tournament).

Kent State will begin its quest to go nine straight in both of those categories when it starts the regular season Friday at the SportsTime Ohio BCA Classic, an eight-team tournament in Columbus.

Its first test will be South Dakota State, an independent team coming off its second losing season in 16 years.

While the Jackrabbits have an experienced coach, Scott Nagy, and could pan out to be a formidable opponent, it’s hard not to look ahead to another team the Flashes could face in the tournament – the No. 7 nationally ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

If Kent State wins its match-ups on Friday and Saturday, on Sunday it will most likely face what The Associated Press preseason poll has as its highest-ranked regular-season opponent.

The Buckeyes would also have to win their first two games, but that should be a cakewalk for a team many consider to be a national title contender.

No doubt, Kent State coach Jim Christian sees this tournament as an opportunity to play a powerhouse college program.

But the question is if this team can contend.

Kent State’s unprecedented Mid-American Conference success was guided by three different coaches, who were subsequently recognized at a more national level.

Two of those coaches, Gary Waters and Stan Heath, were lured away by greener professional pastures to coach other teams.

Christian has also been courted by other universities – most notably Nebraska and Massachusetts. But in an off-season deal, Kent State secured him until 2013, thus ensuring a bright immediate future.

Last season’s MAC Coach of the Year has continued the success of his predecessors adequately. Along with MAC Player of the Year, DeAndre Haynes, he took his team to the NCAA tournament.

But while the athletic department can sign coaches, it can’t sign players, and as a result, the team lost Haynes and three other seniors.

In addition to losing experienced players, the Flashes lack a strong physical presence. The only center on their squad is 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman Brandon Parks.

On paper, it looks like that streak of success could be in jeopardy this season. The MAC coaches seemed to have thought this when they picked them to finish in the middle of the MAC East.

But Kent State is not a team to take lightly. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in speed and athletic ability.

Ohio State may have set up this tournament as an excuse to warm up against easy teams, but if it faces Kent State, one can expect to see a host of young Flashes eager to prove themselves.

Contact assistant sports editor Sean Ammerman at [email protected].