Avoiding UMass the right move

Matt Goul

For now, Jim Christian’s best position is the one he holds.

In case you didn’t hear, the Kent State coach was in line for the vacant Massachusetts job since filled by Eastern Kentucky’s Travis Ford. Christian was briefly hovering around the top of UMass’ list for a new coach during spring break, drawing attention from national media. He withdrew himself from contention for the job about a week ago.

Smart move.

Christian’s potential prosperity at Kent State next season can greatly overshadow what success rebuilding the Minutemen may have. The job could be tempting for any up-and-coming coach, though. Four of UMass’ top six players are sophomores from a team that went 16-12. Kent State, meanwhile, loses only senior guard Jason Edwin from a 20-13 team. It was a team fighting its inexperience all season to become the seventh straight Kent State squad to reach 20 wins.

Finding any reasons an eighth straight season of 20 wins can’t be obtained is difficult. The Flashes’ time in the talent-heavy East side of the Mid-American Conference may be the only quandary more difficult. Ohio’s run through the MAC tournament has established itself as an early juggernaut. Akron will be there, too, building from its 19-win season. The Zips mustered themselves to the feat without leading rebounder and scoring presence Jeremiah Wood. Only a sophomore, he’ll be back.

But we all know how much preseason hype means — especially in the MAC. Zilch! Toledo was this season’s preseason favorite but fell far short. The year before, Northern Illinois was the MAC’s preseason favorite and stumbled to the bottom of the conference. Ohio and Akron have more talent on their side, but the pattern has yet to break.

Kent State has been the one constant.

Kent State has just as much back as the Bobcats or the Zips. Captivated by freshman Leon Williams presence inside for Ohio? Try Jay Youngblood’s acrobatics down the baseline, giving Kent State its own version of showtime. Tantalized by Ohio freshman Jeremy Fears? Kent State freshman Marcus Crenshaw plays without much fear, either.

Ohio, and all its youth, has grabbed expectations. That will only help a conference squabbling over another season of getting only one team in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s not forget about the two schools separated by about 15 miles, south of Cleveland.

Particularly the one east of Akron with a coach not going to UMass. Christian has the tools to break past three seasons of 20 wins and not much more.

Youngblood scored a career-high 29 points in the Flashes’ National Invitation Tournament loss at Western Kentucky, giving himself momentum to build from going into his second season in blue and gold. DeAndre Haynes can still be the premier point guard in the MAC. He showed it before this season. He just won’t have the preseason accolades of Fears, or anyone who catches some hype.

But, as history shows, that means nothing.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].