Three factors heading into Kent State’s MAC opener at Bowling Green

Senior forward Philip Whittington (25) shoots a layup during Kent State’s 77-53 win over Stetson on Nov. 30, 2019. He finished with a season-high 16 points, with 12 points coming in the second half.

Ian Kreider

*Originally posted Jan. 2, 2020

Kent State enters conference play with 10 wins for the second straight season. After a 9-1 start, the Flashes dropped two of four games, including a 96-68 loss at Mississippi State on Dec. 30. With Mid-American Conference play starting tomorrow, here are some statistics and trends that could have long-lasting implications on Kent State’s season.

1. Foul trouble for seniors Philip Whittington and Antonio Williams have already limited Kent State in two of its losses this season, and it could continue.

In both losses prior to Mississippi State, Whittington fouled out, playing an average of 19 minutes per game, while attempting nine shots total. He was the only Kent State player named to the preseason All-MAC team (link). His rebounding and inside score have been invaluable for the Flashes, but foul trouble has limited his impact at times. In games where he commits less than four fouls, he averages 12.6 points per game, nearly a three point increase from games where he commits four or more fouls.

Williams’ first season at Kent State was plagued by foul trouble. He committed four or more fouls 13 times in 33 games last season. He played mostly off the ball until an injury to senior guard and the national leader in turnover/assist ratio, Jalen Avery. 

The change in role gave Williams a taste for what his role would be this season. So far, his team-high four assists per game ranks seventh in the MAC. It’s an increase from his 2.6 assists per game mark last season. 

Although Williams’ 1.8  assist/turnover ratio is far from Avery’s nation-leading 5.1 mark from last season, he still operates an offense, which includes four other players whose scoring averages lie in the double digits. Williams himself averages 13.3 points per game, while shooting 51.3 percent. 

The Flashes are 1-1 in games where Williams finishes with four or more fouls. His ability to create shots for teammates off of drives to the rim opens the entire offense for his teammates. Freshman guard Giovanni Santiago has shown signs with several impressive passes and pure point guard court vision, but inconsistencies shooting the ball and defensively have kept him on the bench for long stretches.

2. Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts and senior guard Troy Simons need to spread the floor with their ability to shoot 3-pointers at a high rate.

Simons ranks in the top-5 in the MAC in 3-point shooting percentage (40.8 percent), while Roberts makes 35 percent of his attempts. 

Their ability to catch-and-shoot, pull up or dribble drive opens up limitless possibilities for an offense that can look stagnate in half-court sets. 

The Flashes are 3-1 this season when Roberts make at least one 3-pointer. That win total increases to 10-2 when Simons hits two or more 3-pointers.

If they can consistently knock down open outside shots, Kent State could finish with one of the most efficient offenses in the MAC, but if they both struggle as they did against Ohio State, then the Flashes will go long stretches without scoring.

3. Junior forward Danny Pippen will need to stay consistently aggressive on both ends of the floor for Kent State to be successful in conference play.

Pippen’s scored in double digits in 12 of 13 games this season, while making a pre-MAC play career-high 28 3-pointers. His ability to spread the floor makes room for Whittington, Williams, Roberts and Simons to operate. The pick-and-roll into a pick-and-fade option that he can run with the guards is a unique element that was missed last season. 

His ability to block and alter shots limits opposing drives and helps the Flashes get out in transition. Kent State averaged 13.6 points per game via fast break this season. They are 8-1 in games when they score 13 fast break points or more in a game. 

Pippen’s averaging over 2.3 blocks per game (second in the MAC), despite not having a multi-block game since Dec. 16 against U.C. Irvine. 

Kent State opens MAC play Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. at Bowling Green.