2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Kent State Golden Flashes

MAC First-Team forward Jimmy Hall is back to lead an experienced and talented fromt court for Kent State, but losses in the back court may lead to some trouble for the Golden Flashes in 2015-16.
MAC First-Team forward Jimmy Hall is back to lead an experienced and talented front court for Kent State, but losses in the back court may lead to some trouble for the Golden Flashes in 2015-16.

Heading into the 2015-16 season, the MAC could be one of the better conferences to follow this year. With Central Michigan returning its top nine (9!) scorers from last year, and Buffalo star Justin Moss being dismissed from the program, there are plenty of story lines surrounding the top teams in the conference.

One team that hasn’t got a lot of attention so far is the co-defending champion in the MAC – East Division. The Kent State Golden Flashes went 12 – 6 last year in conference play, tying Buffalo for the East Division title. This season, they lose a bit of talent, but return their fair share in other spots that should allow for them to remain near the top of the standings.

How will Kent State overcome their losses? How will their transfer players fit into the puzzle this season?

Take a scroll down to see what the Kent State Golden Flashes will have to offer in the 2015-16 season.

Who’s Missing

The Kent State Golden Flashes finished atop the MAC – East Division standings in 2014-15, thanks in large part to having talent equally divided between the back court and the front court. Heading into 2015-16, the Golden Flashes will be relying on “new” faces in the back court, as they say adios to the guards who logged the majority of the minutes played by guards last season.

Devareaux Manley, Derek Jackson, and Kris Brewer are all gone from last year’s team. All three players appeared in at least 34 games, and averaged 29 minutes per game or more for the Golden Flashes. They also accounted for 223 of the team’s 250 made three point field goals on the year, leaving a big hole in terms of both minutes played and overall offensive production.

Manley was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2014-15, averaging 13.5 points per contest, to go along with 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. Jackson came in third on the team’s scoring list, averaging 10.6 points per game to go along with 3.2 rebounds and a team-high 3.4 assists per game. Lastly, Brewer tied Jackson for third in scoring, with 10.6 points of his own and 2.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest.

The impact that these three players had on the team last season is rather obvious. They were three of the team’s top four scorers, accounting for over 50% of the team’s total offensive production (52.5%). Each player shot at least 36% fro the floor on the year, with Jackson topping out at 41.9%.

Losing the top three guards from your back court is something that is never easy to overcome, for any team for that matter. The Golden Flashes will have to rely on the play of their forwards to lead the way in 2015-16.

Who’s Returning

With over half of their offensive production on the way out in the way of their top three point shooters, the Kent State Golden Flashes will need to find new go-to options on the offensive end this season. Luckily for coach Rob Senderoff, Kent State returns the main players in the front court, which could alleviate some of the pressure off the newcomers in the back court.

All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall is back to lead the way, alongside fellow forwards Khaliq Spicer and Chris Ortiz. All three players averaged at least 22 minutes per game last season, and will be leaned upon heavily this season to lead the team.

The name that people will know the most by the end of the season is junior forward Jimmy Hall. The 6’7” forward is widely considered one of the best players in the MAC, and for good reason. In 30 games last season, Hall averaged 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, both of which were team highs. This season, Hall will look to duplicate his performance from last season, helping to lead the Golden Flashes to another strong finish in the MAC – East Division. If he can improve his shooting range, and make more jumpers away from the basket, he can take his game to another level.

Joining Hall in the front court are fellow forwards Chris Ortiz and Khaliq Spicer. Both Ortiz and Spicer appeared in all 35 games last season for Kent State, with Ortiz making 22 starts and Spicer making 33. Both should be regulars in the starting lineups again this season, and for good reason. The 6’9” Spicer averaged 5.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game a season ago, and he also recorded a team-high 53 blocks. The 6’8” Ortiz chipped in with 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds of his own, respectively.

Now, the forwards for Kent State won’t overwhelm you with their size. With the three listed above coming at 6’9” and 6’8”, and not weighing over 235 pounds, they need to be creative against bigger forwards. Their talent is where they can win games, and if Hall and/or Ortiz are able to enhance their shooting range and stretch out opposing defenses, the entire team will improve.

In the back court, Kellon Thomas is back and ready to step into a bigger role with the team. After just playing 8 games a season ago due to a season-ending injury, the 5’11” guard is healthy and should step in and be the team’s starting point guard. Cornell graduate transfer Galal Cancer could also be in the mix for the starting point guard position.

Maine-transfer Xavier Pollard is eligible this season, and will look to provide a spark on the offensive end for Kent State. As a junior at Maine in 2013-14, Pollard averaged 14.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per contest. After sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, Pollard is ready to be a leader for the Golden Flashes and could be one of the team’s top scorers in 2015-16.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Kellon Thomas (JR)

Guard: Xavier Pollard (SR)

Forward: Chris Ortiz (SR)

Forward: Jimmy Hall (JR)

Forward: Khaliq Spicer (SR)

Schedule Notes

Coming off a 23 – 12 record overall last season, and a 12 – 4 record on their home floor, the Golden Flashes are hoping for another strong showing in 2015-16. Fortunately for Kent State, three of their first four games are on their home floor, where they excelled last season.

They open the season with two re-matches from last year. They take on the Youngstown State Penguins at home to open the season on November 14th, then go on the road to take on Southern Illinois four days later. The Golden Flashes knocked off both the Penguins and Salukis last year, and are hoping to repeat history this season.

After a trip to  Carbondale, IL, the Golden Flashes return home to take on Marist and Saint Francis (PA) inside the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center. With the talent that Kent State returns in 2015-16, there’s no reason why the team can’t start the year a perfect 4 – 0.

Then, it’s a three-game road trip in advance of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. The Golden Flashes will pay visits to Pittsburgh, Cleveland State, and N.J.I.T. to close out November and start December. The Highlanders will arguably be their toughest test, with the talent they have returning after their own strong showing last season. Pittsburgh will give Kent State a great opportunity to score a marquee win over a Power Five program.

It’s back home for two un-bracketed games in the Las Vegas Classic against Louisiana-Monroe and Canisius before the Golden Flashes head off to Las Vegas for the main draw. In the opening game, Kent State will get another opportunity for a marquee win when they take on the SMU Mustangs. Depending on their result in their opener, they will take on either Penn State or Colorado in the final game.

From there, it’s another re-match from last season, this time on the road against North Carolina A&T. Then, it’s home to close out non-conference action against Oberlin College. These two games should allow for Kent State to enter MAC play on the heels of two wins, giving them positive momentum moving forwards.

While their non-conference slate has some challenging games on it, the Kent State Golden Flashes have plenty of opportunities to score plenty of wins and enter MAC play with a rather impressive record.

Kent State hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 200, when they lost to UNLV in the opening round. They put up a strong regular season a year ago, but couldn’t translate that into a berth in the big dance. Fans are hoping that this year will be the year their tournament drought comes to an end.

Losing their top three guards will be something tough to overcome, and their success will likely hinge on the play of the newly-formed back court. Their forwards are all talented, so it’ll come down to how well the new guards can mesh as a unit, and how well the team can mesh as a whole. The early-season games, with three of four at home, will give us a good idea of what to expect from Kent State in 2015-16.

– T.B.