Collision In The Convo! (Blog Post: 1/18/2012)
by SportsTime Ohio's/ESPN Cleveland's Michael Reghi
When a program has won 5 MAC Championships in a 13 season span, under four head coaches no less, as the Kent State Golden Flashes have achieved, one might expect a swagger that allows them to feel equally comfortable in winning MAC games on the road.
With 4 of the next 5 away from the MAC Center, Kent State begins that task tonight, as they look to continue their winning ways in 'The Convo' against Ohio's Bobcats. Steve Mix and I hit the air at 7pm on Sportstime Ohio, as John Groce's squad looks to rebound from losing 2 of their first 3 in MAC East action. The 'Cats tale in a moment.
From Gary Waters, to Stan Heath, to Jim Christian to Geno Ford, Kent State has been the premier basketball program in the MAC since Waters won that first title in 1998. Consider if you will: 12 seasons of 20 plus wins in the 13 years, 5 NCAA Tourney trips, 6 more visits to the NIT, with 306 wins in the span, which is the 18th most in the NCAA over the time frame. Throw in the 169 MAC wins, 28 more then their closest pursuer, Miami, and you have a prodigious resume that continues to flourish. While the names of players and even head coaches change, one ingredient remains a constant..a tough minded approach that is the staple of Kent State's success.
And do it goes with Rob Senderoff. He's been an assistant coach to 3 of the 4 Flashes head coaches mentioned above, 7 seasons total, and now gets his head coaching shot to carry the Kent State banner through the college basketball landscape. His opening act? How about a 70-66 Flashes road win in Morgantown, West Virginia, over Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers! The 'toughness'? Senderoff and his kids grabbed the win although they shot just 36 percent, and hit just 2-12 treys. No small task! It let Kent State followers know 'nothing changes' with the approach that wins, and wins repeatedly for the Flashes. Senderoff a tremendous choice by the Kent State administration.
With head coaches in mind, how about the job Ohio's John Groce has done in Athens? Now a perennial contender in the MAC East, the 'Cats were the MAC's best program in November and December, going 12-2, while winning 9 in a row. They also have created a difficult environment for opponents to play in. Going back to last season, the 'Cats have won 6 straight MAC games in the Convocation Center, while going 17-7 in league play at home overall under Groce. While dialing up defensive pressure, and the ability to turn turnovers into transition points, Ohio allows 62 points per game, down considerably from the 72 points per they allowed a season ago. Point guard excellence from DJ Cooper, who is the ringleader of a defense that leads the MAC with better then 9 steals per game, sets the tempo. Cooper, first in the MAC, with close to 3 steals per game himself, then turns up the heat with the running game, that allows Ohio to string together runs that opponents don't recover from.
Groce stamped his signature on his program in the 2009-2010 season, with Cooper as a freshman, during the MAC Tournament in Cleveland by winning 3 games in three straight days to capture a MAC Championship, punctuated by the throttling of highly regarded Georgetown in the firs round of NCAA Tournament play. How much does that help Groce's ability to get into homes and bring premium young talent into his program? Tremendously! Coming off a tough road loss at Akron last Saturday, and having dropped 2 straight to Kent State at home the past seasons, look for John Groce and Ohio to come at Kent State hard tonight from the onset. In offensive weapons Ivo Baltic, Nick Kellogg, and Walter Offutt joining Cooper, the 'Cats have the firepower to give Kent State's defense plenty of problems.
The winner takes a giant stride toward the top of the MAC East. Very, very crucial to both, and sure to provide plenty of thrills on a cold January evening! Look for all of you tonight at 7pm. on Sportstime Ohio! Don't miss it!