<
>

Team preview: Kent State

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Here's the Kent State Way: Win a bunch of games. Watch your head coach leave for greener pastures. Hire the next coach from the Kent State tree. Win a bunch more games. Repeat.

Rob Senderoff became the latest beneficiary of this not-so-vicious cycle in April. After Geno Ford moved on to Bradley, Kent State didn't waste much time handing Senderoff his first head-coaching job. Considering he has been coaching for the Golden Flashes since 2002 -- save a brief, ill-fated stint with Kelvin Sampson at Indiana -- it makes all the sense in the world.

"I'm fortunate that they chose to stay the same route," Senderoff said.

Senderoff knows the players and knows the culture, which means he's well aware of the expectations. No matter who the coach might be (or whether he has been a head coach before), he's expected to win a bunch of games. Even the other MAC East coaches believe Kent State merits the favorite's tag this winter.

Kent State Golden Flashes

"Why wouldn't they say that?" Senderoff said with a laugh. "I already have people around here thinking that."

Because Senderoff and his staff are connected to Ford and Jim Christian and Stan Heath and Gary Waters, don't expect the Kent State Way to change much. "There are some core qualities that have helped our program sustain a high level," Senderoff said. "We'll play pretty much the same way -- maybe a tweak either way."

PLAYERS

Perhaps more importantly, the Golden Flashes will play with pretty much the same players that won the MAC's regular-season title and defeated Saint Mary's and Fairfield on the road to reach the NIT quarterfinals. Kent State lost just one regular: Versatile guard Rodriquez Sherman (12.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg).

While Sherman is a big loss, Kent State somehow must muddle through with four senior starters -- the program's biggest senior class since the 2002 team that rolled all the way to the NCAA's Elite Eight.

The senior quartet features 2011 MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene (15.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg), 2011 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Porrini (10. 1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.3 apg), 2011 MAC Sixth Man of the Year Carlton Guyton (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and starting center Justin Manns (4.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Not a bad place from which to start.

The 6-8, 230-pound Greene might be the league's top returning player, but Senderoff sent him into the offseason understanding that he hasn't hit his ceiling. "I don't know if he'd agree with me, but he wore down toward the end of the year," Senderoff said. "As a sophomore, he got better as the season wore on.

"What changed? I think last year was the first time in his entire life that he was the go-to guy. Defenses focused on him. I think this offseason the key to his development is conditioning and fighting through fatigue -- making sure he's in the best shape he's ever been in. That will determine how many minutes he'll play. I hope to play him every minute."

Senderoff doesn't worry about the 6-2, 200-pound Porrini's effort level -- "Mike is the heart and soul of our team," he said -- but he frets over Porrini's knees. The point guard spent most of his summer rehabbing instead of working on his game. While that means Porrini didn't get to work on his shot -- he hit 40 percent overall and 28 percent on three-pointers last season -- Senderoff believes he's the type of guy who hits shots when the chips are down. "He's a really tough, competitive kid," he said. "He's the emotional leader. Our team feeds off him."

Guyton, better known as "Scooty," provided a remarkably similar stat line to Sherman last season. Between his ability to hit threes -- he made 55 and shot at a 40 percent clip -- and his ability to slash to the basket, the 6-4 Guyton could be the Golden Flash who scores more this season. "In my estimation, he was as good offensively as any guard in the conference," Senderoff said. "He's as dynamic a guard as we've had since I've been here. He put in a lot of work on his game. I think he could have a big jump."

Manns, meanwhile, made his biggest gains in the weight room. Before heading to Europe to play for five games with the Global Sports Academy, the 6-11 Manns added 10 pounds to become a more muscular 230. Senderoff thinks the shot-blocker's confidence has blossomed with the additional weight as well as his strong finish to last season (8.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg in the final five games). "He was a real difference-maker down the stretch," Senderoff said. "He played really well in the NIT."

Not only does Kent State boast four terrific seniors, there are three similarly talented juniors who'll be crucial parts of the rotation. Six-foot-1 combo guard Randal Holt (9.9 ppg, 66 three-pointers) joined the starting lineup in December and became the team's primary bomber. Senderoff saw other parts of Holt's game blossom once he moved into the lineup but wants that trend to continue. "His thing is just becoming as well-rounded a player as he can be," he said. "We need him to be well rounded."

Combo forward Patrick Jackson (6-6, 210) sat out last season after transferring from Rutgers, where he averaged 2.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 10.9 minutes in 2009-10. He showed during last year's practices that he should be able to fill a niche for the Golden Flashes. "He's a physical freak," Senderoff said. "He's as big and strong and as good an athlete as we've had here, but the consistency of his effort could improve. He should be a great offensive rebounder. He can defend multiple positions."

Then there's junior forward Chris Evans (6-7, 210), who earned first-team junior-college All-America honors while averaging 19.5 points and 8.2 boards for Wabash Valley (Ill.) Junior College. Kent State tried to get the Virginia native out of high school, but he opted for a brief stint at Coastal Carolina. If Evans proves he has the strength to guard MAC power forwards, he gives Senderoff a lot of options.

"He's a really good athlete," Senderoff said. "He can play multiple positions, and being interchangeable is an important attribute for the way we play. He can post a little bit, score on the perimeter a little bit."

Senderoff intends to play nine or 10 guys in his rotation, which means there's room for his three sophomores and two freshmen if they deliver what he needs. Six-foot-4, 180-pound sophomore guard Eric Gaines (3.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg) seems a shoo-in after averaging 16.9 minutes last season. "Last year, he was a defensive specialist," Senderoff said. "After the season, he worked as hard as anyone on improving his jump shot. He can disrupt the one, two, three and four spots [defensively], but he's capable of doing more."

Sophomore forwards Mark Henniger (1.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg) and Robert Johnson (1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg) hope to play double-digit minutes this season. Henniger, who spent a lot of time in the weight room with Manns, could be the first backup for Greene and Manns. The multi-dimensional Johnson dealt with knee problems as a freshman. "He had a disappointing year," Senderoff said. "He has to find where his niche is. He scores in the post, but he's not really a post player. He can contribute outside."

Freshman guard Kris Brewer (6-4, 185), a Memphis native who spent his final high school year at Brehm Prep in Carbondale, Ill., was a three-star prospect according to ESPN.com. He's an athletic combo guard. After freshman guard Jarekious Bradley wound up going the JUCO route, Kent State added 6-4, 195-pound guard Devareaux Manley in August. The Oakland, Calif., native kept impressing Senderoff on the summertime AAU circuit. "We thought he could help us in a lot of ways," he said. "We're hoping we found a diamond in the rough."

Kent State's final scholarship belongs to Tulsa transfer Bryson Pope (6-6, 220), but the junior guard must sit out this season. He made 21 starts and averaged 6.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the Golden Hurricane in 2010-11, so he figures to make an impact next season.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A-

BENCH/DEPTH: B

FRONTCOURT: B+

INTANGIBLES: B+

Though Kent State has won at least 20 games in 12 of the last 13 seasons, it hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2008. That's an eon for the Flashes. To prepare for March this season, Senderoff put together a schedule that begins with a trip to West Virginia. The Golden Flashes visit Utah State and James Madison while welcoming UAB, St. Peter's, Cleveland State and Morehead State.

"The conference is the best it has been in at least the last seven years," Senderoff said. "I think we can be very good -- and still not win the league."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.