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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2011-12 Kent State men's basketball preview

Rob Senderoff doesn’t plan on allowing himself the pleasure of looking around for even a few seconds to breathe in the atmosphere of his first game as a Division I head men’s basketball coach.
If he did, he may have a hard time imagining a better way to start — his Kent State team taking on West Virginia on national television as part of ESPN’s 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon.
A few feet away from Senderoff’s seat, legendary color man Bill Raftery will talk about the Flashes’ defense with his familiar “starting out in man-to-man” call. 
And on the opposite bench, that will be Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins standing there.
This will be a whole world away from opening up against North Carolina Central, as Geno Ford did in his KSU coaching debut in 2008, or Urbana — the team Jim Christian mollywhopped by 60 points in his first game on the Flashes’ sidelines back in 2002.
But who wants that cakewalk? If you want to realize a lifelong dream to take on the pressure-cooker job of a Division I head coach, why not throw yourself right into the fire?
“I actually think I’ll look around and say, ‘Wow this is pretty cool,’ but for our guys,” said Senderoff, thinking of seniors Justin Greene, Michael Porrini, Carlton Guyton and Justin Manns. “It’s cool for them to start their senior year on national TV against West Virginia. I think it’s pretty cool for the guys, not for Rob Senderoff. You think about all of the work they’ve put in their entire life. 
“This is their last year and we do have a team that came off of a lot of wins last season. To get a chance to play one of the premier teams in the Big East year in and year out on the first day ESPN is doing their whole deal, that’s special for them.”
Senderoff may be cutting his teeth as a head coach, but he’ll do it with a roster of players that should not be overwhelmed by the big-game atmosphere and the ESPN cameras. 
For most of the Flashes, this game is basically an extension of last season when they made a run to the NIT by beating Saint Mary’s and Fairfield on the road before nearly upsetting Colorado in the quarterfinals. All of those games were televised by the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”
This team may even be prepared for the unusual 10 a.m. start considering it opened the 2010-11 season by playing Robert Morris in a morning game as part of last year’s ESPN marathon. 
But are the Flashes ready for West Virginia? 
“We are going to find out,” said Senderoff. “This is a pretty good first test.”
The Flashes have high expectations for 2011-12. Their experienced roster has been buoyed by a promising recruiting class that includes junior-college All-American Chris Evans.
And while West Virginia may be a traditional Big East power, this year’s Mountaineers are in a bit of a rebuilding phase with two freshman starters and a total of five first-year players in their eight-man rotation. Even the ninth and 10th men on Huggins’ roster are freshmen.
Of course, the Mountaineers’ three lone veterans — senior power forward Kevin Jones, burly 260-pound junior center Deniz Kilicli and senior shooting guard Darryl Bryant — are among the best the Flashes will face all season. 
West Virginia’s strength is in its bigs. Both the 6-foot-8 Jones and the 6-9 Kilicli are dangerous around the basket. They can also step out on the perimeter and hit open shots — Kilicli with range to 17 feet and Jones capable of stepping out to the arc.
The Flashes can counter with some size of their own. Greene is still KSU’s go-to man in the post after averaging 15.4 points per game last season. The 6-8 forward has a stronger cast of supporting characters to turn to when the Flashes decide to play inside-out. After a year in the spotlight, Greene should be even more prepared to be the focal point of opposing defenses.
Senderoff is also expecting bigger things from the 6-11 Manns, who won the starting job next to Greene with his work in practice during the last two weeks. Manns is rebounding and defending better than ever, according to the coach, and he could be a key to this morning’s upset hopes.
In all, the Flashes return nine players from last year’s 25-win team, including four starters, the MAC’s Player of the Year in Greene, the Defensive Player of the Year in Porrini at point guard, and the Sixth Man of the Year in Guyton, who now starts on the wing. The Flashes have enough experience to expect to at least play with the Mountaineers. And at best they would love to follow Akron’s win over Mississippi State last week and Cleveland State’s win over Vanderbilt by adding to Northeast Ohio’s string of road wins to open the new season.
“Our guys won’t be intimidated, I don’t think,” said Senderoff. “If West Virginia beats us, it’s going to be because West Virginia played better than us, not because we were overwhelmed with the moment or the atmosphere.”
Senderoff expects to open the season with Michael Porrini starting at the point, Randal Holt at the two, Carlton Guyton at the three, Justin Greene at the four and Justin Manns at the five.
But Eric Gaines and Chris Evans could end up playing starter-type minutes as the first two off the bench at the start of the year.
“With the way Eric Gaines and Chris Evans have played in practice and in the scrimmages and exhibitions, I’m not going to say we have seven starters necessarily, but those two guys are certainly worthy of starting,” said Senderoff. “I would expect them to play major minutes, and then there is the next group of Marc (Henniger), Pat (Jackson), Dev (Manley) Kris (Brewer) who is coming back from injury and Scooter (Johnson) who is also coming back from injury. The two who are coming back from injury have to work their way back.”

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