Kent State’s men’s basketball team is hoping to continue its late-season roll with an upset in this week’s NCAA tournament. The Flashes will make their first March Madness appearance since 2008.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says this Kent team really had to dig deep to get to this big moment:
Kent State earned its berth
Pluto says Kent won four games in six days to win the MAC Tournament.
First, they came back from 14 points down to beat Central Michigan. Then, they beat two-time defending MAC Tournament champions Buffalo; then Ohio University and then the University of Akron in the finals.
"The MAC tournament is set up to reward the team playing the best at the end of the season," Pluto says. Kent won nine of their last 10 games of the season. Eight of those games they were trailing at halftime."
Building on a big win
Kent State had a big win on the road against Texas in December that seemed to be the blueprint for a late-season surge.
“I thought Texas would blow them out. Kent ends up winning that game. And then they went into the Dumpster for a month. All of the sudden, they remembered how they played at Texas and turned it around.”
“When I look at rosters where there’s a number of transfers, I look at the coach and see if any of these kids are going to graduate. Rob Senderoff says in his six years, he’s had 19 seniors and all of them have graduated." And Pluto says Senderoff's three seniors this year should, too.
"But one thing when you bring in kids from different schools, you’re really having to put it together quickly and coach them. And they did. When it mattered most, they played their best."
No. 14 Kent State will play No. 3 UCLA Friday night. The Bruins are averaging 90 points a game, and "I would say at least three NBA-caliber players are on the roster," Pluto says. And they’re playing in Sacramento, Calif. “Not quite a home game, but close.”
But, anything could happen.
“If they play like they did in Texas in December, and UCLA takes them for granted, you could have an upset."
Two successful coaches
Following their loss to Kent State in the finals, Ohio.com reported Akron coach Keith Dambrot turned down an offer to coach at South Florida University. He's turned down other jobs in the past.
“It shows that Akron is doing the right thing to keep a really good coach and that the MAC has enough power to keep Dambrot in Akron."
"Meanwhile, [Rob] Senderoff was able to get his program back up to finally knock off Akron in one of these big games."