Great programs are able to keep their proverbial head above water during those transitional seasons where all the pertinent pieces simply aren't in place.
That's how you earn 20 or more victories 14 times in 15 seasons, a feat the Kent State men's basketball team accomplished by collecting 21 wins during the 2012-13 campaign, despite losing six of its top eight scorers from the previous season.
"Our goal every season, as long as I'm here coaching, will be to win the league and go to the NCAA Tournament, and in that respect we fell short," said second-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "But while our ultimate goal was not achieved, I think a lot of other goals were achieved. We won over 20 games, won our first road game against a Big Ten school (Nebraska) since (1970), we won at Akron at the end of the regular season, we finished the season 10-4 since Feb. 1.
"When you put that all in context with us having the second-least experienced team in the league, with no Preseason All-MAC players, I think we had a very successful season."
Seniors Chris Evans and Randal Holt deserve the bulk of the credit for keeping the Flashes' ship afloat, especially after a 2-5 start to the MAC campaign.
Evans elevated his play from one season to the next as much as anyone who has ever put on a Kent State uniform. After serving as the team's sixth man in his first year at KSU as a junior-college transfer, Evans was named First Team All-Mid-American Conference this season after leading the Flashes and ranking among the league's top five in scoring (16.3 ppg), rebounding (7.8) and steals (2.0).
Holt bounced back from major off-season knee surgery that kept him out of practice until just days before the season opener to set a single-season record for 3-pointers with 89. He averaged 14.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, while shooting over 39 percent from long range. And like the team as a whole, Holt played his best basketball down the stretch as the condition of his knee steadily improved.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Senderoff does not lose six of his eight top scorers like he did a year ago, but replacing Evans and Holt certainly won't be easy.
"We still lose a lot in those two guys -- in their play, their leadership," said Senderoff. "The immediate concern I have moving forward is our rebounding. Everyone knows Chris was our leading rebounder, but Randal was our second-leading defensive rebounder and was certainly the emotional leader of our team.
"This off-season, we have a lot more players returning and a lot more experience returning, but there's still a void that we're gonna have to fill with the guys we have coming back and through our recruiting."
Senderoff has not held his postseason meetings with each player as of yet, so he is not sure if every underclassman on the roster will return next season. But as of now, the Flashes have 10 players eligible to return along with 6-foot-4 guard K.K. Simmons, who sat out last season after transferring from UNC Wilmington and has two years of eligibility remaining.
"K.K. reminds me of Randal in that he's a real competitive kid," said Senderoff. "I don't know if he'll be able to score and rebound like Randal did, but he's a tough kid. He's like a combo guard; I don't know that he's a true point guard, but he can handle the ball, he can pass, he can play off ball-screens. I think he improved his athleticism this off-season. He's gonna have to continue to work and continue to get better for sure."
While the off-season will be pivotal for every returning player, Senderoff singled out its importance for Kris Brewer.
As a first-year starting point guard Brewer, who will be a junior next season, showed flashes of brilliance, but was also expectedly inconsistent. He wound up averaging 9.2 points and a team-high 2.7 assists per game, while shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range, but also committed 94 turnovers.
"Kris Brewer to me has the potential to be one of the top two or three guards in the league next year, but the key to that is the word potential," said Senderoff. "I would say that as big a jump as Chris Evans made from last year to this year, Kris Brewer made a similar jump from his freshman to sophomore year. Now the question is, how much more can he improve sophomore to junior year? How much does he mature, how much better does he get in this off-season? That's a challenge, because there's no guarantee, just because he's a year older, that he's gonna improve the way that he did from last year to this year. He's gonna have to do that through hard work and commitment and making sure he has a great off-season. But in my mind, he certainly has the potential to be an all-conference player if he does that."
Aside from skill improvement, strength and conditioning will be emphasized during the off-season, as the Flashes look to become a more physically competitive squad.
"The weight room is gonna be huge for (junior forward Mark Henniger) and (freshman forward Khaliq Spicer) -- those two guys in particular, but also (freshman forward) Chris Ortiz and even Kris Brewer. I also need (junior forwards Darren Goodson and Melvin Tabb) and (freshman point guard Kellon Thomas) to get in better shape. Their conditioning level has to improve."
Senderoff is also working on adding some strength, size and scoring punch to his roster through recruiting. Kent State once had a couple of players in the fold, but verbal commitment Jose Rodriquez and the Flashes have mutually agreed to part ways while the status of the other addition is now uncertain.
"We didn't sign anybody (during the early signing period) intentionally," said Senderoff. "We had some kids that we thought about signing and chose not to, because we wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we needed going into the next year. Now I think we have a pretty decent feel. We have two scholarships available, and now we're trying to make sure we're shoring those areas up."
After losing Holt and Evans, Kent State enters the off-season without a bonafide star. Brewer and Goodson (8.3 points) will be the team's top returning scorers, while Goodson (3.7 rpg), Henniger (4.8 points, 3.6 rpg) and Pope (4.8 points, 3.5 rpg) will be the leading rebounders. Obviously, those mediocre numbers will need to increase for the Flashes to make what has become their annual run at the MAC title in 2013-14.
"Our guys returning certainly have a big challenge ahead of them for sure," said Senderoff. "We'll have a four-week plan when they get back from spring break, then they'll be off for a little bit, then we'll have an eight-week summer plan for those guys. Everyone of them will be here during the summer to work on the things they need to work on to get better. I need those guys' production to step up."