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UMKC off to fast start, weathering Martez Harrison suspension

But the Roos ceiling is considerably higher with their star point guard.

NCAA Basketball: UMKC at Iowa
Kareem Richardson and UMKC are off to a fast start.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t supposed to work like this.

When a star goes down, the team is supposed to struggle. Especially when that team is as seemingly tied to its star as UMKC is to former WAC POY Martez Harrison.

But with the senior guard suspended indefinitely for violating “athletics department policy,” the Roos have continued winning. By beating SEMO and resurgent South Dakota without Harrison, UMKC moved to 6-2, its best start since 2001-02.

LaVell Boyd has stepped up with Harrison sidelined. The senior guard - playing slightly out of position as a distributor - had 24 points and seven assists against SEMO, and then closed out the Coyotes with seven points over the final 80 seconds of a tight game.

His coach has seen a new player emerge.

““He’s a lot more [confident]. I thought that started in the middle of the year last year. It took a while to get gelled playing with Martez [Harrison], but from that point on he’s been a very confident player,” Kareem Richardson said in an email media release.

Boyd (19.1 PPG, 3.6 APG), along with Broderick Robinson, Kyle Steward and Isaiah Ross, has helped the Roos pick up solid wins against Bowling Green and Murray State, in addition to South Dakota. And for whatever it’s worth, a seven point loss at Creighton to open the season is the Bluejays’ smallest margin of victory to this point.

This all comes on the heels of a contract extension Richardson received over the summer.

“I think it’s funny, even as a coach the game slows down a little bit, the decision-making slows down, and you see things [differently]. I’ve grown in these three-plus years as well,” Richardson said.

He added that there was “no timeline whatsoever” for Harrison’s return.

With or without him, the Roos will be a guard-oriented, smaller team that will need to win with an efficient offense that, to this point, has been deadly from three (43.9 percent on 187 attempts).

Will that be enough to compete in a WAC that seems as deep as it has been in its current setup?

According to Boyd, it might be too early to think about that.

“It’s a great feeling. This being my last year and to start the season the way we’ve started it, that’s big for the entire program. We have a lot more big games coming up, so if we knock off a couple more big teams then we’ll be a scare for the WAC,” he said in the same release.

UMKC travels to South Dakota State Saturday in a game that looks much more winnable now than it did a month ago. The Jackrabbits have struggled in T.J. Otzelberger’s inaugural season, and shouldn’t be able to exploit the Roos’ struggles on the glass.

Games also loom at Kansas, West Virginia and Mississippi State (who UMKC knocked off last season).

No matter the opponent, the Harrison situation will be the burning question until it’s not. Things have gone well so far without him, but his return puts UMKC in good position to compete for its first postseason appearance since becoming a Div. I program.

Making that kind of history is a little heavier than a 6-2 start.