Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: Kent State

Travis Taylor will play a key role in Xavier's matchup against Kent State. - Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

It seems like it has been a long time since the Golden Flashes were in the NCAA tournament, but those glory days are actually less than half a decade in the rearview. Working with their third coach in that time frame, what will Kent State look like when they come to Xavier this December?

It wasn't that long ago that Kent State was making the NCAA tournament in two out of three years from the MAC. That was under Coach Jim Christian, who left for TCU after entering the tournament as a nine seed in 2008. Geno Ford's tenure ended after three years and no tournament appearances, and now it is up to Coach Rob Senderoff, who is going into his second year at Kent State this season.

Senderoff will be trying to return the Golden Flashes to relative prominence this season on the back of a roster with significant turnover from last season. The team got a boost this September, though, in the form of a visit from President Obama. While the commander-in-chief won't be suiting up for Kent State this season, it's a unique honor to have him swing by and speak to the members of the program.

When: 4:00pm on Sunday 12/9/12
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
TV: FOX Sports Ohio

Coach/style:
Rob Senderoff was an assistant under Geno Smith for three seasons before replacing him last year. It's hard to say too much about a coach with just one season to judge him by, but Kent State played up-tempo, aggressive ball last season. They were in the top 100 in possessions per game, and they forced turnovers on 23.7% of their opponents' possessions, good for 23rd in the country.

The boards were a problem for Kent State; they were just above average pulling down their own misses, but they were in the bottom 100 in the country in defending the glass. The team's offense was just above average in the country, owing largely to assists on almost 60% of their buckets, good for a top 50 finish.

Departures:
Justin Greene - a 6'8" forward - was the core of the team last year, boasting 14.0/6.8/1.5 on a .494/.000/.725 shooting line while throwing in just over a steal and almost a block per game. Second guard Carlton Guyton was a volume scorer, putting up 9.9/2.7/3.6 on .395/.321/.773 shooting. He partially redeemed his questionable shot selection by assisting more than 1 in every 5 buckets his teammates scored when he was on the floor.

Point guard Michael Porrini led the team in assists and was second in rebounding with a game line of 8.9/5.0/4.8. His shooting was nothing to write home about, but his assist rate was elite and he grabbed almost two steals per game. Forwards Justin Manns and Patrick Jackson combined for 8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game off of the bench. Guard Eric Gaines and his 4.3 PPG departed the program for undisclosed reasons.

Returnees:
Guard Randal Holt is far and away the best returning Golden Flash, throwing up 12.7/2.4/2.6 on .435/.386/.813 shooting while adding almost two steals per game. He also committed a mere 1.5 fouls per forty minutes play. That three-point percentage didn't come cheaply; he banged home 73 last year. Holt is recovering from off-season knee surgery but is on track to be ready to begin the season. Lanky forward Chris Evans put up 9.5/4.1/0.7 on a shooting line of .543/.274/.723. He also blocked a shot a game and rebounded almost 10% of his team's misses when he was on the court. The program returns no other significant pieces.

Incoming players:
Transfer Bryson Pope is a 6'7" forward who posted 6.3/2.9/2.3 two seasons ago in Tulsa and figures to challenge for a starting spot right away. Center Kaliq Spencer is a 6'9", 190 pound freshman who plays with energy at both ends of the floor. His length and athletic ability are pluses, but he needs to add some bulk. Freshman PF Chris Ortiz has emerged as a leader in the preseason practices, flourishing in the open court attack of Kent State, but he needs to continue to polish his half-court game. PG Kellon Thomas is another player who prefers to run, attacking the rim with his head up. He is a strong passer who needs to add a better jump shot to round out his game. At 5'11", his height is (obviously) not elite.

JuCo transfer Darren Goodson is a 6'4", 240 pound forward who has elite strength and a mature post game despite his modest height. He put up 17 and 6 as a freshman at Pensacola State College. Melvin Tabb is a 6'8", 245 pound Wake Forest transfer who put up 1.6 and 2.0 in his time as a Demon Deacon.

Outlook:
Kent State will be facing a lot of turnover from their team last year, but key returnees Holt and Evans give them a chance to have some continuity in place right away. They don't look to be too bad of a matchup for Xavier, with youth at the point guard and no dominant forces inside. Holt, Evans, and Pope will all be tests to see who on the Musketeers wants to step up an take responsibility at the defensive end. If the transfers and freshman can integrate quickly, Kent State figures to make some noise in the MAC this year.

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