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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Kent State

Two games, two insanely veteran teams opening their seasons against Xavier at Cintas.

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament - Kent State vs Ohio
It’s actually not that easy to find a picture of a Kent State guy doing a good job.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is going to be a very experienced team this year. Paul Scruggs, Ben Stanley, Nate Johnson, Adam Kunkel, and Zach Freemantle form a viable - if unlikely - starting five that will have an average of more than four years of college basketball experience each by the time the curtain falls on the season. Jack Nunge, Kyky Tandy, Jerome Hunter... the depth of experience rolls on in waves.

One of the best ways to test a team early is by bringing in mid-majors who have veteran leaders already accustomed to the slings and arrows of outrageous basketball fortune at the D1 level. Xavier did that this year with Niagara, and has done again with Kent State. Of their projected top 10 contributors per Bart Torvik, 7 are seniors. This group has been a solid mid-major team, generally falling between 100 and 150 in the KenPom, finishing top half of the MAC, and winning one game in three years in the conference tournament.

Rob Senderoff is the coach of the Golden Flashes and indeed has been for the last ten years. He has won the MAC regular season once, gone to the NCAA tournament once, and posted a 3-4 record in four CIT appearances. His teams have been aggressive on the offensive glass and emphasized scoring in the paint rather than bombing from deep. It should be noted that, during the last two seasons, his teams have played a little quicker and shot more threes; make of that what you will. Defensively, his teams have been somewhat stingy in side the arc but fairly permissive beyond it. They don’t force a lot of turnovers at all.

Key departures

The bad news is that guard Michael Nuga averaged 17.8/5.5/1.6 last season on .500/.385/.806 shooting and will be suiting up for UNLV this season after transferring out. The good news is that Kent State has already adjusted to his absence because he missed the final ten games of the season due to a knee injury. Also on the way out is 6’7”, 240-pound forward Gabe O’Neal and his 4.7 and 3.0 per game; he has found a home with Bowling Green, just on the other side of the state there.

Key returnees

As you may have guessed from the intro (if you read it), this section is extensive. Let’s jump right in.

Senior Danny Pippen is a 6’9”, 232-pound forward. He averaged 19.3/8.7/2.8 last year. He’s a big lad, but almost half his shots last year came from deep, where he shot 30.8%. He’s an excellent rebounder at both ends, a decent rim protector, and cash from the line. Joining him in the frontcourt is the 6’7”, 230 Tervell Beck. Beck averaged 11.7/4.8/0.8 last year and - with a shooting line of .563/.455/.776 - is a much more successful three-point shooter than Pippen, though he’s also significantly more selective. Like Pippen, he flies to the offensive glass.

Splitting ballhandling duties are 6’4” senior Malique Jacobs and 6’1” junior Giovanni Santiago. Jacobs went for 10.0/4.8/3.7 last year and was in the top 50 nationally in steal rate. He excels in reaching and converting from the line. Santiago put up 9.1/2.9/4.1 on .412/.447/.920 shooting. Two-thirds of his shots came from beyond the arc, where he is excellent off the catch or the dribble. Both of these guys have struggled with turnover issues.

At 6’11”, 220, senior Justin Hamilton is the central anchor of Kent State’s side. His game line of 8.9/6.8/1.0 last year came on just an 18.1% usage rate. He’s a good rim protector at one end and crushes the offensive glass on the other. He shot 75% at the rim and just 27% on all jumpers, including 1-12 on threes.

Incoming players

Guard Sincere Carry is coming over from Duquesne, where he played 5 fairly inefficient games last year as a junior. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, he averaged basically 12.1/3.7/5.5; that’s the guy Kent State is hoping to get. He’s 6’1”, a solid defender, and a very good distributor. He should challenge for a starting role.

Georgia transfer Andrew Garcia is 6’5”, 225 and profiles statistically as a big wing, but the press release regarding his signing lists him as a guard, so what do I know? Late of Stony Brook prior to joining the Bulldogs for a season, Garcia has consistently been an excellent offensive rebounder who feasts at the rim. He put up 8.7 and 4.0 in 17 minutes a game at Georgia; it probably would have been more, but he committed a staggering 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time.

Kent State also added 6’7” forward DJ Johnson from URI. He averaged about 4 and 3 in limited playing time, though he did shoot 38.5% from deep on 65 attempts.

Outlook

This is a veteran team with a solid core that added as much as it lost from last season - more if you count Nuga as already gone through injury. They’re deep in important positions and should be able to absorb some attrition if things don’t always break their way. I’d imagine they’ll contend at the top of the MAC, which should be a fairly competitive league. Xavier should be up to the challenge when the Golden Flashes come into town, but this isn’t the kind of buy game that adds a perfunctory win to the total for March. This should be a decent test for Xavier in front of the OSU game.