After a brief hiatus, we are able to get back to our series previewing the upcoming Kansas game through the eyes of our opponent's blog. This week, we are joined by Brandon Hickey from Hustle Belt, which covers all the MAC teams, including our next opponent, the Kent State Golden Flashes.
RCT: Let's start with the basics. Who is the leader of this Kent State team, and who do the Jayhawks need to watch out for in the game?
HB: Sophomore forward Jimmy Hall is the key player for Kent State. He does a little bit of everything for them, leading the Flashes in scoring, rebounding and blocks. Hall is a transfer from Hofstra, and you might remember him as one of the guys who was kicked off the team for stealing a bunch of electronics and (allegedly) also stealing from his head coach. Kent State is a program that takes fliers on players with checkered pasts. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But Hall has taken his second chance and ran with it. He's coming off of his best game of the year, a 20 & 10 showing at UTEP.
The Golden Flashes backcourt is pretty talented. The trio of Devereaux Manley, Kris Brewer and Derek Jackson all average over ten points per game. They'll dictate the pace of play and will look to run when they can. Brewer is one of the team's best players, but has been coming off of the bench when the Flashes play taller teams, which is what he'll likely do tonight. Manley and Jackson will start, and they are both threats from beyond the arc. Manley is hitting threes at 46% and Jackson is close behind at 43%. Hot three-point shooting is one of the staples of big upsets, so be on the lookout for both Jackson and Manley to see if they're having a good shooting night.
RCT: The key to the game for Kansas pretty much always has been post play. Who do the Golden Flashes have down low to combat the likes of Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Cliff Alexander?
HB: Hall is the main guy down low, but he's only 6-foot-7. The other two big play who play meaningful minutes - Chris Ortiz and Khaliq Spicer - are just an inch or two taller. The Flashes don't have a lot of depth in the front line, and that could be the major flaw that Kansas can exploit. In each of Kent State's losses they've been outrebounded and the entire frontcourt has been in foul trouble.
I would imagine that the Jayhawks' gameplan would be to just pound the ball down low to Ellis, Traylor and Alexander. If they can pick up some cheap fouls early on Kent States' big then this game could get ugly real fast.
RCT: Many fans came into the year dogging Frank Mason and his ability to run the point, but since Devonte Graham went down with a toe injury, he has stepped up and is arguably our most consistent player. Which Kent State player has had the most surprising season so far?
HB: I'd say it's Hall. I don't think anyone knew what to expect out of him this year, as he played just seven games for Hofstra before being kicked off the team. He's been a monster and is a prototypical MAC power forward. I could go on and on about Hall's game but he's just been really fun to watch. He's eleventh in the conference in scoring (13.7 per game) and sixth in rebounding (7.6). I'm sure the gameplan revolves around stopping him, but that's easier said then done.
RCT: Kansas fans are a bit spoiled when it comes to the NCAA tournament, with 25 consecutive appearances. The most memorable run for the Golden Flashes was probably in 2002 when they beat Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pitt (in OT) to make it to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Indiana. What good memories from that run do you have? What is the biggest obstacle to Kent State returning to the NCAA tournament, their first since 2008?
HB: I guess I should have said earlier that I'm an Akron grad who loathes everything Kent State. Regardless, I think Kent State fans hold that run in high regard. It's something they'll never forget, and I know they had a big celebration on the ten-year anniversary a couple of years ago. It's still getting some play because of Antonio Gates being a high caliber tight end with the Chargers (Gates was a forward on that Elite Eight team).
As far as the biggest obstacles to Kent State getting back to the tourney? I think it starts in recruiting. The rest of the MAC has caught up to Kent State talent-wise since the last time they went to the tournament, and now the conference is as deep as it's ever been. The Flashes haven't been getting enough talent in the door to keep their dominance up and have had to rely on a lot of transfers (like Hall) and JUCOs to stay relevant. For the MAC to become a two-bid conference again it needs Kent State to get better. I hate saying that as an Akron alum, but it's better for the conference.
RCT: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Does Kent State pile on the woes that surfaced at Temple and become only the 10th team to win in Allen Fieldhouse in the Bill Self Era?
HB: I actually think that Kent State will give Kansas a pretty good game. The recent trend is MAC teams giving highly ranked teams problems on their home floor with Buffalo leading Wisconsin at halftime and Toledo giving Duke all they can handle last night. It'll probably be tight going into halftime as each team figures one another out but Kansas should be able to win by double digits. Let's go Kansas 82, Kent State 68.
A special thanks (I really mean it this time, given he was talking about a bitter rival) to Brandon for helping us out today. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get coordinated in time for there to be questions for me to answer, but I'm sure if there are any from Kent State fans, they'll come to ask them here.