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A culmination of an entire season comes down to the NCAA Tournament, and Indiana will feel a ton of pressure to perform after an inconsistent season. Trayce Jackson-Davis and the company will have their first test against the Kent State Golden Flashes, a red-hot team that just took down the MAC regular season champion Toledo Rockets by 15 points in the conference tournament championship game. Our Indiana vs Kent State preview is laid out below, featuring our best picks and game predictions. Check it out!
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This season has not gone exactly how the Indiana program or fans hoped, but a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still nothing to scoff at. The biggest issue IU has faced has been the absence of its senior point guard, Xavier Johnson, who played a pivotal role in its late-season storm to make a March Madness appearance and a deep Big Ten Tournament run last year. Johnson broke his foot against Kansas and has not been back since; he will be seeking a medical hardship waiver to be eligible for next season.
Regardless, the Hoosiers have gotten an unbelievable season out of Trayce Jackson-Davis, an All-American big man who has posted roughly 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks per game on a highly efficient 57.8% shooting from the field. The combination of Trayce Jackson-Davis and five-star, lottery-bound guard Jalen Hood-Schifino is undoubtedly one of the best guard-forward combinations in the entire nation. Indiana’s success almost always comes down to whether or not the supporting cast shows up. Now, Indiana has plenty of players with experience in these kinds of games.
The increase in Jackson-Davis’ ability as a ball-handler and passer have taken his game, and this Indiana offense, to a completely new level this season. Besides TJD, the Hoosiers rely heavily on freshman guard Hood-Schifino to create looks for this team out of the pick-and-roll. Hood-Schifino averages close to 14 points, four assists, and four rebounds per game on 42% shooting from the field and 35% from behind the arc. Miller Kopp and Trey Galloway will also be pivotal for a March Madness run, as each player shoots 44% or better from three-point range with a fairly significant amount of volume. The Hoosiers have to prioritize getting them clean looks in their offense to beat not only Kent State but anyone else in their path, too.
Indiana got a tough draw with Kent State in the first round, a team that went 28-6, with a 15-3 record in MAC play. The Golden Flashes have won six-straight games and played Gonzaga to seven points, Houston to five points, and Charleston to two points this season. Needless to say, those results are incredibly impressive, and they are used to playing high-caliber teams, unlike many other higher seeds.
Kent State is led by senior guard Sincere Carry, a transfer from Duquesne. Carry averages an impressive 17.6 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game, and has scored at least 20 points in four of his past five games, including a 35-point explosion in an overtime game against Akron. Indiana has had trouble defending super quick point guards this season, so Carry could have an advantage.
Carry is the engine that makes this Kent State team run, but it also has a few other impactful contributors, including Malique Jacobs (13 points per game), Miryne Thomas (10.7 points per game), and Jalen Sullinger (8.6 points per game.)
Sullinger (42.9% from three) and Giovanni Santiago (37.9% from three) provide most of the Golden Flashes’ shooting from deep; if they aren’t hitting, then they are in trouble offensively. Unfortunately, that has been the case at times, as Kent State ranks just 110th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, 217th in 3P%, and 158th in FT%.
Indiana has its work cut out for it in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers will have to fend off a Kent State team that just pummeled the No. 1 seed in the MAC tournament by 15 points. Further, the Golden Flashes have won six-straight games and ten of their past 11. Can the Hoosiers avoid an upset, as the betting line has already moved 1.5 points, in favor of Kent State?
Indiana has played in tough environments before; it went into West Lafayette and knocked off the tough Purdue Boilermakers last month and even beat the now No. 3 seed Xavier Musketeers on their home floor at the beginning of the season. The Hoosiers have grown this season away from home, and while the pressure will be on them, Trayce Jackson-Davis has proven himself a formidable leader.
Further, Kent State’s offense relies too heavily on Sincere Curry to carry the load. Even with his 18 points and five assists per game, the Golden Flashes rank just 110th in adjusted offensive efficiency. In order to beat an Indiana team that thrives in the paint behind the incredibly efficient Jackson-Davis, as well as five-star freshman Malik Reneau and super senior, Race Thompson, a team has to do a few things really well.
First, they have to shoot the three at a high level; Kent State ranks 217th in the nation in 3P%. Another necessity is an opponent has to have a high-powered, balanced offensive attack that features more than one player capable of putting up a big scoring night.
Almost all of IU’s losses feature a team that ranks in the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency or boasts a top 15 defense. Kent State has neither, and while it should keep this game competitive, we should bet on experience here. The Indiana moneyline has value, especially if the spread keeps tightening.
Location: Albany, New York
Game Time & Date: Fri, Mar 17, at 9:55 p.m. EST
TV Network: TBS
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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