Preston’s Hoops Preview: Kent State

Eric Davis Jr. in the open floor (Will Gallagher/IT)

Eric Davis Jr. in the open floor (Will Gallagher/IT)

Opponent Strengths:

A week after Texas’ (by far) best performance of the year in their obliteration of UAB, the Longhorns (6-5) conclude their non-conference schedule with a home date against Kent State (7-5).

Rebounding. Kent State has a stud rebounder in Hall and a bunch of other guys who chase and have plus athleticism. They attack the glass on both ends of the floor and average +9 per game for a rebounding advantage. Texas, for their part, has been on the positive end of +/- rebounding in four of their last five games, but Kent State will have the advantage in both their mindset and individual rebounding ability. Texas is going to have to make this a group effort (Jones, Roach and Davis being key components, here) as well as making sure Allen can stay out of foul trouble and be a factor on the glass. Anything close to even (or better, obviously) will likely be a win for Texas.

Interior defense. Kent State will run a decent amount of a trapping 2-3 zone and they want to apply ball pressure and will collapse on dribble penetration with a few solid rim defenders in Hall, De La Rosa and Pippen. Texas has been reliant on lane touches to initiate their offense and it will be interesting to see how Texas’ strength on offense matches up against Kent State’s strength on defense.

The Golden Flashes look to be led by 6’7 senior forward Jimmy Hall (18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 blocks per game). Aside from perimeter shooting, Hall can kind of do it all for KSU. He’s fantastic in space as a rebound chaser and looks like he’s run by a motor on the offensive end in his ability to attack the basket and create from almost a point forward position. Whoever guards Hall will have to play with good positional awareness and not allow themselves to get caught early in possessions because he’ll waste no time and attack when the opportunity is there, plus he’s a good free throw shooter. Tough matchup and a nice, midmajor standout.

Opponent Weaknesses

Shooting efficiency. Kent State’s offense can appear disjointed and ineffective against teams with comparable length and athleticism (which Texas possesses). That generally bears out in their low shooting percentages from their half court sets (42% overall and 31% from three, both numbers in the bottom third, nationally). Texas’ defense has been excellent over the past five games and if they can stay solid against KSU, the Golden Flashes will struggle to generate efficient offense.

Texas Keys: Offense

Perimeter shooting. The magic number appears to be 32%. When the Longhorns are at 32% or above, they’re 5-1 on the season. When they are lower than 32%, they’re 1-4. The good news for Texas is that Kent State’s trapping and ball pressure make for high quality looks from the outside when you can break their pressure with penetration or on skips. For the season, teams are shooting 37% from deep against the Golden Flashes. If that number rings true for Texas tonight, they’ll win.

Roach and Jones against the trap. The playmaking has been better (due, in no small amount, to Jones’ increased role as ball handler), but the Longhorns’ primary ball handlers are still turnover prone. KSU will look to exploit that as early and often as possible because they have the athletes to finish in transition and they need those points to create their most efficient offense. How well Jones and Roach protect the ball will be crucial for a Texas team that needs high quality shots.

Texas Keys: Defense

Compete on the glass. Texas’ athletes and offensive firepower is simply better than Kent State’s. However, if the rebounding battle is one-sided in favor of the Golden Flashes, Texas is going to struggle with foul trouble and in breakdowns (where young teams like Texas always struggle). It’s got to be close. If it is, Texas should win this game fairly easily. If it’s not, Texas could find themselves in a tough matchup against an athletic, aggressive team like Kent State.

The Endgame

I want to take the UAB drubbing as a sign, right? I want it to justify how I feel about the overall talent and progress of this squad.

But, just as I don’t think tough losses should dissuade fans from seeing development, nor should they allow big wins to cloud their judgment.

The ebbs and flows of college basketball are fun to watch, but more importantly, Texas needs to see consistency from Jones, Allen and Mack in their leadership/production roles.

Then, the Longhorns need solid production from all Cleare, Davis, Roach and Yancy.

I think they get that against a team that will take the chances KSU will.

On a positive note, I’ve heard Isom is a possibility for tonight, which could be another emotional lift for this team.

Prediction: Texas 78 – Kent State 64

Projected Starting Lineup

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