#8 (26-7) #9 (28-6)
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Both teams won their respected conference tournaments to gain the automatic bid to the big dance this year. Kent State is appearing in the tournament for the second time in 3 seasons and for UNLV this is their second straight appearance after last years sweet 16 run. Both schools have some history in the tournament UNLV when with the Big West had Larry Johnson among others in the early 90’s going to back to back final fours and also an undefeated run that ended in a loss to Duke in the national semis. Kent State’s most memorable tournament run was when the Golden Flash made it to the elite 8 before losing to Indiana and even in that game they were so close to making to the final four. Both teams have been receiving votes for top 25 consideration with Kent State actually getting in for a week. During conference tournament play UNLV used its home court advantage (and the refs) to defeat TCU, Utah, and BYU in the finals. While Kent State easily made it through the MAC tournament by defeating Toledo, Miami (OH), and Akron in the final.
The UNLV Rebels are lead by Wink Adams who is the teams leading scorer at just over 16 per game, but he is also the experienced player from last year tournament run and this experience by Adams and others gives the Rebels an advantage in that aspect. The Rebels best non conference win was when they defeated University of San Diego on the road by 11 back in November. The Rebels have had struggles away from the Thomas and Mack with a road record of 6-5 away from. The main thing the Rebels have over the Golden Flash is the recent tournament experience from players and their coach. As for Kent State they rely on POY Al Fisher who was a JUCO player last year and not even with Kent until August. Fisher is their leading scorer at 14 points per game plus contributes 4 boards and 4 assists per game. The Golden Flash best non conference win is debatable with the Golden Flashes defeating Saint Mary’s College and defeating Illinois State.
Kent State has a balanced scoring attack with 4 players who average double digits per game, while the Rebels are not all that offensively gifted but rely more on strong possessions by drawing them out and using their defense to stop the other team. UNLV has one of the best three point shooting defenses in the country so if the Rebels get a decent size lead and teams need the three ball then the Rebels look to have locked up a win.
Turnovers is a problem for Kent they give up the ball nearly 15 times per game and in tournament play when teams slow the game down and limit possessions those 15 turnovers will hurt more if possessions are limited. Also, a downfall for Kent State is after their 4 leading scorers who average at leas 10 per game the scoring drops significantly to the next player at 5 per game.
Just for fun this location has no advantage to either team with the average drive time about 12 hours. Making a prediction in this game UNLV has the experience with coaching and players, and with this toss up game that is who I am going with on my picks.
Keep reading for some national perspective on both teams from ESPN.com
Here is ESPN’s take on UNLV
After losing most of last season’s roster, which made a Sweet 16 run, Lon Kruger’s Rebels surprised by finishing second in the Mountain West behind BYU, which was more than enough for the NCAAs on its own. Speedy guard Wink Adams (15.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.2 apg) has been the star for this season’s Rebels, but forward Joe Darger has been consistently productive, and wing Curtis Terry is the leading assist man at 5.1 a game to go along with 10.5 points an outing. UNLV is not particularly good offensively, but it doesn’t turn the ball over much at all, so it maximizes possessions at that end. Defensively, the Rebels are the second-stingiest team in the nation in defending the 3, so teams must chip away at them instead of hitting home runs. This team doesn’t seem to have the firepower to replicate last year’s second-weekend run. They didn’t handle the better teams in league play on the road nor could they beat Arizona or Louisville in nonleague play. Still, you know they’re going to be well prepared, they have enough weapons to beat you, and they’re not going to beat themselves, which could make the Rebels a tricky first-round foe.
Kent State’s season began ignominiously on Nov. 10 with a last-second 61-60 defeat at Detroit, a team that would only win six other games all year. The Golden Flashes rebounded to go 13-3 in nonconference play with wins over Illinois State and George Mason, their only losses coming against NCAA-bound Xavier and UNC. Kent took control of the conference race early by winning six out of its first seven, and then winning seven of eight to close the MAC slate. But it was a 65-57 BracketBusters road win at Saint Mary’s that put them on the national map, the school’s first win over a ranked opponent during the regular season. The Flashes went on to crown their campaign with their second MAC tourney title in three seasons for the automatic bid.
Here is ESPN’s take on Kent State
Coach Jim Christian had to find replacements for two of his top three scorers last summer, and August emergency pickup Al Fisher turned out to be his finest recruiting coup ever. The 6-foot-1 former Siena Saint went from the juco ranks to MAC Player of the Year in just seven months, scoring a team-high 14.2 ppg, leading Kent in scoring 14 times, and starring in the breakthrough win at Saint Mary’s with 28 points. Long, lean Mike Scott (13.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), a 6-7 senior, is as good in the paint as he is with hoisting long jumpers. Dynamic 6-8 senior Haminn Quaintance is one of the most versatile players in the country, racking up points (10), rebounds (7.4), blocks (a conference-leading 2.1), steals (1.8) and assists (2.1).