Scouting Indiana's path in the NCAA Tournament: Deep run or gone in a flash vs. Kent State?
Indiana is hungry for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
After an up-and-down season that saw the Hoosiers fall short in the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament, they still feel like they have the goods to win games this weekend and next, and perhaps get back to a Final Four for the 1st time since 2002. IU, which got an at-large berth to the Big Dance after a 22-11 season, is led by veteran big man Trayce Jackson-Davis and freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, one of the best inside-outside combinations in the Big Ten.
The NCAA path, though, won’t be easy. The Hoosiers, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, get 13th-seed Kent State, the champions of the MAC, in the 1st round in Albany, N.Y. A 2nd-round matchup with 5-seed Miami, if the Hurricanes get by Drake in Round 1, awaits.
Here’s a look at Kent State and a prediction of how far the Hoosiers will advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Scouting the Golden Flashes
Kent State capped a fantastic season by beating Toledo in the championship game of the MAC Tournament on Saturday.
Was it an upset? Well, perhaps only a mild one. The Golden Flashes finished the MAC regular-season with a 15-3 record — and are 28-6 overall — and were the 2nd seed in the conference tournament. But they had beaten top-seed Toledo at home earlier in the year in the teams’ only meeting, and they repeated the win in the title game, beating the Rockets 93-78.
How they got here: Kent State earned the MAC’s automatic bid by winning 3 games in 3 days, beating the conference’s 7th seed (Northern Illinois), 3rd seed (Akron) and 1 seed (Toledo). The Golden Flashes were pressed by the Zips in the semifinals, when Kent State had to hold off a late rally. Then, in the title game, Sincere Carry and Malique Jacobs combined for 44 points and 16 rebounds, and keyed a 2nd-half run that put the game out of reach.
The title gives the Flashes their 1st trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2017. But it’s been since 2002 that they last won a tournament game, back when they went on a Cinderella-like run to the Elite Eight.
Top player: Carry frequently, well, carries Kent State.
The 5th-year senior averages 17.6 points, 4.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and nearly 2 steals per game. A First-Team All-MAC member this season, the 6-foot-1 Pennsylvania native was the league’s Player of the Year last season. And Carry has been doing it for a long time, having accumulated 1,957 points in his career, which started at Duquesne before he transferred to Kent State, where he’s spent the last 2 seasons. Carry has also hit 225 3-pointers in his career, doing so at a 33 percent clip. He can get hot, as he did in the MAC title game when he scored 26.
What they do best: The Golden Flashes can play defense.
Kent State led the MAC in all the major defensive categories, including points allowed (65.7), field goal percentage (40.3) and 3-point percentage (31.0). Plus, the Golden Flashes forced more turnovers than anyone else in the league, 16 per game, which created the conference’s best turnover margin at plus-4.56 per game.
Jacobs, a 5th-year senior guard, was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year this season, after he had a league-best 89 steals, 36 more than the 2nd-highest individual total.
Best win this season?
Kent State has 2 Quad 2 victories this season: Its road win at Ohio and the neutral site victory against Toledo in the conference title game in Cleveland. The Golden Flashes also have a Q2 loss. And they were 0-3 vs. Quad 1 teams. But it should be noted that Kent State played competitively in losses to quality opponents, losing by 5 at Houston, by 2 at Charleston and by 7 at Gonzaga.
Most important thing to know about the Golden Flashes: Jalen Sullinger is the nephew of former Ohio State All-America forward Jared Sullinger.
The younger Sullinger is a sophomore guard who averages 8.6 points in about 22 minutes off the bench, plus he’s an excellent perimeter shooter, having hit 54 triples this season at a near 43 percent clip.
Prediction: Indiana 67, Kent State 63
Beyond the opener
If the Hoosiers get by the Golden Flashes in Round 1, they’ll face 1 of 3 opponents. It could be 5 seed Iowa State, or potentially an 11 seed: Mississippi State or Pitt, who play in a First Four game on Tuesday.
Regardless of the opponent, Indiana has its sights set on getting through its 1st 2 games in Albany and moving to the regional games in Kansas City. There, the Hoosiers could face a Sweet 16 foe in top-seeded Houston, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. And it’d pit Indiana vs. Kelvin Sampson, the former IU coach who was unceremoniously booted from Bloomington after running afoul of NCAA recruiting rules. Wouldn’t that be a storyline? A regional finals game could bring a battle vs. 2 seed Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier, who the Hoosiers beat in Cincinnati in mid-November.
But an early prediction is that the Hoosiers will get a real test from Kent State in Round 1, before shoving aside the 2nd-round opponent. But Houston will prove too much to handle in the Sweet 16.