Indiana opens March Madness against a familiar tournament foe.
The fourth-seeded Hoosiers take on No. 13 seed Kent State on Friday around 9:55 p.m. at MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y. The Golden Flashes won the MAC Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana and Kent State played in the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive years in the early 2000s. The Golden Flashes beat the Hoosiers in the first round in 2001, but IU got revenge in the Elite Eight in 2002.
This is Kent State’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2017, when it earned a No. 14 seed and lost in the first round.
The Golden Flashes played close games against two of the top teams in the country during non-conference play. They lost by five points at Houston, and by seven at Gonzaga. Their best wins of the season came in the conference slate, in a road victory over Ohio and against Toledo in the conference title game.
This could be a tricky matchup for Indiana — Kent State is the highest-ranked 13-seed in KenPom.
Kent State is 19th among tournament teams in effective field goal percentage allowed, at just 47.2 percent; IU is 23rd at 47.3 percent. According to Matt Eisenberg’s extensive NCAA Tournament guide, the Golden Flashes’ transition effective field goal percentage defense is second among tournament teams at 44.6 percent. They are eighth among tournament teams in defensive turnover rate, with 22.6 percent of possessions ending in turnovers.
As a whole, Kent State is solid defensively. The Golden Flashes allow 0.928 points per possession, which is 21st in the country. Rutgers and Northwestern are the only teams IU has played this season that allow fewer points per possession.
Kent State also ranks 38th in the nation on KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is the eighth-best team IU will face, by that metric.
The Golden Flashes are one of the more uptempo teams the Hoosiers have seen this year. Just eight teams on IU’s schedule played with a faster adjusted tempo (per KenPom) than Kent State.
One key team stat that could be an edge for Indiana is fouls. Kent State commits 19.5 personal fouls per game, which is bottom 30 in the country. If IU can capitalize on that and rack up free-throw attempts, it would be huge. Per Eisenberg, the Hoosiers are 12-4 this season in games when they attempt more free throws than their opponent.
On the other side, offensive rebounds and turnovers can often be critical for upsets. And the Golden Flashes are a good offensive rebounding team, ranking 114th with 10.8 offensive boards per game 103rd with a 30.8 offensive rebounding percentage. They commit just 11.4 turnovers per game (72nd in the country), and force 16 per game (19th in the nation).
Individually, senior guard Sincere Carry is Kent State’s main standout. He was named to All-MAC First Team and the All-Defensive Team.
Carry carries a big load for Kent State. Per Eisenberg, Carry is tied for the most minutes per game of any player in the field. Per KenPom, he plays 92.2 percent of Kent State’s minutes, which ranks 10th in the country. And in terms of total minutes, Carry is second in the entire country, trailing only Penn State’s Jalen Pickett.
Carry averages 17.6 points, 4.9 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
Senior shooting guard/small forward Malique Jacobs is the MAC Defensive Player of the year, and he’s another key for Kent State. Jacobs averages 2.7 steals per game, which is fourth in the country, and — per Eisenberg — the most of anyone in the tournament. He also tied for the team lead with 0.8 blocks per game. Jacobs also earned All-MAC Second Team honors.
Sophomore guard Jalen Sullinger was named MAC Sixth Man of the Year. And if that name sounds familiar, you’re on the right track: his uncle, Jared, starred at Ohio State from 2010 through 2012.
Sullinger averaged 8.6 points per game, buoyed by a 42.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range.
Indiana will see an advantage inside for Trayce Jackson-Davis. Kent State’s primary bigs are all 6-foot-8 or shorter — Jackson-Davis is 6-foot-9. But that could also work against IU — the Hoosiers had trouble defensively this season, at times, against smaller, versatile teams like Penn State and Iowa that spread them out in the backcourt.
Kent State stats via the NCAA:
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