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Game Preview: Gonzaga v. Kent State

The Zags will have their hands full against Kent State’s backcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Kent State at Houston Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs return home for their first game in The Kennel since the season opener against North Florida. There is no denying that it has been a challenging stretch for the Zags as they navigate their way through what Mark Few calls the toughest non-conference schedule he’s put together.

Gonzaga has struggled to find its identity and it shows in the loss column. The 5-3 start is Gonzaga’s worst start to a season since the 2010-11 campaign when they opened with a 4-5 record that included a 3-game losing streak to Illinois, Washington State, and Notre Dame. Kent State might not be quite at those levels, but the Golden Flashes are no pushover either.

Meet the opponent

Kent State Golden Flashes (6-2, #72 KenPom)

Kent State ended a two-game losing streak with a comfortable win over South Dakota State on Friday night. Before that, the Golden Flashes gave #1 Houston all it could ask for in a narrow 49-44 loss.

Head Coach Rob Senderoff fields a veteran starting lineup made up of 3 seniors and a junior headlined by 6’ 1” point guard Sincere Carry (selected preseason all-MAC First Team) who is averaging 18.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, and 3.6 rpg. Carry’s backcourt mate, senior Malique Jacobs (All-MAC Defensive Team) is second on the team in scoring at 12.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, and 3.4 rpg. Miryne Thomas is Kent State’s only other player averaging double figure points at 10.9 ppg and 5.6 rpg.

What to watch for

Size mismatch: The Golden Flashes are undersized which should give Gonzaga a decided advantage in the paint and on the boards. Kent State’s frontcourt is listed at 6’8” (Thomas) and 6’9 (Cli’Ron Hornbeak - a candidate for the all-name team). Bottling up Drew Timme should not come easy for Kent State, particularly since he is coming off a tough outing against Baylor and will be anxious to right the ship. The Zags, for their part, have done an excellent job on the boards in recent games which should give them a chance to control this game.

Protecting the ball: It has been well-documented and well-discussed but Gonzaga has a turnover problem. That will play right into Kent State’s strength as the Golden Flashes force turnovers on 27.2% of possessions which is the 6th best mark in the country. The Golden Flashes have probably been licking their chops when watching Gonzaga’s film. It will be imperative for Gonzaga to protect the ball if they want to avoid an upset.

Backcourt bottle: Gonzaga’s backcourt has been inconsistent this season. The backcourt is Kent State’s strength. If Kent State wins its backcourt matchup decisively it could be a much closer game than Gonzaga fans are expecting. The Golden Flashes will be a tough out and should not be taken for granted.