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Virginia Men's Basketball

UVA vs Kent State Preview: Back to Winning Ways?

(Image – Matt Riley – UVA Athletics)

Pre-game Kent St with Mark Jerome and Chris Havlicek

Today we talk Kent St. Who are they, what do we expect?

Posted by Locker Room Access on Friday, December 4, 2020

Following a comfortable, get-right game on Tuesday, the Wahoos will be back in JPJ Friday evening for tipoff against a dynamic Kent State squad. The win of St. Francis was nice. But there aren’t many large scale takeaways from that game as the Red Flash were severely mismatched and were even lacking their starting point guard and best player in Ramir Dixon-Conover. 

With that in mind, this is a decent Kent State team that boasts some good players with impressive athleticism who could be problematic for the still gelling UVA defense while also challenging some of Virginia’s slower-footed players in the frontcourt. 

What Kent State has done so far

In their one and only contest so far this season, the Golden Flashes whooped up on the NIAA Point Park Pioneers, 90-41. In that game, Kent State had four players in double figures including 17 from star point guard Mike Nuga, 15 from bulky big man Gabe O’Neal, 13 from guard Jeremiah Hernandez, and 13 from stretch-four Danny Pippen. 

With just that one game in the books, it’s difficult to get a clear read on the Golden Flashes. Their offensive rating against Point Park was an impressive 1.22 points per possession with a defensive rating of a ridiculous 0.55 PPP. Really, that type of performance against an NIAA school is to be expected. That said, it is clear where the Golden Flashes excel and also where they tend to struggle. 

Breaking Kent State down

First off, they’re not a very good three-point shooting team. Their only player who shot over 35% deep last year – Troy Simmons at 39.1% – graduated last season. In fact, Kent State shot a poor 5-29 (17.2%) from behind the arc in their contest against Point Park. The Golden Flashes’ two best players — Nuga and Pippen — finished 1-13 from deep as shooting guard Giovani Santiago was the only player to hit multiple long balls as he finished 2-3 from deep. 

While they’re outside shooting is sub-par, where Kent State tends to succeed is off dribble drives. Nuga is a lightning quick 6’2” and had tremendous success getting to the rim against Point Park. Obviously, playing against UVA and the packline defense is an entirely different beast. But, he’s still dangerous off the dribble. Additionally, Kent State has a few guys who are solid scorers in the low post. Specifically, the 6’7”, 240-pound O’Neil is quite the bruiser off the bench and feasted on the smaller Point Park players. Starting big men Pippen (6’9”, 222 pounds), and Justyn Hamilton (6’10”, 190 pounds) are lengthier players who like to attack the offensive boards. But Pippen is also a decent scorer on the interior. 

On the defensive side of the ball, both Pippen and Hamilton are effective rim protectors as they utilize their size and length to be disruptive in the paint. The Golden Flashes’ guards are fairly small — their starting backcourt goes 6’1”, 6’2”, 6’2” — so the Virginia wings ought to be able to utilize their size advantage to get open to shoot. That said, Nuga, Jacobs, and Santiago are all pesky on ball defenders and are willing to be aggressive to go after steals. 

Predictions

Virginia will win if: They take care of the ball and run a smooth offense. Despite putting up 76 on St. Francis, the Wahoos were a bit clunky against the poor Red Flash defense. Hopefully, against Kent State, they’ll move the ball well and hit shots from the outside. Defensively, they just need to stay out of foul trouble. 

Kent State will win if: They can be successful scoring on the interior while also utilizing their quickness in the backcourt to penetrate the packline defense. Defensively, they’ll need to be disruptive and throw UVA off their game early.

Score prediction: Virginia 71 – Kent State 53

Come back to this story for the Locker Room Acccess Pregame Show at 5:00!

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