The Texas Longhorns non-conference slate hasn’t been kind to Shaka Smart’s youthful bunch, but only Group of Five representative Kent State remains.
In a cup half full, Texas enters the Big 12 schedule on a two-game win streak and continues to build upon what was a season-best performance with a 36-point blowout victory over UAB. In a cup half empty, Texas suffers its sixth loss in nine games and enters the gauntlet that is the Big 12 schedule as one of the conference’s lower tier teams.
In any case, whether it be 7-5 or 6-6, the ‘Horns are headed for the program’s worst non-conference record since Rick Barnes’ debut season – 4-8 in 1998-99. The first Texas team under Barnes went on to win 15 of its next 19 games en route to an NCAA Tournament berth. If the same is to happen in 2016-17, it needs to begin on Tuesday night against Kent State.
At 7-5, the Golden Flashes have struggled this season, too. Despite playing a considerably sub-par schedule, Rob Senderoff’s team has dropped five of its last nine after a 3-0 start.
Headlining what’s essentially a three-man show is double-double machine Jimmy Hall. The senior forward enters Tuesday’s meeting with Texas averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds each time out, making him the nation’s ninth-most dominant glass presence.
More notably, Hall’s rebounding efforts are largely why the Golden Flashes lead the nation in offensive boards (17.75) and rank eighth in rebounds per game (44). As if he wasn’t already doing any and everything for the Golden Flashes, Hall even has his own YouTube show, The Jimmy Hall Show.
For Texas, this could pose significant issues if Jarrett Allen, Shaquille Cleare, and James Banks don’t improve upon what’s been a collective 16.4 rebounds each time out.
Fortunately, it appears that graduate transfer forward Mareik Isom will finally join the Longhorns rotation after missing the first 11 games due to ankle surgery, but the the 6’9 sharpshooter is more of an offensive option, as he’s never averaged more than 2.9 rebounds per game during his career.
While the ‘Horns quartet of big men will have their hands full containing Hall, who’s also Kent State’s leading assist man (2.8) and owns the highest field goal percentage (50%), joining Hall as major point producers are guards Jaylin Walker and Deon Edwin.
The two are averaging 13.8 and 11 points per game, respectively, and along with Hall’s monstrous contributions, the three make up more than half of Kent State’s scoring. Nobody other contributor averages more than 5.7 points so for a Texas offense that can run tremendously hot and just as cold, preventing Kent State’s three-headed offense from having a field day is a must.
With defensive emphasis placed where it ought to be — on Hall — the ‘Horns should be able to spark their first win streak since the 3-0 start before Friday’s Big 12 opener with Kansas State, and do so in a fairly comfortable fashion. For all the deficiencies the ‘Horns harbor, Kent State isn’t exactly replicable to the deep, veteran-loaded units that have beaten Texas this season.
The game tips off at 6:00 p.m. CT and airs on ESPNU.
Prediction — Texas 79, Kent State 67