Western Michigan and Kent State both enter this contest even in conference play at 2-2. This game is huge for both teams. For Western Michigan, a win would put them half a game out of Toledo in the West. For Kent State, a loss would be devastating as they would not only fall off pace with Ohio, Akron, and Buffalo, but they would also fall into last place behind Miami and Bowling Green.
Western Michigan has been all over the map this year. They started off conference play with a bang upsetting Toledo and beating the Redhawks of Miami in Oxford. However the Broncos would come back to earth after being humiliated by their rivals in Ypsilanti, and losing a tough one to Bowling Green. Western Michigan needs this game to find their consistency. The Broncos have Ball State and Central Michigan, two very winnable games, coming up after Thursday nights game so the opportunity to win three of their next four games looms large.
Kent State's inconsistencies lie during the game. After a tough loss at home to Ohio, the Flashes needed furious come-from-behind efforts to beat Ball State and Northern Illinois. Kent State fell behind against Buffalo again, but this time could not mount the rally to win. Kent State needs this win to find out what kind of team they really are. Both the Flashes losses came to high quality opponents and both of their wins came against rather mediocre teams. Western Michigan isn't a team we would expect to be dancing in March, but they are a middle of the pack team and a win here would go a long way.
Western Michigan has three key performers to watch in Connar Tava, Shayne Wittington, and David Brown. In their last two losses, one or more of these guys has been rendered useless. The key for the Flashes will be to shut one of them down. Bowling Green was able to shut down Tava leaving him 2-7 from the field and surrendering only seven points to him. Eastern Michigan was able to keep only five guys from scoring with Brown being the only one who could reach double digits. Tava and Wittington were held to six points a piece.
Kent State has about nine different guys who could be the leading scorer on any given night however they rarely all click together. The key for Western Michigan is to keep the Flashes on the perimeter. Kent State will put up a lot of threes. Once they start forcing shots on the perimeter, that is when the Broncos will have there opportunity to open up a gap on Kent State.
Western Michigan is a better basketball team than their record projects but I have a feeling that Kent State will wind up on top in a close one. The stakes are too high for the Flashes to lose this game and expect to stay in the hunt for the MAC East title. With Toledo on the horizon, it is urgent the Flashes find a way to win this game and I expect that they will.
Flashes 65 - Broncos 59