The biggest adjustment people from the East Coast have to make when traveling to some points out west (other than the time zone) is elevation. The highest point in Ohio is just 1,550 feet above sea level, and that site is 160 miles from Kent State's campus.
Why does this matter? Well, Kent State plays at Northern Arizona tonight in the quarterfinals of the CIT and elevation may play a bigger role than expected. The Lumberjacks (how awesome is that mascot?) play in a football stadium known as the Walkup Skydome. The Skydome sits at 6,880 feet above sea level which makes it the second-highest stadium in major college football behind Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium.
It makes sense, then, that the Lumberjacks are riding a seven-game home winning streak to go along with an 11-2 home record this season. Parallel to having home court momentum, Northern Arizona is one win short of the program record for wins in a season. The Lumberjacks are 21-14 this year, which includes a win over Saint Mary's and a close loss at Mississippi.
The Lumberjacks and Flashes have two common opponents: Toledo and Middle Tennessee. Kent State has beaten both of those teams (2-0 against Toledo, 1-0 against Middle Tennessee) while Northern Arizona lost both games on the road.
Rebounding will be the part of the game to watch. Northern Arizona is 34th in the nation at grabbing boards and has eight players that average over three rebounds per game. The leader is 6-foot-7 junior Jordyn Martin, who collects over seven boards per game and scores seven points per game.
They don't just rebound well - they can score it too. NAU has three players averaging double digit points per game - and they are all guards. Senior guard and VMI transfer Quinton Upshur is the leading scorer at nearly 15 points per game. Kris Yanku, who ranks fifth in the nation at getting to the free throw line, comes in at just under 14 points per game. Senior floor general Aaseem Dixon rounds out the double-digit scorers at 13 points per game.
Luckily for Kent State, they have strong defensive guards. Kris Brewer, Devareaux Manley and Derek Jackson will all be tested defensively against a stout backcourt. NAU isn't as deep along the front line, so getting Jimmy Hall involved early and often will be paramount in Kent State's gameplan. To go down the elevation route again, it wouldn't make sense to try and outrun the Lumberjacks. Look for the Flashes to run a lot of half-court sets and plays through the post to set up baskets.
The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised by SportsTime Ohio. You can also stream the game online via SideArm Sports here.
If Kent State were to win, they would play either Tennessee-Martin, Evansville, or one of Canisius/NJIT who play tomorrow. Looking just geographically, they'd likely play the winner of the Canisius/NJIT game as those two schools along with Kent State are the easternmost while UT-Martin and Evansville are fairly close in proximity to each other.