On Friday night, the Northern Illinois Huskies held serve against the Toledo Rockets to maintain their lead atop the MAC's Western Division. Now, it's time for the Kent State Golden Flashes to protect their lead in the MAC East and attempt to match NIU's 5-1 start in conference play.
Standing in the Flashes' path are the Bowling Green Falcons, who could pull into a first-place tie with a win. The Falcons are 12-6 overall and 3-2 thus far in the MAC. They own road wins over Ohio and Eastern Michigan but, on Tuesday, fell to Toledo for the fifth straight time.
The recent history of the series between these two teams indicates that a close game may be at hand. KSU and BGSU have split their home-and-home series in seven of the last eight seasons. The Falcons have won three of the past four played in Bowling Green against the Flashes, and the last five games in the series have been decided by a total of 19 points. Last year, Bowling Green won at Kent 66-64 before Kent State returned the favor, 81-80, in Bowling Green.
The big key to this game will be which team's offensive philosophy dictates the game. Kent State has three big men who are 6-foot-8 or taller who can score and rebound, as well as help create for their guards. Junior forward Jimmy Hall is ninth in the MAC in scoring (15.2) and rebounds (6.7), and he's very skilled at working the boards on offense. Both he and senior center Khaliq Spicer are top-ten in the MAC for offensive rebounds.
With their help, Kent State averages 12.4 offensive rebounds per game and grabs 34.5 percent of those chances. It's something to watch, because Bowling Green has been vulnerable to giving those up at times in the last month.
Guards Kellon Thomas and Xavier Pollard supplement the scoring of Hall by averaging 13.2 points each per game. However, they usually aren't much of a threat from downtown; Thomas leads the team with just 24 treys in 18 games.
On the other side, BGSU is a small team but manages to be extremely successful in pushing the ball inside, which opens up the perimeter. Of their players 6-foot-8 or taller, only Rasheed Worrell averages more than 14 minutes per game. The Falcons' bread and butter is to attack the basket with drives from their guards and crisp entry passes to players such as Worrell and Antwon Lillard.
More than anything else, however, KSU will have to stop Spencer Parker and Zack Denny. Parker leads the team and is 11th in the MAC in scoring, and he also pulls down six boards per game. Denny is all over the court. In the MAC, he's second in steals, eighth in three-point field goal percentage and averages 13.9 points. At just 6-foot-2, he also is seventh in rebounding and fourth in defensive rebounds.
Denny will battle anywhere on the court, but if you leave him alone outside, he's deadly. Right now, he's making 45 percent of his three-pointers.
One other important item to watch for from both teams is free throw shooting. Both teams have...well, they've been bad at the charity stripe. Kent State is tenth in the MAC (.685) while BGSU pulls up the rear (.669). If one of these teams can have an uncharacteristically good game in that area, it could make a huge difference.
The Falcons and Flashes will tip off from Bowling Green's Stroh Center at 4:00 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN3. The contest is also serving as Bowling Green's "Centennial Game", celebrating the school's 100th season of intercollegiate men's basketball.