Semaj Christon Fr (6-3, 187) vs Randal Holt Sr (6-1, 199)
Thursday night's game ended Semaj's three game tear of dominance. He looked a little more human for whatever reason against Vandy, finishing with only 12 points. During that game, Christon missed a little more often from the field and couldn't come up with the big plays down the stretch to put the Musketeers over the top. He also struggled with cramps again and had to leave the game on multiple occasions down the stretch in crunch time. He'll be the best player on the court in this one, and Kent State's up and down style may give him a lot more opportunities in transition. It's likely that he'll be matched up with Kent State's top guard, Randal Holt, even though Kellon Thomas is the actual point guard. Holt is coming off of his worst game of the year, scoring only six points on just four shot attempts in the loss to Bucknell. Holt is wired to score, and is never afraid to let it fly from long range. He's shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc on the year. Xavier is going to have to do a good job of corralling him in transition, and just be tougher defensively against Kent State's guards than they were against Vandy's.
Slight Edge Xavier
Dee Davis So (6-0, 161) vs Kellon Thomas Fr (5-11, 180)
Dee Davis is coming off back-to-back games where he has struggled. Against Vandy, he finished just 2-for-9 from the field with six points. His shots have often looked out of rhythm, and at times his shot selection has been questionable. One thing that he has helped do is space the floor with his ability to consistently knock down perimeter jumpers; He's shooting 41.5 percent on the year from beyond the arc. The Musketeers would probably like to see Dee return to getting into the lane and making some plays for himself and his teammates again, as he was doing earlier in the year. Kellon Thomas is a freshman point guard with a really low usage rate, despite starting and playing about half of the game. Thomas is a decent shooter from the perimeter, so the Musketeers will have to make sure to close out on him in transition. The wide open style that Kent likes to play and this matchup may play into Davis' favor perfectly.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Jeff Robinson Sr (6-10, 205) vs Kris Brewer (6-4, 185)
Not many people would have expected the loss of Justin Martin to mean so much to this team this early on, but it's going to be tough to play this one without him. He's been the most consistent player for the Muskies to date, and has been a presence on both ends of the court. If ever there was a time for Jeff Robinson to get back on track and step up when X needed him, today would be that time. Robinson gets back into the starting lineup in place of Martin, and there really isn't anyone to bring in for him, so there's no reason for Robinson to be looking over his shoulder, worried about coming out. He's been productive on the glass this year, and it will be important that he helps Xavier control the boards, since they are playing a bigger lineup against a Kent State team that rebounds the ball really well on the offensive end. Brewer is a bigger guard and the third leading scorer on this Kent State team. He's not super skilled, but he does a good job of drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. Brewer is a good athlete and a key to the Golden Flashes' defensive game-plan.
Slight Edge Kent State
Isaiah Philmore Jr (6-7, 225) vs Chris Evans Sr (6-8, 220)
Philmore got his first start last game and made it count by recording his first double-double. He's done nothing but improve since he first stepped foot on the court for Xavier in Anaheim. They need him to continue his effort on the glass, where he's been the best offensive rebounder on the team. The one thing that Philmore has yet to do is really get it going with his jump shot. He's still attempting good looks from the perimeter, though he's made a little more of an effort to work around the basket recently, but he's still capable of knocking down perimeter jumpers when left open. Evans is by far Kent State's best player. He has a really high usage rate for a forward, and he brings a lot to the team offensively. He's skilled, with the ability to shoot it out to the perimeter and set his teammates up to score. He's been consistent, scoring in the teens all year long, except for last game against Bucknell, where he had only five points and struggled with a 2-for-12 performance from the field.
Slight Edge Kent State
Travis Taylor Sr (6-8, 216) vs Mark Henninger Jr (6-9, 215)
Vanderbilt's big men were not very good defensively, and Taylor took advantage for stretches on Thursday, finishing with one of his better offensive efforts. He had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and started the second half with his own personal 7-0 run. He has to do a better job defensively today though. He really tied his defensive performance to his offense in the last game. When he quit getting the ball as much in the second half, his defense suffered on the other end where he was poor in ball-screen situations and seemed a step slow most of the day. The Musketeers will need him to pick up some scoring slack in a big way with Justin Martin out of the lineup. Kent State's style lends itself to more mobile big men and not big plodders, so Taylor is matched up with a player similar to his own size in Henninger. Henninger is a steady role player big that will score his 5-10 points and grab his 3-6 boards. Xavier just has to make sure they keep Kent's bigs off the board to eliminate the opportunities for easy second chance buckets.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Kent State Bench
Xavier's bench has been depleted all year, and this game things will be even worse. Martin being out forces Robinson back into the lineup, meaning Brad Redford and Erik Stenger will be the only regulars on the bench. Landon Amos will likely get some extra time today. Xavier is going to have to pray that they stay out of foul trouble. Redford may be of some use in this one, as Kent tends to allow their opponents to get some great looks from the perimeter in transition. The Golden Flashes will be running bodies in and out of the game all day. They go 10 deep, with most of their depth being in the frontcourt. Junior Melvin Tabb is the most impressive player on the bench. The 6-9 center is an explosive athlete with a big body, similar to former Xavier player Jamel McLean. Chris Ortiz is a 6-8 freshman big man, who plays the role of sixth man. He's been solid this year, scoring 5.7 points per game and grabbing four rebounds. None of the Golden Flashes bench players really worry you with great scoring potential, but they are all able bodies that can play.
Moderate Edge Kent State
The Vanderbilt loss was a big lesson for this Xavier team, but with the quick turnaround they probably haven't had much time to learn from it. Even still the frustration and sour taste of the loss may be enough to wake the Musketeers up enough to defend their home court. Xavier comes in ranked fourth in the nation in effective field goal percentage, and Kent State's defense is one of the worst in the nation when it comes to opponents' effective field goal percentage. The Musketeers may welcome the hectic style of the Golden Flashes as they've had a lot of success scoring in transition this year. The problem is they'll have to play that style while staying out of foul trouble, and staying fresh with only two real subs off the bench. Kent State has rebounded the ball really well on the offensive end, which is something that Xavier has struggled with so keep an eye on that. Kent State honestly might be better than Vanderbilt, but it's tough to imagine Xavier losing back-to-back games at the Cintas Center.
Score Prediction: Xavier 76 Kent State 72