Matt Visinsky

Game Preview: SMU vs. Kent State

Hatts previews SMU's matchup in the Las Vegas Classic against Kent State.

When: Tuesday, December 22 at 7:00 p.m CT
Where: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV) 
TV/Radio: KAAM 700 AM 
Series: SMU leads Kent State 2-0
Last Meeting: SMU defeated Kent State during the 1997 season in Dallas 83-76

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SMU head coach Larry Brown makes his return to the sidelines and the Mustangs will look to tie their best start in school history since the 1997-98 season when they started 10-0. With only 6 players playing their last two games, and their depth being tested much of the season due to injury, the Mustangs have been playing their best basketball lately with blowout wins over Michigan, Nicholls State and Hampton. With Markus Kennedy’s injury leaving SMU with two legitimate big men left, Jordan Tolbert has stepped up with a combined 61 points and 51 rebounds in the last three games including 23 rebound and 19 rebound performances in the last two.  There’s a chance SMU will get Kenedy back for their matchup with Kent State but there’s no doubt this lift has been much needed. Also stepping up however, and solving the depth issue to an extent has been Sterling Brown who lead the team in points with 23 in their win 105-72 win over Hampton. Kent State will definitely provide some different challenges for SMU but repeat performances by Sterling Brown and Jordan Tolbert will go a long way towards getting a win.

Scouting Kent State

Winners of four out of their last five, Kent State comes in playing well on the offensive side of the ball. Averaging just over 76 points per game, the Flashes don’t struggle one bit to score the ball. Redshirt junior Jimmy Hall who is averaging just less than 16 points per game and just more than 7 rebounds per game on the year leads the Flashes. Given SMU’s lack of depth in the frontcourt this will once again be an important matchup for them to continue winning.  

Three Players to Watch 

Jimmy Hall: The 6-8, 235-pound junior can do it all and will be a big challenge for SMU Tuesday night. Hall struggled with his shooting earlier this year but has shot 50 percent or better in each of the last seven games while scoring in double figures in every game this season except one when he scored nine against UL Monroe. Hall is a big body that crashes the offensive boards to get a lot of his points. Kent State’s leader also makes a big impact on the defensive end using his long arms to tip balls away. The Mustangs will have to be aware of him on both ends all night as shutting him down will go a long towards getting a win. 

Kellon Thomas: Thomas is a smaller guard but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Thomas is not a great shooter from outside but still has to be taken seriously out from beyond the arc after he hit six against NJIT. That was a career high and not what to expect out for Thomas. If SMU is able to slow Thomas down, one area they may be able to exploit him is through turnovers as he’s been a little turnover prone in some games this season. Nonetheless, Thomas is still part of a three headed attack for SMU that they will need to key on early and often.  

Xavier Pollard: Pollard is third piece of the attack and makes a lot of his impact on the defensive end of the court. At 6-4, the senior guard uses his length to force almost a steal per game and impact a number of other plays. Pollard is still averaging just over 12 points per game but tends to make his impact making the hustle plays for the Flashes. The 6-4, 210-pound guard has had a steal in 6 of 9 games and had three in Kent State’s victory over Youngstown State. 

Matchup to watch 

SMU frontcourt vs. Kent State frontcourt: Kent State’s frontcourt is what makes this team go despite having a talented backcourt to go with them. Between Hall, Khaliq Spicer and Chris Ortiz, the Flashes have outrebounded their opponents by 7 a game, as well as, winning the battle in the paint 35.6-24.9 points per game. This will certainly be a big test for the Mustangs especially if they are once again without their leader Markus Kennedy. 

Keys To the Game  

The battle of the boards will be one of the bigger matchups to watch in this game. With Jordan Tolbert dominating on the boards, SMU has consistently counted on this being one of their biggest strengths. However, they are now going against another squad that hangs their hat on rebounding and playing tough inside. If SMU is able to win this matchup inside, it will go a long way towards helping them move to 10-0 and a date in the finals of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. 

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