Kent State vs. Northern Kentucky Odds, Picks: Betting Value on Norse?
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Darrin Horn (Northern Kentucky)
Kent State vs. Northern Kentucky Odds
Many have complained that the opening-day slate of the college basketball season lacks excitement and competitive matchups.
I’m not saying those people are wrong. But they should, however, respect mid-majors and pay more attention to games outside the Power Five (or six, for that matter) conferences.
KenPom’s Thrill Score ranks Monday night’s matchup between Kent State and Northern Kentucky as the day’s second-best. The coaches’ polls selected the two programs to win their respective conferences.
But only one can start their season off with a victory.
With their eye on the MAC title, the Golden Flashes are poised to be one of the best mid-major teams in college basketball this year.
Last season, Kent State ended the regular season on a 12-0 run, but saw its tournament bid ripped away from it in the conference title game, falling to Akron.
This year, Kent State is back with a vengeance. The return of MAC Player of the Year Sincere Carry and All-Defensive selection Malique Jacobs — two of the best mid-major players at opposite ends of the court — position the Flashes as a threat to anyone on the schedule this year.
However, the losses in the frontcourt are glaring. The Golden Flashes lose three of their top five rebounders from a season ago in Andrew Garcia, Justyn Hamilton and Tervell Beck.
They bring in Miryne Thomas from Ball State and Chris Payton of Indian Hills CC. But how long will it be before they mesh as a team and return to the rhythm they had during their 12-0 run last season?
A Kentucky basketball legend in his own right, Darrin Horn enters year four with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
The Norse are 57-32 and 38-18 in the conference since he took over, and they’ve been to the conference championship twice and won it once.
They are the only team in the Horizon that has made it to the conference semifinals in the last three years.
However, that coveted ticket to the Big Dance still eludes Horn at NKU. In his first year, the Norse got their ticket, but the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Last year, they looked dominant in nearly every minute of the conference tournament. Unfortunately, the only time they didn’t was a late-game collapse against Wright State that ended their season.
With four returning starters, Horn and the Norse again have one goal: win the conference and hear their name on Selection Sunday.
The Norse return 75.5% of production minutes from a season ago, with one of the most significant returnees being Trevon Faulkner, who earned an additional year of eligibility.
But he isn’t the only veteran game-changer back for the Norse.
Marques Warrick, who averaged more than 20 points a game during their 14-2 run in conference play, is back. Chris Brandon — the team’s leading rebounder from a season ago, whose role will be more important than ever after the departure of Adrian Nelson — is returning as well.
Brandon took over the starting role in the second half of last season, averaging the same amount of rebounds as Nelson and establishing himself as an even better shooter. He’ll handle the bulk of the minutes with Nelson’s departure, but it’s a challenge he can handle.
This year’s squad is the most experienced Horn has had since arriving in Highland Heights. The expectations are as high as they’ve ever been, but that hasn’t been an issue in the past — NKU hasn’t finished worse than fourth in the Horizon in Horn’s first three years.
There are little-to-no concerns regarding the Norse this year, but if you had to point to one, it’s the lack of proven success on the glass.
This is something that should be solved thanks to Brandon — who I expect to take a leap this year — and the two seven-footers off the bench, Imanuel Zorgvol and Noah Hupmann.
Kent State vs. Northern Kentucky Betting Pick
Kent State hit its stride late last season with the return of Giovanni Santiago and Garcia from injury. Santiago is a perfect compliment to Carry’s game, and the Golden Flashes — much like NKU — will be in the running for their conference championship.
The losses of Garcia, Hamilton and Beck will take some time to figure out. They have the talent on the roster to play at the same level as a season ago, but I don’t see them being at that level in game one of the season.
The experience and returning familiarity of the Norse will prevail in their first game of the season. Moreover, if there is a weakness for NKU, it will be its rebounding, whereas Kent State has some issues of its own to figure out.
Back the Norse as high as a 2-point favorite in this one. I’ll be on the moneyline, but wouldn’t go any higher than -125.