Mid-Major Betting Report: Breaking Down Kent State & James Madison
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Rob Senderoff (Kent State)
Welcome to the third edition of college basketball’s mid-major report, where I pick a couple mid-major NCAA Division I college basketball teams out of a hat and do unnecessary deep dives into the state of their programs.
As a college hoops fan and gambler, you must stay up-to-date on the state of the top mid-major programs. These are the guys that win conference tournaments and make the Cinderella runs.
I’m here to break down two of those teams, one from the MAC and one from the Sun Belt.
It’s hard not to love Kent State. The Golden Flashes are everything I want out of a basketball team.
Kent State plays an aggressive, active man-to-man defense that has shut down every opponent. The Flashes have snuck up to 35th in defensive efficiency behind a top-30 eFG% allowed (45.1%) and a top-10 defensive turnover rate (24.9%).
The Flashes stop everything.
You want to run pick-and-roll? The Flashes are fifth nationally in pick-and-roll PPP allowed (.521).
You want to get out in transition? The Flashes are 23rd in transition PPP allowed (.821).
You want to spot-up? The Flashes are 36th nationally in spot-up PPP allowed (.775).
You want to post up? The Flashes are 46th in post-up PPP allowed (.663).
They also contain any off-ball or off-screen action you want, which is the key to all these unbelievable defensive statistics.
Kent State has an innate ability to force you into bad iso situations. It won’t let opponents run decent offensive sets with half-decent spacing, leading to inefficiencies at every area of the floor (save corner 3s).
Image Credit: CBB Analytics
But while coach Rob Senderoff has drawn up an excellent defensive scheme — something he’s been great at doing over the years — the Jimmies and Joes make it happen.
Kent State returned four starters from last season’s MAC Tournament runner-up team, including lockdown wing defender Malique Jacobs.
Jacobs is working on his third straight MAC All-Defensive Team, but should be in consideration for MAC DPOY. He’s the current MAC leader in EvanMiya’s DBPR metric, and it’s not particularly close.
Jacobs can lock down the opposing team’s best scorer on every night, allowing the other four guys — all good defenders in their own right — enough flexibility to be aggressive and limit everything else.
Meanwhile, it’s almost impossible to stop Kent State’s best scorer. The defending MAC Player of the Year, Sincere Carry, is back in full force, dropping 16.3 points and 5.9 assists per game while hitting a million step-back 3s and making unbelievably cool shots like this one:
— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 4, 2023
The problem is that Kent State doesn’t have much offense outside of Carry. And the Flashes haven’t figured out how to make all the pieces work. That’s because they fall into isolation sets at the fourth-highest rate nationally despite ranking in the 19th percentile in isolation efficiency.
But when you have the best player on the floor, and the ability to shut down the opponent’s best player, you’re going to win games.
And look at Kent State’s results. The Flashes are 11-3, and their only three losses are:
- A two-point loss to mid-major powerhouse Charleston.
- A five-point loss to Houston, which they held to just 49 points while leading late.
- A seven-point loss to Gonzaga, which they held under 75 points for only the second time this season.
That’s an impressive resume. Kent State is a team that should win the MAC, and it’s a team that can upset a blue blood in the tournament’s first weekend.
The most surprising team in college basketball this season?
Look no further than the James Madison Dukes.
It’s funny because the football team did something similar. The Dukes jumped from the FCS to the FBS level this past offseason and surprised the world with their offensive firepower. Todd Centeio and the Dukes were 13th in scoring offense (37 PPG).
Well, these college basketball Dukes moved from the CAA to the Sun Belt and have overpowered every defense in their path.
James Madison is first nationally in scoring offense, dropping a whopping 89.7 points per game. The Dukes have a whopping 10 wins by at least 15 points this season, including some monstrous scores (106-58 over Hampton, 115-79 over LIU).
Mark Byington is an excellent offensive coach that returned four starters from last season, including his top two scorers in Vado Morse and Takal Molson. Those two are averaging a combined 24.7 points, and fellow returning starter Terrence Edwards is adding 11.3 points.
The Dukes are uber-active on the defensive end, ranking 19th in defensive turnover rate and using those turnovers to create transition opportunities. James Madison is fifth in transition points per game (24.1) and is top-30 in PPP (1.191).
In the half-court, you get a lot of pick-and-roll sets, primarily with Morse and Molson, but also with various ball handlers. James Madison is eighth in bench minutes.
You’ll also see plenty of cutting off the Dukes’ top guys, and they can crash the offensive boards.
Either way, add the transition offense to the dribble-drive penetration and offensive rebounding prowess, and James Madison collapses defenses with the best of them.
James Madison is sixth nationally in percentage of shots taken at the rim, and it averages almost 36 FGA per game either at the rim or in the paint.
The Dukes get downhill on you, and they have no problems making those shots.
Image Credit: CBB Analytics
Surprisingly, the Dukes rank much higher in KenPom’s defensive efficiency marks. The defensive turnovers help, but James Madison is also an excellent shot-contesting and ball-screen defense.
The Dukes rank in the 94th percentile in spot-up PPP allowed (.750) and in the 86th percentile in pick-and-roll PPP allowed (.629).
This is a wild development from a team that finished dead last in the CAA last season in defensive efficiency. But then again, Byington was quoted in Blue Ribbon during the preseason saying:
“I think our defense will be much improved. We’ve added athletic size. We’re going to have some big guards and guys who can move and still be able to get into people on defense and make them uncomfortable.”
Either way, the pieces are coming together for this team on offense and defense.
Image Credit: CBB Analytics
The Dukes are the team to beat in the Fun Belt.