Opinion: Don’t count out a Hollywood-sized upset

Lucas Misera

Lucas Misera

After going from the No. 6 seed in the MAC Tournament to standing atop the conference via an upset of The University of Akron, Kent State earned itself a date with the most storied basketball program in the history of the sport, the University of California, Los Angeles Bruins.

With six NCAA Tournament appearances in program history and only one run past the Round of 32 (2002), the Flashes square off against a program that has produced 11 NCAA championships, four undefeated seasons and a smorgasbord of alumni worthy of basketball’s Mount Rushmore.

Present-day UCLA isn’t too shabby, either. With Naismith College Player of the Year candidate Lonzo Ball running an offense that averages over 90 points per game, the Bruins are likely a favorite to make a deep run.

With all that said, the Flashes are underdogs — the kind of underdogs that are expected to lose by 20 points.

Yet, if UCLA is serious about their chances at winning the tourney, overlooking lowly Kent State would prove disastrous.

March Madness is all about who is peaking and playing their best basketball of the season. The Flashes are 9-1 in their last 10 games, proving they can play defense (allowing an average of 65 points per game over their last three matchups) or score in droves (look up their 116-point offensive explosion against Central Michigan University) along the way.

If they do want a chance against UCLA, it’ll take an offensive showing similar to the aforementioned Central Michigan game. The Flashes have proven that the firepower is available, posting 100 points or more on five separate occasions this season, and it might be possible against a particularly vulnerable UCLA defense.

In the Bruins’ four losses this season, opponents averaged 89 points per game. Their defensive efficiency may also be hampered by injuries to freshman phenoms TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball.

For the Flashes to take advantage of UCLA’s few weaknesses, senior forward Jimmy Hall can’t be a one-man show. Sophomore Jaylin Walker will need to be as sensational as he was against Akron in the MAC Championship, scoring 30 points on an 11-18 shooting night, and fellow sophomore Jalen Avery will need to masterfully run the point — if the Flashes start turning the ball over early, this one will turn ugly quickly.

If all the pieces come together for Kent State on Friday, then Coach Rob Senderoff may have a chance at nabbing the most significant win in program history. Even if the odds are particularly slim, losing by less than 10 to a national powerhouse at this stage would certainly turn heads. Coming out with a win should be the main goal, but keeping this one close — even in the event of a loss — is a victory.

But it’s March, a month routinely characterized by bracket-busting upsets and mayhem in the world of basketball. Among all the madness, the Flashes might have their moment.

Even if Kent State gets routed by an exceptional opponent, the Flashes still beat Akron for the Wagon Wheel in a conference championship game. In that case, I think we can all still call this season a success.

Lucas Misera is the opinion editor, contact him at [email protected].