April 3, 2023
HOUSTON—As confetti rained down on the jubilant Kent State Golden Flashes—the most unlikely (but also in retrospect kinda likely) men’s basketball national champions in history—the same question persisted amongst analysts, fans and, most crucially, bettors alike: How did we not see this coming?
The likely answer is that No. 13 seed had ever won the NCAA tournament before. The vast majority of bracket “experts” didn’t even have Kent State advancing past the first round. But those in the know—the people putting in the real work—could see signs of Kent State’s coming greatness all the way back before the first game tipped.
It starts with NCAA Tournament MVP (and now national sensation) Sincere Carry. His name, which sounds like a dribbling violation that you want to let slide because it was performed in such good faith, is now synonymous with the likes of Jameer Nelson and Kemba Walker on the pantheon of all-time clutch college guards.
Carry, a fifth-year senior, never missed a beat after averaging more than 24 points per game during the MAC conference tournament. Sincere’s 35-point explosion in Kent State’s opening round upset of Indiana turned out to be just a small taste of what was to come. Combined with Malique Jacobs, the MAC defensive player, Kent State not only competed with teams more talented on paper, they dictated the pace of every single game. Combined with the elite three-point shooting of Jalen Sullinger—no longer known as just Jared's nephew—the MAC juggernauts suffocated most opponents before halftime.
Of course, we all remember how Rob Senderoff, the winningest coach in school history, made waves when he took a double technical with 10 minutes left in the second half and the Golden Flashes down 18 to Texas. The outburst turned out to be perfectly timed, however, and despite the hefty FCC fines, it proved worthwhile as Kent State scored a miraculous 65 points down the stretch to secure their spot in the Final Four.
Many are lamenting that they wished they could just go back in time and somehow, someway, bet $1 on Kent State to win the tournament. At +50,000—as listed on FanDuel prior to tip—it would have paid out $500. But alas, you can’t go back in time. No sense worrying about it. There's nothing you can do now.
So congratulations once again to your national champion Kent State Golden Flashes, and kudos as well to Montana State for finishing runner-up.