Northern Kentucky Norse: 26-8, 13-5 in the Horizon League
Head coach: John Brannen (4th season)
Players to watch: Drew McDonald (19.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG); Tyler Sharpe (14.1 PPG, 37.7 3PT%); Jalen Tate (14.0 PPG, 4.1 APG)
Season recap: Senior forward Drew McDonald knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer to propel Northern Kentucky to a 64-63 victory against Oakland in the semifinals of the Horizon Conference tournament Monday. The Norse then cruised to a 77-66 win over the top-seeded Wright State the next night to secure a conference championship and a bid into the NCAA tournament, their second in the last three years.
The Norse offense is carried by an array of players. McDonald leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.1 points per game. Northern Kentucky also boasts an effective backcourt, with guards Tyler Sharpe and Jalen Tate both chipping in at least 14 points per game. Tate’s passing abilities along with Sharpe’s accurate outside shot makes the Norse a dangerous team from the perimeter. On the defensive end, McDonald grabs a league-leading 9.5 rebounds per game, while center Chris Vogt helps protect the paint with 1.2 blocks per game.
Northern Kentucky’s season has been smooth sailing for the most part, losing just one game at home all season. Winning each of the last five games, the Norse look to continue their hot streak going into the tournament. Since Brannen became the head coach of Northern Kentucky, he has led the team to a regular-season and two tournament titles in the Horizon League, making a name for the program in the mid-majors in just three years. This year marks the second berth into the NCAA tournament in that time span for the Norse, a remarkable feat for a program that just became eligible for Division I postseason competition in 2016.
How they make a run: The Norse backcourt continues its lights-out shooting, opening up the offense for inside attacks by McDonald and thus stifling a higher-seeded defense.
How they falter: Northern Kentucky’s lack of interior size allows higher-seeded opponents to grab more offensive rebounds and demoralize the Norse with second-chance opportunities.
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