ESPN is a vast network, but even they can’t cover every inch of the college basketball landscape. Too often, some truly outstanding players will fall below the national radar. One thing is certain though: these players are making a big impact at the Division I level, so don’t be surprised when they show up again to spoil your bracket. Periodically throughout the rest of the season we here at Otto’s Grove aim to make you the know-it-all among your group of basketball friends by introducing you to some players from around the nation that aren’t exactly on the national stage, but could make a difference in your March Madness pool.
North Carolina Central
Record: 17-6 (9-0)
We’re going to mix things up a bit today and instead of covering an under the radar player, I’ll give you a little insight into a team that I believe could sneak up on a top seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Hailing from the MEAC, North Carolina Central is an experienced team that won 28 games last season and made the Big Dance as a 14-seed before losing to Iowa State in the first round. Led by a quartet of seniors and a redshirt junior, the Eagles have started the season 17-6 and are 9-0 in conference.
The strength of NCCU is their defense, which ranks ninth in the nation in points against, giving up just 56.4 points per game. The main reason for that is their stinginess on the perimeter, where they only give up 26.9 percent shooting. Their opponents make less than five threes per game, which really limits what other teams can do against them. With four guys averaging over a steal per game, the Eagles get up in their opponent’s grill and make life difficult for any guard who opposes them.
On the offensive side of the ball, four players score in double-digits, led by forward Jordan Parks (14.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG). The senior big man is the heart and soul of the team and does a little of everything for the Eagles. Parks already has eight double-doubles this season and could compete for the conference player of the year award. The other offensive threats are Anthony McDonald (13.2 PPG), Dante Holmes (11.0 PPG), and the amazingly named Nimrod Hilliard (10.2 PPG). Nimrod runs the show on offense with a league leading 6.2 assists per game and does a fantastic job of getting everyone involved.
The biggest and most glaring weakness for the Eagles is their lack of depth. Much like our very own Syracuse Orange, NCCU plays their starters for almost the entire game and only brings two subs off the bench most nights. Against a deep, well coached team the Eagles may find themselves in trouble and will need some breaks to go their way to pull out the upset.