The Horizon League is not one of the biggest Mid Majors in the nation when it comes to college basketball, but it has earned its share of notoriety over the years when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. Schools such as Butler and Milwaukee are no longer part of the mix, but they made a mark in March on more than one occasion in recent years. Taking their place as the new face of this conference are programs such as Northern Kentucky.
Northern Kentucky Team Overview
Northern Kentucky is relative new to the Horizon League having come over from the Atlantic Sun Conference before the 2015/2016 season. The Norse earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament the following season as a No. 15 seed. They won the league tournament in 2017 as part of an overall record of 24-11. John Brannen is at the helm as head coach in his fourth season with the team. Under his guidance, Northern Kentucky has posted at least 20 wins on the resume in each of the past two campaigns.
The fast start this season in nonconference play has been highlighted by 12 straight-up victories against just two defeats. Both losses came against the AAC to Central Florida and Cincinnati with Northern Kentucky closing as a double-digit underdog. As five-point favorites against Morehead State, the Norse rolled to a 93-71 victory in one of their more dominating performance in the early part of the season.
The Norse have begun to step up the level of competition they face in nonconference play ahead of their Horizon League schedule and it has paid off with a few higher profile wins. They have been able to quickly move this program to the top of the list in the 10-team league.
Northern Kentucky Season Outlook
A few of the attributes that landed Northern Kentucky on this year’s NCAA Tournament’s sleeper list start with an offense attack that is averaging close to 80 points per game. Going over the early play this season, the Norse eclipsed that average in six of their first 14 contests. This has worked to complement a defense that is allowing fewer than 66 points at the other end of the court.
Scoring depth runs rather deep on this roster with four players averaging at least 12 PPG. Veteran leadership goes back to senior forward Drew McDonald, who is averaging a double-double in both points and rebounds. He has shot better than 47 percent from the field in each of his four seasons with the team.
Another top scorer for the past two seasons has been junior guard Tyler Sharpe. He has been able to average close to 14 points a game to rank second on the list. Rounding out the depth shooting the ball are sophomore guard Jalen Tate and junior forward Dantez Walton. Walton has stepped up his game under the boards as the team’s second-leading rebounder and Tate tops the list in assists.
As a team, Northern Kentucky brings some excellent balance into its overall performance. While it has had some issues with consistency shooting free throws, an overall field goal average of 47 percent coupled with a respectable 35.3 shooting percentage from three-point range should serve this team rather well against any of the tougher competition it might face come March.