College Sports

Be sure to catch these seven South Floridians taking the floor in the NCAA Tournament

Analyzing the economic impact of the NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament is upon us, but the madness of March goes beyond the court. The amount of money the TV industry, its advertisers and fans spend on the tournament are pretty crazy too.
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The NCAA Tournament is upon us, but the madness of March goes beyond the court. The amount of money the TV industry, its advertisers and fans spend on the tournament are pretty crazy too.

There’s probably not a South Florida player this season who will be in contention for Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four — that might have to wait until Vernon Carey is playing for the Duke Blue Devils next year — but there’s no shortage of contributors from across the Miami metropolitan area who will be taking the court for the next few weeks.

Look to the potential bracket busters and heroic underdogs to get your Florida fix this year with these seven players who will probably play a role in the NCAA Tournament later this week.

Shawn Occeus and Jason Strong, Northeastern Huskies

No. 13-seed Northeastern can spring an upset on the No. 4-seed Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 4 p.m. EST in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it’s going to need help from two Floridians to get it done.

Strong, a redshirt freshman forward from Coconut Creek and Westminster Academy, will probably help a little bit — he has played in 28 games and averages 3.5 points — but Occeus could be the key. The junior guard from Grandview Prep and Boynton Beach was limited to just 14 games because of injuries this year, but scored 17 in the Colonial Athletic Conference semifinal, then 11 in an 82-74 win against the Hofstra Pride in the CAA championship last Tuesday in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Nate Johnson, Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs

Johnson started all 34 games as one of the three guards in Gardner-Webb’s sharpshooting offense. The Runnin’ Bulldogs ranked 12th in the nation with a 39.1 three-point percentage and Johnson is a major part of why. One of three guards who plays at least 30 minutes per game, Johnson went 62 of 158 on three-pointers this year, averaging 9.8 points per game.

Johnson, a Miami native and McArthur High School alumnus, chips in through a variety of other phases of the game, too. Most notably, the redshirt sophomore leads the Bulldogs with 1.5 steals per game. Gardner-Webb will try to be the second straight No. 16 seed to stun the No. 1-seed Virginia Cavaliers on Friday at 3:10 p.m. EST in Columbia, South Carolina.

Larry McKnight Jr., North Carolina Central Eagles

North Carolina Central first takes the floor Wednesday for a First Four game against the fellow No. 16-seed North Dakota State Bison at 6:40 p.m. EST in Dayton, Ohio. If the Eagles win, they’ll go for the biggest upset possible against the Duke Blue Devils, the No. 1 overall seed in Columbia.

To have any chance at making history, North Carolina Central will need a monster game from Larry McKnight Jr., a do-everything wing from North Miami High School. The redshirt senior from Miami, who started all but one game, ranked second on the team in minutes this season, averaging 9.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.

Paul Atkinson, Yale Bulldogs

Atkinson is a key role player in Yale’s high-scoring offense thanks to his scoring and rebounding ability. The sophomore forward from Westminster Academy averages 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while shooting a team-high 69.6 percent from the field. The West Palm Beach native started one game this year after starting all but one as a true freshman last season.

The forward fills an important niche for Yale, too. He’s the only non-shooter on the roster, and one of the best-equipped players on the roster to hang with high-major forwards and centers. No. 14-seed Yale faces the No. 3-seed LSU Tigers at 12:40 p.m. EST on Thursday in Jacksonville.

Raiquan Gray, Florida State Seminoles

Florida State runs deep and Gray is one of those myriad contributors. The forward from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale is one of 11 Seminoles who average at least 10 minutes per game.

Gray, who started once this season, averages 3.7 points per game and 2.2 rebounds as a redshirt freshman. No. 14-seed Florida State faces the No. 13-seed Vermont Catamounts on Thursday at 2 p.m. EST in Hartford, Connecticut.

Brion Sanchious, Murray State Racers

Murray State pretty much lets All-American point guard Ja Morant do everything, which makes Sanchious a pretty perfect complementary player. The forward from Northeast High School only even attempted 2.0 shots per game this year, content to do some of the dirty work for the Racers.

A native of Pompano Beach, Sanchious is averaging 2.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game, although his playing time has dwindled a bit down the stretch. The senior started 21 times this year, but just once since the start of February. No. 12-seed Murray State faces the No. 5-seed Marquette Golden Eagles on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. EST in Hartford.

The rest:

Florida State Seminoles: Ty Hands (Palm Beach Lakes)

Florida Gators: Keith Stone (Deerfield Beach)

North Carolina Tar Heels: Ryan McAdoo (Saint Andrew’s)

Kansas State Wildcats: James Love III (Plantation American Heritage)

Baylor Bears: Darius Allen (Chaminade-Madonna)

Purdue Boilermakers: Emmanuel Dowuona (Westwood Christian)

Arizona State Sun Devils: Kyle Feit (Bradenton IMG Academy)

UCF Knights: Xavier Grant (Plantation American Heritage); Levy Renaud (University)

David Wilson, a Maryland native, is the Miami Herald’s utility man for sports coverage.


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