NAIA Tournament players to watch, story lines, favorites and more

03/19/2014 5:21 PM

03/19/2014 5:21 PM

Five players to watch

• F Bruce Reed, University of Pikeville:

Reed, who starred at Olathe East, began his college career at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and spent one year at Morehead (Ky.) State before transferring to UPike, where he leads the Bears in scoring with an 18.5 average with 6.1 rebounds per game. Reed, a 6-8 senior, scored a career-best 36 points in a win over St. Catherine (Ky.) and was the Mid-South Conference Player of the Year.

• F Luke Thomas, MidAmerica Nazarene:

Thomas, a graduate of Raymore-Peculiar High School, had a breakout senior season. Thomas averaged 23.0 points per game, and led the NAIA in rebounding (13.2) and in double-doubles with 26. Thomas also distributes the ball. In a 26-point, 15-rebound performance against Culver-Stockton in the Heart of America tournament, Thomas also dished out a career-best eight assists.

• F Brandon Davis, LSU Shreveport:

Davis, a 6-3 senior, was one of the most dynamic players in the 2013 tournament when he led the Pilots to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Georgetown on a buzzer-beater. Davis, who poured in 31 points in the semis and 27 in a quarterfinal win over Columbia, is averaging 18.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, and his 23 double-doubles rank second in the country.

• G De’End Parker, Cal State San Marcos:

Parker, who began his career at UCLA with a stop at the University of San Francisco, leads the Cougars in scoring with a 17.2 point average and team-high 4.3 assists per game. A knee injury short-circuited his stay at UCLA, and he averaged 11.7 points per game at USF last year but was dismissed in May by coach Rex Walters, a former Kansas guard, for “conduct detrimental to the team.”

• G Dominique Rambo, Southwestern Assemblies of God:

Rambo, a 5-foot-10 mighty mite, is one of the NAIA’s most electrifying players and lived up to his colorful name during the 2013 tournament when he led the Lions to the championship game. Rambo, the Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year this season, averaged 23.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.6 steals per game.

Five story lines

• Hall of Fame coaches:

Before coaching their teams in first-round games, MidAmerica Nazarene coach Rocky Lamar and Evangel (Mo.) coach Steve Jenkins will be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame on Tuesday night. Lamar, a six-time Heart of America Coach of the Year, has taken MidAmerica to 15 national tournaments, winning the 2007 Division II title. The Pioneers reached the Division I quarterfinals in 2013. Jenkins has led Evangel to six Heart titles, including the 2002 Division II national championship, and the Crusaders will be making their fifth straight appearance in the Division I tournament.

• Georgetown repeat?

Georgetown (Ky.) College will be appearing in its 33rd national tournament and 23rd straight, both all-time records and will be seeking its third championship. No team has repeated since Oklahoma City in 2008, but the Tigers are an experienced bunch. They are led by guard Monty Wilson, who averages 23.1 points per game and was the 2013 tournament MVP.

• Looking spiffy at 50:

This will be the 50th NAIA Tournament played at Municipal (the tournament was played at Kemper Arena from 1975-93 and in Tulsa from 1994-2001), and the venerable arena has never looked better. Thanks to a $5 million renovation funded by Kansas City, the auditorium now features new 47-foot-wide and 12 1/2-foot tall video boards at each end; a 40-foot-long LED scorer’s table at courtside; new sound system, new lighting, and new risers and seats in the lower level that have new chair backs with arm rests and cup holders.

• All-Star Saturday:

The NAIA will stage the inaugural NABC-NAIA All-Star Game, three-point and slam-dunk contests on Saturday in conjunction with the tournament quarterfinals. The All-Star game will tip off at 8 p.m. following the fourth quarterfinal. The game will match players from NAIA Division I against those from Division II. Hall of Fame coach Don Meyer, who won the 1986 NAIA Tournament with David Lipscomb, will lead the Division I team vs. fellow Hall of Famer Al Waller, longtime coach at College of the Ozarks, who will handle the Division II squad. The slam dunk contest and three-point contest will occur at 12:30 p.m. between the first and second quarterfinals. Tickets, starting at $5, will cover the entire day of activities.

• Remembering Rockhurst:

Though Rockhurst University is no longer a member of the NAIA, the 50th anniversary of the Hawks’ memorable 1964 NAIA championship will be celebrated. Members of the team, who upset top-seeded and defending champion Pan American, will be honored with a reception at 5 p.m. at the Downtown Marriott on March 24 and introduced during halftime of the first semifinal.

Three favorites

• Cal State San Marcos:

The Cougars have won 21 straight, and as an independent took on all comers during a 30-1 season. San Marcos, coached by former USC head coach and UCLA assistant Jim Saia, feature a lineup filled with Division I transfers and will try to become the first No. 1 seed to win the tournament since Mountain State (W.Va.) in 2004.

• William Carey (Miss.):

The Crusaders are also riding a 21-game winning streak and may have learned something from a first-round elimination last year in their first tournament appearance since 1989. If the Crusaders beat Philander Smith in the first round, they could get a shot at defending champion Georgetown in the second round.

• Pikeville (Ky.):

UPike, which won the 2011 NAIA title as Pikeville College, is also loaded with Division I transfers, including Reed, former Wichita State Shocker Kenny Manigault and Keala King. King spent two seasons at Arizona State, where he averaged a team-high 13.7 points per game as a sophomore, and at Long Beach State, where he scored in double figures 11 times. The Bears scored 100 or more points in nine games this season.

Three sleepers

• Benedictine:

The Ravens, from Atchison, Kan., once an NAIA power when winning the NAIA titles in 1954 and 1967 as St. Benedict’s, are making their first tournament appearance since 1970. For Wednesday’s first-round game against Westminster (Utah), the school is staging a campaign to break the single-session tournament attendance record of 6,131 since the NAIA returned to Kansas City in 2002.

• Talladega (Ala.):

The Tornadoes are making their first appearance in the tournament since 1996 and won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 104-95 victory in overtime over defending league champion Philander Smith. No team from the GCAC has won the NAIA Tournament.

• Oklahoma Baptist: It’s hard to call a school that is tied with Georgetown for the most wins in NAIA Tournament history with 59 a sleeper, but at one point, the Bison were 13-15 before reeling off six straight wins, including in the rugged Sooner Athletic Conference tournament. OBU, which won the 2010 title, is 12-1 in first-round games under coach Doug Tolin and drew top-seeded California State-San Marcos in the opener.

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