College Basketball

Area players seeking to impact brackets

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The Northland High School boys basketball program is hoping the Division I state tournament isn't the only place it makes its presence felt over the coming days.

One of college basketball's biggest turnarounds this season occurred at James Madison University, where the Dukes advanced to their first NCAA tournament since 1994 after going 12-20 a year ago.

James Madison, powered by the central Ohio combination of fifth-year senior guards Devon Moore from Northland and A.J. Davis from Linden-McKinley, played LIU-Brooklyn in a first-round game March 20. The winner gets top-seeded Indiana at 4:10 p.m. Friday, March 22, in a second-round game in Dayton.

Also representing Northland in the NCAA tournament will be 2011 graduate and Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke, who helped the Wolverines earn a No. 4 seed and a game against South Dakota State at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, March 21, in Auburn Hills, Mich.

As a junior in 2007, Moore helped Northland win its first Division I district championship since 1985. Burke played for the Vikings in 2009 when they won their first state title and was Mr. Basketball in 2011 when they were state runners-up.

Northland, meanwhile, is playing Mentor at 5:15 p.m. Friday, March 22, in a state semifinal at Ohio State.

"It's definitely been exciting," Moore said. "We went from the bottom to the top and it's just crazy to see all that you can accomplish."

Moore has averaged 11.5 points for a Dukes team that entered the NCAA tournament at 20-14.

Davis helped Linden reach a Division II state semifinal in 2005. He previously played two seasons for Wyoming before averaging 16 points last year for JMU and 12 points this season as the Dukes' second-leading scorer.

"I had been at Wyoming two years and wanted to be closer to home, and Devon is my cousin," Davis said. "We'd been wanting to play with each other since high school."

Burke was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year and the conference's Player of the Year this season, averaging 19.2 points, 6.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds.

Caris LeVert, a freshman guard who helped Pickerington Central win the Division I state title a year ago, has averaged 2.5 points in 27 games while helping the Wolverines take a 26-7 record into the tournament.

Burke was the ThisWeek Super 12 captain in 2011 and LeVert was the captain in 2012.

"Last year I was going off more natural ability and this year I would say I've been more mature on the court," Burke said. "This year I've just watched a lot of film and have been able to get the ball to my teammates more and play better defense."

Other central Ohioans who hope to make their mark in the NCAA tournament are 2010 Gahanna graduate Rob Brandenberg and 2011 Westerville South graduate Traevon Jackson.

Brandenberg is a junior guard for Virginia Commonwealth who has started 26 games and averages 10.4 points. His team lost to St. Louis on March 17 in the Atlantic Ten championship game to fall to 26-8 but earned a No. 5 seed and will play Akron in a second-round game at 9:45 p.m. Thursday, March 21, in Auburn Hills.

Brandenberg was a senior in 2010 when Gahanna advanced to the state tournament for the first time. The next year, he helped VCU make the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

"I was our seventh or eighth man as a freshman off the bench, so I just came off the bench and tried to play defense," Brandenberg said. "Last year my role got bigger and I struggled a little bit. This year I play defense and help set the tone for our team. This year we've just capitalized on a lot of the success we've had the last two or three years."

Jackson helped Westerville South win a district title as a senior in 2011 and played in 11 games as a freshman for the Badgers.

He has started 28 games this season and averages 6.9 points for Wisconsin, which is 23-11 entering its NCAA opener at 12:40 p.m. Friday, March 22, against Mississippi in Kansas City, Mo.

Another area player in the NCAA tournament is Khalid King, who helped Brookhaven win a Division II district title as a senior in 2012.

He has played in 12 games this season for North Carolina A&T, which faced Liberty in a first-round game March 19, with the winner to play overall No. 1 seed Louisville at 6:50 p.m. Thursday, March 21, in Lexington, Ky.

•FLYING INTO THE TOURNEY -- Samantha Mackay, a 2009 Dublin Coffman graduate, has helped the Dayton women's team make its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

A senior guard, Mackay has averaged 10.3 points as the Flyers (27-2) won the Atlantic Ten regular-season title. They were upset by St. Joseph's 61-54 in a league tournament semifinal March 10.

"Losing seven seniors from last year, it was a little bit of a question of how well we were going to (play)," Mackay said. "It's been a lot of fun this year, working with a huge freshman class."

The NCAA women's field was announced March 18. Dayton's only regular-season loss was to Bowling Green 65-40 on Dec. 30.

"Senior night was great, and going 14-0 in the conference was an amazing feeling," Mackay said. "At the same time, saying goodbye to UD was bittersweet. I'm going to keep playing for a couple years after this, maybe overseas."

•ENJOYING THE FLORIDA SUN -- Ashley Dennis helped the Stetson women's team upset Florida Gulf Coast 70-64 on March 9 to win the Atlantic Sun tournament and earn an automatic NCAA berth.

The 2009 Bexley graduate has started eight games this season, averaging 3.1 points as Stetson has gone 24-8.

The senior has played a bigger role this season for the Hatters than as a sophomore when they made the NCAA tournament. Last season, Stetson played in the NIT.

Stetson is in DeLand, Fla.

"It's been so much fun," Dennis said. "We won (the conference tournament) two years ago, but I didn't have as big of a role in it. This year I'm a senior and a co-captain and started in the championship game.

"DeLand is a little city, but I love it. It's kind of like old town Bexley, right between Orlando and Daytona. The coldest it's gotten this winter is about 75 degrees."

•FINALLY -- The 32-team CollegeInsider.com tournament, which kicked off March 19, includes two teams with central Ohio ties.

On Oakland University's roster is 2010 Olentangy graduate Raphael Carter, who had played in 25 games before his team opened the tournament March 19 against Youngstown State.

Ralph Hill, a 2010 Westerville North graduate who originally signed with Dayton, is sitting out this season after transferring to Oakland.

Dejuan McGaughy, a 2010 Marion-Franklin graduate, helped High Point earn a first-round matchup against UC Irvine on March 20. McGaughy entered the tournament averaging 6.9 points.

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