It may be more than a couple of months away yet but who of our fourty-odd Kiwis (21 women and 20 men) playing NCAA Division I hoops are likely to feature in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournament in late March?
Remembering that with the 32 conference winners gaining automatic entry only a further 36 teams (32 women’s teams) gain selection from the remaining 321 Division 1 colleges it’s a results driven business.
Of the Men’s teams only Yanni Wetzell and the San Diego Aztecs would be sure of a nod from the tournament committee if invitations were handed out tomorrow. The Aztecs are ranked anywhere between second and seventh, depending on which poll you look at, on the back of their record equalling 20-0 start to the season – the only unbeaten team in Men’s Division I basketball.
St Mary’s are the next highest ranked team with a Kiwi player on the roster. Dan Fotu has been called upon to play as the starting centre for the Gaels who are currently ranked 41. Quinn Clinton is also at St Mary’s but he is redshirting the 2019/20 season. With Gonzaga favourites in the West Coast Conference St Mary’s will need to string some victories together to climb into contention.
The same can be said for Sam Timmins and the University of Washington from the Pac 12 Conference who sit seven places lower at 48th.
Flynn Cameron and De Paul University are at #52 and the only other player on a Top 100 team is Sam Waardenburg with Miami Hurricanes who sit at 92nd. An indication of how strong the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) is regarded is that Miami sit 14th on the ACC standings with a 2-6 record yet still figure in the top 100 teams nationally.
The best of the rest is Izayah Le’afa and Sacramento State Hornets at #122. They will have to win the Big Sky Conference to feature in March Madness.
In the Women’s rankings top spot sits with Tara Manuumale. The former Junior Tall Fern is a freshman at Arizona who sit 19th on the NCAA Women’s Div I ranking list.
Just outside the Top 50 are University of Colorado with Charlotte Whittaker making quite an impact in her freshman season.
Not far behind at #69 are St Mary’s Gaels who boast a trio of Kiwis – seniors Shalae Salmon and Khaedin Taito plus freshman Kaylee Smiler.
Tegan Graham and Colgate University (13-5) are going well in the Patriot League and squeeze inside the Top 100 at No 92 with Katelin Noyer and Fresno State Bulldogs at #94.
The best of the rest are the Atlantic 10 Conference pairing of Fordham University (#114) and Virginia Commonwealth (#138). Fordham, the A-10 champions last season, have the Kiwi duo of Kendell Heremaia and Zara Jillings whilst Virginia Commonwealth, the beaten finalists in 2019, are led by leading scorer Akiene-Tera Reed.