NCAA Scouting Report: Northern Kentucky Norse

Anthony Crawford

INDIANAPOLIS — With the brackets all filled out and the games now underway, March Madness is officially here and with that comes the many narratives UK men’s basketball will face on a run that it hopes will end with the team cutting down the nets in Phoenix. The first round narrative surrounding UK is built on the in-state matchup between the Cats — a team that leads the nation in NCAA tournament appearances — and the Northern Kentucky Norse — a team playing in its first NCAA tournament.

The Norse and their fans are riding a wave of exciting after making a run through the Horizon league tournament and earning a bid for the NCAA tournament in the first year eligible for the postseason due to the four-year reclassification process, which makes them just the seventh team to do so. Here’s what to know about the Norse:

Head Coach: John Brennan (Second year at NKU, Horizon League Coach of the Year this past season.

Record: 24-10 overall, 12-6 Horizon League (third place in the league)

Starters: Lavone Holland II (Junior, G, 6’1”, 185 lbs.)

Cole Murray (Senior, G, 6’7”, 210 lbs.)

Jordan Garnett (Junior, F, 6’5”, 220 lbs.)

Carson Williams (Freshman, F, 6’5”, 230 lbs.)

Drew McDonald (Sophomore, F, 6’7”, 210 lbs.) 

Staying strong through the early madness

The Horizon League dawns the nickname, “Motor City Madness,” in part because of it being hosted in Detroit and also because of the exciting competition, which did not fail to deliver this year. Playing in only its second Horizon League Tournament, NKU was able to make a successful run to start the postseason while also being the only higher-seeded team to win a game. The high seed went a combined 3-6 in the conference tournament, with all three wins coming from the Norse. In the final, No. 4 NKU faced off against No. 10 Milwaukee. NKU led for all but 12 seconds of the contest but had to work hard to hold off Milwaukee before eventually winning 59-53 to earn the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid.

Junior guard Lavone Holland II earned tournament NVP honors for the Norse after posting 20 points, six rebounds, four steals and two steals in the finals win over Milwaukee. He was also joined by sophomore forward Drew McDonald on the all-tournament team. McDonald played big for the Norse averaging 18.7 points and 10 rebounds per game during NKU’s run through the conference tourney.

NKU shares one major thing with UK — Youth

Out of the 351 teams in Division I basketball, UK ranks 341st in the experience stat calculated on But the Norse are not too far ahead ranking 292nd, themselves. NKU’s roster feature’s five freshmen and eight players who made their Division I collegiate debut this season.

Of all those young faces suiting up for the Norse, one should standout as familiar to those who pay attention to high school basketball in Kentucky — reigning Mr. Basketball Carson Williams. Williams played high school ball for Owens County and adjusted rather well to the college game in his first season, registering averages of 10.5 points (third on the team) and 5.8 rebounds (second on the team).

“He started being the most consistent freshman I’ve ever coached. He’s probably one of the most consistent players I’ve ever coached. I’ve been at every level. Every day, he’s the same,” head coach John Brannen said. “He’s hard working. Toughness is a core value of our program. He’s really increased the toughness of our program. He’s really moved the needle in a lot of different ways.”

Norse’s game-plan going into UK matchup

During the media opportunity with the NKU players and coaches, they made it clear that NKU did not spend the time following the Horizon League Championship game just celebrating. Like every team in the tournament, they got to work right away in practice and preparing to face UK but it’s unfortunate that the matchup with the Cats will make it difficult for the Norse to do what they do best.

One of the areas where the Norse have established themselves this season has been on the glass. NKU out-rebounded its opponents in 26 of 34 games this season, including two games against Power-5 schools in Illinois and West Virginia. Keeping up that type of performance on the glass will be difficult when facing UK, especially considering the Norse’s average height being approximately 6’3”.

Other than winning the battle on the glass, one thing that the Norse will try to do is get outside shots for senior guard Cole Murray. Last season Murray finished ninth in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage — making 45.3 percent of his shots from deep (78-for-172). This season his percentage has dropped some to 40.6 percent (99-for-244), which still ranks 35th in the nation, but his total makes have increased enough for him to rank 25th in the nation in three-point field-goals made. Murray is the team’s fourth leading scorer, averaging 10.2 points per game.