Mid-Major Stars to Know in NCAA Tournament

Every year, star players from lesser known teams make their names known on the national stage, becoming March Madness folk heroes. The most recent run has been the duo of Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker of Wichita State, but the Shockers are on the bubble this season and everyone knows about Baker and Van Fleet, so here are some different candidates that fans may or may not have heard of before this years tournament.

Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s Hawks, 27-7

The winners of the A-10 were led by this dynamic duo of Isaiah Mills and DeAndre Bembry. The forward duo were the leading scorers and rebounders for the Hawks. They were two of the most productive players in the A-10 all year long, with Bembry taking home conference Player of the Year after averages of 16.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Bembry’s assists and steals totals led the team. It seems as though the only thing the junior can’t do is shoot, as he shot just 26% from deep and 64% from the free throw line. Mills on the other hand is a proficient shooter from deep, knocking down triples at 39% and shooting 88% from the line. Mills led Saint Joe’s in scoring and rebounding, dropping in 18.2 points and eight rebounds per game.

Saint Joe’s is a serious mid major cinderella threat, but they’ll need their excellent duo to show up big when it matters most.

Jameel Warney, Stony Brook Seawolves, 26-6

Jameel Warney has been the best player in the American EastConference for the last three seasons, taking home conference Player of the Year three straight seasons. Despite his success, this is his first time taking part in the NCAA Tournament.

The senior forward led his team to a 14-2 conference record, capped off with a conference championship game win over Vermont. In the American East tournament, Warney went off for 27 points and 23 rebounds against UMBC, then went for 21 and 13 against Hartford, and capped off the run with a 43 point explosion against Vermont, where he also pulled down 10 rebounds.

On the year, 19.8 and 10.7 rebounds a game and shot an excellent 62% from the field. Warney is a certified beast down low, and with him scoring the bulk of Stony Brook’s points, they’ll rely on him to make an impact each night.

A.J. English, Iona Gaels, 22-10

The son of NBA Hall of Famer Alex English, A.J is erecting is own legacy at Iona. The senior led the Gaels to a 16-4 conference record and a MAAC Tournament title. English saved his best year for last, averaging career highs in points (22.4), assists (6.2) and steals (1.5).

English has a tendency to take bad shots, as seen with his 42% field goal percentage, but still knocks down threes at a respectable rate of 37%. He does the majority of the scoring for the high powered Iona offense that scores almost 80 points a contest.

If Iona can make a run, expect English to have tournament runs reminiscent of Jimmer Fredette.


Cover Photo via RantSports


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon K says:

    Appreciate the article. I was wondering what you are basing your comment, “English has a tendency to take bad shots..” on. Is it only the 42% FG% stat you cite? I am an Iona fan and have watched him play a small handful of times over the past few years (although not enough to be an “expert” in any way; 3-4 times/year) and have been struck by the opposite, especially given his passing skills. The narrative on him elsewhere in the media tends to view his shot selection as quite strong. Along with that, his effective FG% is 53.8%, which is really good for a high volume shooting guard, and his total points per shot is 1.44, which is one of the best amongst qualified guards.
    Given that, the comment surprised me. Would you let me know if there is something that points to a poor shot selection? I’d love to check it out.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I see what you’re saying, but English has had a bunch of clunkers. Consistency is his big thing. He’s had bad games in conference against Monmouth (4/13), Quinnipiac twice (5/13, 5/15), Siena (9/26), Manhattan (1/8), Canisius (3/13). Outside of conference, the two best teams they played were Valparaiso and Oregon State, games where he shot 2/7 and 4/14, respectively. He’s a natural scorer, but his consistency needs to get a bit better if he wants to carry the Gaels, who I have upsetting Iowa State.


    1. Jon K says:

      Sorry Sean, I’ve got to call you out on this.
      First off, consistency has nothing to do with shot selection. If his issue is consistency, then you should have called that out, not his shot selection in the article.
      Second, you took 8 games that stood out as poor shooting games (I am assuming they are his worst 8, but I have not checked and confirmed that) with FG%s ranging from 12.5% at the low end to 38.5% at the high end. Want to take a guess at how many games Buddy Hield played this season where his FG% was in that range? Eight (and if we extend it to 39% at the upper bound it would be 9) and his low was also 12.5%. Those games came against a mixture of really good teams and not so good teams. Granted, English missed a few games, so as a % of total games played, English may have had a few more off nights, but it was pretty close. I’m not sure anyone would argue that consistency is the big thing for Hield, as you did English in your comment.
      Lastly, What makes English so good and a fringe NBA prospect is his combination of scoring, passing and, to a lesser degree, rebounding. He is a pass first guard who is a great scorer. The MAAC semis and finals were a perfect example of what makes him a great player and why “consistency” is definitely not his big thing or the key to Iona winning. He was clearly the best player on the court in the last two rounds of the conference tourney despite his relatively poor shooting. In fact, the difference between English and MAAC Player of the Year, Justin Robinson of Monmouth (which was the equivalent of Malone over Jordan for MVP in 1997 or Pudge Rodriguez over Pedro Martinez in 1999 – decisions that were not good at the time but look terrible in retrospect), was quite stark. Both struggled shooting the ball but English was a huge part of the Iona win, Robinson was almost a complete non-factor.
      I am not trying to beat up on you in any way. I liked the article and appreciated the reply but assertions based on skin deep analysis bug me, especially because you seem like you’re capable of way better than that.
      Enjoy the tourney!!!


  3. For the record, I’m a fan of English’s and I hope he does well in this tournament and in his professional career, wherever he plays. I think he’s an NBA guy, because as you mentioned he’s a great passer and rebounder for a 6″4′ guard. I just think for a player of his caliber, he shouldn’t have many off nights in the MAAC, which outside of Iona and Monmouth, isn’t a very good conference. I want to see him make a run, because as I mentioned I have them over Iowa State. I appreciate the conversation, especially because I can tell you’re a true fan of his. I hope he proves me wrong and makes me eat my words.


  4. Jon K says:

    Thanks Sean. I have not for a second thought you were hating on him.

    I obviously like English as an Iona fan but I wasn’t trying to defend him as much as pursue the line of thinking on his supposed poor shot selection. I am much more interested in an accurate assessment of his, or any player’s, strengths and weaknesses than I am of trying to depict him as flawless. As I said in my first comment, I would love to see anything that sheds more light on his shot selection, consistency, etc. to further my own understanding.

    Regardless, if you haven’t seen him play, don’t miss Thursday’s game. He has a really good all around game, but what strikes me the most when watching him is his demeanor. Iona has had its fair share of conference player of the year types over the past couple of decades, but there’s something more about English that is hard to articulate.

    Again, thanks for the back and forth and enjoy the tourney.


  5. Kaydence says:

    So, I lost Peg’s and Darla’s conntse…atd I haven’t the strength to go check any others. I thought swinging from the monkey bars sans panties would have garnered a few more (pervert) votes. Oh, the shame and degradation I have known this week alone…


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