Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

March Madness: British Players to Watch

Posted on 17 March 2022 by Terry Vogt

The NCAA Tournament begins on Wednesday, 16th March. It’s known as March Madness, because madness is what you can expect. A single elimination 68 team basketball tournament featuring the top university programs around the United States. There is a men’s tournament, as well as a women’s tournament. Every year you can expect a Cinderella story or two, with underrated programs knocking off highly ranked teams.

Even though the tournament is based in America, a few British ballers are sure to make an impact. We have provided a look into some of these hoopers, and what to expect.

Jubrile Belo

Jubirile Belo has been instrumental in helping Montana State make their first NCAA tournament since 1996.

The forward played at Barking Abbey Basketball Academy before relocating to the US. He currently plays alongside fellow Brits in Amin Adamu and Great Osobor, while assistant coach Chris Haslam is also British.

He’s an energising presence on the court, commanding the paint with ferocious dunks as well as making spectacular blocks which make him a fan favourite.

This year, he’s averaged 13.0 points and nearly seven rebounds a game. He’s also making close to two blocks each game, which is a league-best figure. As a result, he was awarded both the Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards for the Big Sky Conference.

Incredibly, he’s now the only player in the team’s history to record over 1000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks throughout his college career.

Belo has helped the Bobcats notch up the most wins in the program’s history for over 70 years.

Their 27-7 season success, built on a superbly run offense, came with a regular season title, and they now look forward to a clash against Texas Tech University, the 2019 runners-up, on Friday night at 5:45pm.

https://twitter.com/BigSkyConf/status/1501241425496707076

Jeremy Sochan

Jeremy Sochan has been putting together an impressive freshman year at Baylor University.

Raised in Milton Keynes, Sochan and his Baylor Bears will be one of the more exciting watches. Sochan is averaging 25 minutes a night and contributing about 9 points a game. The 6’7 forward is also active on the boards averaging 7 rebounds per contest.

Sochan is not shy on defense. Contributing 4 blocks and 7 steals in his last 5 games.

Baylor is one of the favorites to win the tournament, playing some of the best basketball in the United States at the moment. The Bears were upset in their Big 12 conference tournament final but will be looking to bounce back in March Madness.

Baylor is a 1 seed in the tournament and will be playing Norfolk State University Thursday at 6:00 pm.

Kayne Henry

Kayne Henry is a senior at Jacksonville State University.

This London born, 6’6 forward is a name to lookout for in this upcoming NCAA tournament. Averaging 26 minutes per game Henry will be hard to miss on the court.

Henry loves the run the floor, using his speed and athleticism to get to the hoop in transition.  When the offense is set you will see Henry making his presence felt in the paint, posting up players before making a quick move to score some buckets. Another factor of his game to watch for is flying through traffic to grab some rebounds. Henry is averaging 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.

Jacksonville State is a 15 seed in the tournament and will face the 2 seed Auburn University Friday at 4:40 pm. The odds are highly in Auburn’s favor, as they are led by the arguably best player in NCAA basketball.

However, the 15 seed have beaten the 2 seed 9 times in NCAA history, including once last year, so it is far from impossible for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.

Nelson Boachie-Yiadom 

Nelson Boachie-Yiadom hopes to end his final year at Davidson on a high.

The 6’8” senior forward, hailing from London, has been a key figure in the Wildcats’ rotation. His role is to help protect the paint defensively, while also setting up layups with his ability to find a teammate cutting to the hoop.

He’s averaging just over 17 minutes off the bench, chipping in with 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 points each game on 50% shooting.

Defensively he’s been impactful, ranking second among his teammates in blocks per game too.

His team have surprised many. Having been picked to finish sixth in the conference, they went on to win the Atlantic-10 regular season title. Known for being the college where Stephen Curry made his name, they’ve been a highly efficient team on offense with the eighth-best shooting percentage from deep.

With a 27-6 record, they’ll look to knock off Michigan State, a team with huge pedigree in this tournament, on Friday night at 1:40 am.

Hannah Jump

Having won the NCAA Championship last year, Stanford’s junior guard Hannah Jump could become the most successful British college basketballer.

While born in Warrington, she has largely grown up in California after her family moved there when she was eight.

Her resume is already impressive. As well as last year’s NCAA title, she’s a two-time champion in both the PAC-12 Conference and the PAC-12 Conference tournament.

The guard’s game is largely focused on shooting. Defenders cannot leave her alone, as she’s prolific from deep, which makes her a great fit for Stanford’s offensive style.

Dependable as either a starter or off the bench, Jump has been a key contributor on offense. She’s currently averaging close to ten points per game, making 40% of her threes. Currently, she’s among the top-40 best shooters from beyond the arc in the country.

A dominant force in women’s college basketball, Stanford have enjoyed another stellar season with a 28-3 record on top of the PAC-12 Conference. With a balanced offense and stingy defence, they’re equipped to go and win the NCAA championship again. The road to the final begins when they tip-off against Montana State at 2:00 am on Friday night.

https://twitter.com/StanfordWBB/status/1492957981448683523

Loren Christie

Loren Christie and her Buffalo University teammates are coming off winning their Mid-American Conferencetournament and are looking to make noise in March Madness.

The Hertfordshire born forward is averaging 20 minutes per game this season, while contributing 5 points and 4 rebounds.

Christie has had some big scoring nights over the last month, boasting 4 double digit scoring outbursts in the last 9 games. Christie secured a double double against Miami University with 17 points and 10 rebounds last month and may be needed to recreate this level of performance in their upcoming competition.

The 13 seed Buffalo Bulls will be playing against the 4 seed Tennessee Volunteers this Saturday at 7:00 pm.

https://twitter.com/HoopsfixWomen/status/1502708521279934468?s=20&t=ORch6uzRzXqAUtN9nm3QuA

Grace Heeps

Although Grace Heeps was not born in the UK, she is another face to watch in this upcoming tournament. Heeps has Scottish roots on her father’s side and has stated dreams of representing Great Britain in international basketball.

The New York born guard plays in her home state at the University at Albany. The Albany Great Danes won their America East Conference tournament and have also won 7 of their last 10 games.

Heeps has started 30 of 31 games this season, averaging 27 minutes, 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.

The 16 seed Albany have a tall task ahead of them as they are facing off against the 1 seed in Louisville University. The Great Danes will play against the Louisville Cardinals Friday at 10:00 pm.

Photo from UAlbany Sports

Esther Little

A relative newcomer to the American college basketball scene, Esther Little will want her first taste of March Madness to be a memorable one.

One of five first-year players, she hails from Ipswich, having won a national cup while playing for the Ipswich Basketball Academy.

The guard plays without fear, often driving to the hoop for lay-ups while also being a strong rebounder and interior defender.

Over 15 games, she’s played 71 minutes, with her game time increasing as she grows familiar to Gonzaga’s playing style.

The Bulldogs are a team that are strong on both ends of the floor. HerHoopStats currently ranks them within the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rating. Their scoring is evenly shared, and they are particularly superb at defending three-point shooters.

A potential dark horse, they begin their campaign against Nebraska on Friday evening at 6:30 pm.

Co-written by Josh Sims.