It’s hard to believe that January has blown by rather quickly and we’re just finding out whether we will endure six more weeks of winter or have an early spring (spoiler alert: Punxsutawney Phil is only slightly more overrated than Johnny Manziel).
With that said, it’s time to vote for the hottest D2 men’s basketball team for January with our HERO Sports Team of the Month poll.
We selected five of the hottest teams who have seemingly come out of nowhere since we crowned Lincoln (Mo.) as December’s team of the month. Now, it’s up to you, the fan, to decide who had the best month of January in D2 men’s hoops. The poll will close Friday at Noon Pacific, so be sure to get your vote in on time.
Who will join Lincoln (Mo.) and Southwestern Oklahoma State as HERO Sports’ Team of the Month in D2 men’s basketball? Here are the five nominees…
BR-152 Ouachita Baptist Tigers
— Ouachita Athletics (@OuachitaTigers) January 31, 2016
Conference: Great American Conference
- Jan. 7: Win at Northwestern Oklahoma 87-73
- Jan. 9: Win at BR-223 Southwestern Oklahoma 73-62
- Jan. 14: Win vs. BR-249 Arkansas Tech 94-80
- Jan. 16: Win at BR-84 Harding 62-58
- Jan. 18: Win vs. BR-288 Henderson State 92-72
- Jan. 23: Win vs. BR-234 Southern Arkansas 84-69
- Jan. 25: Win at BR-281 Arkansas-Monticello 66-63
- Jan. 28: Win vs. Oklahoma Baptist 76-66
- Jan. 30: Win vs. BR-238 Southern Nazarene 82-72
Why the Tigers deserve to win:
Despite a rough first half of the season, including three losses by one or two points, against a gauntlet of opponents including last month’s HERO Sports Team of the Month, Lincoln (Mo.), and a pair of Lone Star Conference powers in Midwestern State and Tarleton State, Ouachita Baptist has been heating up, boasting a nine game winning streak entering Thursday’s game against Southeastern Oklahoma.
Perhaps playing that challenging out of conference schedule is paying off for the Tigers, who now sit tied for first place in the Great American Conference standings with Harding; Ouachita holds the tiebreaker thanks to their 62-58 win over the Bisons on Jan. 16.
After some early season struggles, the GAC’s reigning player of the year, Tirrell Brown (15.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg), has been on a tear since the new year began. In the Tigers’ last nine games, Brown has averaged 19.2 ppg and has also recorded a pair of four-steal games during that run.
Could the Tigers’ recent success propel them into the NCAA tournament, either via winning the GAC Tournament or an at-large bid? With the Central Region seemingly wide-open, who’s to say that it won’t?
BR-39 Indiana (Pa.) Crimson Hawks
Conference: Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference
- Jan. 3: Win at BR-311 Cheyney 91-64
- Jan. 6: Win vs. BR-310 Millersville 78-56
- Jan. 9: Win vs. BR-194 Slippery Rock 89-71
- Jan. 13: Win at BR-109 Pitt-Johnstown 86-74
- Jan. 16: Win vs. BR-167 Clarion 83-74
- Jan. 20: Win vs. BR-199 Seton Hill 81-63
- Jan. 27: Win at BR-260 California (Pa.) 85-60
- Jan. 30: Win vs. BR-271 Gannon 79-67
Why the Crimson Hawks deserve to win:
Much like Ouachita Baptist, IUP played a challenging non-conference schedule with mixed results. At the same time, the Crimson Hawks have overcome their relatively sluggish start with a 10 game winning streak.
On the surface, the first two wins in December against a pair of PSAC East doormats are more than offset by absolute domination of their PSAC West opposition. And, with the second half of divisional play underway, IUP looks to reclaim their spot atop the division.
Senior Brandon Norfleet is as dominant as anyone in the PSAC this season, having a player of the year caliber season, averaging 22.6 ppg, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg. In his last six games, all PSAC West contests, Norfleet has averaged 27.3 ppg, including 38 against Seton Hill, while hitting 62-of-121 (51.2 percent) of his shots.
It’s easy to forget that IUP is fresh off an appearance in the D2 men’s basketball national championship game. If the Crimson Hawks can stay hot, however, a return trip to the Elite Eight is not out of the question.
BR-51 Findlay Oilers
— Findlay Oilers (@FindlayOilers) February 2, 2016
Conference: Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- Jan. 2: Loss at BR-21 Ferris State 72-69
- Jan. 3: Win at BR-69 Grand Valley State 82-66
- Jan. 7: Win vs. BR-47 Saginaw Valley State 75-70
- Jan. 9: Win vs. BR-80 Hillsdale 80-69
- Jan. 14: Win vs. BR-136 Ohio Dominican 80-76
- Jan. 16: Win at BR-139 Tiffin 70-60
- Jan. 21: Win vs. BR-32 Ashland 71-63
- Jan. 23: Win vs. BR-141 Lake Erie 78-69
- Jan. 28: Win vs. BR-124 Walsh 79-57
- Jan. 30: Win at BR-211 Malone 83-67
Why the Oilers deserve to win:
Ever since a heartbreaking loss at Ferris State to open 2016, Findlay has been on a tear, winning their last eight games in an increasingly competitive GLIAC, starting with an impressive road win at a resurgent Grand Valley State.
The Oilers carried that momentum into a big inter-divisional win at home against Saginaw Valley State and haven’t looked back since, tearing through the GLIAC South with relative ease, including Monday’s 76-68 win over Wayne State (Mich.) for their 10th straight win (the outcome of that game would not have affected Findlay’s Team of the Month nomination; we’re focusing strictly on what the team did in January).
Sophomore guard Martyce Kimbrough (15.6 ppg) is one of four Oilers who average at least nine points per game. Kimbrough, though, has been on a tear in January, having averaged 18.5 pp in his last 11 games – his lowest point total during that span, 13 – while shooting 44.8 percent (69-of-154) from the field and only missing two of 31 foul shots. His 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, including 6-of-11 from three-point range, were critical in Findlay’s win at Grand Valley.
Findlay is looking to return to their glory days of 2010 when they won a national championship. With a talented young roster (only two seniors), the Oilers could be a national contender for the next few seasons.
BR-3 Western Oregon Wolves
— WOU Wolves (@WOUWolves) January 31, 2016
Conference: Great Northwest Athletic Conference
- Jan 2: Win at BR-143 Northwest Nazarene 75-53
- Jan. 7: Win vs. BR-2 Seattle Pacific 96-90
- Jan. 9: Win vs. BR-105 St. Martin’s 74-61
- Jan. 14: Win at BR-208 Simon Fraser 90-67
- Jan. 16: Win at BR-41 Western Washington 78-58
- Jan. 21: Win vs. BR-14 Alaska-Anchorage 76-66
- Jan. 23: Win vs. BR-20 Alaska-Fairbanks 64-59
- Jan. 28: Win vs. BR-143 Northwest Nazarene 62-59
- Jan. 30: Win vs. BR-37 Central Washington 85-68
Why the Wolves deserve to win:
Western Oregon is sitting pretty atop the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings with a comfortable two game lead over Seattle Pacific and Alaska-Anchorage.
After ringing out 2015 with a tough loss at Central Washington on New Year’s Eve, the Wolves have not lost in 2016 and avenged their lone GNAC loss (at the hands of Central Washington) in Monmouth this past Saturday.
Senior Andy Avgi (21.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) wasted little time transitioning from the gridiron, where he was a first-team all-GNAC tight end, to the hardwood, where he has already earned three GNAC player of the week honors (including twice in January) and has led the Wolves in scoring in each of the last eight games.
Make no mistake, the West will probably be the toughest of the eight regions when March Madness strikes D2 men’s basketball. Western Oregon certainly looks to be one of the top contenders take the region and advance to the Elite Eight in North Texas.
BR-96 St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans
Conference: East Coast Conference
- Jan. 2: Win vs. BR-303 Georgian Court 101-64
- Jan. 7: Win at BR-122 Daemen 85-66
- Jan. 9: Win at BR-292 Roberts Wesleyan 90-68
- Jan. 12: Win at BR-286 Mercy 88-67
- Jan. 14: Win vs. BR-192 District of Columbia 76-71
- Jan. 20: Win vs. BR-127 Bridgeport 93-85
- Jan. 22: Win at BR-204 Dowling 96-80
- Jan. 27: Win at BR-283 Queens (N.Y.) 78-65
- Jan. 30: Win at BR-236 Molloy 69-65
Why the Spartans deserve to win: You had a sense that something special was brewing in Rockland County after St. Thomas Aquinas’ stunning exhibition win over D1 St. John’s (N.Y.) made its way onto ESPN’s SportsCenter. The rest of the East Coast Conference is finding out the hard way that the Spartans win against a long-time Big East superpower was no fluke.
Ever since losing to at home to BR-x LIU Post 75-66 on Dec. 19, the Spartans came out of the winter break on fire, winning their last 10 games.
Yes, Justin Reyes is an amazing player and the Spartans’ leading scorer (17.8 ppg), but he’s not the only weapon STA has their disposal. Junior Chaz Walter (15.0 ppg) and sophomore Shaquille McFarlan (10.8 ppg) are also developing into leaders on the court.
STA’s youth could’ve have been a hinderance for the program this season, with only one returning senior. Instead, the young Spartans have become the team to beat in the ECC.