My Second-Favorite Team in the Field
Let me start by getting this out of the way: my baby sisters Christine and Courtney finished playing four years of basketball for the Norse last year. Naturally, I’m biased, but it’s provided me with extensive knowledge on UK’s first NCAA Tournament opponent.
(If you don’t want to read from a boastful big brother, keep scrolling.)
Before I get to the men, let me brag on my sisters for a minute. Christine scored the first D-I points in the history of the school, knocking down a pair of free throws in their first Division I game. She ended her career as the school’s eighth-leading scorer and consistently was one of the nation’s best free throw shooters. Courtney didn’t get an opportunity to play until her senior year, but when she did, all Norse opponents got Roushed. Courtney broke Christine’s single-game D-I scoring record with 29 points and the two combined for 51. Yup, I’m a proud big bro.
NKU initially operated as an extension center of the University of Kentucky, first opening its doors back in 1948. It became an autonomous four-year college 20 years later as the Northern Kentucky State College. It achieved university status in 1976.
The basketball program was at its best during its D-II years in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, arguably the nation’s best D-II conference, where they fostered an intense rivalry with Bellarmine. While UK played in three straight championships in the 90s, the Norse went back-to-back in 96 and 97, but lost in both title game appearances. Not long after, their women won the D-II championship in 2000.
Five years ago they made the jump to D-I as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the home of Dunk City. Their success was marginal at best, but they made the move to the much better Horizon League for geographical purposes, regularly playing against teams in the Rust Belt instead of the South. In just their second season they won the Horizon League for their first NCAA Tournament berth, an exponentially more impressive feat from the Horizon than the A-Sun.
Viktor E. Viking
The punny mascot is the best mascot in the tournament according to USA Today. I’d take Viktor over WKU’s Big Red any day of the week. Unfortunately, they found a temporary replacement for last year’s fantastic intro video.
NKU’s arena is so awesome, the OVC turned them away because it was an unfair recruiting advantage. Colloquially referred to as “The Bank,” the 10,000-seat arena opened in 2008 in front of a sell out crowd when Rick Pitino took UofL up I-71. The Bank now hosts the Girl’s Sweet 16. Next year they will host the University of Cincinnati’s home games while Fifth Third Arena undergoes renovations.
Summon the Norse
Last year they began a new tradition at BB&T Arena that involves this monstrosity. It was a life goal of mine to Summon the Norse, something my Dad got to do before Senior Night.
UofL women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz, comic book artist Davis Mack and Ohio congressman Steve Chabot are just a few alums who sit in George Clooney’s shadow. Clooney didn’t graduate from NKU, but his brief attendance is a big deal. Still, Clooney’s fame can’t compare to Sunday AM Sports Talk host Mark Buerger.
The Original Home of Todd Svoboda
Everybody’s favorite walk-on from Kentucky’s 1993 Final Four team began his career as a Norse. He scored more than a thousand points in three years at NKU before knocking down this legendary three-pointer against Florida State in the Regional Final.
So Many Connections to the Commonwealth
So many that it has its own post. You should read it here.
A Young Team
NKU only graduates two seniors this year, and only Cole Murray provides significant contributions as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. The 6’7″ guard shoots 40 percent from behind the three-point line for 10.2 points per game.
Their young lineup is a lot like their young coach. In his second-season as NKU’s head coach, John Brannen is just 43 years old. A native of nearby Alexandria, Ky., Brannen served on Anthony Grant’s staff and VCU, action as Alabama’s interim head coach prior to returning home to Northern Kentucky.