College basketball in the state of Kentucky has never been stronger. A year ago, Murray State took the nation by storm as it was ranked as high as No. 7 nationally in the Coaches’ Poll and a 31-2 overall record. Western Kentucky also reached the NCAA Tournament and picked up a win in their play-in game over Sean Woods’ Mississippi Valley State squad for the right to face our beloved Kentucky Wildcats. Oh yeah, then there is Louisville, who made a Final Four run only to fall to their big brother down the road in an epic battle of the Commonwealth in New Orleans. And, of course, Kentucky won the National Championship.
A couple years ago, current Denver Nuggets’ star Kenneth Faried led Morehead State to an NCAA Tournament win over Louisville. The Eagles are a bit down now, but Murray State is having another strong season (18-5, 9-2 OVC) and Eastern Kentucky has emerged as an additional in-state contender to win the OVC title and earn an NCAA Tournament berth. The Colonels are 19-6 (8-3 OVC) and have played in competitive games on the road vs. Illinois and West Virginia. If Eastern Kentucky can make the big dance, they’d become the sixth team from the state to make the NCAA Tournament since the 2011 season.
One more team from the state worth noting, but will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament this season, is Northern Kentucky. The Norse are in their first-ever season of Division I basketball after many years of being a traditional power in Division II. Despite their success in the Atlantic Sun this season, they won’t be given the chance to compete for a conference championship. NKU is serving the first year of a four-year transition period for becoming a Division I member and are not eligible for postseason play until their fifth Division I season.
The season started out pretty rocky for NKU, losing their first six games and taking a 70-43 beating from Ohio State in Columbus. In their sixth game of the season, however, the Norse gained confidence in a close, six-point loss at Texas Tech. Since then, the Norse are 8-5 and playing very competitively for a first-year Division I program. NKU sits in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Sun with a 6-6 league record in their first Division I season. They’ve earned a marquee victory against Mercer (16-9, 9-3 A-Sun), the team picked by many to win the conference, and just recently put together a four-game win streak.
NKU plays in the beautiful, new 9.400-seat Bank of Kentucky Center (pictured above), just minutes from downtown Cincinnati. With its location, facilities, and ability to instantly compete in their first season in Division I, look for the Norse to develop into a strong Division I program that could one day be regularly dancing with Kentucky and Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.