By Nathan Ham
The Appalachian State Mountaineers are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 21 years and will hope to secure a win for the first time in program history. The Mountaineers will take on Norfolk State in the First Four on Thursday night with tipoff at 8:40 p.m. live from Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. The game can be seen on truTV, the March Madness Live app and can be heard on the Appalachian Sports Network and SiriusXM channel 85.
App State has a little bit of history in Assembly Hall. That was the location of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance back in 1979 when the Mountaineers lost to LSU, 71-57.
In 2000, after another 21-year tournament hiatus, Appalachian State earned the 14-seed and took on third-seeded Ohio State. The Buckeyes marched to an 87-61 win in Nashville.
This year, App State faces a much more beatable opponent in its first round contest. Norfolk State, also a 16-seed, won the MEAC Tournament with a 71-63 win over Morgan State in the championship game. The Mountaineers completed a terrific Sun Belt Conference Tournament run that included four wins in four days. Appalachian began its tournament run with a 67-60 win over Little Rock in the first round, followed by a 76-73 overtime win against top-seeded Texas State in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the Mountaineers needed overtime once again but was able to escape with a 64-61 win over Coastal Carolina. In the championship game, App State punched its tournament ticket with an 80-73 win over Georgia State.
Appalachian is led by a fearsome foursome of scorers that all average at least 10 points per game. Adrian Delph is the leading scorer at 13.2 PPG, followed closely by Justin Forrest at 13.0 PPG and Michael Almonacy at 12.9 PPG. Donovan Gregory is the fourth leading scorer at 10.7 PPG.
Almonacy put the Mountaineers on his back during the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, averaging 21.8 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He became the fourth player in program history to be named Most Outstanding Player of a conference tournament, joining Darryl Robinson (1979), Marshall Phillips (1999) and Tyson Patterson (2000).
Norfolk State is led by Devante Carter who does a little bit of everything for the MEAC champs. Carter leads the team in scoring at 15.5 PPG, rebounding at 5.3 RPG, assists (93) and steals (26). The Spartans are also one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the country, ranking 44th in the nation in 3-point shooting, hitting 36.8 percent of their shots. The top four three-point shooters are hitting better than 38 percent, led by Daryl Anderson (26-of-57, 45.6 percent), Jalen Hawkins (23-of-56, 41.1 percent), Kashaun Hicks (34-of-86, 39.5 percent) and Joe Bryant Jr. (34-of-87, 39.1 percent).
The winner of Thursday’s contest advances to play top seed Gonzaga on Saturday evening at 9:20 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on TBS.
What Else You Need to Know
Betting line: Appalachian State (-3)
Over/Under: 133.5 points
KenPom Ratings: Appalachian State – 209, Norfolk State – 200
KenPom Offensive Efficiency: Appalachian State – 227, Norfolk State – 204
KenPom Defensive Efficiency: Appalachian State – 205, Norfolk State – 219
KenPom Strength of Schedule: Appalachian State – 232, Norfolk State – 334