NJCAA Men's D1 Update: 5 Regions to Watch
The NJCAA season is rapidly approaching.
Many regions made some shocking improvements, while some have been elite for decades.
Let’s look at five regions that could produce the next NJCAA Tournament champion.
1. Region 8
Region 8 religiously produces some of the best teams in the nation. Chipola, Florida Southwestern St., Indian River St. and Northwest Florida St. were the top four teams in the region and are constant threats for the NJCAA Tournament championship.
By the end of last season, each was ranked in the top 15, making postseason play extremely exciting in the South Atlantic District. To no surprise, the four teams all made it to the semifinals of the South Atlantic District Tournament, but Chipola that took home the trophy.
Indian River St. lost the district championship and First Team All-American guard AJ Cajuste who will be playing Division I basketball this season. Despite this, the Warriors have made consecutive NJCAA Tournament appearances and are set up to be title contenders this season as well.
Similarly, Chipola has been a top-six seed the last two seasons but did lose All-American Nae’qwan Tomlin. Being a powerhouse has its benefits as head coach Donnie Tyndall made some major moves during the offseason, which included the signing of Division 1-transfer Gabriel Vargas. With talent scattered throughout the roster, Chipola should have no problem reclaiming its place among the best.
This section would not be complete without discussing Northwest Florida St., the 2022 NJCAA Tournament Champions. Forward Jaylon McDaniel is the only player from the Raider’s nine-man rotation returning for this season after averaging 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season.
In desperate need of talent, Northwest Florida St. brought in some big recruits, with its most promising addition being 6’7 guard Chad Baker-Mazara. Baker-Mazara was a stud at San Diego State, winning Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year last season after putting up 6.4 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. The Raiders also stole guard Marcus Niblack from Florida Southwestern St. after he led the Buccaneers in points per game (13.4). While Northwest Florida St. lost most of its team from last year, it picked up some experienced transfers to fill the voids.
2. Region 18
Although Region 18 only has six members, it produces multiple high-quality teams that only a few regions can rival.
Division 1 NJCAA basketball started and ended with Salt Lake in 2022. After finishing the 2020-21 season as the No. 13 ranked team, the Bruins sky-rocketed to the No. 1 spot last year.
Salt Lake breezed through last year, accumulating a 35-1 record with the NJCAA Tournamnet championship game on the horizon. In shocking fashion, though, the Bruins crumbled when it mattered most as they fell short to No. 10-seeded Northwest Florida St.
The program lost All-American guards Jordan Brinson and Quincy McGriff this offseason but was able to scoop up a few transfers to replenish the backcourt. Both Hunter Erickson and Jalen Weaver did not play much at their respective Division I programs but will be welcomed additions to a depleted Bruins roster.
Snow and Southern Idaho also made the NJCAA Tournament last season as they were each ranked in the top 20 by the end of the year.
Both teams have done an unparalleled job at retaining talent this summer. Snow is bringing back forward Clayton Southwick and guard Chase Potter. Both averaged over 12 points per game. While Southern Idaho is bringing back guard Jakari Livingston and forward Robert Whaley. Livingston and Whaley never cracked the starting lineup last season but combined for 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game off the bench.
With this amount of skill and experience, we could see a Region 18 champion for the first time in seven years.
3. Region 14
Region 14 burst onto the scene last season as it had two teams in the top-20: No. 3 Kilgore and No. 17 Lee.
Kilgore and Lee faced off in the Mid-South District Championship, but it was a blowout. Kilgore overpowered Lee as its bench stepped u. Guard DaVeon Thomas and forward Da’Sean Nelson combined for 41 points and six steals as they led the Rangers to a region championship and secured a spot in the NJCAA Tournament.
After receiving first-round bye, Kilgore defeated South Plains in the second round but came up short in the quarterfinals at the hands of No. 11-seeded Triton.
The Rangers have not had a star-studded recruiting class as they are bringing in a multitude of high school players. However, starting guard Isaac Hoberecht elected to play one more year under his father, head coach Brian Hoberecht. He should be Kilgore’s go-to guy after averaging 6.0 points per game on 38.1% shooting from three.
Moreover, Lee has kept some big-time players and should be more evenly matched with the Rangers this season. Guard Nikolas Traylor is returning after a noteworthy freshman season in which he started in 26 of his 30 appearances, putting up 8.0 points per game on 35.1% shooting from three. Forward Chance Brown is also back with the team and should be a clear-cut starter after averaging 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Lee, along with Trinity Valley, is a legitimate contender for not only the district championship but the NJCAA championship as well.
4. Region 5
Region 5 is a staple in the NJCAA, producing 14 NJCAA Tournament teams in the last six seasons. The region is usually run by South Plains and Odessa, but Ranger and McLennan have found success as well.
Odessa and McLennan were ranked at No. 8 and No. 24 last season, but it was South Plains that won the Southwest District, its third in five years. The Texans took on Odessa, but ultimately ousted the Wranglers, 87-83.
All-American Kieves Turner did everything for the Texans last season before taking his talents to San Diego. As a freshman, Turner averaged 18.3 points, which led the team, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Nevertheless, South Plains has kept a solid core intact, including forward Malek Abdelgowad who averaged 6.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. It also brings in some new prospects. The most intriguing addition is 7’3 center Romaric Magnan who adds some absurd height to an already tall lineup.
Odessa has also retained some solid players as guard Dian Wright-Forde, guard Darrell Armstrong Jr. and forward Daniel Rivera are all returning. They started a combined 45 games last season and should be a three-headed monster on the offensive end.
On the other hand, McLennan lost in the first round of the district tournament which ended its season prematurely. The Athletics are losing a ton of talent, but guard CJ Hall is now the star of the team. He is set up to have an All-American type of season after averaging 9.5 points per game during his freshman year.
5. Region 6
No. 4 Dodge City and No. 21 Hutchinson dominated Region 6 last season.
Dodge City’s impressive ranking was certainly justified as they had a remarkable season last year. The Conquistadors accumulated a 30-5 record on their way to a Plains District Championship, defeating Hutchinson, 98-96, in overtime of the championship game.
After being eliminated in the second round of the NJCAA Tournament, Dodge City and Hutchinson have had complete roster turnovers. The Conquistadors have a new head coach, Brad Witherspoon, who has recruited a ton of high school talent for his new system. Change is not always a bad thing as both squads should remain at the top of their region.
In addition, Coffeyville is a team that cannot go unmentioned. While only recording an 18-13 record last season, the Red Ravens are just two years removed from a NJCAA Tournament championship, making them a team to watch. Jay Herkelman is still the head coach and could easily bring Coffeyville back to the top.
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