Devontae Cacok and T.J. Cromer will need to step up if their teams are to score major upsets
With the NCAA Tournament set to get underway, it’s a good time to analyze some of the lesser-known talent from small conferences. The following players have had stellar seasons and are sure to challenge their higher-seeded first round opponents.
Devontae Cacok (UNCW)
On pace to set a new Division I record for field goal percentage in a season, Devontae Cacok is the critical cog for the UNCW Seahawks.
UNCW’s top three scorers, C.J. Bryce (17.6 points per game), Chris Flemmings (15.8) and Denzel Ingram (14.2), all stand below 6-foot-5. The trio of gunning guards spread the floor on the 10th-highest scoring offense in the country, with the 14th-most threes attempted per game.
Standing at 6-foot-8, Cacok is the main beneficiary from the spread attack. The sophomore forward is playing extremely efficiently this season, averaging 12.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in 25.7 minutes per game. Cacok is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for field goal percentage in a season with a mark of 79.9 percent, thanks to the fact that 80 of his 179 field goals have come on dunks. As a result, he sports the No. 1 offensive player rating and the ninth-best PER rating (30.9) in the nation.
Helping the cause on both ends, Cacok was selected CAA Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 1.3 blocks per game (third in CAA) and 1.1 steals per game (14th). Also, Cacok led the Seahawks in rebounds in 25 of the team’s 34 games, including a conference record 24 rebounds vs. Drexel on Jan. 21.
In the three-game run to the CAA Title, Cacok was voted onto the All-CAA Tournament team after averaging 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, with a 94 percent field goal percentage (16 of 17). For UNCW to have better results than last year’s first round defeat against Duke, Cacok will need to turn in another efficient performance against the Virginia Commodores.
T.J. Cromer (ETSU)
T.J. Cromer provides the East Tennessee State Buccaneers high volume scoring. The first team All-Southern Conference selection shoots 31.8 percent of the team’s shots while on the court, which ranks 45th in Division I. Given that ETSU ranks 10th in the nation in team field goal percentage, Cromer’s efficiency plays a large part.
Cromer ranks number 57 in the nation in scoring average at 19.1 points per game. His mark of 40 percent from beyond the arc ranks 10th in the Southern Conference, and he also shoots 45 percent from the field, and 82 percent from the charity stripe. Providing nearly a quarter of the team’s 80 points per game, Cromer adds a crucial scoring option for the No. 13 seed Buccaneers. ETSU was just 1-3 during the regular season when Cromer was limited to single-digit point totals.
Cromer won the SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding Player averaging 24.7 points per game in the three-game run to the title. In the SoCon semi-final against Samford, Cromer set a new conference record of nine threes in a game, boosting him to a career-high 41 point outburst.
Another historic performance from Cromer would greatly boost the odds of a first round upset, but in the absence of that, the Buccaneers may not have the firepower to beat the Florida Gators.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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