Mid-major players to watch across North Carolina

Drew Pember is back at UNC Asheville to try and help the Bulldogs return to the NCAAs

Big South Player of the Year Drew Pember returned for another season at UNC Asheville and a chance to take the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

As the college football regular season starts to wind down and Tobacco Road basketball heats up, 15 mid-major teams across the state tipped off their nonconference schedules.

For most of those schools, the only way to earn an NCAA Tournament bid is by winning their conference tournament, as Big South champion UNC Asheville did a year ago. Here are the players to watch on each of those 15 teams as they begin their postseason quest.


Donovan Gregory, App State: The Charlotte native was named to the preseason Sun Belt first team after making the second team at the end of last season. He averaged 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season. The Mountaineers were picked to finish second in the Sun Belt, and Gregory will be key to their postseason chances.

Anthony Dell’Orso, Campbell: The Camels guard was the Big South’s top freshman last season, averaging 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Australian guard had already set a new career high in scoring this season, dropping 35 points in a loss to East Carolina on Saturday. Campbell was picked 12th in the Big South.

Igor Milicic, Charlotte: The 49ers were picked 13th out of 14 teams for their first season in the AAC, and they’ll the 6-foot-10 Croatian to stay out of the bottom of the league. A transfer from Virginia, Milicic shot 67.9% from the field for Charlotte last season. He’s already matched his one double-double from a year ago, scoring 13 with 10 rebounds in a loss to Liberty last Friday.

Angelo Brizzi, Davidson: After two seasons at Villanova — one as a redshirt and last year as a little-used reserve — Brizzi transferred to Davidson for a bigger role. He’s struggled in his first three games, making just 23.3% of his shots and 1 of 14 3-pointers, but the Virginia native has been able to get to the free-throw line and also had six steals in a win over Maryland.

RJ Felton, East Carolina: The junior guard is already off to a good start after being named to the AAC’s preseason second team. He scored a career-high 30 points against Campbell on Saturday for the Pirates, who were picked to finish fifth in the conference.

Max Mackinnon, Elon: The CAA’s top rookie last year also made the conference all-defensive team. The 6-foot-5 Australian has scored 14, 17 and 17 in his first three games this season after averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 rebounds a year ago for Elon, which is picked to finish 10th in the conference.

DQ Nicholas, Gardner-Webb: Picked fourth in the Big South, the Runnin’ Bulldogs bring back their leading scorer in Nicholas. The senior made the conference’s preseason first team in his first year at Gardner-Webb but struggled in losses against Power Five foes Arkansas and Baylor to start this season, making a combined 6 of 23 shots.

Kimani Hamilton, High Point: After playing in just 12 games as a freshman at Mississippi State, Hamilton transferred to High Point, which was picked seventh in the Big South but did earn a first-place vote. He had 23 points and nine rebounds in the Panthers’ one-point loss at Wofford on Saturday.

Landon Glasper, North Carolina A&T: The Aggies were picked 14th in the CAA and have dropped their first two games of the season. Glasper, who averaged 13.2 points per game last year for Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, scored 32 points in a loss to UNC Greensboro last Friday, making 5 of 11 3-pointers.

Fred Cleveland Jr., NC Central: The Eagles are always a threat to make the NCAA Tournament and were picked to finish third in the MEAC before the season. Cleveland, named to the preseason third team, won’t be the No. 1 scoring option, but he should be a steadying force on a team with several new faces.

AJ McKee, Queens: A third-team selection last year, McKee was one of 11 players selected to the all-Atlantic Sun preseason team. The Charlotte native was second on the 49ers — picked to finish ninth in the conference — in scoring last season at 15.4 points per game in the Royals’ first Division I season.

Drew Pember, UNC Asheville: Named the Big South’s best defensive and top overall player last season, Pember was the easy pick for the conference’s preseason player of the year after he led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament. UNCA is picked to finish first in the conference, and Pember will look to take the school to its second straight Big Dance.

Keyshaun Langley, UNC Greensboro: UNCG is picked second in the Southern Conference, and Langley was an all-conference preseason pick after averaging 14.3 points per game last season. The fifth-year senior and High Point native is one of a handful of returning players trying to help the Spartans back to the NCAA Tournament.

Trazarien White, UNC Wilmington: The 6-foot-6 junior forward scored in double digits in 24 of 34 games last season for the Seahawks, who were picked third in the CAA before the season. White was named to the preseason first team — he made the second team following last season — and is averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds through two games.

Vonterius Woolbright, Western Carolina: The Catamounts, picked to finish third in the SoCon, have already shown what they’re capable of by beating Notre Dame on Saturday. The fact they did it with a subpar performance from Woolbright, the conference’s preseason player of the year, is even more encouraging.