NEW YORK– Latinos continue to make more and more of an impact in the sport of basketball, especially on the college level. This year alone, we’ve seen a flurry of Latino talent enter the Division-I rankings of College Basketball and showcase well-known stars like Aaron Estrada and Santiago Vescovi, as well as many newcomers, like…
Below is a comprehensive list of all of the Latino hoopers you should be on the lookout for as NCAA’s March Madness Tournament, the NIT and the CBI, all start up this week.
NCAA March Madness:
RJ Melendez – Illinois Fighting Illini
Class: Sophomore / Position: Guard / Hometown: Arecibo, Puerto Rico / Number: 15
Stats (per game): 5.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 37/25/83 shooting splits
Although Melendez might not necessarily stand out on the stat sheet, he most definitely makes an impact for an Illinois team filled to the brim with talent. After a slow start in his freshman campaign (3.8 points per game, one game started), Melendez has smoothly taken things up a notch with improved scoring and 17 starts now notched under his belt, good for more than half of the Illini’s season.
Whether it be as a starter or coming off the bench, Melendez provides a needed spark for Illinois to complement the high-volume scoring of Terrance Shannon Jr. and Michael Mayer, their two leading scorers. His role will be crucial to Illinois’ success in this year’s tournament.
Santiago Vescovi – Tennessee Volunteers
Class: Senior / Position: Guard / Hometown: Monetvideo, Uruguay / Number: 25
Stats (per game): 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 40/37/77 shooting splits
Santiago Vescovi, though his numbers may not jump out at you, is one of the most solid and experienced players in all of college basketball, and probably the most talented on this list. Now in his fourth year at Tennessee, Vescovi has really come into his own and developed as a leader, both as a captain of the team and the leading scorer for a Volunteers squad that was consistently in the Top 25 all season long, and is now a four-seed in the tournament. With second option Zakai Zeigler out for their first round matchup against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, Tennessee can really only go as far as Vescovi takes them.
Although they’ve struggled in recent weeks (5-7 record in February and March), everyone knows they are also capable of beating any and everyone in their path, as they’ve also defeated tournament teams like Texas, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Alabama in the past few months. Vescovi and Tennessee are a must-watch during March Madness.
Giovanni Santiago – Kent State Golden Flashes
Class: Junior / Position: Guard / Hometown: Bayamón, Puerto Rico / Number: 11
Stats (per game): 7.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 40/38/93 shooting splits
Kent State has become an increasingly popular “Cinderella” pick for the tournament this year, in large part thanks to their high-octane offense, led by senior guard Sincere Carry. But what many don’t realize is just how deep their roster really runs. As a redshirt junior, Giovanni Santiago is making an increased impact for the Golden Flashes, shooting at an impressive 38% clip from beyond the arc this season, racking up assists, and hawking the ball down and getting steals at an insane rate (1.1 steals per game).
As a full-time starter, Santiago is somewhat overshadowed by the firepower his team has offensively, but definitely watch out for him to potentially step up when Kent State needs it most.
Norchad Omier – Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Class: Sophomore / Position: Forward / Hometown: Bluefields, Nicaragua / Number: 15
Stats (per game): 13.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 59/33/72 shooting splits
Norchad Omier is a huge reason Miami is in the position they are now heading into the tournament. At 13.6 points per game, Omier is only the third-leading scorer on a Hurricanes team that has the highest-scoring offense in the entire ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), and is just one of four double-digit scorers. However, Omier’s impact runs much deeper than just his scoring.
After transferring from Arkansas State (where he averaged 17.9 points his sophomore season), Omier has only gotten better despite an upgrade in surrounding competition. Simply put, Omier is a “do-it-all” guy: he leads the team in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, and averages one or more steals and assists a game despite standing at 6’7″.
As the ACC Regular Season champs look to make their mark in March, Omier will surely be a deciding factor, and assuming he is healthy enough to return at some point in their run (looming reports he may miss Miami’s first round matchup against 12-seed Drake), he’ll make all the difference.
Giancarlo Rosado – Florida Atlantic Owls
Class: Sophomore / Position: Forward / Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida / Number: 3
Stats (per game): 5.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 61/0/75 shooting splits
Rosado “might just be a role player” for a mid-major team, but that doesn’t take away from the results he’s shown this season. First off, FAU isn’t just any mid-major: a 31-3 record this regular season along with a C-USA Conference Tournament championship were both good enough to earn them a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll be facing a fellow mid-major in Memphis.
Rosado has been a part of that formula for success from start to finish, playing in 34/34 games for them, mainly serving as a spark off the bench and defensive anchor at 6’8″. Although he doesn’t having any eye-catching statistical numbers, Rosado has shown flashes of his scoring ability (14 points on 2/23 in a 106-66 win versus UTSA) and is extremely efficient, shooting over 60% from the field and nearly 75% from the line, two clips which are crucial to success for big men like himself. Rosado might not be the Owls’ star, but he will no doubt make an impact in every game they play this postseason.
NIT (National Invitation Tournament):
Aaron Estrada – Hofstra Pride
Class: Senior / Position: Guard / Hometown: Woodbury, New Jersey / Number: 1
Stats (per game): 20.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 49/37/80 shooting splits
Aaron Estrada has really come into his own in his second year at Hofstra. After bouncing around in his freshman (St. Peter’s) and sophomore (Oregon) seasons, Estrada fit in nicely as the leading scorer for the Pride. After a heartbreaking overtime loss to UNC Wilmington in the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Tournament Semifinals, in which Estrada had a 25-point, 5-rebound, 6-assist effort, the Pride were selected into the NIT.
And after a huge upset win over a Rutgers team that everyone expected to be dancing in March, Hofstra is primed for an NIT run. Estrada has easily played the biggest part in Hofstra’s success, scoring in double-digits in every game since December, and his scoring is going to be the difference-maker in how far they go in the NIT.
Tristan da Silva – Colorado Buffaloes
Class: Junior / Position: Forward / Hometown: Munich, Germany / Number: 23
Stats (per game): 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 50/41/75 shooting splits
Although Colorado had a relatively disappointing season, going just 17-16 in a weaker Pac-12 conference, Da Silva served as one of the bigger highlights for the Buffaloes basketball team. As their leading scorer and 3-point shooter, da Silva in many ways carried Colorado to a winning record alongside co-star KJ Simpson, and is looking to finish strong as they enter the NIT. Thus far, The Buffaloes squeaked out a win at home over Seton Hall to advance to Round 2, where they’ll face the winner of New Mexico and Utah Valley.
Rivaldo Soares – Oregon Ducks
Class: Senior / Position: Guard / Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts / Number: 11
Stats (per game): 6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 38/25/85 shooting splits
Despite a relatively disappointing season for an otherwise talented Oregon team, the Ducks only finished with a 19-14 record. However, they still will get a chance to redeem themselves against UC Irvine tonight (3/15) at 11:00 PM. Though just a role player, Soares is one of Oregon’s most reliable free throw shooters, and a solid defender. Soares can also stand up when he needs to, even hitting a game-winner with just 0.6 seconds left against Oregon State on the road to give Oregon a 69-67 win.
CBI (College Basketball Invitational):
Daniel Ortiz – North Alabama Lions
Class: Sophomore / Position: Guard / Hometown: Shreveport, Louisiana / Number: 2
Stats (per game): 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 44/42/77 shooting splits
Just looking at his stats, it’s obvious Ortiz’ strong-suit is scoring. North Alabama’s leading scorer, the Shreveport product is insanely efficient from the field, from inside and outside the arc, top 20 in the country in three-point percentage, and top 15 in three-pointers made this season. The Lions had a tough end to their otherwise successful season, dropping their last three games. But they look to bounce back against Southern Utah this weekend, and Ortiz will likely continue to pour in points.
Robbie Avila – Indiana State Sycamores
Class: Freshman / Position: Center / Hometown: Oak Forest, Illinois / Number: 21
Stats (per game): 10.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 55/33/69 shooting splits
Though he is only a freshman on a team filled with upperclassmen, Robbie Avila has made an immediate impact for the Sycamores. Indiana State has had a rollercoaster of a season, during which they had both a five-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak, all leading them to a 22-12 record and a 5th-place finish in the MVC (Missouri Valley Conference). Avila really stepped up at times for ISU over the course of the season, posting double digits 15 times, including a 22-point outbreak in a 70-68 loss to Drake.
Michael Moreno – Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Class: Junior / Position: Forward / Hometown: Georgetown, Kentucky / Number: 24
Stats (per game): 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 45/39/65 shooting splits
Now a four-year starter, Moreno continues to improve his play on both sides of the ball. Especially from three, Moreno has turned himself into a sharpshooting forward, shooting nearly 40% on 6.6 attempts per game (which account for over 2/3 of his shots taken). After a rough start to their season (started 5-6), EKU finished well and brought themselves to 20-13 by the end of the year.
Now facing a formidable opponent in Cleveland State, the Colonels will look to hopefully build on recent winning and stay alive in the CBI.
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