By Mark Gregory
As the NCAA Tournament kicks off this week, a trio of local players and one head coach will be making appearances in the dance.
Southern Methodist is the No. 6 seed in the East Region and will play the winner of Providence and USC, who play in the First Four for the right to earn the No. 11 seed.
SMU features senior Ben Moore, a Bolingbrook graduate, who is fourth on the team in scoring with a 11.8 points per game average. He is the Mustangs’ leading rebounder with 254 total boards, an 8.2 rebound per game average. He is also the team’s leading shot blocker with 35 and is third in steals with 28.
Xavier is the No. 11 seed in the West Region and will face No.6 Maryland.
Benet’s Sean O’Mara is a junior on the Xavier team. He has played in 33 games this season, staring eight. He averages 5.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
A pair of former Dons will fight for the right to face off against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Midwest Region.
UC Davis, which features former Notre Dame standout Joe Mooney, is coached by ND alum Jim Les, brother of current Dons’ coach Tom Les.
The Aggies won the Big West tournament to qualify for the tournament and will play NC Central in a First Four match-up for the No. 16 seed.
Mooney, a redshirt freshman, has played in 16 games this season and is averaging 2.3 points per game.
The tournament appearance is the first in UC Davis’ history and second in Les’ career as he took Bradley University to the Sweet 16 in 2006. Les has coached the Aggies since the 2011-12 season.
In the National Invitation Tournament, three teams feature local talent.
Illinois and Houston are both No. 2 seeds, while Colorado State is a No. 4 seed.
Illinois (18-14) features Plainfield East’s Aaron Jordan and will open play against No. 7 Valparaiso (24-2).
On the season, Jordan has appeared in 21 games, averaging 7.1 minutes per game and has scored 21 points on the season. His season best was 11 points scored against McKendree.
Houston (21-10), with Joliet West graduate Morris Dunnigan, will open with No. 7 Akron (26-8).
Dunnigan is in his first season with the Cougars after playing at Blinn Jr. College and is averaging 2.4 points per game.
Bolingbrook’s Prentiss Nixon helped Colorado State (23-11) earn a game against No. 5 College of Charleston (25-9).
Nixon, a sophomore, has started all 34 for the Rams and is third on the team in scoring, averaging 13.0 points per game and is second on the team with 71 assists.
The women’s Division-I teams will be announced Monday.