Colorado Springs, Colo. - There is only one nationally ranked collegiate men's basketball team at all levels in the entire Magnolia State and it resides in the City of Hospitality.
Northeast Mississippi Community College has received a No. 21 ranking from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) during its second poll of the regular season, which was officially released on Tuesday, December 12.
"It's a great honor," said Northeast head coach Cord Wright. "It's a positive deal for the school, the players and the program. We're excited, but it's all about what you do after that that's the most important part as you move forward."
This is the latest achievement for the Tigers under the direction of Wright, who is currently in his fifth year in Booneville. He helped Northeast return to the national limelight by winning the NJCAA Region 23 championship in 2015.
The Tigers continued to raise the bar during the 2016-17 campaign by capturing the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division title. They finished as the runner-up in both the MACJC and NJCAA Region 23 tournaments as well.
"We've had a nice little run over the last three or four years that's kinda separated us in terms of getting some national recognition," Wright said. "I'm glad that we're in the position that we are. It's going to be a competitive year and this is just the start of it all."
This is Northeast's first appearance in the NJCAA poll since the January 24, 2012 edition. The Tigers were No. 18 that week after bolstering an 11-3 record that included solid wins over Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College and Wallace State (Ala.) Community College at Hanceville.
The current version of the Tigers garnered their ranking by winning eight of its initial nine contests. It is the second consecutive season for Northeast to achieve its hot start.
The Tigers have built their success on a combination of factors, including outstanding guard play with an exceptional post presence that have led to top marks in both the MACJC and the NJCAA.
Northeast is currently fifth in the country and tops in the state with 51.4 rebounds per game. The Tigers are extremely proficient on the offensive glass with an average of 18.7 boards, which is sixth nationally and again the best in the MACJC.
Corinth's Antares Gwyn paces Northeast with 11.1 rebounds each outing, which leads the league and is sixth in the NJCAA. Bryce Smith of Powder Springs, Ga., and Felix Hayes from Baldwyn follow with 7.4 and 7.2 boards, respectively.
The Tigers have increased their productivity from beyond the arc as well. Northeast makes on average 9.8 three-pointers per game, which is the most in the MACJC and 24th overall in the country.
Conner McKay of Baldwyn guides that effort with 2.5 treys and is one of four Tigers to average double figures on a nightly basis. Bryant Givens from South Bend, Ind., boasts the highest three-point percentage among Northeast's guards at 45.2.
The Tigers also excel at sharing the basketball and finding their open man. Northeast accumulates 21.2 assists on 30.6 made field goals per contest, which checks in at 19th nationally and second in the state.
Center Hill High School graduate Job Vernor takes charge for the Tigers with 4.4 dimes while Givens follows closely with 4.1. Vernor's 4.4 assist to turnover ratio also ranks 26th in the NJCAA and fourth in the conference.
Northeast has one game remaining at Lawson State (Ala.) Community College on Thursday, December 14 before taking the remainder of the month off for the Christmas holidays. The Tigers' next home matchup is on January 4 against West Kentucky Community and Technical College.