North Carolina Central returns to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years after storming through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. As the Eagles begin their March journey, we profile the other school from Durham, North Carolina.
Record: 25-8 overall, 13-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
NCAA Tournament history
North Carolina Central has only appeared in one previous NCAA Tournament, in 2014 when they lost in the first round to Iowa State 93-75 as a 14 seed.Coach: LeVelle Moton. A four-year starter at NC Central during his playing days, Moton was hired before the 2009-10 season when the Eagles were a Division I independent.
Following the move to the MEAC two years later, the 42-year old has led North Carolina Central to three regular season conference titles, two NCAA appearances and an NIT berth while compiling a 152-102 record in his eight years at the Durham-based school.
Best player: Without a doubt, NC Central's best player is Patrick Cole. The senior guard averaged 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game while picking up Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. One of the most explosive guards in the country, Cole could become a household name if the Eagles make noise this week.
Best win: The Eagles won at Missouri, impressive for a MEAC team to win at an SEC school, but the 68-59 win over Norfolk State in the MEAC final was more impressive considering NCCU dominated the league and needed to win that game to not only get in the tournament, but vindicate their season.
Worst loss: The regular-season finale saw NCCU lose 68-63 at North Carolina A&T, a team that won just 3 games and none against Division I competition. This game is why the Eagles are in the First Four despite 25 wins on the season.
Strengths: N.C. Central doesn't just beat teams, they blow them out. 14th in the country in scoring margin (+11.7), 12 of the Eagles 25 wins were by 15 or more.
Weaknesses: The Eagles are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the tournament, ranking 224th nationally in percentage (24.0%). If Cole isn't hitting shots, NCCU could be in trouble.
NCAA Tournament outlook: North Carolina Central will face Big West champion UC Davis in the First Four. A win in Dayton will see the Eagles top seed Kansas Friday night in Sacramento.
Overall thoughts: Moton is building a powerhouse in Durham. With three regular-season championships in the last four years and now a second NCAA appearance, the Eagles appear to be on their way to dominance in the MEAC. A win tonight would further NCCU not only to advance them to face Kansas, but to give Moton and his club more momentum in the years to come. Win or lose to UC Davis, this won't be the last time you see NC Central in the tournament.