Two historically black colleges will go at it on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, night for the right to meet Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina Central is making its second straight appearance in the tournament, earning the MEAC’s automatic bid with a 71-63 win over Hampton on March 10.
Texas Southern won the SWAC title by beating Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 84-69, that same day. The winner of this game will advance to play Xavier, the West Region’s No. 1 seed, in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday.
First Four: No. 16 North Carolina Central Eagles vs. No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Where: UD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Keys for North Carolina Central
Since Texas Southern is a team that likes to get up and down the floor very quickly, the Eagles will need to slow the tempo to their liking. North Carolina Central is averaging 72.8 points per game compared to the Tigers’ 77.6
Defense will be critical to the Eagles’ success on Wednesday night, especially against the three-pointer. Texas Southern was the No. 1 scoring team in the SWAC this season and isn’t afraid to fire from long range. The Tigers averaged 7.8 made three-pointers per game but still paced their conference in shooting percentage from that range (36.3) as well as overall (44.1).
Keys for Texas Southern
One advantage the Tigers have over North Carolina Central is size. Center Trayvon Reed, a junior from Mobile, Alabama, checks in at 7-foot-2. He leads the team in rebounding (8.8 per game), field goal percentage (67) and is No. 1 in the SWAC in blocks (2.9 per game).
Demontrae Jefferson also will be key for the Eagles. He averages 23.4 points per game to go along with 4.5 assists per contest despite his diminutive (5-7, 150) size.
Although Texas Southern began the season 0-13, the team has been battle-tested, playing NCAA Tournament teams Kansas, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Clemson, TCU and Syracuse all on the road, so don’t expect the Tigers to shy away from playing on the big stage.
Texas Southern enters the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game winning streak during which the Tigers have averaged 90 points per game. That is going to be tough for a North Carolina Central team whose season high for points in a game is 84 to match. So unless the Eagles are able to put the clamps on the Tigers defensively, it could be a long night in Dayton for the MEAC champs.
Prediction: Texas Southern 87, North Carolina Central 74
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.