The North Carolina Central Eagles and UC Davis Aggies will start Wednesday’s First Four games at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. Both the Eagles and Aggies will be going for their first NCAA Tournament victory.
The winner of this game will meet the No.1 seed in the Midwest, the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That team also will have a shot at making history by becoming the first No. 16 seed to take down a top seed in the Tournament.
NC Central was last in the Big Dance in 2014 when the No. 14 Eagles lost to 93-75 to No. 3 Iowa State. This is UC Davis’ first NCAA Tournament games since joining Division I in 2004.
First Four: No. 16 North Carolina Central Eagles (25-8) vs. No. 16 UC Davis Aggies (22-12)
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Line: North Carolina Central -4
Keys for North Carolina Central
North Carolina Central’s offense pretty much runs through senior Patrick Cole. The 6-foot-5 guard leads the team in scoring (19.5 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg), to along with 7.0 rebounds per game. If the Eagles are going to win on Wednesday, they also will need a big game from fellow guard Dajuan Graf, who is shooting 39.2 percent on three-pointers and is the team’s second-leading scorer (14.3 ppg).
One area the Eagles have been great at this season is limiting the damage opponents do from beyond the arc. NC Central is holding teams to just 29 percent shooting on three-point attempts, the second-best mark in the nation. The Eagles will need to continue their tough perimeter defense against a UC Davis team that shoots 34.5 percent from that range.
Keys for UC Davis
Some of the most successful teams in the NCAA Tournament are usually the ones that have excellent guard play. UC Davis typically has three guards on the floor in Brynton Lemar, Siler Schneider and Lawrence White.
Lemar leads the Aggies with 16.1 points per game and is shooting 38.1 percent on threes. Forward Chima Moneke also plays a significant role on both ends of the floor, averaging 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. UC Davis only averages 70.5 points per game, but the Aggies’ small lineup could pose matchup problems for North Carolina Central.
Neither team has a lot of NCAA Tournament experience, so that won’t play a role in deciding Wednesday’s game. It will likely come down to if UC Davis can score against North Carolina Central’s defense.
The Eagles are ranked 22nd in scoring defense in the country, limiting teams to just 63.4 points per game. They don’t put up a ton of points themselves (75.1 ppg) and could be in trouble if they can’t dial it up from long distance (34 percent shooting on three-pointers) against the Aggies.
For UC Davis to have any chance to defeat North Carolina Central, the Aggies must contain Patrick Cole, the Eagles’ top offensive threat. UC Davis will certainly need to score more than the 50 points it put up in its Big West Tournament championship win to beat North Carolina Central and advance to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday.
Prediction: North Carolina Central 70, UC Davis 59
— 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, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.