In the 12th installment of our 20ish-part series, Get to Know an Auto-Bid, we examine the North Carolina-Central Eagles.
NCCU clinched their second NCAA appearance in program history with a 67-59 victory over Norfolk State in the MEAC Championship Game.
In case you get confused when filing out your bracket between North Carolina-Central and North Carolina – North Carolina-Central is the MEAC representative and UNC is the North Carolina is the school that has an unprecedented academic scandal looming over it.
The Eagles finished the season with a 25-8 record and a 13-3 mark in conference. They won 16 of their final 18 contests.
NC-Central was just one of two teams in the conference to record a winning overall record. That is because many of the schools are in such dire straits financially, that they offer themselves up as sacrificial lambs to big programs for a paycheck. Many of these schools can have just two or three home games during the non-conference slate.
The MEAC is annually one of the lowest-rated conferences, but North Carolina-Central has developed into a solid program. The school won the Division II National Championship in 1989 and has held their own since jumping to the Division I circuit.
The Eagles have won three of the last four regular season crowns and went to the tournament for the first time in program history in 2014.
The MEAC’s champion is generally relegated to a 16-seed and they are lucky if they avoid Dayton, but NC-Central was a 14-seed in 2014 and I expect a similar seeding this year.
The Eagles fell to Iowa State 93-75 in the 2014 tournament appearance.
The MEAC has had a history of knocking off big-time programs and because they are generally very low-seeded, those upsets have been some of the biggest in tournament history.
The conference is responsible for three 15 over 2-seed upsets. The first came in 1997 when Coppin State upset South Carolina.
Next was Hampton over Iowa State and one of the best coaching reactions of all-time.
The latest upset came in 2012 when Norfolk State upended Missouri in the first round.
Synopsis: don’t count out any MEAC team in the first round.
North Carolina-Central’s best win of the season came at Missouri and they also had close calls against Ohio State and LSU. While none of those teams will be in the field, the Eagles have proven they can compete with power conference schools.
Patrick Cole leads the team in all three major statistic – points (19.5 per game) rebounds (7.0 per game), and assists (5.7 per game). As Cole goes, to do the Eagles.
The Otter Room official bracket projections have North Carolina-Central as a 15-seed, but can move up to a 14 depending on some of the results of tonight’s conference championship games.