Texas Southern, NC Central clash in First Four
Differing styles of play will clash when Texas Southern and North Carolina Central battle Wednesday in the opening NCAA Tournament First Four game at the UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.
The winner will play Xavier, the top-seeded team in the West Regional, on Friday in Nashville, Tenn. No 16th seed has ever toppled a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Southern likes to get up and down the floor and score, averaging 77 points per game and scoring 90 or more in seven games this season. That average is skewed a bit to the low side because the Tigers' non-conference schedule included games against Kansas, Syracuse, Oregon, Clemson, Baylor and TCU.
Texas Southern (15-19) beat top-seeded Arkansas-Pine Bluff 84-69 on Saturday in the Southwest Athletic Conference championship game and secured an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
The Tigers played all of their non-conference games away from home and began the season with 13 straight losses. Once they got back home and into SWAC play they won 15 of their final 21 games, including their last seven. They scored an average of 91 points in the seven victories.
"We all came together at the right time, we all made a decision that winning basketball games were more important than anything else," Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. "So being 0-13, it only bothered other people."
This will be the Tigers' second straight and fourth overall appearance in the NCAAs, all in the past five years.
They are the first team since 1985 to reach the Big Dance after starting 0-13 and will try to become the first team from the SWAC to win an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, when Arkansas-Pine Bluff beat Winthrop in the opening round.
Last season, Texas Southern was defeated in the first round by North Carolina, the eventual national champion.
"I feel better this year than I've ever felt going into the tournament," Davis said. "This is the first time we have the opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament with good players at every position; we have a legitimate point guard, we have a legitimate big guy (and) a legitimate scorer.
"Last year, I thought 'Wow, North Carolina?' They lead the country in rebounds, we're in serious trouble. But this year no matter who it is we have guys who can play and they don't fear anybody."
NC Central beat top-seeded Hampton 71-63 to win the automatic bid from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Eagles entered the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed but were undaunted.
Based out of Durham, NC Central (19-15) is making its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and third in five years. They lost to Iowa State in San Antonio in 2014 in their first trip and fell to UC-Davis last season in Dayton.
"This championship is different because it was unexpected," NC Central coach Levelle Moton said. "To be honest, a lot of people gave up on this team. We've created the standard at North Carolina Central and I'm proud because our guys upheld that standard."
The Eagles prefer a plodding style, averaging about 72 points per game.
"We are playing a really, really good basketball team," Moton said. "Don't be deceived by their record because they played the toughest schedule in the country. They have a 7-footer and a point guard who could play at any high major in the country. We have our hands full."
NC Central and Texas Southern, which represent the only two conferences of historically black colleges and universities that receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, have never played.
"We are happy to be here because there are 200 and something programs that didn't make it, who are probably crying right now," Moton said. "I've been on that side of the coin, so I'd rather feel it on this side."
Updated March 12, 2018