Akron and North Carolina Central Making the Tournament Would Be a Good Thing

9 Feb

Last season I wrote about how an unpredictable and exciting NCAA Tournament is in part reliant on the smaller conference tournaments having the top seeds win them and sending their best teams to the tournament.  While there is about three weeks to go before the final hierarchy of those conferences to shake out there are a couple conferences that have clear-cut favorites that we should hope win their tournaments.

Akron and North Carolina Central lead the Mid-American and Mid-Eastern Athletic conferences respectively.  The Akron Zips are 20-4 overall and 10-1 in the conference while the next closest teams in the MAC sit four games back at 6-5 with just seven games left in the regular season.  While NC Central  at 8-1 only leads Norfolk State by a half game and Morgan State by a full game with seven games left to play, the Eagles are the only team in the conference with an above .500 overall record at 17-6.

After an opening season loss to Youngstown State, the Zips reeled off 19 of their next 21 including 12 straight after a loss to #8 Gonzaga.  The other loss in that stretch came to #10 Creighton, the team’s lone conference loss also came on the road at Ohio this past Saturday.  Despite averaging over 23 wins the past four seasons the Zips have just one trip to the NCAA Tournament over that span that resulted in a blowout loss to VCU four seasons ago.

Coach Keith Dambrot now has 12 20-win seasons in his 13 years on the job.  While not many stats catch your eye one that will is that they are seventh in the country in 3-point field goals made per game at 10.4 and eighth in total 3’s made but one of the team’s senior leaders and leading scorer Isaiah Johnson is a 6-10 center and not attempted a 3 pointer all year.  The Zips second leading scorer and leading rebounder Kwan Cheatham, Jr. has made a team-high 54 threes.  The Zips are looking to get another shot at the NCAA Tournament and if they can be as dominant in March as they have been so far they will get that chance.

In the MEAC only one team has a winning record and has already beaten their two closest competitors, the North Carolina Central Eagles.  Coach LeVelle Moton has gotten his Eagles to the NCAA Tournament just once in the last four seasons despite 22 wins per campaign over that span.  The Eagles began the season 0-2 after a six-point loss to Ohio State they finished the non-conference portion of their schedule 9-3.  They then began conference play with a 69-68 loss to Delaware State after scoring the game’s final six points left them just short.  Since then the Eagles’ closest game was a six-point victory at Morgan State.

Moton’s squad hangs its hat on defense giving up just over 63 points per game, 20th best in the country but during conference play that number goes down to just 60 points per game.  The Eagles also hold teams to just 39% from the field and 30.4% from three point land.  The other thing that makes NC Central successful is its senior back court of Patrick Cole and Dajuan Graf who are the only to Eagles to average double figures with a combined 34.4 points per game along with 10.4 rebounds and 10.5 assists.

Akron and NC Central aren’t locks to win a game in the tournament by any means but they have the elements to make the first weekend a little more intriguing.

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