March Madness First Four Preview
Texas Southern vs. North Carolina Central
Texas Southern has embraced taking on college basketball’s heavyweights early in recent seasons in hopes it pays off in March, but this year the program took that philosophy to the extreme. Making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five seasons, the Tigers attempt to snag their first ever victory in the Big Dance on Wednesday in a First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio, against fellow West Region No. 16 seed North Carolina Central.
Taking on six eventual NCAA Tournament teams over the course of playing its first 13 games on the road while facing the country’s most difficult non-conference schedule according to KenPom.com, Texas Southern did not win its first game until opening up Southwestern Athletic Conference play on New Year’s Day. The Tigers found their groove late, however, ending the regular season with four straight wins before registering double-digit victories in each of their three games during the conference tournament. The Eagles took a polar opposite approach to their third NCAA tournament appearance in the past five years, facing only one major-conference school (Illinois) before posting a 9-7 mark and finishing sixth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. North Carolina Central marched into the Big Dance for the second straight season Saturday, upsetting top-seeded Hampton to secure the league’s automatic berth.
TV: 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV
ABOUT TEXAS SOUTHERN (15-19): SWAC Tournament MVP Demontrae Jefferson (team-high marks of 23.4 points and 4.5 assists) – a 5-7 sophomore who missed nine games this season for a variety of reasons, including an early suspension and the passing of his father – scored at least 15 points in 24 of 25 games this season. Massachusetts transfer Donte Clark (18.6 points) erupted for 41 points during one of Jefferson’s absences and is averaging 23.6 points over the last five contests. Trayvon Reed (9.7 points) ranks second in the conference in rebounds (8.8) and first in blocks (3.0), while part-time starter Marquis Salmon (5.3 points, 6.2 boards) collected 48 rebounds over a three-game span prior to playing a limited role in the SWAC title game.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (19-15): Although the Eagles boast All-MEAC second-team center Raasean Davis (team-high marks of 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds), nearly 40 percent of their scoring comes from their bench as 12 players average at least 10 minutes per game. Davis, a 6-9, 240-pound Kent State transfer who led the MEAC in field-goal percentage (66.7) and fourth in rebounding, proved to be a terror during the final three games of the conference, averaging 15 points and 13.3 boards. Guards Reggie Gardner Jr. (11.2 points, team-high 74 3-pointers) and Jordan Perkins (8.4 points, team-high 5.4 assists), who tallied 13 points and nine assists in the conference title game and handed out a career-high 14 assists earlier in the season, each landed on the all-conference rookie team.
1. The winner will meet top-seeded Xavier in the first round in Nashville, Tenn.
2. Texas Southern is the first team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to make the Big Dance after beginning the season 0-13.
3. The Eagles score only 25.7 percent of their points beyond the arc and did not beat a team with a RPI in the top 150 this season.