When black college teams are seeded sixth and third in their respective men’s conference
basketball tournaments and end up as upset winners of those tournaments, it’s a likely scenario that they’ll be playing in what the NCAA dubs its First Four playoff games.
Well, that’s the reality now for North Carolina Central who won the MEAC tournament this past weekend as a sixth seed and Texas Southern who took the SWAC title Saturday as a third seed.
What perhaps wasn’t expected is that they would face each other in the First Four, Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio (6:40 p.m., ET, truTV).
As 16th seeds, the 19-15 team of North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton and 15-19 squad of Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis will square off Wednesday with the winner taking on West Region top seed Xavier (28-5) in a Friday first round game in Nashville, Tennessee (7:20 p.m., TBS).
NCCU and TSU are among the eight teams vying for the last four spots in the 64-team field that will compete for the Div. I men’s national championship.
The NCAA instituted a ‘play-in’ game in 2001 and continued it through 2010. Five teams from the SWAC and four from the MEAC were involved in nine of the ten games but never faced each other. Florida A&M of the MEAC and Arkansas-Pine Bluff out of the SWAC were the only HBCUs to win ‘play-in’ games.
Since the concept was expanded in 2011 to include the so-called ‘First Four’ games, the SWAC champion has been involved three times and the MEAC champ four times, but again they have never faced each other. North Carolina A&T in 2013 and Hampton in 2015, both out of the MEAC, are the only teams to win First Four games.
There will be another First Four winner this year.
Davis is taking his SWAC champion Tigers to the Big Dance for the fourth time in five years. Moton is taking his MEAC champion Eagles to the Big Dance for the third time in five years. Both coaches and teams won league tournament titles last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. NCCU eventually lost in the First Four to UC Davis, 64-63, while TSU lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round, 103-64.
This will be Davis’s ninth appearance in the tournament overall. He made four others as head coach at Indiana and one trip while leading Alabama Birmingham.
In Moton’s first appearance in 2014, his 28-5 Eagles received a 14th seed, the highest ever for an HBCU in the NCAA Tournament. They lost to 3rd-seed Iowa State, 93-75.
The SWAC and MEAC women’s tournament champions – 19-13 Grambling State and 23-8 North Carolina A&T respectively – received 15th seeds in the women’s championship field and will face off against powerful 2nd-seeded teams on their home courts this week.
Grambling State is in the Lexington (Ky.) Region and will travel to meet 31-1 Big 12 champion Baylor in a 7:30 p.m. first round game on the Lady Bears’ home floor in Waco, Texas (7:30 p.m. ESPN2).
Grambling State head coach Freddie Murray is in his first full season as head coach after serving as interim head coach last season.
A year ago his team won the SWAC regular season title but lost in the SWAC tournament championship game to Texas Southern. His Lady Tigers went on to post the first postseason win in SWAC women’s NCAA basketball history as they upset Ole Miss 78-75 in the first round of the WNIT before falling to Tulane in the second round.
Meanwhile, TSU was crushed by Baylor in the NCAA first round, 119-30.
Murray and the Tigers will have their hands full with the Bears who average 88.6 points per game this season and feature four starters at least 6-1 in height.
North Carolina A&T was placed in the Albany (N.Y.) Region and will take on four-time SEC Tournament champion South Carolina (26-6) Friday on its home floor in Columbia, S. C. (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Sixth-year N. C. A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson is taking his Lady Aggies to the NCAA Tournament for the second time.
The Lady Aggies won the MEAC Tournament title in 2016 to earn their first trip under Robinson. They were seeded 16th in the Lexington Region and lost to top seed Notre Dame on its home floor in the first round, 95-61.