A couple of small schools will battle it out for the right to face top overall seed Duke when the North Carolina Central Eagles play the North Dakota State Bison in Wednesday’s play-in game. The game is in Dayton with North Dakota State favored by 5.5 points.
The Eagles were just third in the MEAC this season, finishing 18-15 overall. But they tested themselves with games against tournament teams like Cincinnati and St. Louis. NC Central also finished the season strong, winning six of their last seven games, including their run in the MEAC Tournament when they beat the top two teams on consecutive days.
The Bison, meanwhile, finished the season with an identical 18-15 record. They were also third in the Summit, but a distant third at just 9-7 in league play. In the conference tournament, NDSU caught a couple of breaks with other teams getting upset but still beat a strong Omaha team in the finals. During the season, the Bison faced several other tournament teams but lost to all of them, often by lopsided margins.
The Shooting Touch
One way or another, North Dakota State found their shooting touch during the Summit conference tournament. They shot 57% from 3-point range in those games after shooting 37% from outside during the season. The trio of Jared Samuelson, Cameron Hunter, and Tyree Eady are all complementary players for NDSU, but all shoot over 40% from the perimeter and can get hot at any time. During the summit tournament, it was Hunter who couldn’t miss, and it made all the difference.
Naturally, those three are all X-factors heading into the NCAA Tournament. But the Bison are more concerned with the performance of their backcourt duo of Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward, who both average 12 points per game. Shahid is a little undersized but can be a streaky shooter from outside while Ward is a bigger guard who’s more concerned with getting to the basket. Together they form an interesting tandem that will be a challenge for NC Central to slow down.
Feed the Big Man
The Eagles are unique among smaller schools in that their offense revolves around their big man, 6’8’’ center Raasean Davis, a transfer from Kent State. Davis averages close to 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Against teams without much size or physicality, he’s capable of dominating games. The issue is that the Eagles lack consistent outside shooters who can properly complement Davis, so their offense can be hot and cold at times.
That being said, NC Central is tough on the defensive end, which is how they managed to win the MEAC Tournament. The Eagles allowed just 66 points per game on the season and held Norfolk State to 47 points in the MEAC finals. With Davis as a rim protector and good size elsewhere on the court, they have a chance to force North Dakota State to do all of their damage from the outside.
Are They Falling?
This game will eventually come down to whether or not the Bison can knock down outside shots. Given NC Central’s defense and the nerves that come with playing in the NCAA Tournament, NDSU could struggle. This figures to be a close, low-scoring game that could go either way. With that in mind, bet on North Carolina Central to at least beat the 5.5-point spread.