East Region First Four Prediction & Free Pick: #16 NC Central vs. #16 North Dakota State

Date | AuthorAdam Burke

Last Updated: 2019-03-18

We expected a team with “Dakota State” in its name to make the NCAA Tournament from the Summit League. It wasn’t this one. The North Dakota State Bison took advantage of a weakened conference tournament field after Western Illinois stunned South Dakota State in the first round. Now the Bison have their sights set on the 16 vs. 16 play-in game in the East Region against the North Carolina Central Eagles. North Dakota State is a 5.5-point favorite with a total of 135 for Wednesday’s game at University of Dayton Arena. The winner draws #1 overall seed Duke on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina.

NC Central picked up the auto bid from the MEAC by knocking off Norfolk State in a 50-47 barnburner that set offense back a few decades. Credit to LeVelle Moton for getting his team to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Losses to Texas Southern and UC Davis have ended the team’s dreams before they have even gotten started.

North Dakota State’s football dominance hasn’t really shown up on the hardwood, but the Bison have been a formidable foe in three previous NCAA Tournament appearances. The Bison only lost by 10 to Gonzaga in 2015 and 10 to Kansas in 2009. NDSU actually upset Oklahoma in overtime of the 5/12 game in 2014 before losing by 19 to San Diego State a couple days later.

NC Central is one of the weakest teams in the field. The Eagles were only 15-8 in their Quadrant 4 games and went 0-7 in Quadrant 1 through 3 games. NC Central ranks 343rd in TO% on offense and ranks in the bottom 50 in three-point shooting. The MEAC really is a bad conference and, except for Norfolk State’s run earlier this decade, has been a pretty easy out in the NCAA Tournament.

In the 50-47 win over Norfolk State, the Eagles managed just .795 points per possession, but only allowed .748 points per possession. This is an experienced, but inconsistent team. Jibri Blount, a transfer from Cleveland State, had games with 21 and 31 points, but also had just 21 points across three conference tournament games. Leading scorer Raesean Davis, a Kent State transfer, led the team with 13.6 points per game, but only had eight in the win over Norfolk State and had six turnovers.

North Dakota State caught a break playing Western Illinois instead of South Dakota State in the second round of the Summit League Conference Tournament, but credit to David Richman’s team for beating the teams that were on the schedule. NDSU is a feast or famine type of team because of a high percentage of three-point shots. The Bison rank 10th in the country in percentage of field goal attempts from three-point land at 48.2 percent. Fortunately, they shot them well at 36.8 percent, but this is an unfamiliar venue and the stakes are raised quite a bit. The one thing NC Central did really well on defense was defend the three. We’ll see if that has more to do with the conference or if the Eagles can have the same success here.

North Dakota State fired away at 48.6 percent from distance at the Denny Sanford Premier Center to get to this point. The Bison allowed 1.149, 1.208, and 1.038 points per possession on defense. They want to outscore you. They don’t force many turnovers, with a 14.6 percent TO% on defense, which ranks just outside the bottom five in the country. That means that they really need to hit shots. In a one-and-done format like that, it is a scary proposition to back a team so reliant on hitting a high percentage of jumpers.

Juniors Vinnie Shahid, Tyson Ward, Deng Geu, and Jared Samuelson keep this train running. Geu really struggled down the stretch and saw his minutes cut. Sophomore Rocky Kreuser can really extend the defense at 6-foot-10 with the third-most three-point attempts of anybody on the roster. NC Central really lacks size, so we’ll have to see if Richman tries to get some more post play from his bigs or if they stick to what got them here.

Pick: North Dakota State Bison -5.5

Teams that rely on the three are pretty high-variance, but NDSU has a lot of scoring options inside the arc as well. Scoring options are much harder to find on the NC Central roster. The Summit League is a much better league than the MEAC, which also factors into the equation here. NC Central also played a weaker non-conference schedule, with games against Clemson and Cincinnati obscuring just how bad it was.

This is a step up in class for NC Central and they haven’t fared well with those thus far. They probably won’t here either.

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