College Sports

HBCUs keep going to the First Four. One coach says committee needs to rethink things

North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton directs his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Norfolk State in the championship of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)
North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton directs his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Norfolk State in the championship of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld) AP

Dayton, Ohio, is sort of like a second home for LeVelle Moton at this point.

The coach of the North Carolina Central Eagles, Moton has taken his team to the First Four of the NCAA Tournament for three straight years, although he hasn’t yet gotten the privilege of being pummeled by a No. 1 seed in the first round a few days later.

If North Carolina Central wins the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference again in 2020, chances are Moton will be right back at UD Arena for March Madness again.

In five of the past seven years, the winner of the MEAC tournament has only gotten an automatic berth into the field of 68 rather than the field of 64.

In those other two years, the Southwestern Athletic Conference winner has been there on behalf of historically black colleges and universities.

In the past two years, both the SWAC and MEAC winners have had to settle for the First Four rather than the Round of 64 as the Prairie View A&M Panthers join the Eagles this season.

Every year since the First Four began in 2011, at least one HBCU has played in Dayton. Even when there was just one play-in game, an HBCU team had to settle for a trip to UD in every year since 2002 — the play-in only came into existence in 2001.

Moton, at this point the elder statesman of HBCU coaches in play-in games, would like to see the selection committee take a different look at some of these HBCU conferences.

The winners might not always have sparkling 25-win records, but it’s only out of necessity.

“I know they resumed and made a couple of addendums, and changes and modified how they view certain teams in terms of the selection,” Moton said at his press conference Tuesday before North Carolina Central plays the North Dakota State Bison on Thursday at 6:40 p.m. EST. “I would like for them to review that, as well, because a lot of times to fund some of our programs we have to take on guaranteed games, so a lot of times our record is no indication of actually how good we are. We’re just being placed in some challenging situations.”

This year, the Pomeroy College Basketball Rankings peg Prairie View A&M and the Eagles as the two worst teams in the Tournament, however the Panthers played the fifth hardest nonconference schedule of any team in the field and they’re not exactly an outlier.

Two SWAC teams — the Alabama State Hornets and Texas Southern Tigers — played the two toughest nonconference schedules in the country this season. Last year, SWAC and MEAC teams made up four of the six toughest nonconference schedules.

North Carolina Central, it is worth noting, is actually only around the middle of the pack this season in non-conference strength of schedule for Tourney teams.

“I can only speak for us now. It’s so difficult for us to schedule,” Moton said. “Like this is a gift and a curse. When we leave this tournament and we call schools and say, ‘Can we play a home-and-home next year?’ The answer is no. The answer is no. ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ So now we’ve got to go out and play more guaranteed games just because we can’t get anyone to play us and schedule us, so there’s a possibility you’re playing eight and nine games that on paper you have no chance of winning and that’s difficult.”

There is another way to look at the First Four, though, which is the tack Prairie View A&M guard Taishaun Johnson takes.

The Panthers aren’t competing with any other games in their 6:40 p.m. EST timeslot against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights on Tuesday, which means it’s a chance for the whole nation to watch a HBCU team go for a Tournament win.

“I think it’s very important,” Johnson said at a pregame press conference Monday. “I think that we just try to go out here and represent the best way possible and just try to put on for the HBCUs.”

David Wilson, a Maryland native, is the Miami Herald’s utility man for sports coverage.


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