North Dakota State
This is a play-in Game for 16-seeds, but one team has a clear advantage in most categories. North Dakota State, coming out of the better conference, is ranked No. 222 in NET, while North Carolina Central is No. 302. Because of that, there probably won’t be much money on the Eagles, who fell by 18 points in this spot last year to a SWAC team.
NC Central will need a huge effort if it’s going to win this Game because it already lost six Games in the MEAC and upset its way in the Conference Tournament, winning its last two Games by a combined five points. That’s not a recipe for beating North Dakota State, which had a similar record in a better Conference at 9-7.
As expected, neither one of these teams has good overall numbers, though the Bison have a somewhat efficient offense on a national scale, ranking 127th. The biggest advantage could be Central’s rebounding, which ranked first in the MEAC on both ends of the cOurt. And while NDSU may be favored, both teams play a fairly slow tempo and that rarely leads to blowouts, and that’s why most wins these teams had this season came by 10 points or less.
Central has the rebounding advantage with Raasean Davis (14.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg) down low, and he’s one of two guys that average more than 10.5 points per Game. Jibri Blount is the third-leading scorer, yet he barely plays 20 minutes a Game. Terrible shooting numbers highlight the lack of consistent scoring at just 31.2% from three. Randy Miller, the second-leading scorer at 13.2 ppg, is the only guy that makes more than 32% of his threes and shoots regularly. Those numbers are extremely hard to bet on, as this is more of an old school offense.
NDSU isn’t exactly a good rebounding team, but it’s played its fair share of bigs in the Summit League and stopping Davis in the paint won’t be impossible. The Bison will likely lean on Rocky Kreuser and Deng Geu to contain Davis, who stays exclusively inside the arc. Offensively, the Bison are a little better, and while only two guys average more than 10 points per Game, the positive is that everyone on the team can shoot. Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward lead the way in scoring, but three other guys make more than 40% of their threes, something Central hasn’t really seen this season. The other problem is that Davis will have to guard the perimeter because neither Kreuser nor Geu are afraid to shoot it from deep.
NC Central has good numbers against threes this season, but it also hasn’t seen many teams like this one in which every player can step out and knock down a shot. In the MEAC Championship Game, the two teams combined to go 7-for-33 from deep. Davis may have a little more muscle on the inside, but the Bison’s shooting will be the biggest advantage in this Game. The Eagles will have a chance to win consistently in the paint, but even then, the Bison technically have a bigger roster.
Our Pick – North Dakota State -5