By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: North Carolina Central -3.0
4:00 pm Central – McDougald-McLendon Arena, Durham, NC
North Carolina A&T Aggies (9-10, 5-1)
Founded in 1891, North Carolina A&T has been at the heart of educational opportunities for many generations of African-Americans. North Carolina A&T has an enrollment of nearly 13,000 students (12,754 in the Fall of 2020), which makes it the largest historical black university in the United States. The College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T has specifically been at the front end of the university’s success by consistently ranking number one in African-Americans with engineering degrees each year. Along with success in the classroom, the men’s basketball team at North Carolina A&T has tasted their share of success over the years. During the 1980’s, the Aggies basketball program won eight consecutive titles, making themselves a powerhouse in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
Since 1988, the Aggies have only made three NCAA Tournament appearances. They earned their first NCAA Tournament win in 2013, when the Aggies defeated the Liberty Flames in the First Four Round. After starting the season 3-10 last year, the Aggies made a decision to part ways with their head coach, Jay Joyner, for undisclosed reasons. His replacement, Willie Jones, led the team to a 14-5 record and a second place finish in the MEAC. His turnaround was impressive to say the least; Jones was honored with the 2019-20 MEAC Coach of the Year Award.
The Aggies stumbled out of the block this season, but they have hit their stride lately, winning five out of their last six contests. With only two games remaining on the schedule for the Aggies, two wins over North Carolina Central could not be more important for the Aggies, who would have a 1.5 game lead over the second place Rattlers of Florida A&M. Kameron Langley leads the way for the Aggie offense this season. Langley led the nation in assists per game last season (8.0 apg), and he has carried over that same success this season by ranking 6th in the country for assists per game this season (6.9 apg). Langley has seen his scoring numbers go up this season, as he is averaging 10.9 points per game this season, opposed to 9.4 points per game last season. The well-traveled Blake Harris accompanies Langley in the backcourt this season for North Carolina A&T. The junior guard sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina State where he played one season. He spent his freshman season competing in the SEC with Missouri. Despite having one of the nation’s best passers, the Aggies are not a terrific offensive unit. They average only 69.4 points per game this season (202nd in Division-I) and they are one of the worst shooting teams in the country (40.7% from the field; 303rd in Division-I). The Aggies counter their lackluster offense with playing a high intensity style of defense. The Aggies generate 7.8 steals per game this season (45th in Division-I) and they are able to force a high degree of turnovers against their opponent (17.5 opponent turnovers per game; 6th in Division-I). 2021 may be the year we see the Aggies back in the NCAA Tournament, after a lengthy eight-year absence.
North Carolina Central Eagles (4-5, 2-2)
As successful as North Carolina A&T was in the 1980’s, North Carolina Central has taken that baton and ran with it during the 2010’s. Located a mere 3.5 miles from Duke University, North Carolina Central often gets snubbed for their success in the greater Durham area. Since 2012, the Eagles have made four NCAA Tournament appearances under their current head coach, LeVelle Moton. Not trying to make a plug for Coach Moton, but if you are a college basketball fan who appreciates positive energy on and off the court, please give Coach Moton a follow on Twitter (@LeVelleMoton). The Eagles have only competed in the Second Round once in the NCAA Tournament, the year they earned a #14 seed, but they have yet to move on from the First Round as a play-in #16 seed in their last three tournaments. The Eagles won the regular season title last season, but as we all know, the season was cut short because of the global pandemic.
Much of the 2020-21 season has been hampered by postponements/cancellations for the Eagles program. Having only played nine games this season, the Eagles will look to salvage these last two games against North Carolina A&T. It is difficult to gauge the talent level of this year’s team, but the Eagles made a strong showing against the North Carolina Tarheels (lost by six points) during the non-conference slate. The Eagles have two wins against South Carolina State and they have been defeated twice by Florida A&M.
C.J. Keyser has been the main man on offense this season for North Carolina Central. The senior guard is averaging 18.6 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game this season. The Eagles are not a high-power offensive team, averaging only 67.8 points per game (240th in Division-I), but they have shot the ball well from the field this season. North Carolina Central is shooting 43.7% from the field (173rd in Division-I), with even a greater rate of success rate from beyond the arc (36.7%; 52nd in Division-I). The Eagles are selective though when they shoot the three point shot. They only attempt 18.8 three pointers per game (288th in Division-I). It has been slightly over two weeks since North Carolina Central last played a game, so I would expect to see some early rust in today’s game.
As we mentioned, North Carolina Central has been on a two-week hiatus from basketball activities, due to COVID-19 concerns within the program. With only playing nine games, it is a challenge to get a true measure on this team. North Carolina A&T is coming off a nice rebound win over Florida A&M this past weekend, and they have won five out of their last six contests. Both teams have been seeing low-scoring affairs in the games that they have had against fellow MEAC opponents this season. Combined, both teams have an O/U record of 2-8. The over has hit the last two times these teams squared off in 2020, but prior to that, the under hit in all three contests in 2019. I think we are going to see another low scoring affair tonight, given the long lay-off endured by the Eagles program. I am going with the U140.5 as my best bet.
Jack’s 2020-21 CBB picks: (21-19)