MEAC champion North Carolina Central is crashing the party early.
As part of the NCAA Tournament’s First Four, the Eagles (25-8) will hit the road to Dayton, Ohio where they’ll face Big West tournament champion UC Davis (22-12). The winner of the game, set to be aired live Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV, will earn the right to face No. 1 Kansas (28-4) in the first round of the Midwestern Regional Friday at 6:50 p.m. ET in Tulsa, Okla.
Here is a brief introduction to NCCU’s opposition.
1. Beware of UC Davis G Brynton Lemar
The 6-4, 195-pound senior led the Big West in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game, but the San Diego native has been hotter than fish grease lately. In the conference semifinals and final, wins against CS Fullerton UC Irvine, he went for 21.5 a game while knocking down of 8 of 9 free-throw attempts.
Grab your popcorn. The matchup between Lemar and MEAC Player of the Year NCCU senior Patrick Cole (19.5 ppg, 5. 7 rpg, 7 apg) will be appointment viewing.
2. Chima Moneke is the Aggies’ only big-time rebounder
The 6-6 junior is UC Davis’ second-leading scorer at 14.4 points per game. His 9.4 rebounds a contest was tops in the Big West, but when he isn’t sweeping the glass his counterparts don’t typically pick up the slack. The Aggies ranked fifth among nine Big West squads, snatching 35.6 boards per game. Six-foot-7 senior J.T. Adenrele (5.1) is the only other Aggie, averaging four or more rebounds per game.
NCCU averaged 39 rebounds per game and led the MEAC in rebounding margin at +2.9.Junior forward Kyle Benton paces the Eagles with 7.9 rebounds per game. They get substantial contributions from Del’Vin Dickerson (4.8), Will Ransom (4.5) and Pablo Rivas (4.4).
3. UC Davis is battle-tested.
When the goings get tough, the Aggies get going.
UC Davis is 13-7 in games decided by 10 or fewer points, including a 10-4 mark in such games against Big West foes and a 2-1 record in overtime contests. Its last two victories have come by a combined five points. The Aggies’ 50-47 OT win against UC Irvine in the conference tournament final avenged a 30-point drumming on the road against the regular-season league champs suffered just a week prior.
The Eagles have gone 10-7 in games decided by 10 or fewer points with a 62-52 win against Missouri and a 70-66 loss at LSU in non-conference play. Their resume also includes a five-point defeat against archrival North Carolina A&T late in the season. The triumph was A&T’s only Division I victory of the season.
4. This is the Aggies’ first Big Dance
Fifth-year UC Davis coach Jim Les has the Aggies boldly going where no team before it has.
Coming into this season, the Aggies had never finished better than third in the league since entering the Big West in 2007. In 2014-15, they made their first ever-postseason appearance when they were bounced out of the first round of the NIT after going 14-2 in conference play. UC-Davis’ Division II history includes a 1997-98 national championship.
NCCU qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, MEAC Coach of the Year LeVelle Moton’s fifth year at the helm.