There’s a team out in Durham that has won its last 28 conference games (31 if you count the conference tournament) and is led by one of the most engaging coaches in college basketball. That team is not Duke. It’s North Carolina Central.
Don’t get me wrong; the Blue Devils are really good, and the ACC is a bit of a step up from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but that doesn’t make what LeVelle Moton is building any less of an accomplishment. Now in his sixth season at the helm, Moton has the Eagles (21-6, 13-0 MEAC) poised as a regular contender in the conference. This year will be the team's third straight 20-win season.
When you consider that the Eagles were an independent navigating the journey from Division II to D-I and won just seven games in Moton’s first year, it makes the achievement even greater. Moton, a former Eagles player himself, was inducted into the North Carolina Central Hall of Fame in 2004 and had a standout career at Enloe High School in Raleigh. The team made its first NCAA tournament appearance, a 93-75 loss to Iowa State, last season and has its sights set on getting back there again in 2015.
Moton recently penned a book with former Raleigh News & Observer writer Edward G. Robinson III called The Worst Times Are The Best Times, and in it he discusses his rise from Raleigh kid to successful head coach.
It’s no secret Moton has been able to get the most out of his players in his time at N.C. Central, and this year is no different. Led by senior forward Jordan Parks (14.6 points, 8 rebounds per game) and senior Lamar transfer Nimrod Hilliard (11 points, 6.1 assists), the Eagles are the most experienced team in the nation according to kenpom.com ratings.
That experience—and the steady coaching hand of Moton—might just translate to a potential first weekend upset in the NCAA tournament. That is, if North Carolina Central can hold off the rest of the MEAC until then.
It’s not like you needed the Mid-Major Report to tell you to watch the rematch between Northern Iowa and Wichita State on Saturday. That’s a big enough game nationally in its own right, so we’ll turn our attention to the two best teams in the America East.
Don’t expect a high scoring affair in this one, as both the Catamounts and the Great Danes play at a leisurely tempo, but Vermont’s defensive efforts are to be commended. John Becker’s team locks down opposing teams inside and out and does a good job disrupting shots in the paint thanks in part to the play of junior forward Ethan O’Day.
O’Day averages 2.2 blocks and is the team’s leading scorer at 11.7 points per game. Watching him try to match Albany senior forward Sam Rowley (14 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) bucket for bucket in the two teams’ final conference game before the America East tournament should be a joy.
If you want the quintessential John Brown (18.2 points, 5.6 rebounds) game, look no further than his tour de force performance in a 73-72 win over Winthrop on Feb. 11. This is his Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood moment. Brown had 34 points on 16 shots (thanks in part to hitting 12-of-15 free throws), and two of his free throws came with three seconds to play after he grabbed the rebound off a missed front end of a one-and-one to basically seal the game.
That’s just one game, and that’s maybe not enough for you, so here’s Exhibit B:
It's still unclear if High Point can make it out of a crowded Big South, but there’s no contesting that Brown is one of the best mid-major players in the country.
Stat Of The Week: 46.3
That would be UC Davis’ three-point percentage as a team, No. 1 in the country. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Aggies are one of the nation's best offensive teams and have an effective field goal percentage of 58.6 (second in the country, behind Gonzaga).
In Saturday’s win over Hawaii, UC Davis hit 10-of-20 tries from deep including a 9-of-13 performance from Tyler Les, whose father Jim is UC Davis' coach. The senior guard is one of five Aggies shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc (and who have attempted at least 30 threes), but the best of the bunch is fellow senior Corey Hawkins.
Hawkins is shooting a blazing 52.8% from three and averages a shade under 21 points per game. He’s a big part of the reason UC Davis is right at the top of the Big West standings at 21-4 after winning 29 games in the past three seasons combined. If the Aggies can string together a few more wins at the right time, they just might earn their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.