Introducing Cinderella: The NC Central Eagles are headed to the NCAA tournament

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Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic

Coach: LeVelle Moton

Record: 25-8 (13-3 1st)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 153
RPI: 208
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: With an RPI outside the top-200, NC Central is likely headed to a 16 seed and the play-in round at Dayton.

Names you need to know: Almost everything the Eagles do flows through Patrick Cole. The 6-foot-5 senior leads them in scoring (19.5 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg) while also grabbing seven rebounds per game. Dajuan Graf, who shoots 37.5 percent from 3-point range, is the only other player scoring in double figures at 14.2 per game.

Stats you need to know: NC Central hangs its hat on the defensive end, where opponents shoot just 28.7 percent from 3-point range. In one of the more curious stats, the Eagles actually have the best “free-throw defense” in the country, with opponents converting at a 62.7 percent clip. They’re also the most experienced team in the country, according to KenPom.

Big wins, bad losses: The highest-rated KenPom win for the Eagles this season against Northern Kentucky, which is ranked 145th. The Eagles themselves were the only MEAC team rated in the KenPom top 295. A home loss to Delaware State, ranked 339, was the only true red flag on their resume before back-to-back losses to Savannah State (314) and North Carolina A&T (349) to end the regular season.

How’d they get here?: Despite the stumble to the finish line, NC Central had little trouble in the MEAC tournament. The Eagles defeated Bethune Cookman by 35 and Maryland Eastern Shore by 30 before besting Norfolk State by eight to claim the conference title.

Outlook: With a team as dependent as it is on one player like NC Central is on Patrick Cole, there’s a bit of a double-edged sword at play. On one hand, if the opposition can bottle that one player up, it totally disrupts an offense. But, should that one player get hot, he can do a lot of damage. NC Central won’t be the first 16 seed to top a 1, but Cole could make it interesting if he can find a groove.

How do I know you?: LeVelle Moton is one of the more up-and-coming coaches in the industry, having taken NC Central from Division II to now its second NCAA tournament in four years. You could see his name attached to a number of openings this spring.