The eighth edition of the NCAA First Four wraps up Wednesday at UD Arena.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina Central (19-15) plays Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern (15-19) in the first game, starting at 6:40 p.m., followed by a matchup between Syracuse (20-13) and Arizona State (20-11).
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Here are five things to know about the two games:
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1. How they got here
NCCU returns to the First Four for a second straight year after beating top-seeded Hampton, 71-63, to claim the MEAC championship and earn an automatic bid. Texas Southern beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 84-69 to win the SWAC title for a bid, which marks the Tigers’ second First Four appearance after also coming to Dayton in 2014. The two No. 16 seeds are playing for a chance to meet top-seeded Xavier in Nashville on Friday.
Syracuse lost to North Carolina in the second round of the ACC tournament but earned an at-large bid to make its 39th NCAA tournament appearance. Arizona State fell to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament opener but will be playing in its 15th NCAA tournament. The winner advances to play No. 6-seeded TCU in Detroit.
2. Boeheim and Hurley
Two well-known basketball names take the court against one another Wednesday when Syracuse plays Arizona State.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim is in his 42nd season with the Orange, while Bobby Hurley, the son of legendary St. Anthony’s High School coach Bob Hurley Sr., is in his third season at Arizona State.
Boeheim said he has known the Hurley family for about as long as he’s been coaching. He even tried recruiting Bobby Hurley before he chose Duke, where he played from 1989 to 1993.
“No one has more, has worked harder at the game than Bob Hurley did,” Boeheim said. “I’ve been around him for a long time and watched him and watched his practices and teams and there’s nobody more prepared and more involved in coaching than Bob. And Danny and Bobby are very, very similar. They’ll never be as good as their father, but they’re pretty good. Bob Hurley is one of the great coaches that ever coached basketball anywhere.”
3. HBCU championship
The only two HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) teams playing in the NCAA tournament are facing each other in the First Four.
North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said he was glad to be returning to the tournament – the Eagles lost to UC Davis in the First Four – but didn’t agree with the matchup.
“I hate it,” Moton said. “I hate that it has to be two HBCUs clashing, because I have the ultimate respect for (Mike Davis’) program. And truth be told we’ve kind of been the representation of each league, and I wanted the world to be able to see what each league can offer. It’s unfortunate, but it’s best to be on this side of the coin than on the other side not getting a bid at all and not having to play anyone and having your season be over with.”
Texas Southern lost its first 13 games of the season but went 15-6 the rest of the way, including seven straight heading into Wednesday.
That 0-13 stretch included games against six NCAA tournament qualifiers, including top-seeded Kansas, No. 4-seeded Gonzaga, No. 5 seeds Ohio State and Clemson, No. 6-seeded TCU and fellow First Four team Syracuse.
“Our schedule was designed for us to get to this point,” Davis said. “People talk about us being 0-13. And there’s not one team that we played in non-conference that we was favored to win.”
The Tigers also had some suspensions and injuries midseason, but have been at full strength since the start of their seven-game win streak.
5. Facts and stats
Syracuse is the tallest team in the country with an average height of 80.1 inches, according to stats on KenPom.com, but the Orange also are one of the most inexperienced teams in the NCAA tournament field (only Duke, Alabama and Kentucky are younger).
Arizona State is way down the height list with an average height of 76.2 inches and middle of the pack in experience (average of 1.79 years, compared to the Orange’s 0.95 years).
Texas Southern guard Demontrae Jefferson is one of the most exciting players in the First Four field. The 5-foot-7 sophomore averages 23.4 points and 4.5 assists. He served a five-game suspension but returned to lead Texas Southern to a Southwest Athletic Conference Tournament title. He scored 29 against TCU, 24 each against Kansas and Baylor, 22 against Clemson and 20 against Gonzaga.
Tra Holder leads Arizona State with 25.3 points per game, and Tyus Battle averages 21.4 points per game for Syracuse.