I understand the situation all too well. It gets hashed and rehashed year after year. The traditionally small conferences get one team and one team only in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the drill, so deal with it.
Not only do they get just one, but the big boys will stand on high and say they ought to be thanking them they even get that many.
I present to you the case of the North Carolina Central Eagles.
The Eagles have never been to the NCAA Tournament. Not once. They won last year’s MEAC regular season title, going 15-1, yet still lost in the first round of their conference tourney. Thanks for playing. You get no parting gift.
This year, however, they’re 22-5 overall and their magic number to win the regular season conference title stands at one. They’re determined not to fall flat again. But what if they do? Will a 27-6 final record not be enough? Unfortunately, it wouldn’t. But I don’t agree.
This is a different team than last year’s. The Eagles have a senior point guard, Emanuel Chapman, who ranks sixth in the country in assists (6.8) and another senior, Jeremy Ingram, who ranks 29th in scoring (19.9). This is where the smaller schools usually come out ahead: senior leadership. This is why a small school or two typically makes a deep run in the NCAA field of 68.
Why can’t it be Central this year? Of course, their RPI is going to lack in a serious way (122). They play in a conference where 10 of the 13 teams have below .500 records. However, they were no dummies. They scheduled strong, beating North Carolina State and Old Dominion on the road, fought No. 11 Cincinnati hard in the season opener and they gave No. 2 Wichita State all they could handle in a game they almost didn’t make it to thanks to a blizzard.
Don’t tell me a small conference school can’t win a couple games in the tourney. All you have to do is look at last year when Florida Gulf Coast of the mighty Atlantic Sun Conference made it to the Sweet 16, beating Georgetown and San Diego State, then scaring the life out of Florida before finally being eliminated.
It can happen, folks. And if North Carolina Central doesn’t win their conference tournament and earn their league’s automatic bid, they should still have that chance to make it happen. They almost certainly won’t, thanks to yet another system that serves only the country’s elite — but they should. The little guys beating the Goliath teams are what makes the NCAA Tournament what it is. It would be a shame if more Davids don’t get their hands on that sling shot.