The NCAA Tournament officially kicks off on Tuesday with the First Four, and the first March Madness betting battle with pit the North Carolina A&T Aggies against the Liberty Flames.
North Carolina A&T survived a weird season this year, as it made it to the NCAA Tournament only on the graces of a run through the MEAC Tournament, one of the oddest tourneys you’ll ever see in March. All four of the top seeds were canned in the quarterfinals of the tournament, and now, a 19-16 team is dancing. The Aggies don’t have much in the way of big time players for the dance, but F Adrian Powell and G Lamont Middleton are the two that are going to need to step it up for UNC A&T to get into the main bracket. Powell averaged 12.5 points per game this season, while Middleton was good for 12.5 points per game. Three-point shooting is a real problem for the MEAC reps, and that’s bad news this time of year. No one on the team shot better than 35.8 percent from long range, and both Middleton and the team’s third leading scorer, G Jean Louisme shot less than 29% from downtown.
What’s even more amazing than the fact that the Aggies are here in the NCAA Tournament is that they are favorites to get into the main bracket. Liberty was the best story of all of the 68 teams that got into the field this season. This was an 10-20 team just five games ago, but then the magic of March kicked into play. The Flames rolled off four straight wins, including five in six days at the Big South Tournament to make it dancing. The team picked a great time to go on its best run in years, and now, it is here in the dance in Dayton to start things off. If you look at the season in a bubble for the Flames, you don’t see much to be happy about. They allowed 69.9 points per game and scored just 69.1 points per game. However, what you’ll also see in these last five games are an average of 72.8 points per game in these last five victories. G John Caleb Sanders is the man to watch out for, as he averaged 16.8 points per game during this run to make him the team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game.
We really like Liberty in this game. There’s something about the form that a team is on coming into games like this one that have us enthralled. Though technically, everyone has to be hot to get to this level of the NCAA Tournament, Liberty won its games against the best teams in the Big South, whereas the Aggies sort of got through what was left of a battle-torn MEAC. Take the points with Liberty, but expect the outright upset. Liberty 73 – North Carolina A&T 68
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.