NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES (19-16)
vs. LIBERTY FLAMES (15-20)
NCAA Tournament - First Round
Tip-off: Tuesday, 6:40 p.m. ET
Line: North Carolina A&T -2, Total: 127
The 2013 NCAA Tournament tips off Tuesday in Dayton, OH when a pair of 16-seeded teams meet with North Carolina A&T clashing with a sub-.500 Liberty club.
After finishing February with three straight losses, the Aggies have put together a stellar March, going 6-1 SU (5-0 ATS) including four wins in five days in the MEAC Tournament. Liberty has also been perfect this month with a 5-0 SU (4-0 ATS) mark and winning by 11 points in the Big South Championship over Charleston Southern. Both of these schools are seeking their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory after extremely long droughts. North Carolina A&T is 0-9 all-time, last losing in 1995 to a Tim Duncan-led Wake Forest team by 32 points. Liberty is 0-2 in the Big Dance with its most recent appearance coming in 2004, an 82-63 loss to Saint Joseph's when Jameer Nelson went for 33 points. North Carolina A&T is 5-1 SU (6-0 ATS) on a neutral court this season, while Liberty is 3-2 (SU and ATS) in neutral-court tilts.
Which school will open the NCAA Tournament with a victory? For the answer, connect to 2013 NCAA Tourney Picks for all the Expert picks throughout the entire tournament. The four StatFox experts begin the NCAA Tournament on quite a roll, going a collective 75% ATS (35-12-1) in the season's final four days and 67% ATS (67-33-2) since March 9, with StatFox Gary going 75% ATS (12-4), StatFox Brian posting a 68% ATS mark (19-9-1), StatFox Dave also at 68% ATS (17-8) and StatFox Scott winning 61% ATS (19-12-1) in those final nine days. Gary has a 68% ATS record (23-11) since Feb. 27 to improve to 56.1% ATS (110-86-4) for the entire college basketball season.
North Carolina A&T prides itself on defense, allowing a mere 61.1 PPG on 38.2% FG (11th in nation). This includes an even more stellar 57.0 PPG on 36.9% FG defense during four straight MEAC Tournament victories. A big part of these impressive numbers is the play of 6-foot-8 PF Austin Witter (6.3 PPG) who blocks 3.0 shots per game (9th in nation) and grabs a team-best 7.1 RPG. But there's a good reason this team is a 16 seed. The Aggies do not have a single player taller than the 6-foot-8 Witter, which has led to a minus-1.4 RPG margin for the season. N.C. A&T also turns the ball over way too much (15.1 TOPG, 300th in nation) and shoots horribly from the field (39.9% FG, 315th in D-I) and from behind the three-point arc (29.9% threes). Senior SG Adrian Powell leads the team with 12.5 PPG on offense and 1.8 steals per game on the defensive end. Powell is coming off a huge MEAC Tournament where he averaged 15.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG. Junior SG Lamont Middleton (12.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG) also had a great conference tournament with 12+ points in all four games, averaging 13.8 PPG. He has shot poorly all season (38.3% FG, 26.5% threes), but he has done a nice job driving to the hole and forcing opponents to foul him, attempting 39 free throws in the four-game MEAC tourney.
As its 15-20 record (12-20 versus D-I school) suggests, Liberty has many deficiencies. These include a minus-2.6 TO margin (310th in nation), a minus-0.7 RPG margin, 69.9 PPG allowed, and a paltry 5.5 steals per game. The Flames have defended the three-ball pretty well though, giving up a mere 30.0% clip from downtown. Liberty's offense has peaked in March with 72.8 PPG, well above its 68.4 PPG in the first four months of the season. The Flames poured in 87 points in their championship win over Charleston Southern, as their three starting guards combined for 65 points. Junior PG John Caleb Sanders (14.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG) led the way with 27 points on 7-of-13 FG and 11-of-12 FT, while adding seven boards and four assists. Senior SG Tavares Speaks (13.1 PPG) also had a well-rounded 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals in the March 10 victory, while 5-foot-11 Davon Marshall (13.4 PPG) scored 20 points, hitting 6-of-7 threes. No other player on this team averages more than 7.3 PPG on the season, but PF JR Coronado (8.2 RPG) could have a big day against the undersized Aggies. Coronado averaged 7.3 RPG in just 24.0 MPG in the four wins in the Big South Tournament.