March 15th, 2017
By: Thomas Scott
“Moral victories are for minor league coaches.”- Jay-Z
Despite recent success, the collegiate basketball community has largely ignored the growing strength of their HBCU conferences. Far too often the SWAC and MEAC are unjustly dismissed and discredited as quality leagues. But what happens when that reputation does not reflect reality? Quality teams like Texas Southern and North Carolina Central are automatically assumed to be worthy of 16 seeds. Receiving a 16 seed from the NCAA Selection Committee is the quintessential moral victory.Quite frankly every #16 seed is EXPECTED to lose. In fact, in the history of the NCAA Tournament, #16 seed has NEVER beaten a number one seed. Here’s why both NC Central and Texas Southern deserved higher seeding.
Before we make the case for a higher seed, we must explain how the seeding process works. All Division I conference tournament winners are awarded automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. The Selection Committee then picks the 36 best at large teams. Afterwards, they seed the entire field of 68 and strategically position each team within the bracket. According to the NCAA, Texas Southern ranks 63rd out of 68 and NC Central is 66th out of 68 total teams. The last four at large teams and teams ranked 65-68 are placed in the “First Four”. This year #16 NC Central plays #16 UC Davis in a First Four matchup. While Texas Southern is set to play #1 seed North Carolina ( Ranked #3 in overall field of 68).
If Given A Chance…
Many HBCU’s have suffered humiliating defeats when ranked as the 16th seed. Most notably, in 1998 when NBA legend Paul Pierce and the Kansas Jayhawks beat Prairie View by 58 points!
Yet ironically, HBCU’s are the most dominant #15 seeds in NCAA history. The #15 seed has only beaten the #2 seed eight times in tournament history. Three of these eight wins have come by HBCU’s (Coppin State 1997, Hampton 2001, and Norfolk State 2012).In fact, Norfolk State has the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. They were -21.5 point underdogs to Missouri. Both, NC Central and Texas Southern should have at least been considered for # 15 seeds. NC Central Coach Levelle Moton and Texas Southern Coach Mike Davis are on the verge of building mid-major powerhouses. If given the chance they both would showcase the improvement of HBCU basketball.
Officially, past performance does not factor into the seeding process. Teams are evaluated solely on their current body of work. However, the NCAA Selection Committee should take into consideration NC Central and Texas Southern’s recent dominance of their respective leagues. NC Central is making its second trip to the NCAA Tournament in four seasons. While Texas Southern is making its third NCAA Tournament in four seasons. Extremely impressive feats considering neither the MEAC or SWAC conference typically receives at-large births to the tournament. Invitations are earned only by winning single elimination conference tournaments. Two of the #15 seeds (Northern Kentucky and North Dakota) have NEVER even made the tournament before!
The current #15 seeds are Troy, North Dakota, Jacksonville State, and Northern Kentucky. Texas Southern has a better RPI ranking than 3 out these 4 teams. In addition, Texas Southern was the only one of the schools ranked in the College Basketball Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25.
Meanwhile, NC Central is a top 25 team in scoring defense.
Flawed metrics such as RPI and Strength of Schedule rankings don’t reflect the quality of top tier MEAC and SWAC teams. Three fourths of the RPI ranking is determined by strength of schedule. According to Ken Pomeroy, this simply means who you play is often more important that whether you win or lose. For this reason HBCU’s are unfairly criticized for playing “weak” conference schedules. The lack of respect for MEAC and SWAC basketball causes many to discredit the ability of its best programs. This shouldn’t be. Objectively speaking both NC Central and Texas Southern deserved at least a #15 seed and better chance at making history. Only upsets will help change the perception of HBCU leagues. Until the NCAA respects MEAC and SWAC basketball our best programs will be relegated to #16 seed games. A fate we don’t deserve.