2014 North Carolina Central Eagles: Greatest in MEAC History?North Carolina Central won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the first time in school history Saturday evening in Norfolk, Va. The school’s 71-62 win over Morgan State was its 20th straight and the most wins of any team in MEAC history.
Considering the streak, and the way the Eagles breezed through the conference this year, it’s worth asking whether this team is the best in the 43-year history of the MEAC.
North Carolina Central (28-5) went 15-1 in conference play. This was the 19th season that a team has lost one or fewer games in MEAC play — including the 2013 Eagles. Of those 19 teams, only 10 won the conference’s regular season and tournament title. (Only two of those occurrences have happened in the last 20 years.)
Florida, Wichita State, Harvard and Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference are the only schools that went through conference regular season and tournament play with one or fewer losses.
Saturday, the Eagles were tied with Morgan State at halftime, but used its patented defense to asphyxiate the Bears’ tournament hopes.
Morgan State made three field goals over a seven minute stretch in the second half and the Eagles took advantage of that spell to take a lead they would never relinquish. Morgan State made just 37.9 percent of its shots. Outside of the 26 points 7-foot-2-inch center Ian Chiles provided, the Bears shot 31.1 percent (14-for-45) from the field.
Central’s defense may what separates it from some of the other elite teams—the ’93 and ’94 Coppin State teams, the 2001 Hampton team that upset Iowa State, the 2002 Hampton team that was even better and the 1988 North Carolina A&T team — that ran through regular season and tournament without worry.
The Eagles have the No. 8 scoring defense… in America (58.8 points) and the No. 2 field goal percentage defense (37.2 percent). Virginia, Arizona and San Diego State are the only other teams in the country that are in the Top 10 in both categories—and all three teams have been ranked in the Top 10 in the major polls.
The last great MEAC school that was among the national leaders in one of the major categories was the 1974 Maryland Eastern-Shore Hawks.
That Hawks team, which finished 27-2, led the nation in scoring at 97.6 points per game and ranked No. 20 in the Associated Poll at one point.
Maryland Eastern Shore was the first Historically Black College to accept a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, where they won a game and lost to Jacksonville in the quarterfinals.
The Hawks put three players, Talvin Skinner, Rubin Collins and Joe Pace on the All-MEAC team. Collins was the No. 18 selection in the 1974 NBA draft and Skinner was a third round draft pick of the Seattle SuperSonics. (By comparison only one Central player, Jeremy Ingram, made the First Team All-MEAC team this year.)
Ingram and the Eagles will not be playing in the NIT this year. Their postseason destination is the NCAA tournament where MEAC schools have won just five games in a combined 32 appearances. These wins are so rare that two of them, Coppin State’s victory over South Carolina in 1997 and Hampton’s aforementioned win over Iowa State were considered two of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history by ESPN.
Another two wins came in the play-in game that has been instituted in the tournament since the field was expanded to 65 teams in 2001 and 68 teams in 2011.
If North Carolina Central wins a NCAA tournament game this year, it would be their 29th of the season, which would set a school record. It would also definitively make this the best season of any in MEAC basketball history.