North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton received a phone call from Texas Southern coach Mike Davis, a good friend of his, Saturday night.
Davis called Moton to congratulate him on winning another MEAC tournament title, earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. Moton, who had been watching the brackets closely, told Davis they would probably see each other in the First Four in Dayton. Davis told Moton there was no way the NCAA selection committee would pair two HBCUs against one another in the tournament.
But it did.
"Mike Davis is a good friend of mine, he called me at 2 this morning," Moton said. "I told him we were going to play each other, he said they wouldn't do that. I need to call him back and let him know they did that."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
On Sunday, it was announced that No. 16 seed Texas Southern (15-19) and No. 16 seed N.C. Central would meet in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday. The winner takes on No. 1 Xavier in Nashville, Tenn. on Friday.
The Eagles (19-15), winners of the 2018 MEAC tournament, clinched the leagues automatic bid by upsetting No. 1 seed Hampton, 71-63, Saturday in Norfolk. On Sunday, North Carolina Central, which entered the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed, found out it will be returning to a familiar place. The Tigers, winners of the SWAC tournament, started the season 0-13 and didn't win their first game until Jan. 1. Texas Southern's non-conference schedule included Kansas, Syracuse, Oregon, Clemson, Baylor and TCU.
"We are playing a really, really good basketball team," Moton said. "Don't be deceived by their record because they played the toughest schedule in the country. They have a seven-footer (Treyvon Reed) and a point-guard (Demontrae Jefferson) who could play at any high major in the country. We have our hands full."
This is N.C. Central's third trip to the NCAA tournament. The Eagles lost to Iowa State, 93-75, in San Antonio in 2014, their first trip to the NCAA tournament. Last season in Dayton, N.C. Central fell to UC-Davis, 67-63. The Eagles are 5-2 all-time against the SWAC. This will be their first meeting with Texas Southern, which captured the SWAC title with a 84-69 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff in the title game.
Moton said preparation starts right away. As soon as he saw who his team would play, Moton and his coaches started game planning on the spot. His director of basketball operations went to download film immediately.
"I'll be up all night," Moton said. "We have to slow down some really talented individuals."'
Only two HBCU conferences earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament - the SWAC and MEAC. The two rarely play each other, and Moton would rather they not cancel each other out.
"I didn't want that," Moton said. "Soon as I saw it on the screen I knew what it was. The big picture is that we are happy to be here because there are 200 and something programs that didn't make it, who are probably crying right now. I've been on that side of the coin, so I'd rather feel it on this side."