After an unlikely run into the field, the Liberty Flames will tip-off the 2013 NCAA Tournament with a first-round matchup against the North Carolina A&T Aggies at UD Arena on Tuesday.
Both of these squads were given 16 seeds by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The victor of this matchup will be given a shot at the No. 1-seeded Louisville Cardinals in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams. Neither has won an NCAA Tournament game, with NC A&T sporting an 0-9 tournament record, while Liberty is 0-2 in the event.
Liberty ran the table in the Big South Conference Tournament to punch its ticket despite finishing the regular season with 20 losses. The Flames held four straight opponents to 62 points or less before downing the top-seeded Charleston Southern Buccaneers, 87-76, in the championship game. Coach Dale Layer's squad received a huge boost from John Caleb Sanders, who tallied 27 points. Davon Marshall, who was named the tourney's MVP, provided 20 points with six 3-pointers off the bench.
The Flames don't have a ton of scoring depth from there as they net 69.1 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting. Each of those marks is among the bottom half of teams in the Big South. J.R. Coronado (4.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) makes up for his lack of scoring by ranking third in the league in rebounding. Liberty is just the second school in history to reach the NCAA Tournament with 20 losses, joining the 2008 Coppin State squad. Liberty opened the season with eight straight losses and never won three games in a row until the final stretch of the season.
As for NC A&T, it also overcame the odds and won the MEAC Championship for the first time despite entering the postseason as the seventh-seed. Adrian Powell and Lamont Middleton scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, while Austin Witter registered 11 points and 10 rebounds in the 57-54 victory over Morgan State in the conference tourney title game. It marked the 16th MEAC Championship for the program. NC A&T is fortunate to have won as Morgan State went 8-of-21 at the charity stripe in the contest.
NC A&T is usually much more modest on the offensive end of the court, scoring just 62.4 ppg, but the team makes up for it with a strong defense (61.4 ppg allowed). The Aggies are a poor outside shooting squad with only 30 percent efficiency from beyond the arc, but they force their opposition into 18.3 turnovers per game to make up for it. Powell (12.5 ppg) and Middleton (12.4 ppg) have been neck-and-neck for the scoring lead all year long. Austin Witter is the Aggies' best rebounder with 7.1 per contest which he accompanies with 3.0 rejections per tilt.