San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Fresh off their first Big 12 Conference title in more than a decade, the third-seeded Iowa State Cyclones will begin work in the NCAA Tournament's East Region when they take on the 14th-seeded North Carolina Central Eagles on Friday night.
Iowa State is riding a four-game win streak into the NCAA Tournament, having vanquished Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor, who are all NCAA Tournament qualifiers, en route to the Big 12 conference championship. The Cyclones' last Big 12 title came in 2000, when the team made a run to the Elite Eight.
NC Central, in just its fourth season at the Division I level, has been red hot down the stretch, with wins in 20 straight games, including a 71-62 triumph over Morgan State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament championship game. That final triumph earned the Eagles their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
This game marks another first for NC Central, which has never faced Iowa State. The team that survives this meeting will advance to battle either sixth-seeded North Carolina or 11th-seeded Providence in the next round on Sunday.
Jeremy Ingram poured in a game-high 29 points and NC Central limited Morgan State to just 37.9 percent shooting to claim the MEAC Tournament crown on March 15. The Eagles only had six field goals in the final 20 minutes, but they sank 25-of-30 attempts at the free-throw line to escape with the win.
NC Central's run through the MEAC was no fluke. The Eagles led the conference in a number of categories this season, both on offense and defense, including scoring (73.9 ppg), assists (14.7 apg), scoring defense (58.5 ppg), assists allowed (9.3 apg) and opponent field goal percentage (.373). Ingram (20.6 ppg) is the most prominent scorer on the roster, with 18 20-point efforts this season, including five in which he had at least 30. Jordan Sparks gives the team a boost off the bench (10.2 ppg), and Emanuel Chapman (6.8 ppg, 6.4 apg) is a strong distributor.
DeAndre Kane led five players in double figures with 17 points to go with seven assists, as Iowa State claimed the Big 12 title with a 74-65 win over Baylor. The Cyclones hit an even 50 percent from the floor in the contest and held a 38-28 edge on the glass.
The Eagles may have been the best offensive team in the MEAC this season, but they barely register a blip on the radar compared to Iowa State. The Cyclones are netting an incredible 82.9 ppg, which ranks fifth in the country, while dishing out the most assists (18.5 apg) of any team at the Division I level. Melvin Ejim (18.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) has been tremendous this season, using his size to score from all over the court, while also attacking the glass. His efforts were rewarded when he was named Big 12 Player of the Year. Kane (17 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.8 apg) could easily have received the award as well, as he stuffs the stat sheet. The wealth of talent doesn't stop there with Georges Niang (16.5 ppg) and Dustin Hogue (10.7 ppg) providing depth.