Bids await NC schools in conference tournaments

Guard Brice Williams and Charlotte will likely need to go through Nicholas Boyd and top-seeded Florida Atlantic if they want to win the Conference USA Tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

The AAC, Atlantic 10, Conference USA and MEAC tournaments all take place this week. As teams start to punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament, the remaining schools across the state are beginning their conference tournaments with a chance to extend their run in March Madness. While much of the attention will focus on the big conferences — namely the ACC — North Carolina’s mid-majors are hoping this week brings them a spot in the big dance.

American Athletic Conference

One team stands alone at the top of the American Athletic Conference, and that’s the nation’s No.1 team, Houston.

It’s a long shot that the Cougars will be toppled in the AAC Tournament, though Memphis has put together a very solid season and are likely to earn an at-large bid based on the Tigers’ regular season.

East Carolina
15-16 overall, 6-12 AAC (9th)

The Pirates had a disappointing regular season under first-year coach Michael Schwartz, finishing under .500 in both conference play and overall. A bit of bad luck was in play as well though as their leading scorer, sophomore guard Javon Small, missed half the season after sustaining a knee injury in January.

ECU had success on the boards, averaging 37 rebounds per game, but struggled with scoring and defending, ranking 230th in points scored (69.4) and 211th in points allowed (71.3).

The Pirates are staring down the barrel of a potentially 30-year tournament drought, not having made the NCAA Tournament since 1993.

Atlantic 10 Conference

The Atlantic 10 is fairly wide open this season with seven teams having double-digit wins in conference play. Top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth has three more wins than the next-best team, and last year’s tournament finalists are each in the bottom half of the conference.

This conference is primed to have an under-the-radar team make it into the NCAA Tournament.

15-15 overall, 8-10 A-10 (8th)

Things haven’t gone as well for the Wildcats under first-year coach Matt KcKillop as they did with his recently retired father, Bob McKillop.

Despite having two players averaging more than 15 points per game –—senior guard Foster Loyer (16.6) and junior forward Sam Mennenga (15.5) — Davidson hasn’t had enough scoring support to separate itself from the rest of the conference.

The Wildcats made the tournament last year and nearly pulled off an upset of seventh-seeded Michigan State, but they’re going to need a big run through the A-10 Tournament if they want to go dancing again this year.

Conference USA

Conference USA has a couple of teams at the top looking to claim the bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Atlantic currently sits atop C-USA with an 18-2 conference record and 28-3 overall record, but North Texas and UAB are right on their heels, each with more than 20 wins this season.

18-13 overall, 9-11 C-USA (5th)

Fifth-year coach Ron Sanchez has led the 49ers to their best record of his tenure, but that still doesn’t seem to be enough to bridge the gap with the stronger teams in the conference.

On the court, Charlotte is led by junior guard Brice Williams, who is averaging 13.5 points, and sophomore Aly Khalifa, who has 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

The 49ers have been to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, but their last bid came in 2005.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Howard enters MEAC Tournament as the conference’s top seed, but NC Central finished only one game behind them and enters the postseason on a seven-game winning streak.

North Carolina Central
17-11 overall, 10-4 MEAC (2nd)

Longtime head coach LeVelle Moton has the Eagles clicking at just the right time. NC Central heads into the MEAC Tournament as the conference’s hottest team.

Junior guard Justin Wright is doing it all for the Eagles, leading the team in points (16), ranking second in assists (2.1) and steals (1.4), and third in rebounds (5).

NC Central is also 63rd in the country in defensive scoring, holding its opponents to just 65.9 points per game while scoring 75.5 points per game.

This could be the year for the Eagles to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.