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First Four Was A Blast In This Year’s 2019 NCAA Tournament

Most years the First Four has been more like the First Mistake. Not this time.

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North Carolina Central v North Dakota State
DAYTON, OHIO - MARCH 20: Head coach LeVelle Moton of the North Carolina Central Eagles reacts after being defeated by the North Dakota State Bison 78-74 in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 20, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This year’s First Four has been highly entertaining but at a cost: NC Central represented Durham well but fell short against North Dakota State, losing 78-74.

The Eagles were tough for most of the game but faded down the stretch and as a result, Duke will face the Bison this Friday in Columbia.

A big part of the reason we’ve pulled for Central over the last few years is coach LeVelle Moton, who clearly is not just a good coach but a very good man. Here are some of his comments after the game:

“All of them hurt, I just hurt for the kids, man. Y’all see the basketball, but it’s 22 hours of life that we are responsible for as coaches. All of my seniors are incredible kids and they become your children and just like anything for your kids you don’t want to see them hurting. Just the fact it’s their last game ... our locker room is like a funeral home right now.”

And this: “Unfortunately in this tournament 64 more other teams are going to feel the exact same way. My grandmother told me something when I was young and I’ll never forget it. And it’s the realist thing I’ve ever heard in my life. She always told me: the same thing that makes you laugh will make you cry. The exact same thing. And last week we were crying tears of joy, but this week we’re crying tears of sorrow. And not because we didn’t perform our best, but because it’s over.”

Well the basketball is over and for the senior class college basketball is completely over. What’s not over is the opportunity that playing for a coach like this gives you. His players will benefit from what they learned from him for the rest of their lives.

It’s all gotten terribly cliche, but the right coach in the right spot can save lives. We always admired that about John Cheney when he was at Temple. He was a fiery man but his driving focus was always to help his kids and, if possible, to find a kid who he could save. He took some flack late in his career for his lack of emotional control, but no one ever doubted the man’s heart. No one should ever doubt Moton’s heart either. NCCU is really lucky to have kept him this long.

The question for Moton becomes this: he’s obviously been happy at Central. Yet he’s clearly talented enough to take a higher profile job and to succeed. Does he want to spend his life in the Triangle and stay at the competitive fringes? Or is he tempted to try something bigger, to test his talents in a major conference?

Nothing he decides will diminish our respect for him. Coaching as a profession has been really damaged by losers like Mark Gottfried, Bobby Petrino and perhaps worst of all Jerry Sandusky. When you see men like Moton doing it the right way, you realize that sports can be more than just a grubby commercial enterprise. A good coach can change and save lives, and we expect that Moton has done both. It can still be a noble profession and possibly more noble at NCCU than at say NC State.

In the other game Wednesday night, we saw a semi out of control game between Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State and Chris Mullin’s St. John’s. St. John’s had 16 turnovers but ASU had 21. Sometimes they seemed to come in bunches. Everyone would head one way, then the ball would get loose and they’d go the other...then it would happen again.

At times it almost looked like everyone was running suicides.

In the end though Arizona State held on and Remy Martin, despite his six turnovers, did a solid job running his team especially when it mattered. St. John’s showed heart down the stretch and fought back and it was possible, even late, that the Red Storm could have stolen the game.

They didn't though and now Bobby Hurley moves on to face his old team, Buffalo, and his former assistant, Nate Oates, who has done a positively brilliant job with the Bulls. That team can play with anyone anywhere. Finishing 31-3 is a huge accomplishment at any level but more so at a mid-major because you probably won’t be able to separate yourself much talent-wise. Don’t be surprised if Oates moves after this season.

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