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NCAA tournament: Norfolk State

NORFOLK STATE

Record: 25-9, 13-3

Coach: Anthony Evans (77-81, fifth season)

Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic (automatic bid)

Last NCAA appearance: None

Starters, Pos., Yr., Pts.

Pendarvis Williams, G, So., 11.8

Chris McEachin, G, Sr., 12.8

Rodney McCauley, G, Sr., 3.4

Marcos Tamares, F, Sr., 6.8

Kyle O'Quinn, C, Sr., 15.9

Critical juncture: The Spartans lost three out of four home games during one stretch in January and February, including an overtime setback to Delaware State. They regrouped to win seven in a row, including a 73-70 defeat of Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC title game.

Reason for optimism: Size and experience. The Spartans have the potential to be a difficult matchup with a lineup whose shortest starter is 6-foot-5. It's an athletic bunch, and it's more surprising the Spartans lost three league games than their conference tournament victory.

Reason for pessimism: The unknown. How do the Spartans handle the big stage for the first time since they moved up to Division I in the late 1990s? They'll find out soon enough how much they've grown since suffering losses to Marquette (twice) and Virginia Tech early in the season.

Wild card: O'Quinn. The 6-foot-10 senior is a more-than-credible big man, averaging 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Should he establish himself inside, Norfolk would at least have a plausible chance of making things interesting for a while.

The draw: The Spartans avoided the fate of being a No. 16 seed. Instead, they get a one-way ticket to the Midwest to take on a Missouri team less than pleased about not being a No. 1 seed. Norfolk State’s first appearance in the tournament will begin (and probably end) in Omaha, Neb., on Friday at approximately 4:40 p.m.

Number of note: 8

Consecutive NCAA tournament losses for MEAC teams since Florida A&M's play-in game win in 2004. The league's last round of 64 victory was Hampton's upset of Iowa State in 2001.

Projection: No one should expect the Spartans to advance to the weekend, but they have some decent wins (Drexel, Long Island and Texas Christian) and lost their second meeting with Marquette by two points. Either way, the Spartans should have as much fun as anyone since it is their NCAA tournament debut.

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