Don’t sleep on the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament coming up in about two weeks. After being one of ten Division I programs that did not play a single game last season because of the COVID pandemic, many college basketball prognosticators projected Maryland-Eastern Shore to be the worst team in the country this season. Not so — this group beat Fordham in double-overtime earlier this season. They lost by just nine points at Connecticut.
Granted, this is a team that was still just 3-7 in conference play going into their game at North Carolina-Central on Monday (February 21st) — but head coach Jason Crafton has done a fine job with his squad. And his team does some things that make them intriguing road warriors. For starters, they are one of the best teams in the nation in forcing turnovers. The Hawks rank 15th in the nation by forcing turnovers in 23.3% of their opponent’s possessions. In Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play, they lead the league by forcing turnovers in 26.3% of their opponents' possessions. In concluding that Maryland-Eastern Shore playing as an underdog at North Carolina-Central in their February 21st contest would be my 25* CBB Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Game of the Year, I was intrigued by how vulnerable the Eagles are very vulnerable in the turnover department. They ranked 238th in the nation by turning the ball over in 23.8% of their opponent’s possessions going into that game. In conference play, North Carolina-Central turns the ball over 24.3% of the time.
This defensive pressure helps Maryland-Eastern Shore boast the best Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in conference play using one of the analytics formulas I track — and they are second in the MEAC in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency on the road using those metrics.
The Hawks also do a couple of things that make them dangerous. They are third in the conference by rebounding 31.7% of their missed shots when playing on the road. They also nail 36% of their 3-point shots on the road in conference play. Maryland-Eastern Shore had covered the point spread in 11 of their last 13 games on the road. And while it was their second game since last Monday, the Hawks have covered the point spread in 8 of their last 9 road games when playing second games in seven days. Furthermore, Maryland-Eastern Shore is 9-2-1 ATS in their last 12 road games as an underdog — and they have covered the point spread in 5 straight road games against teams with a winning percentage over 60% at home.
North Carolina-Central won the first meeting between these two teams by a 75-63 score as a 3-point favorite on the road. The Eagles made 11 of their 25 shots (44%) from behind the arc which is a number they are not likely to replicate since they rank 276th in the nation by making only 31.6% of their 3-point shots. Tellingly, North Carolina-Central committed 18 turnovers in that game while turning the ball over in 27.3% of their possessions against the Hawks’ pressure. Maryland-Eastern Shore has covered the point spread in 6 of their last 9 games when avenging a double-digit loss.
We were rewarded with a 79-66 victory by Maryland-Eastern Shore at North Carolina-Central where much of the handicapping was vindicated. Although the Hawks went into the locker room at halftime trailing by a 43-31 score, they outscored the Eagles by a 48-23 margin to pull the upset and easily cover the +6.5 point spread. Once again, the Maryland-Eastern Shore pressure played a big role as they forced 22 turnovers representing 31.0% of the Eagles’ possessions. The Hawks did not create many more scoring opportunities from second-chances as they only pulled down five boards on the offensive glass. Then again, it is harder to pull down offensive boards when you make 52.8% of your shots. The x-factor for Maryland-Eastern Shore was their 3-point shooting as they nailed 14 of their 24 shots (58.3%) of their shots from distance. That 36% clip from behind the arc on the road in conference play pointed to a possible hot-shooting like this. And it overcame North Carolina-Central once again shooting well from 3-point land against the Hawks once again as they made 7 of their 18 shots (38.9%) of their 3-pointers.
This was a nice win for us since it embodied so many of the elements of what we are looking for during March Madness. Teams that create more scoring opportunities rather it be from forcing turnovers or from pulling down offensive rebounds (or both) provide a Plan B if their shots are not falling. And teams that shoot the 3-ball well can always steal games by shooting great from distance. Moving forward, Maryland-Eastern Shore is a team to keep an eye for some point spread value in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament.
Best of luck — Frank.