The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) may be in the NCAA’s Division II, but there is nothing small-time about its basketball tournament. Historically, the conference has produced players like Earl Monroe, Sam Jones, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace, just to name a few. While such players are few and far between these days for this conference made up of predominately historically black institutions, it is still a major draw, both on the court and after hours. If this year’s tournament is as exciting as the regular season, for once, fans in Charlotte might see some great basketball inside Time Warner Cable Arena.
No. 1 Livingstone (20-5 overall, 8-2 Southern Division)
Livingstone enters this year’s tournament as the conference’s hottest team. The Bears jumped out to an 11-1 start through early January. After a rough stretch to finish the month, Livingstone has won all six games in February, including two wins over nationally -ranked Winston-Salem State to clinch the Southern Division title. The trigger-happy Bears led the conference in shooting attempts, but ranked near the bottom of the league in several defensive categories.
Key Players: Mark Thomas, Jody Hill, Tyler Johnson, Eladio Espinosza, Ethan Anderson
Best Player: While Hill has put up big numbers, at times, Thomas (17.9 ppg, 48% FG, 39 3FG) is Livingstone’s most consistent offensive option.
No. 2 Winston-Salem State (20-5, 7-3)
Winston-Salem State not be the top-seed, no one would be surprised if they won. The Rams are the defending conference tournament champions, and have been nationally ranked for the majority of the season. WSSU is a seasoned team with eight seniors, including All-CIAA guard Justin Glover and Marcus Wells, the conference’s defensive player of the year. Coming off a loss to Livingstone on Saturday, WSSU will have plenty of motivation as they try to cut down the nets for a second consecutive season.
Coach: Bobby Collins
Starters: Marcus Wells, Justin Glover, Tyre Desmore, Michel-Ofik Nzege, WyKevin Bazemore
Best Player: Collin’s conservative system emphasizes team over individual, but the Rams will go as far as the high-flying Glover (16.8 ppg) takes them.
No. 3 Johnson C. Smith (16-10, 5-5)
While others in its their division alternated between hot and cold, Johnson C. Smith was pretty consistent. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish third in the Southern Division and that’s exactly where they finished. JCSU has two things going for it them heading into the the tournament: It will be held in their hometown of Charlotte, and they have Trevin Parks, the conference’s leading scorer. If JCSU has any hopes of playing Cinderella, Parks will need some help doing it.
Coach: Stephenve Joyner, Sr.
Starters: Parks, Richard Daniels, Jr., Emilio Parks, Robert Williams, Terrence Washington
Best Player: Parks is an offensive machine, averaging 25.2 per game while shooting 41 percent from downtown and dishing out 4 assists per game.
No. 4 St. Augustine’s University (15-11, 5-5 Southern)
What a difference a month makes. In early Februurary, the Falcons were flying high with a sparkling 5-0 record in Southern Division play. Then, to quote Black Thought, things fell apart. St. Aug’s lost their final five contests to limp into the tournament as a fourth seed.
Coach: Lonnie Blow, Jr.
Starters: Nick Chamblee, Percy Woods, Akeem Anderson, Tyquan Stroman, Chris Johnson
Best Player: Sophomore Percy Woods is a dangerous shooter from (40 percent) from long distance.
No. 5 Shaw (16-10, 4-6)
As late as mid-January, Shaw looked to be one of the conference’s strongest teams after it tore through the Northern Division portion of its schedule. Then things got real, as Shaw lost six of its first seven games in its own division. To make matters worse, its best player, Karron Johnson left the team. The Bears won their final three games, however, so don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two.
Coach: Cleo Hill, Jr.
Starters: Taurus Dortch, Latrail McCoy, Junious Chaney, Keith Mitchell, Mohammed Abdur-Rahim.
Best Player: With Johnson gone, sharpshooter Curtis Hines (51% FG, 42.5 3FG) will need to bring his A-game for the Bears.
No. 6 Fayetteville State (9-16, 1-9)
Fayetteville State struggled against Southern Division opponents, this season, winning just one of theirthe ten 10 games against them. Beating Virginia State in the opening round would easily be the highlight of a forgettable season by FSU.
Coach: Alphonza Kee
Starters: Louis Craft, Anthony Shelton, Andre Best, Travis Marcus, Tyrrel Tate
Best Player: Tyrrel Tate has been on of the few bright spots for FSU, averaging 16 ppg and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
No. 1 Lincoln (17-9, 8-2 Northern Division)
The Tigers embody the phrase “started from the bottom,” as they were picked to finish fifth in their division. Lincoln started strong out of the gate, going 7-2 in non-conference play. They, then, loss lost six of their first nine CIAA games, including four against Southern Division opponents. After winning five in a row, including a critical win over Elizabeth City State, Lincoln has claimed its first regular season title in its three years as a CIAA member. The bad news for Lincoln is they will be in the tournament with teams from both divisions.
Coach: John Hill
Starters: Kenny Sharpe, George Jackson, Richard Glover, Derrick Washington, Will Cole
Best Player: With All-CIAA guard Sharpe nursing an ankle injury, big man Will Cole’s role as an anchor in the middle will be key to the Tigers’ hopes.
No. 2 Elizabeth City State (16-10, 7-3)
Elizabeth City State was predicted to finish second in the Northern Division in the preseason, and they did just that. The Vikings won their first four games against division opponents, but finished just 3-3 against those teams. ECSU made it to the championship game last season, so they know how to make a run. Also, ECSU has newly minted CIAA Player of The Year Angelo Sharpless on their squad.
Coach: Shawn Walker
Starters: Deon Rice, Sharpless, Antar Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dominique Byrd
Best Player: Sharpless scored 21 points per game and pulled down a league-leading 8.8 rebounds per game.
No. 3 Virginia Union (10-14, 6-4)
Five seasons after Hall of Fame coach David Robins retired, Virginia Union is still searching for an identity. The Panthers have been hot and cold all season. In the tournament, who knows? They could pull off an upset or two, or they could bow out after one game. Neither would surprise most observers.
Coach: Lugman Jaaber
Starters: Michael Wynn, Ken Pankey, Cordero Holt, Wesley Simmons, Juan wilson
Best Player: Wilson is on the only player to finish the season averaging double-figures for VUU.
No. 4 Bowie State (12-13, 5-5)
Bowie State’s strong showing against Southern Division opponents included three wins and a tight game with WSSU. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they struggled with Northern Divsion opponents early before winning three straight. Their late-season surge as well as their solid play against Southern Division opponents have the Bulldogs looking like a sleeper-in-the-making.
Coach: Darrell Brooks
Starters: Dameatric Scott, Ray Gaitling, Najee White, Carlos Smith, Byron Westmorland
Key Player: Westmorland is a scary scorer (22.7 ppg) and an underrated rebounder (6 rpg).
No. 5 Virginia State (12-14, 4-6)
The Trojans had some good moments, beating long-time rival VUU for the first time in 23 games and upsetting Livingstone early in the CIAA season, but consistency has been hard to find. They will open the tournament against the same FSU team they defeated 72-54 in early January.
Coach: Darryl Jacobs
Starters: Mike Bynum, DeVonte Williams, Christopher Grier, Kenny Mitchell, John Holleman
Best Player: At 6‘9, Mitchell has a sweet touch from the outside, shooting over 45 percent from three-point range.
No. 6 Chowan (6-19, 0-10)
If Chowan managed to win its opening round matchup against Shaw, it would be their first win against a conference opponent in 16 tries this season.
Coach: Brent Vincent
Starters: Kortez Smith, Greg Alston, Kyree Bethel, Quinton McDuffie, Ashante Ross
Best Player: Quinton McDuffie has carried Chowan offensively, averaging over 14 points per game while shooting over 54 percent from the field.