|CIAA tournament week: Who’s making the grade|
|Published Thursday, February 20, 2014|
The jig is up! All the wannabes and should-bes and would-bes have to put up or shut up ‘cause it’s CIAA tourney time. CC can’t wait – just so long as it doesn’t snow. We will be blogging during the week. So, in keeping with our annual tradition, it’s Grade Time! And, as always with CC, ladies first.
Virginia State: A-. Yes, the Trojans (9-0 division, 14-1 CIAA, 23-1 overall) are nationally ranked; yes, they have won 12 straight games; and, yes, they have the best record in the conference – women or men. But that one loss is to Shaw. True, it was early in the season, but those bright lights at Time Warner Cable Arena can do some strange things to players.
The North is definitely the weak link in women’s basketball. As of Wednesday, only VSU has a winning record. Coach James Hill is quick to tell his players not to get the big head.
“They haven’t accomplished anything that the 2010 team did,” he said. That squad (22-7) won the division and although it didn’t win the tourney, VSU did receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Tiffany Adair is shooting almost 70 percent from the field, but Hill doesn’t have any superstars. What he does have are solid players and a deep bench. It will be interesting to see how the Trojans handle being the No. 1 seed in Charlotte.
• Bowie State: C-. The Bulldogs’ (4-5, 5-10, 10-13) best season under coach Renard Smith was his first year in 2010-11 at 18-10, which usually means he was coaching somebody else’s players. BSU hasn’t finished above .500 since.
• Virginia Union: C-. Four of the Panthers (4-5, 5-10, 8-15) five conference wins have come against the North. Not surprising, but VUU did get the jump on Fayetteville State with a 68-63 victory. Ashle Freeman leads the league in scoring with 21 points per game. After back-to-back double-digit win seasons, VUU looked to be turning things around. Not just yet.
• Chowan: C-. We wouldn’t want to play the Hawks (4-5, 6-9, 12-14) in the first round. They are just one of those creepy teams – not scary looking but can sneak up on you in a game. They did it to Shaw earlier this year. So, woe to the opponent that gets them first.
• Elizabeth City State: C-. The Vikings (4-5, 4-11, 7-17) are last in points per game, field-goal shooting, made free throws and attempts per game, rebounding, and the list goes on. CC doesn’t have the space to name them all. There’s always next year.
• Lincoln: D+. The Lions (2-67, 4-101, 11-134) opened the season with a win at Division I Morgan State. In fact, their non-conference record is better than their conference. Lincoln had a stretch of four straight wins in January over St. Augustine’s, Shaw, Philadelphia University and Bowie. That squad could do some damage, not the one that’s lost six straight.
• Fayetteville State: A. The Broncos (7-2, 11-4, 18-6) would receive a perfect A-plus if it weren’t for Shaw. Like the Trojans, FSU seems to have all the pieces to a championship puzzle: offense, defense and depth. Still, we can’t forget how they didn’t show up in last year’s championship game against Shaw. (Their 2010 championship was with former coach Eric Tucker’s players.) Those bright lights were indeed bright. But an argument can also be made that they now know what it’s like to play on the big stage. Yes, they lost to Shaw Wednesday night but won earlier in Fayetteville, so they can defeat the Bears.
• Shaw: B+. The Bears (7-2, 11-4, 17-8) lost two straight division games for the first time in – who knows. This may not be one of coach Jacques Curtis’ better squads, but only three teams besides Shaw have won the championship in the past 11 seasons. And no class wants to be the one to break the streak. Still, if anybody is going to dethrone the Bears, this is the year to do it.
• Winston-Salem State: C-. The Rams (4-5, 8-7, 14-11) are averaging 63.2 points per game. That might get them victories over Virginia Union and Lincoln, but it won’t cut it against the upper tier squads.
• Johnson C. Smith: C-. Steve Joyner Jr. is finding out just how big Vanessa Taylor’s shoes are. The Golden Bulls (3-6, 8-7, 13-11) weren’t having a bad season until that 74-47 beatdown Monday night by St. Augustine’s. Then they turn around and lose to the Rams Wednesday. WSSU did give the Broncos their first division loss, but we just don’t see them beating FSU again, or Shaw or VSU.
• Livingstone: D+. Like Chowan, the Blue Bears (3-6, 7-8, 12-13) are one of those teams that could be dangerous in the first round.
• St. Augustine’s: D. Until the Falcons (3-6, 7-8, 12-12) get past the mental block of losing to Shaw, they’ll never win a title.
Bowie State: B+. No division is as topsy-turvy as the men’s North. The defending champs (7-2, 8-7, 14-12) would have gotten an A-minus if they hadn’t lost to Chowan. Yes, the Hawks are playing better but still. BSU shocked the CIAA world last season, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them repeat. Their 1-5 record against the South is a concern, but records get thrown out during tourney week. Besides, who cares if they win or lose, CC just wants to know what coach Darrell Brooks will be wearing.
• Lincoln: B. The Lions (6-3, 10-5, 18-7) were roaring early on, winners of seven of their first eight games. Like most teams, they hit a slump but coach John Hill may have his best team yet. It’s worth noting Lincoln has the best conference record in the North. CC doesn’t care too much about overall records since some teams play tough schedules and others play high schoolers. We saw the TV game between the Lions and Bulldogs. Lincoln should have won. Gotta finish those if you want to win a championship.
• Elizabeth City State: C+. Coach Shawn Walker always gets his teams ready for prime time. The Vikings (5-4, 8-7, 13-12) have advanced to the semifinals three of the past four seasons, but need some momentum with losses in four of their past seven games.
• Virginia State: C-. If anybody else besides Lonnie Blow was coach, the Trojans (3-6, 6-9, 13-12) would get a D. VSU has fallen on tough times – losers of five of six – but Blow knows how to get his team ready for tourney time.
• Chowan: D. Last month, CC wouldn’t have given the Hawks (3-6, 5-10, 11-14) a snowball’s chance in Hades. Now, we’ll get them a very small chance. Chowan is nowhere near the power team it was in its first CIAA season in 2010.
• Virginia Union: F. So much hype surrounded Lugman Jabber when he took over as head coach two years ago, but the Panthers have yet to live up to it. A VUU team (3-6, 5-10, 6-18) last in the division? So who’s missing Dave Robbins now?
• Livingstone: A-. Talk about a dogfight. Any one of the top three division teams could win it all. The bar has been raised for the Blue Bears (8-1, 11-4, 18-6) after last season’s record-setting year. The team isn’t having a sophomore jinx thanks to the performances of Mark Thomas (20.4 ppg) and Jody Hill (18.4 ppg). The Blue Bears are averaging a league-best 85.5 ppg. As a colleague told CC, “Everybody is scared of those two guys.”
But LC showed it was vulnerable with three straight losses in January to ECSU, VSU and Chowan. The Blue Bears have won six straight.
• Winston-Salem State: B+. You know fans are spoiled when all they talk about is the Rams’ (6-2, 10-4, 15-9) collapse in the playoffs. Geez, they’ve only won one tourney title since returning to the CIAA four years ago, and Shaw was the favorite that year. Coach Bobby Collins has plenty of depth and experience on his side – every player has scored something except two – but unlike football, the Rams don’t put intimidation into opponents. ECSU, Lincoln, Livingstone and FSU have defeated them.
• Fayetteville State: C-. CC almost went into hibernation with the success of the Broncos (5-4, 9-6, 17-9). We didn’t have anyone to pick on. Tyrrel Tate (18.1 ppg) and Devin Thompson (43 percent from three-point range) have FSU in contention for a championship, but we’re not ready to concede the complete turnaround just yet. Again, those bright lights at TWC Arena can be blinding when you aren’t used to staying around past the first round.
• Shaw: C-. Talk about a hard-luck story, the Bears (3-6, 7-8, 9-16) are it. Shaw has lost six games by five points or less – four of the six by one or two points. Just like the Trojans, if it were any other coach than Cleo Hill, they’d get a lower grade.
• J.C. Smith: C-. This could be the last go-round for the Golden Bulls (3-5, 6-8, 14-10) as hosts in Charlotte. JCSU started off the season winning its first five games, lost a couple, then won four straight in late December. The G-Bulls have been on a roller coaster ride ever since. That’s not how you want to start a tourney run.
• St. Aug’s: D-. The Falcons (1-8, 4-11, 11-14) at one point were in a tie for first place. But that was long, long ago. Since their eight-game winning streak ended Jan. 11 to Lincoln, they have lost 11 of their past 12 games.
(Note: Records are as of Feb. 19.)
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