As the college basketball season winds down, one long honored and respected tradition among HBCUs launches, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball tournament. This year in the CIAA there have been a number of teams that have risen to the top but only one can be crowned the champion. As always there may be an upset or two, but in that case the ball doesn’t lie.
Out of the remaining teams, Bowie State, Virginia State, Livingstone, and Winston Salem have the best chances to take home the crown. These team are at the top of their divisions and have been playing great basketball for most of the year.
Winston Salem State University (16-9, 9-7 CIAA) has been playing very well outscoring most of their opponents in averaging 81 points per game. The Rams are making one out of every three shots from beyond the ark and shooting almost 70% from the charity stripe. In conference play, WSSU has been able to hold their opponents to around their season average of 76 points, statistically showing a very consistent defense.
This team however is an anomaly being just over .500 in conference play, going 3-3 in their last six games, including ending the regular season a three point loss to conference and division foe Livingstone. During the 16 conference games played the Rams have been dominated on the boards with a minus six rebound margin. Conference rivals have caused WSSU even more trouble than non conference opponents, limiting the amount of shots, steals, and field goal percentage than the Rams have been able to have against non conference opponents. If Johnson C. Smith gets past a weak Shaw team, the Rams could easily be looking at an early exit from the tournament after splitting the season series.
Another team that was able to dominate their conference, is the Livingstone College (16-9, 10-6 CIAA) basketball team. The Blue Bears have been on an upswing as of late, winning their last two games including eight of their last 11. Livingstone has been a volume scoring team averaging 60 attempts per game, first in the conference, 81 points per game in conference play, also first in the conference, and almost 30 made field goals, which leads the conference as well. Most of the Blue Bears offense comes from inside the arc, as they are only averaging a paltry 14 attempts per game, which is towards the bottom of conference averages.
The biggest knock on the team is that the Blue Bears is that they have not been able to thrive against top competition. Livingstone has struggled against some of the stronger teams in the CIAA with losses against the other top teams in the southern division (WSSU, JCSU, and Fayetteville), in addition to registering losses against the top three teams from the Northern division(Bowie State, Virginia State, and Livingstone). While this is a statistically strong team if they cannot continue their recent winning ways against a tough string of opponents, starting with the Lincoln University team that edged them by five points earlier this season, the Bears will have trouble advancing.
Virginia State University (18-7, 12-4 CIAA) has been one of the top teams in both the Northern Conference as well as in the entire CIAA as a whole. In dominating the CIAA the Trojans have been able to stand behind a stifling defense, holding their opponents under 65 points a game while averaging almost seven points more than than their opponents. Their defense has been able to stifle opposing offenses in how they share the ball holding opposing teams to under 10 assist per game. The team’s defense has been able to keep them in games, as they have only lost one game by double digits.
The biggest knock on this VSU team is that when the turnover bug hits ,it hits hard. Throughout the season the Trojans have averaged a negative turnover margin which was very apparent in close losses against CIAA foes Shaw and Winston Salem. If Virginia State doesn’t beat Virginia State they have a very good opportunity to be crowned CIAA champions.
After a dominant season Bowie State University (21-7, 13-3 CIAA) enters the tournament as the number 1 seat in the Northern Division. The Bulldogs were able to thoroughly dominate their conference opponents through sheer will. With an average margin of victory of only three points throughout the season, Bowie State simply outlasted most of their opponents. Statistically the Bulldogs are an average team with an almost negatable plus margin of .2 in the turnover category and minus in the rebounding category.
Bowie State has been able to play to their opponents and win thus far throughout the season, as evident by their record, with only one disparaging loss, which was against a very underrated Shaw team. As long as Bowie State can do what they do best, find a way to win, there is no reason to believe they do not have a very good chance to be named the Men’s Basketball CIAA champions.
With all of this being stated, I believe that Virginia State University will find a way to pull through and win. The separation between the top teams in the CIAA is not that great, and the Trojans have been the most consistent of all the teams involved. After splitting the season series with the top team in Bowie State, by one point a piece, the Trojans will be focused and determined to prove they are the best team in the CIAA.