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By Donal Ware

Going into last year’s CIAA Tournament there was no team that was a clear cut favorite, so much so that the top three seeds all lost in their first game. The championship game featured fourth overall seed Shaw against a lower seeded Livingstone squad with the Bears winning the championship game 72-69 as a desperation three-pointer by the Blue Bears failed to tie the game.

This year is much different as the Bears look to defend their crown. They are clearly the favorite and the most talented team in the conference. As a matter of fact the Bears are ranked No. 6 in the NABC Division II Coaches Poll, their highest ranking ever. The Bears have defeated all comers, finishing a perfect 16-0. It was the first time a team had gone undefeated in the CIAA during the regular season since the 1992-93 Virginia Union Panthers did it.

Still, teams like Bowie State, Virginia Union, Elizabeth City State, who usually plays well in the tournament, and a surging Fayetteville State team all present challenges.

Bowie State (21-5, 12-4) Top seed in North

The Bulldogs have been the most consistent team amongst the other CIAA team. The Bulldogs have been ranked nationally all season. Senior guard Darren Clark is one of the best players in the league and is the leader of the team. He is averaging 16.5 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field. Senior seven-footer Travis Hyman has not been as productive this year as in year’s past but is still averaging 10.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and close to three blocks per game. He is an intimidator defensively as he was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year. Guards Jay Gavin (13.8) and Byron Westmoreland (14.6) are also average double figures for the Bulldogs who outside of Hyman are small but quick and lead the league in scoring (79.1 points per game).

Chowan (8-20, 2-14) 6th seed in North

Guard Kyree Bethel is an unbelievable shooter and can get hot from beyond the arc at any time. He shoots 49 percent from three-point range. Forward Quinton McDuffie is the team’s leading scorer and is tough in the post. The Hawks like to go toe-to-toe with opponents and while they average 68 points per game, the give up 72 points.

Elizabeth City State (13-13, 7-9) 3rd seed in North

The Vikings have a lot of talent and to some degree have underachieved during the regular season. Despite their record, they did beat a solid Division I Norfolk State squad on the road. But it is tournament time which means it’s head coach Shawn Walker time. Perennially the Vikings have played well in the tournament, but got bounced by 23 points in last year’s tournament by Shaw. For most of those guys it was their first year playing in the tournament. They now have the experience which should make the Vikings tough. All-CIAA performer Angelo Sharpless leads the team with 14.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Omar jones and Quinten Spady give the Vikings and outside threat. Marquise Cooke plays the point very well and doesn’t turn the ball over a lot. He has the capability to score and ECSU is going to need him to do that more. Forward Paul Goldsmith (7.9 points) has had a rough season and the Vikings are going to need more production from him to do well in the tournament.

Fayetteville State (9-16, 6-10) 4th seed in South

The Broncos have played better as of late and are winners of four of their last six games, including a 64-54 victory at Winston-Salem State to end the season. A lot was expected from Jamel Carpenter who two years ago led the CIAA in scoring and sat out last year. But in December Carpenter was dismissed from the team due to “behavior detrimental to our program,” according to head coach Alphonza Kee. It has taken e Broncos some time to get on track. Tim Plummer (11.2) and Tyrel Tate (10.8) lead the team in scoring. The Broncos will have to tighten op on defense as opponents are averaging 76.4 points per game and are shooting 44 percent from the field.

Johnson C. Smith (12-14, 7-9) 2nd seed in South

The Golden Bulls and head coach Steve Joyner, Sr. are used to being one of the upper echelon teams in the league. This year was certainly not the case. All-CIAA guard Trevin Parks, who was last year’s CIAA Player of the Year, leads the league in scoring. Delonta Boyd (10.7 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) is a big presence down low. One good thing for the Golden Bulls is that they are playing in their home city which for two years was an advantage.

Lincoln (11-17, 6-10) 5th seed in North

The Lions have improved quite a bit since last year, their first in the CIAA since 1960. John Hill is a veteran coach and will have his team ready to play. The Lions are led by guard Denzel Moody who can score from anywhere on the court and led the team with 17.0 points per game. Kenny Sharpe (12.5) and George Jackson (12.0) also score in double figures. The Lions will certainly be upset minded and split with Bowie State this year, losing the second game in overtime, while also splitting with Virginia Union.

Livingstone (9-16, 5-11) 5th seed in South

Livingstone was probably the most underachieving team in the CIAA. Last year the Blue Bears had a solid season and made it all the way to the CIAA championship game. James Stinson was named CIAA Coach of the Year. With the majority of that squad returning intact, it is hard to believe the Blue Bears only won five conference games. Forward Nasir Austin is a threat to score down low. Guard Greg Henry has had a subpar year, but if he can have a good tournament like he did last year, the Blue Bears could once again make some noise.

Saint Augustine’s (13-13, 8-8) 6th see in South

The Falcons ended the regular season on a four-game losing streak and are losers of four of his last five. Coach Ken Spencer has tinkered with his starting lineup all season long. The one constant has been guard Chris Brown who has started in all 24 games he has played in. He is averaging 8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. The team’s leading scorer (12.0) Joel Kindred, who was the CIAA Rookie of the Year, has not started since January 5 against Lincoln. Other key players include Tyquan Stroman (9.8 ppg), Tyron Laughinghouse (6.6 ppg) and guard Jeremy Banks (6.1 ppg), one of three holdovers from the 2010 CIAA Tournament Championship. The Falcons are a small but are very scrappy team.

Shaw (24-2, 16-0) Top seed in the South

Bears head coach Cleo Hill, Jr. really likes the talent level of his team. What he is not pleased with is the way the Bears play defense at times. The Bears do outscore their opponents by almost 11 points per game, but some teams have taken them to the wire including Saint Augustine’s last Thursday, Livingstone, who they defeated in overtime and Fayetteville State who they defeated in double overtime. As a matter of fact the Bears have played in four overtime games this year. CIAA Player of the Year Malik Alvin is a deadly three-point shooter and is shooting 53 percent from long distance which leads the conference. He has superior quickness with the ball which makes him hard to guard as he averaged 20.3 points per game. All-CIAA performer Tony Smith controls the game for the Bears and averaged 6 assists, 6.8 rebounds, and 12 points. The Bears can also pound teams down low with Junius Chaney (12.0 ppg) and Karron Johnson (12.2 ppg). At times the Bears can play to the level of their competition which could work against them.

Virginia State (8-18, 7-9) 4th seed in the South

New head coach Darryl Jacobs found success as the head coach at Clark-Atlanta. His first year with the Trojans has been a struggle. But prior to losing its last game of the season to Chowan, the Trojans had won five-straight and are playing much better. Kenny Mitchell is one of the premier players in the CIAA and is averaging 16.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Ibn Rassoull has made major contributions all season and especially of late as he is averaging 14.4 points per game.

Virginia Union (15-13, 10-6) 2nd seed in the North

With first year head coach Luqman Jaaber at the helm, these Panthers will give it all they have each and every night. After all, Jaaber led his team to the national championship in 2005. The Panthers are one of those teams that have a legitimate shot to win the tournament. They have been up and down this year and not just based on their record. They gave Shaw a battle on the road before falling 63-60. They also defeated Bowie State during the season. But this is the same team that lost to Lincoln and lost 101-82 to Bowie State late in the season. As a matter of fact the Panthers have lost their last two. Sophomore forward Damion Harris is one of the most skilled post players in the conference. At 6-8 he has an array of moves around the basket, but can also knock down the jumper from 15 feet in. Point guard Calvin Brown has been a steady leader for the Panthers and does a good job of distributing the basketball and not turning the ball over a whole lot. We’ll have to see which VUU team shows up once the tournament starts.

Winston-Salem State (18-8, 10-6)

The Rams went from having one of the best records in the CIAA and being ranked in the Atlantic Region to now probably having to win the CIAA Tournament to have any NCAA post season aspirations. The Rams have lost four of their last six. In each of its four losses the Rams have shot well below 40 percent from the field. Freshman WyKevin Bazemore was named CIAA Rookie of the Year and at times has been the go to guy for the Rams. Bazemore is averaging 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and was once named Boxtorow National Player of the Week this season. At 6-4 he plays much bigger than he is and is shooting 55 percent from the field. Justin Glover is the team’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game and is an explosive player.

Local Women

Saint Augustine’s (13-13, 8-8) 5th seed in South

For the last five years, the Lady Falcons have had some of the most talented teams in the league. But for some reason when they get to the tournament, they lose well before their time. This year’s Lady Falcons started the season off 10-5, but ended the season winning just three of 11 games. While six-foot sophomore center Umeka Benson has put up some solid numbers this year (10 points, 7.7 rebounds per game), she shot just 43 percent from the field and only registered six blocks. In all fairness she was plagued by injuries a bit earlier in the season, but seems to have recovered and if she can play well in the tournament, the Lady Falcons have the opportunity to go far. Senior forward Keyona Bryant, who returned from a season-ending injury last year, showed why she has been one of the best players in the CIAA the last four years. She averaged 17 points and 7.7 rebounds on her way to being named the CIAA Player of the Year. Bryant has excellent size at 6-0 and is extremely quick and hard to guard. She was a part of the 2009 and 2010 team that underachieved and her senior leadership will be needed for the Lady Falcons to do well. One of the things that have also plagued the Lady Falcons all season long is guard play and turnovers (21 per game) and the Lady Falcons are going to need to get better at both in a hurry.

Shaw (20-6, 15-1) 1st in South

The Lady Bears are the defending CIAA Champions and have dominated the league. As a matter of fact, this team is deeper than last year’s team that made it all the way to the Final Four. The Lady Bears played a tough out of conference schedule which included a trip out West where they played in the West Texas A&M Holiday Tournament going 1-1 including defeating the host, before two days later traveling to New Mexico to take on Division I New Mexico State and in a valiant effort fell 61-53. That trip along with a trip to Florida more than prepared this team for CIAA play. If Shaw and New Mexico State were to play today, the Lady Bears may win that game. Shaw’s only loss in the conference came at Johnson C. Smith by two. Nine days later, the Lady Bears avenged the loss by beating the Lady Golden Bulls by 30. One of the surprises this year has been the play defensively of senior forward Kyria Buford. Buford at 6-1 was already known as a dominating force offensively and has an array of moves around the basket, while also being able to shoot deep from three-point range. It was her play on defense – 9.3 rebounds per game and two blocks per game – that garnered her CIAA defensive Player of the Year honors. She also averaged 12.8 points per game and her confidence level is at an all-time high. Forward Aslea Williams at 6-1, is the most dominant force in the conference. She is superior around the basket, and averaged 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game on her way to All-CIAA honors in addition to being named Boxtorow National Player of the Week once. Joining Buford and Williams in the post is newcomer Crystal Harris who at 6-1 plays well around the basket and has an array of moves as she has rounded into form late in the season and veteran Victoria Tanner (Wake Forest-Rolesville). The Lady Bears have the most formidable front court in the CIAA. The third All-CIAA performer is guard Sequohay Griffin, a newcomer to this year’s team who plays with a lot of fire and tenacity. She is precisely the player that the Lady Bears needed. She can handle the ball, dribble drive and break down defenses and can shoot from outside. It will take teams to play a near perfect game to prevent the Lady Bears from repeating as champions and giving head coach Jacques Curtis his seventh championship in 12 seasons.

Note: All Shaw games can be heard on WSHA-FM 88.9 and all Saint Augustine’s games can be heard on WAUG-AM 750.

Known as the Voice of Black College Sports, Donal Ware has covered

historically black college and university sports and pro sports across the

U.S. for years. He is the host of the nationally syndicated FROM THE PRESS

BOX TO PRESS ROW which airs on SiriusXM Channel 141 Fridays from 1-2 p.m.

and on radio stations around the country including Saturdays from 11-Noon

p.m. on WAUG-AM 750 in the Triangle and from 1-2 p.m. at

You can follow him on twitter @dware1 or @boxtorow

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