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Who's making the grade for CIAA?
 
Published Friday, February 17, 2017
by College Corner

The CIAA Tournament is here! And we haven’t even packed.

Last year’s tourney was the Virginia Invitational. Will it be so again? Or will Virginia Union and Virginia State get their comeuppance?

CC will be live blogging and tweeting beginning Tuesday. But first, who’s making the grade? (Records are division and conference as of Feb. 15. Overall records don’t matter for seedings.)

And, as always with CC, ladies first.

Northern Division

Virginia Union: A, (7-2 Division, 13-2 Conference). Dang, CC had to rewrite the Panthers review after they tripped up and lost to Lincoln (Pa.) last weekend. That’s two division losses, one more than last year. Interestingly, Union’s only two defeats (21-2) are to division teams. That tells you how tough the North has been this season.

But we still are not convinced that any team is going to dethrone the champs come showtime in Charlotte. Those bright lights at the Spectrum Center can get quite blinding. Just consider the CIAA women’s tournament in the same realm as the NCAA’s. Is anybody going to knock off Connecticut? Nope. So there’s your answer.

Bowie State: B+, (5-4, 10-5). Coach Shadae Swan is taking full advantage of her permanent status. Swan had the interim tag removed last July after serving as an assistant for four seasons, and has done a fantastic job.

The Bulldogs haven’t finished above .500 since the 2010-11 season. The team had a 10-game win streak going at one point. Any other year and Bowie would be a tourney favorite.

Chowan: B, (6-3, 9-6). Former Hawks coach Patrick Mashuda left new coach LaToya Jones with a loaded deck, but it’s still hard to come in with a new system and player skepticism, and make it work. But Jones has done just that.

The Hawks began the season 11-2 and nationally ranked. They’ve come back to earth since then – losers of three of their last five contests – but they do have that Union win to hold on to.

Virginia State: B-, (5-3, 9-5). The curse of expectations is even when you’re winning, it seems like you’re not. That’s the case for the Trojans, who are tied for second in the tough North. Coach James Hill is a good coach, but the Trojans don’t have the horses to dethrone the Panthers this year.

Lincoln: D, (2-7, 4-11). After leading the Lions to a 14-12 overall record and 8-8 CIAA with former coach Jessica Kern’s team, second-year coach Darrell Mosley had to rebuild this season. But Lincoln can claim a win over Union.

Elizabeth City State: D, (1-7, 3-11). We’re not going to be too harsh on coach John Hill since he came to the party so late after failing to keep his job at Lincoln. The Vikings are in last place and really have no weapons to compete for anything except an early exit.

Southern Division

Johnson C. Smith: B+, (8-1, 12-3). Coach Steve Joyner Jr. got one monkey off his back after beating Shaw for the first time as a head coach. But he’s never advanced to a championship game as head man in charge.

The once really, really, really bad Southern Division is now just OK. The Golden Bulls do have the second-best conference record behind Union. But we’re not convinced JCSU has the oomph to win it all.

Winston-Salem State: B, (6-3, 9-6). Coach L’Tona Lamonte needed just one season as an assistant at North Carolina Central to know she’d made a mistake. (No, she didn’t tell CC that, we just know.) Lamonte raced out of Durham as quickly as she could.

CC saw WSSU play at Shaw last week, and we were impressed even in their loss. Someone told us the team is one guard away from being just as good as the Panthers. Lamonte is quite animated on the sideline, and her players feed off her antics. Rams have a lot to look forward to.

Shaw: C-, (5-4, 7-8). Charlotte has been Bears country nine of the past 14 seasons, but these are not “those” Shaw teams. CC can’t put our finger on it, but even when they win, they look bad. If it weren’t for LaQuisha Taylor’s second-semester performance (21.3 points per game), the Bears would be in last place. Too bad Taylor hasn’t played in enough games or else she would be leading the conference right now.

Livingstone: C-, (5-4, 8-7). OK, we admit it; we thought the Blue Bears were going to be a laughingstock under new coach Tiffany Silver since her record from her previous job was a combined 32-76. And LC started out looking that way with an early 3-7 record, but the team appears to have caught on to Silver’s system. The Blue Bears have wins over Virginia State and Shaw, but are 1-4 in their last three games. Still, they are over .500 and tied for third place.

Fayetteville State: D, (3-6, 5-10). The Broncos record is certainly not indicative of new coach Serena King-Coleman’s capabilities. King-Coleman didn’t have a lot of recruiting time, and we fully expect them to be in the thick of things next season.

St. Augustine’s: D-, (0-9, 0-15). Normally, CC would give a winless conference team an F, but we’ve seen the Falcons play, and they are really, really trying. (No, not all teams put forth 100 percent effort.) They just don’t have the size to battle with the big boys, er, girls. So who is the last women’s team to go winless in the conference?

 

MEN: Northern Division

Virginia State: A, (7-2, 12-3). The Trojans have won 20 games for the second straight season (20-5) for the first time in program history. And, yes we know, VSU is in second place behind the Panthers and lost to Bowie State Wednesday night, but the defending champs always get the benefit of the doubt. Besides, Virginia Union and VSU split during the regular season, so this one could go either way. (We still don’t know how the Trojans lost to St. Augustine’s.)

CC admits we’re kind of bias toward coach Lonnie Blow because we know his track record: two championship rings with two different teams. (St. Aug’s is the other.) So, until somebody knocks them off in Charlotte, the Trojans get our nod for best of the best.

Virginia Union: A, (8-1, 14-1). Of course, the Panthers can get the job done, too. Union has won 20 games (22-5) for the first time since 2009 and is on a nine-game winning streak. Why the Panthers aren’t nationally ranked is a mystery.

Coach Jay Butler has done a bang-up job turning around a depressed Panthers team in just two years. Now, it’s time to “put a ring on it” to seal the deal.

Chowan: C+, (5-4, 9-6). CC promise that this is the last time we’re going to bring this up, but every time we think Chowan and CIAA tournament, we remember back to the Hawks’ first season as a member. They advanced to the semifinals and folks were about to go crazy. CC still laughs at some of the fans’ comments sitting behind us.

But it’s a new day, and Chowan has not returned to the semis since. Last season’s early exit to Fayetteville State was particularly disappointing. A third-place finish behind VUU and VSU is nothing to cry about, and if it weren’t for those two, the Hawks might have a chance.

Bowie State: D, (4-5, 8-7). Despite their upset win over the Trojans Wednesday, the most disappointing team award goes to the Bulldogs. This is the same team that lost in the championship to Livingstone two seasons ago, and that won the title in 2013. Bowie’s problem has been its inability to close out games. We witnessed it firsthand against St. Augustine’s, and that’s never a good sign.

Lincoln: D, (2-7, 5-10). Welcome to the CIAA, Doug Overton. In all fairness, the 11-year NBA veteran came late on the scene – thanks to former coach John Hill fighting to keep his job. So, next year it is.

Elizabeth City State: D-, (1-8, 2-13). Coach Alico Dunk has taken a leave of absence, leaving assistant Lou Grimsley to fill his position. The Vikings weren’t playing all that badly, despite their record, until they got embarrassed by a 40-point loss to Virginia State on national TV. No word on whether Dunk will return.

Southern Division

Shaw: B+, (7-2, 9-6). The Bears are back. Shaw was picked to finish fourth in the division, but surprised everyone with a division crown. Still, the Bears had too many defensive lapses in the second half that caused them to lose seven games on buzzer-beaters.

Shaw needs Florida State transfer guard Benji Bell to be on point if the Bears are going to go far. Whenever Bell struggles, so does the team.

Shaw twice lost to Virginia Union on last-second baskets and dropped a six-point defeat to Virginia State, so they match up well with the Virginia teams. But that might not be enough.

Livingstone: C, (6-3, 7-8). It’s mind-boggling that the Blue Bears have played in the last four finals, winning two. This is a program that couldn’t beat a top high school team in years past. Although LC has struggled this season – a six-game losing streak at one point – we still think it is a dangerous team. Coach James Stinson is just that good of a coach.

Winston-Salem State: C-, (5-4, 7-8). If the Rams can get some rhythm going, they might do some damage. But their performance has been a roller-coaster of emotions: two wins here, two losses there, two more wins, five straight losses. They lost to Elizabeth City State for crying out loud. Not something that breeds confidence in a team that was in the final two seasons ago.

Fayetteville State: C- (4-5, 6-9). So much for hype. What happened to the dominant Broncos team everybody was talking about before the season? New coach Ken Spencer was supposed to have everybody back from last season’s team that cost coach Alphonza Kee his job. CC still remembers Spencer from his one-year stint at St. Aug’s and how undisciplined the guys played. Unless he’s changed his ways, don’t expect to see a championship come to FSU anytime soon.

Johnson C. Smith: D, (3-6, 6-9). Doesn’t seem like it’s been eight seasons since the Golden Bulls won their second straight championship. Charlotte has not been kind to the home team. After another disappointing season, the question is always next: Will Steve Joyner Sr. retire from coaching?

St. Augustine’s: D-, (2-7, 5-10). Even as CC writes these numbers, we still find it hard to believe the Falcons are in last place after such a promising first semester that included a win over the Trojans.

True, they had some heartbreaking last-second defeats like Shaw, but they can’t keep a lead either. They tried to give the game away against Shaw last weekend. If the Bears hadn’t gone cold from the outside, it would have been over.

 

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