Don’t look now, but some of the best basketball in the country is being played by HBCUs.
If you haven’t noticed, then you must be watching the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the SWAC. Wipe those acronyms from your brain and try the CIAA, SIAC and NAIA.
In NCAA Division I, teams like Prairie View (men and women), Morgan State (men), Florida A&M (women), NC A&T (women) and Bethune-Cookman (men) are angling for the #16 seed in the NCAA tournament by beating up on each other.
Meanwhile, the Yellowjackets of West Virginia State are 12-1 and sitting at no. 21in the latest NABC Division II Coaches Poll. Led by Darren Jones (22.5 ppg) and Josh Miller (20.1 ppg), WVSU is dominating the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic League.
Clark Atlanta lost its first game of the year, but then reeled off 11 consecutive victories in taking the top position in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Panthers are now 11-1. The only thing holding them back from entering the D-II poll is their 8-1 conference record. More non-conference games would help Najee Lane and the Panthers earn recognition. With schools like Valdosta State, Georgia State, Alabama A&M, Alabama State and Georgia Southern close by, CAU need not even tread far from Atlanta to accomplish this.
Also in the SIAC, Tuskegee is 7-3, but a 6-1 league mark gives them just a 1-2 record outside the conference. Still, the Golden Tigers provide some exciting hoops action in Alabama because the SWAC’s Alabama members certainly aren’t cutting it.
The other NCAA Division II school having outstanding season is Central State (14-3). Led by Anthony Passley (15.1 ppg), the Marauders are exemplified by the hard-playing style of Lee Tabb Jr. Though he only average 3.1 points a contest, along with less than two rebounds, he has a love of the game that goes far beyond layups. He was once highly recruited before scouts deserted him like a sinking ship following open heart surgery (he got a replacement tissue valve from a pig) and installation of a pacemaker. Despite this, he plays hard and has inspired Central State.
In the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, St. Augustine’s currently sits atop the men’s standings at 12-3, 5-1 in conference play. Virginia Union is close by at 12-5.
While the men have been competitive in the CIAA, it is the women who are providing most of the excitement. At one time or another, Virginia State, Shaw and Johnson C. Smith have all been ranked in the NCAA Division II poll.
Virginia State (11-3) is currently 25th but once sat as high as no. 17. Johnson C. Smith (12-4) dropped out of the poll a few weeks ago after getting up as high as 18th. All of their losses have been in-house. Shaw (10-4) lost three games in the row, all to CIAA opponents, to fall from 23rd to 26th.
Right now, the best basketball in NCAA Division II and, perhaps among all HBCUs in the country, resides in Fort Valley, Georgia. The Fort Valley State Lady Wildcats are on the verge of entering the Division II top 10. Sitting at 15-0, they have won convincingly outside and inside the SIAC and are ranked 12th. Takesha Riggs is scoring 16.2 points a game, while Kendra Evans is adding a powerful 15.2 points per contest, making for a convincing double threat.
In the NAIA, the Tougaloo Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I men’s poll. Tougaloo is 12-1 and leads the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, paced by JeJuan Jacks, who is scoring 13.8 points a game.
Close behind are the Gold Rush of Xavier of Louisiana. Sitting at 9-6, they just broke a four-game losing streak and are looking to catch up with Tougaloo for the conference title. Though that seems like a long shot now, Xavier is seeking to preserve another record. They have amassed 20 or more victories for 25 straight seasons, which has helped make them the 16th all-time winningest basketball program in NAIA history (1,101-648). They have 14 regular-season games left and they want to hit the 20-win mark before the GCAC tournament begins March 2.
Other NAIA schools doing well are Texas College (9-6) and Wiley (8-7).
Among the women in NAIA, the Xavier Gold Nuggets are also 16th all-time in victories in the NAIA (634-292). This season, they’re 10-5. They had been 7-1 prior to a long Christmas break, but lost their first three games of 2010 before getting back on track.
One of the best women’s programs in NAIA is not technically an HBCU, but one that primarily educates Native Americans, though blacks and Native Americans have been closely linked for generations.
Haskell Indian Nations moved up to no. 17 in the latest NAIA Division II poll with a mark of 14-3 after a 78-56 victory over College of St. Mary’s in Kansas. In that game, Maria Parker grabbed her 500th career rebound, to go along with her 1,226th point, making her the first Lady Indian to reach both plateaus. She is also one of the best defenders in Division II, ranking 11th in the nation in blocked shots.
The vast majority of the aforementioned schools are very small compared to the Division I schools of the MEAC and SWAC. However, for the moment, they are giving fans a much better game of hoops than the big schools. For fans bemoaning the losing ways of the SWAC and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, it might be worth it to catch one of the small schools in action.
At the very least, it can’t be worse than what they were seeing before and, in fact, it will probably be a lot better.