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Benedict, Prairie View, A&T top final ranking

LUT WILLIAMS
BCSP Editor

There were no deep postseason runs for black college men's basketball teams this year, but that doesn't mean there were no dominant teams. And the most dominant team also made the deepest run.

Benedict (28-5) won the SIAC regular season title by a whopping six games and followed that with a scintillating run to that league's tournament title. Then, as a second seed in the NCAA Div. II South Region, the Tigers got the SIAC's first post-tournament win in 17 years with a first round victory, and got another win to reach the Regional finals. There they bowed out just one win short of the Elite Eight national quarterfinals. No other team this season could match those accomplishments.

For their historic run, Fred Watson's Tigers get the nod as the top team in the 2007-08 BCSP Final Top Ten. Their place atop the BCSP ranking is also a first for an SIAC school.

Watson masterfully blended a deep and talented squad that had seven players average between 5 and 12 points per game. The Tiger attack was anchored by 6-7 big man Martinis Woody's 9.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and featured mercurial guards Darius Lane (9.3 ppg.) and Charles Gibbs (12.1 ppg.) with 6-7 junior Bennie Lewis (11.3 ppg.) and 6-5 freshman sensation Michael Holmes (10.1 ppg., 7.5 rpg.) as able finishers.

It was Watson and the Tigers third SIAC tournament title and NCAA Div. II playoff berth in five years. The best news is that all the key players return next season.

In a testament to his coaching and recruiting prowess, Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman completed a worst-to-first turnaround for the Bears in just two short years.

MSU (22-11) clawed its way to the top of the MEAC standings winning the regular season title by three games behind the play of MEAC Player of the Year Jamar Smith (17 ppg.) and Defensive Player of the Year Boubacar Coly (11.1 rpg., 2.5 bpg.). Only Smith's loss to injury likely prevented the Bears from adding the tournament crown. Without him, they battled to the tourney finals and, with the league's automatic bid to the NIT and a hobbled Smith, they took on Virginia Tech, one of the top teams snubbed by the NCAA. For their efforts, the Bears are the BCSP's second choice.

Alabama State (20-11) was perhaps just as dominant in the SWAC, taking that league's regular season crown by three games before losing in overtime in the tournament's semifinals. Lewis Jackson's troops went on to represent the conference well in the NIT, losing by 12 at Arizona State in the first round. The Hornets hold down the third spot.

Fourth-ranked Virginia Union (22-8) led the way in the CIAA regular season but faulted in the tournament finals. It also played its finals games without one of its top scorers (Lakeith Blanks), who was dismissed from the team just prior to the tournament. VUU went out in the first round of the Div. II South Atlantic Regional.

The teams ranked fifth thru seventh ­ Coppin State (MEAC), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC) and Johnson C. Smith (CIAA) ­ rose up to win their respective conference tournaments, but couldn't make hay on the national scene.

Coppin State (16-21) came the longest way, from a seventh seed to take the MEAC tourney title winning four games in five days by a total of six points and knocking off the tourney's first, second and third seeds along the way. The Eagles then had the dubious distinction of entering the NCAA Tournament with the most losses ever (20). They fell to Mount St. Mary's in the play-in game.

MVSU (17-16) finished strong to enter the SWAC Tourney as a second seed and knocked off Jackson State in the finals. The Delta Devils flamed out (70-29) in a first round NCAA loss to UCLA.

As a fourth seed, JCSU (21-10) knocked off Virginia Union to take the CIAA tournament title before bowing out in the first round of the South Atlantic Region playoffs.

Hampton (18-12), who finished second in the MEAC regular season race, is eighth. Claflin, who posted a sterling 24-2 record mostly against SIAC competition, is ninth with Elizabeth City State (20-7), who led the CIAA for most of the regular season, tenth.

WOMEN

The women's final Top Ten was much harder to figure. In the Div. II conferences, both regular season winners ­Shaw (CIAA) and Tuskegee (SIAC) ­ also rolled to tournament titles. On the Div. I side, neither regular season winner North Carolina A&T (MEAC) nor Prairie View (SWAC) could complete the double. And none of the four, nor any other team in the final Top Ten, got a win past its conference tournament.

But for their body of work, Prairie View and NC A&T tie for the top spot.

Both won their respective conference regular season races by two games. Against NCAA Div. I competition, Prairie View (22-12) had the tougher non-conference schedule which is reflected in its won-loss record. The two had three common opponents ­ Baylor, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. Though Prairie View fared a little better than A&T (25-8) in the matchups, they both lost to all three.

Cynthia Cooper's Prairie View squad won the regular season crown but had the tables turned on them in the SWAC tournament finals by second-seeded Jackson State (18-14), just as Prairie View had done to JSU a season ago. After winning the regular season title with a 15-1 mark, Patricia Cage-Bibbs A&T Lady Aggies were felled in the MEAC tournament finals by Coppin State (22-12), also a second seed. Both PV and NC A&T lost subsequent WNIT games while Coppin State and JSU did the same in the NCAA Tournament. CSU and JSU are tied for third.

Shaw (21-12) and Tuskegee (21-9) both suffered similar fates beyond their tournament titles, losing first round NCAA Div. II playoff games. They are tied at No. 5.

Tournament runners-up and first round Div. II regional losers Johnson C. Smith (21-10) and Kentucky State (19-12) hold down the next two spots (7th and 8th).

CIAA second-seed Bowie State (22-6) and NAIA Red River champ Langston (31-2) grabbed the final two places.

© 2008 Azeez Communications, Inc.


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