|Trevin Parks leads the nation in scoring at 25.7 points per game. (QC Sports photo)|
In my experience covering sports, when it comes to conference play, coaches are usually very political. They all have the same philosophy, “Any team in the (insert your conference here) can beat any team on any given night.”
It’s probably what they tell their players to keep them from getting complacent, and a few of them actually seem to believe it. The truth is, most conferences have one or two elite teams, a few in the middle and one or two that just stink.
This year, however, the six schools that compose the Southern Division of the CIAA might just be that kind of conference. Five of those programs have winning overall basketball records for the 2012-2013 season. It should make for an exciting finish as the conference tournament, the CIAA’s crown jewel, is less than one month away.
Livingstone (14-4, 2-1) St. Augustine’s (13-6, 3-0): When the two surprise teams of the conference so far meet in Raleigh on Wednesday, there is a lot on the line. St. Aug has beaten both last season’s regular season champion, Shaw, and defending conference tournament champion, Winston-Salem State, on back-to-back weekends. The Falcons are currently perched alone in first place, but Livingstone is one of three teams (WSSU and Johnson C. Smith are the others) with 2-1 division records. With WSSU and JCSU playing each other in Charlotte simultaneously, this is a big matchup. If St. Aug can take down Livingstone, it will remain atop the division and the conference. But if Livingstone’s Jody Hill and Mark Thomas get hot and the Blue Bears come away with the win, we’re headed for a three-way tie atop the Southern Division with less than a month remaining before the conference tournament in Charlotte.
Fayetteville State (8-10, 0-3) at Shaw (12-7, 0-3): If someone had said this would be the most important game of Shaw’s season, most people familiar with the conference would have laughed. But three straight losses have left the Bears winless against Southern Division competition. Shaw is definitely the more talented team, and they are playing at home, so they should come away with a win against the division’s weakest team. If they don’t, it’s definitely time for Coach Cleo Hill Jr. to hit the panic button. A big game from Karron Johnson would help. The man dubbed “Division II’s Best NBA Prospect” averages 17.7 points per game, but has score just 26 points combined during the Bears’ drought.
Virginia State (9-9, 2-1) at Bowie State (8-10): Bowie State just might be the biggest enigma in the CIAA. The Bulldogs finished a respectable 3-3 against the tougher Southern Division opponents, but is just 1-2 against their own division. Conversely, Virginia State picked up steam with two big wins against rival Virginia Union and Chowan before falling to Northern Division leader Elizabeth City State on Saturday. The Trojans will have their hands full trying to guard Byron Westmorland, who is currently second in conference in scoring at 24.4 points per game.
Winston-Salem State (15-3, 2-1) at Johnson C. Smith (13-6, 2-1): After suffering its first conference loss against St. Aug on Jan. 19, the Rams have responded with two solid performances. WSSU protected it’s home court with a close win over Shaw and easily dispatched of Fayetteville State. They face a tough task on Wednesday, though as they head to Charlotte to take on a dangerous Johnson C. Smith team that they have yet to beat on the road since returning to the CIAA in 2010.
JCSU has won seven of its last eight games, with its lone loss coming against the same St. Aug team that defeated WSSU. The Rams also have the unenviable task of trying to slow down Trevin Parks. Parks is currently Division II’s top scorer, putting up an impressive 25.7 points and shooting nearly 42 percent from beyond the three-point arc.