|NC A&T will make its first NCAA Tourney appearance since 1995 after claiming the MEAC title. (Baltimore Sun)|
Both the MEAC and SWAC crowned familiar champions on Saturday afternoon. North Carolina A&T and Southern University won their respective conference tournaments and punched their ticket to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Both these schools are no strangers to The Big Dance, as they have a combined 17 NCAA appearances.
|Southern will make its first NCAA appearance
since 2006 this week.
Southern came into the week as the favorites to win the SWAC, thanks to their healthy regular season record and the fact that regular-season champion Texas Southern was ineligible for post season play. SU won its first two games easily before getting a challenge from Prairie View A&M in the championship game on Saturday. The Jaguars held on for a 45-44 victory over the Panthers, earning their way to the conference’s automatic NCAA bid.
NC A&T, on the other hand, took everyone by surprise. The Aggies finished 15-16 overall, 8-8 in the MEAC and came in to the tournament as a seventh seed. After an opening-round win against FAMU on Tuesday, most assumed they would bow out to North Carolina Central, the conference’s no. 2 seed who had already beaten them twice. But A&T shocked NCCU, sending their rivals home and playing in the semifinals for the first time in six years.
After a tight semifinal against Delaware State, A&T made it to to the championship game for the first conference championship game in 17 years against Morgan State. The two teams were tied at halftime, and Morgan State had its chances, but A&T emerged with a 57-54 win to secure their first MEAC title since 1995.
Both Southern and A&T have storied basketball traditions. Southern is best remembered for upsetting a highly favored Georgia Tech team in 1993 under the direction of head coach Ben Jobe. A&T dominated the MEAC for its first 25 years, winning 15 conference championships during that span. The Aggies have made nine appearances in the NCAA Tourney, but are still searching for their first win.
On Sunday, both teams will learn their postseason fates. Most predict both will end up in the First Four (aka the Play-In Games) of the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi even has both the MEAC and SWAC champions playing against each other in his Bracketology projections.
For now, though, both teams are just glad to be back on top.