CIAA Tournament Crystal Ball

Quiet as kept, there will be a tournament in Charlotte this week. The CIAA announced its men’s tournament bracket after the regular season concluded last night. Here are our initial thoughts.

Johnson C. Smith has the best chance to make an extended run of the four first-day teams. JCSU beat the top two teams in both divisions (Livingstone, WSSU, Bowie State and Lincoln) but had trouble beating lesser opponents. If they get past Virginia Union, a team they split with in the regular season, they could be a threat to win it all as they will have the confidence to play with anyone in this tournament.

Bowie State has a legit shot at repeating. They lost a lot of talent from last year, but many supporting players have matured late this season. Regardless of division, this team can play. Ray Gatling (18 ppg) might be the most underrated player in the conference this season.

No easy road for Livingstone. Assuming the Southern Division champs beat their quarterfinals opponent, they’ll have to face the Fayetteville State-Lincoln winner. Livingstone blew out both teams once this season, but FSU battled them pretty tough in the first matchup between the teams. No matter who the Blue Bears play, they’ll definitely be motivated to send them home early.

Winston-Salem State vs. Fayetteville State is the conference’s best possible championship matchup in terms of attendance. These two in-state institutions both have solid bases of alumni in the Charlotte area, and are the most likely to help fill the stands on Saturday night.

As many as five teams have a legit shot at making a tournament run. Livingstone, Winston-Salem State, Bowie State, Fayetteville State and Johnson C. Smith are all capable of making it to Championship Saturday. Though Livingstone has been the most consistent team, there has been a lot of parity in the league this year. That usually makes for a pretty exciting tournament.

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