March Madness each year quickly becomes March Sadness for our HBCU conference basketball champions. I will discuss why I feel this way in The Chocolate Voice HBCU Scoreboard Vol. XVI later this month. For now, I would like to inform you, our readers, on how the four HBCU athletic conferences (MEAC, SWAC, CIAA, and SIAC) champions punched their tickets to the “Big Dance.”
If you have never been to a HBCU conference basketball championship tournament I would suggest that you put one on your to do list. I guess you can best describe a HBCU championship basketball tournament as a multi-school indoor homecoming/party/step show/fashion show/concert/cook-out that would allow a basketball game(s) to break out in between those activities. At the games there are vendors, crazy mascots, jazzy pep bands and my favorite, the cheerleaders. All this is inside the arena.
Many tournament attendees never even set foot inside the basketball arena, especially if their school lost before they got to town. Those individuals are content on just attending the “day parties.” You may ask “what is a day party?” Imagine going to a crowded venue, with nice vives, tasty food, drinks flowing, and bumping music. Now imagine being there starting around noon, on a Thursday or Friday, or both. That is a day party, and depending on what organization you want to hang out with, or the school that you attended, there are several (parties) to choose from each day.
I have attended three out of the four HBCU conference basketball championship tournaments. I have never been to a SWAC tournament. To me, the CIAA puts on the best show both on and off the court. The 2023 CIAA Basketball Tournament was held in front of a packed house in Baltimore. Both top seeds, Virginia Union University (men) and Fayetteville State University (women) were upset in the first round. Winston-Salem State University after being swept by VUU during regular season finally got the best of the Panthers. With the game tied late in the contest the WSSU pep band played a song that every Ram fan in the building knew the dance that went with the song. Seeing thousands of fans rocking back and forth to that tune changed the momentum of the game and gave Winston-Salem that victory. With Union out of the picture the North Carolina HBCU had no problem winning their second CIAA Men’s title in three years. They defeated Lincoln (PA) University 62-57.
Fayetteville State had also swept their first-round opponent on the women’s side of the tournament. The third time was the charm for Johnson C. Smith University who upset my Broncos. JCSU would lose to Elizabeth City State University a day later. In the championship game ECSU would win its first ever CIAA Women’s basketball championship defeating Shaw University 65-50 in the title game.
The SIAC held its basketball championships on the campus of conference member Savannah State University. Both the SSU men and women’s teams fail to register a victory. So much for home court advantage. Unlike the CIAA, the top seeds managed to string together a couple victories. In fact, the top seeded Lady Tigerettes of Tuskegee University (19-0) ran the table beating the Miles College Lady Bears 72-65 in the title game. The Miles College Golden Bears defeated the Benedict College Tigers 60-46 to claim the SIAC Men’s Basketball title.
The MEAC Basketball tournament was held in Norfolk, Virginia. The host team was the Norfolk State University Spartans. The NSU came in as the top seed on the women’s side and third seed in the men’s tournament. Both teams made the finals. Howard University was seeded number one on the men’s side. The Bison were seeded third on the women’s bracket. Both teams also reached the finals. The Norfolk State men loss a heart breaker 65-64 to Howard. The Spartans had a one-point lead and the ball with just seconds remaining in the contest. All they had to do was inbound the ball. Instead, the in bounder threw the ball away, giving the championship away. I am sure that young man will never forget that moment. In the women’s title game, a couple of hours later, and at the same spot on the floor, Howard turned the ball over with just seconds on the clock giving the Lady Spartans the MEAC crown. 56-52.
The big news in the SWAC Basketball Tournament, held in the Bartow Arena, (Birmingham Ala.) was when the eight seeded Tigers of Texas Southern University first upset the top seeded Alcorn State Braves and preceded to run the gamut defeating the highly regarded Grambling State Tigers in the title game 61-57. It was TSU’s third straight SWAC basketball championship. On the lady’s side the Southern University Lady Jaguars defeated the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Lady lions 62-53 for the bragging rights of lady cagers. Jackson State University’s Lady Tiger team was 18-1 in conference play. They lost a heart breaker to Southern, 65-64.
HBCUs in PWI conferences did not fare well. Neither Hampton University, North Carolina A&T, nor Tennessee State made it to the championship rounds in their conference tournaments.
Story by: George Napier Barnes, III. George is a proud alumni of historically black college or university (HBCU) Fayetteville State University, Kappa Alpha Psi, and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.