The MEAC and SWAC have each pared down to the final four in their respective conference tournaments. With the MEAC nearly chalked out in its final four, and the SWAC offering two semi-finalists outside of the tournaments top four seeds, the likelihood of any embarrassing surprise tournament champs advancing to the NCAA national tournament is slim, but still very real.
Let’s look ahead to tonight’s semi-finals.
#8 Grambling State vs. #5 Texas Southern
For a conference that outright doesn’t care about basketball, the SWAC tournament has produced some of the wildest moments out of any conference tournament this March. Top-seeded Jackson State fell to eighth-seeded Grambling State, which just barely qualified for tournament play by being two games better than Southern with a regular season record of 7-20, and 4-14 in SWAC play.
The GSU Tigers will face the fifth-seeded Texas Southern, which made light work of SWAC championship contender Prairie View A&M last night. It’s a battle of story lines moreso than on-the-court merit; Grambling is a year-removed from the tragic death of transfer player Henry White, and TSU brings in former NBA players Nick Van Exel and Vin Baker as assistant coaches who’ve helped turn the program around.
Critical match-ups will come down to the forwards; Lance Fuertado for Grambling, and Travelle Jones for Texas Southern. Both had poor games in their opening round match-ups, and will need to assert themselves offensively to counter the the limited production of their guards. GSU’s Donald Qualls had 20 in the win over Jackson State, and he will likely be blanketed by Deandre Hall, who had 19 in the win over PVAMU. The personal battle for PG supremacy will likely limit both to poor shooting and turnovers.
#3 Alabama State vs. #2 Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff provide one of the more intriguing match-ups of the black college conference basketball tournaments. Alabama State has been regular king of SWAC basketball, having won three conference championships in the last ten years. Since coming into the SWAC in 1997, UAPB has had a non-losing season just once – this year.
The Golden Lions have bruising front court with Lebaron Weathers and Tyree Glass, who combined for 14 points and nine rebounds in their edge-out victory over Mississippi Valley State. The poor shooting from that game may not carry over, as they will have opportunities to power their way to the basket against a razor-thin Hornet interior. ASU allows an opposing field-goal percentage of 44.1 percent, good for fourth-worst in the SWAC.
#5 Hampton vs. #1 Morgan State
The Hampton Pirates enter the semi-final clash against Morgan State as the hottest team in the tournament. HU has won six straight, and sophomore forward Darrion Pellum is the primary reason for the success. Pellum has been in double figures in all but one game of the winning streak, and has shot better than 50 percent from the field in all but two of those contests. Add in the team’s drive to succeed for the memory of deceased teammate Theo Smalling, and Morgan wold seemingly have much to worry about in tonight’s opening game.
But the Bears have been here before and are led with experience at critical positions. Shooting guard Reggie Holmes, the newly-crowned all-time leading scorer in Morgan State history, has a knack for putting away teams early into the game and not looking back. On the interior, the Bears feature the premier post player in the conference in Kevin Thompson, who led the way for MSU’s blowout win against North Carolina A&T with a 20-point, 16-rebound, six-assist performance.
#3 South Carolina State vs. #2 Delaware State
The Bulldogs and Hornets are two evenly matched teams, and the winner of the contest will be the squad most into cliches; (fewer turnovers, better free throw shooting). The Hornets feature dynamic play from their forwards Frisco Sandidge and Marcus Neal. The Bulldogs counter with superb guard play in Jason Flagler and Darnell Porter.
These two teams have every possibility of combining for an instant classic in the semi-final nightcap. The Hornets have a history of close contests in the postseason, and the Bulldogs likely remember the razor-thin margin of defeat against Norfolk State that kept them out of the title game in 2009. Should be among the better games of the tournament to watch.