Before the HBCU basketball season comes closer to its conclusion, there is a lot of excitement as we head into tournament time.
This is especially true as the CIAA Tournament shifts to Baltimore after 15 years in Charlotte.
There is a lot of parity in the CIAA with a number of teams primed to hold up the trophy when all is said and done.
Here are the midseason grades for CIAA men’s basketball.
Virginia Union Panthers: A
As we get closer to the conference tournament, the Virginia Union Panthers may be the favorite to win it all.
Virginia Union currently hold the best record in the overall record in the conference at 13-4 including a 6-1 record against conference opponents.
In addition, the Panthers are unbeaten on their home floor at a perfect 5-0. They have won their last 18 home games dating back to 2019.
Virginia Union have been the most efficient team from the field shooting 48% from the field and 37% from three (both second in the CIAA).
Lincoln (PA) Lions: B+
So far, it has been rough to get a true read on Lincoln as their season has been one of peaks and valleys.
After splitting their first eight games, the Lions went on a seven-game win streak including winning their first four conference games.
They are the second highest scoring team in the CIAA (76.1) as well as the leaders in rebounding (39.1) and offensive rebounds (14.8).
The Lions are going to need to be more consistent down the stretch if they want to win the conference.
Shaw Bears: C+
Overall, Shaw has the fourth best record in the CIAA North at 7-5. They are ahead of Elizabeth City State (who have a better overall record) because the Bears are a perfect 3-0 in division play.
The Bears beat Bowie State on Saturday to maintain their unblemished division record and end Bowie State’s perfect run.
With that being said, Shaw’s conference run did not start off very well losing their first three games including a 29-point home loss to Claflin a team that currently hold the worst overall record in the CIAA.
Elizabeth City State Vikings: C
Elizabeth City State is one of the rare teams that played better against non conference teams compared to in conference.
The Vikings hold a 7-3 record outside of CIAA play and are 3-5 in the opposite including an 0-2 division record.
Of their five conference losses, three of them saw them lose by 10 points or more with their most lopsided being a 19-point loss against Fayetteville State.
In fairness to the Vikings, however, they have not lost to any team this season that has a losing record.
Bowie State Bulldogs: C-
Of all the teams in the Northern division, Bowie State was the hardest to grade as they have not been very good but they have some notable wins.
The Bulldogs have the worst record in the division outside of their CIAA schedule at 2-9 but have the third best conference record at 4-3.
They have beaten the two best teams in the division Virginia Union and Lincoln the only team in the conference to hold wins against them.
At the same time, they hold a loss against the worst team in the conference, Claflin.
Bowie State is definitely a darkhorse team that could be a threat to higher seeds in the tournament.
Virginia State Trojans: D
After scrimmaging Howard University in a close loss in what was their first game on the hardwood in 20 months, Virginia State looked like a team to be reckoned in the CIAA.
Things certainly looked to be going well for the Trojans in the early going winning their first four games of the season.
Unfortunately, things have not gone their way since, losing six straight and nine of their next 12 games.
Fayetteville State Broncos: A
Fayetteville State is another team that had a less than favorable performance against non-conference opponents but have done well in conference.
The Broncos currently sit at 5-1 in CIAA play with their lone blemish being to unbeaten conference foe Livingstone.
They boast the top defense in the conference allowing just 60.9 points per game, but struggle on offense with the second-worst scoring average and the lowest shooting percentage.
Livingstone Blue Bears: A-
Livingstone’s season has been a mixed bag as while they are the highest scoring and most efficient team in the CIAA this season.
The Blue Bears have some credible wins against Elizabeth City State, Bowie State and Fayetteville State.
On the other hand, they have a non-conference loss against Paine College, who have a losing record and a losses to Virginia Union and Virginia State.
That being said, they could have the leader in the clubhouse for the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year in Navar Elmore.
Winston-Salem State Rams: A-
Winston-Salem State is the only team in the CIAA South still unbeaten at home at 5-0, and are 6-2 against non-conference opponents.
The troubling thing for the Rams is their inability to beat the teams at the top of the CIAA. Against teams with a winning record in the conference, the Rams hold a 2-4 record including two losses against Virginia Union (one of which was part of the Chris Paul HBCU Tip Off).
If there was a team at the top of the conference that could be in danger of losing in the first round of the CIAA tournament, it may be Winston-Salem State.
Claflin Panthers: D+
Claflin has just three wins this season, but two of them came against Bowie State and Shaw — two teams that are in the mix to win the North.
However, the lowest-scoring team in the conference and have an average margin of defeat of 9.7, also the worst in the CIAA.
Johnson C. Smith Golden Bulls: D
Besides Johnson C. Smith having a better record than St. Augustine’s at the moment, there are two reasons why they’re ranked higher.
The first reason is they beat them head-to-head, 69-61 earlier this season. The second, Johnson C. Smith has a quality non-conference win over Newberry.
Outside of those two wins, Johnson C. Smith has not exactly had a season to remember, with five of their last six losses coming by 10 points or more.
St. Augustine’s Falcons: D-
Outside of having the CIAA’s top leading scorer Dhashon Dyson, St. Augustine’s has not had much to brag about this season.
The Falcons have lost their last seven including their last six home games. None of their three wins have come against a team that currently has a winning record, unlike Claflin and Johnson C. Smith.