In the immediacy of clinching a second consecutive MEAC tournament championship and NCAA postseason berth, Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones wanted to send a clear message to the group in Indianapolis that would decide where the Spartans would begin its March Madness journey.
“No 16 seed! No 16 seed!” Jones yelled into a microphone and was surrounded by cameras moments after Norfolk State dispatched Coppin State in the conference tournament title game.
The Spartans (24-6) were prohibited favorites to win the MEAC after rambling through the regular season, going 12-2 in what was a dominant run in a new-look conference configuration.
Jones is one of the most underrated coaches in the sport. He has guided the Spartans to a 41-14 record over the last two seasons, including an NCAA tournament win in 2021. The Queens, New York native, was candid that his team was better than a 16-seed often reserved for HBCUs.
“We’re 24-6, that’s a heck of a record and a 16 seed would be disrespectful,” he later said when asked where he thought NSU might be placed in the tournament. “Honestly, a 15 (seed) would be a little disrespectful. “We should be higher than that. I mean, it’s hard to win 24 games. I mean, it’s hard to do so we should be getting a little bit more respect.”
Despite the MEAC winning tournament games in recent years, the conference champion has had to fight to overcome its perceived and statistical place in the college basketball hierarchy.
According to many projections, NSU is predicted to be on the 16-line, either in the First Four or playing against one of the four No. 1 seeds.
The KenPom rankings place the Spartans as the 168th team in the country. Its NET rating, a tool used by the selection committee that will use game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency to determine seeding, is 156th in all of Division I basketball.
Still, Jones believes the Spartans have a resume better than what would be considered one of the four worst teams in the field.
“I mean, I think we should be better than 15, honestly,” Jones said. “I think that we’re 24-6, it’s about time people stop disrespecting the MEAC.”