One first-timer and three others with a little more experience will take their teams into NCAA Div. I men’s and women’s tournaments this week after earning conference tournament titles and automatic bids last week.
And as usual, all are facing monumental tasks as 15th or 16th seeds. Fourth-year North Carolina A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson, fresh off his Lady Aggies capturing their first MEAC title under his leadership, will be taking his first team to the NCAA Big Dance. Fifth-year Southern head coach Roman Banks, who led his team from a fourth seed to capture the SWAC men’s tournament title Saturday, is taking his second men’s team to the Dance. It will be the third trip for both Alabama State’s women under 17-year head coach Freda Freeman-Jackson and for Hampton’s men under seventh-year head man Ed “Buck” Joyner Jr. Both ASU and Hampton won titles after entering their conference tournaments as the top seeds. All except Alabama State are seeded 16th and last in their regions.
This will be the A&T womens’ third appearance and first since back-to-back dates in 2008 and 2009. Robinson was an assistant on those teams. The Lady Aggies (19-11) are seeded 16th in the women’s Lexington Region and will take on region top seed and three-time ACC champion Notre Dame (31-1) on its home floor in South Bend, Indiana Saturday (6:30 p.m.). Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in the nation (AP and USA Today) behind Connecticut (32-0), the tournament’s overall top seed.
Six-three senior center April McRae, the MEAC Tournament’s most outstanding player, tops Lady Aggie scorers and rebounders at 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Five-seven junior guard Dana Brown is the chief outside threat, scoring 11.5 points per game and averaging over two 3s per game. Five-seven sophomore guard Kala Green averages just under double-digits at 9.7 ppg.
Banks took his 2013 Southern team to the tournament as a 16th seed and put up a great battle before losing to top seed Gonzaga 63-58. Southern enters this year’s tournament again as a 16th seed but played Wednesday, March 16 in the First Four play-in game vs. Holy Cross (14-19), winners of the Patriot League tournament title. The winner of that game will play West Region top seed Oregon (28-6) in Spokane, Washington on Friday (March 18) in the second round. Southern features top scorer (16.6 ppg.) Adrian Rodgers, a 6-4 senior forward, and SWAC tournament MVP, 6-1 junior Trelon Banks, who averages 12.6 ppg.
This is the second straight trip for Freeman-Jackson and the Lady Hornets (19-11). They are seeded 15th and will play at 2nd-seed Texas (28-4) Saturday (8 p.m.) in the women’s Bridgeport Regional. ASU is led by two-time SWAC tournament MVP, 5-10 junior forward Britney Wright (14.9 ppg., 8.2 rpg.). Six-two senior center Jasmine Peeples chips in 8.0 points and a team-best 8.5 rebounds per game. Hampton is making its fifth NCAA appearance and it will be Joyner’s third time taking the Pirates in as a 16th seed. A year ago Hampton defeated Manhattan (74-64) in the First Four game before battling overall top seed Kentucky in the second round before succumbing 79-56.
This time around Hampton (21-10) faces East Region top seed Virginia (26-7) in Raleigh, N. C. Thursday (3:30 p.m.). MEAC Tournament MVP, 6-2 senior guard Reginald Johnson Jr., is the Pirates’ top scorer at 18.7 points per game. Six-seven grad student Derrick Chievous (17.0 ppg.) and off guard Brian Darden (13.2 ppg.) give Hampton three double-figure scorers. Chievous averaged a double-double as he led the MEAC at 11.0 rebounds per game.