Led by Malik Alvin, the Raleigh private university has some teams to beat in the CIAA tournament
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament returns to Charlotte this week to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and contrary to popular belief, there's actually basketball being played in between all the parties.
On the court, this year's tournament is Shaw University's to lose. The Raleigh private school is led by Malik Alvin, the CIAA Men's Player of the Year. The senior guard averaged 20.4 points and shot 53.8 percent from three-point range for a Bears team that heads into this week's tournament with an unblemished 16-0 conference record. The team is 24-2 overall.
Alvin, who landed at Shaw after stops at University of Texas-El Paso and Binghamton, has worked to repair his image after a 2008 arrest for petty theft and third-degree assault blew up on national sports blogs. The story involved Alvin allegedly eluding Walmart security and knocking over a 66-year old woman in an attempt to steal 36 Magnum condoms. He pleaded not guilty and the charges were dropped, but not before the story went viral and every kind of joke and pun was exhausted.
Alvin's play, along with fellow All-CIAA performer Antonio Smith have made the Bears the favorites, but they won't have a cakewalk to the title. Travis Hyman, CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, leads Bowie State and enters the tournament with a 21-5 overall record, along with 12 conference wins. Hyman is also the CIAA's leading rebounder, averaging 8.4 a game.
Don't expect Johnson C. Smith to make much noise. The only Charlotte school in the CIAA, JCSU has limped to an 12-14 overall record, with seven of those being in-conference wins.
There is hope for Smithites on the women's side. JCSU's women's team comes into the tournament in second place in the CIAA, with a 20-5 overall record and nipping at the heels of CIAA leader and Southern division foe, Shaw, which is 20-6.
The Lady Bulls were 7-2 in conference games in the regular season, with Shavonda Price scoring 14.6 points per game and Laqwesha Gamble grabbing 11.4 rebounds per game. JCSU also handed Shaw's women their only conference loss, beating them 68-66 on Feb. 4.
Shaw's Ashlea Williams is one of the CIAA's leading scorers (14.5) and rebounders (8.9), and the team also has some local flavor. Senior forward Kyria Buford is a Charlotte native and was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year. She originally played for Florida State after graduating from Victory Christian in Charlotte, then left the ACC powerhouse to play for Johnson C. Smith, eventually transferring to Shaw, which gives her some unique perspective in this budding rivalry. The Lady Bears probably aren't complaining about having Buford's 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds a game at this point, and she was the only player in the CIAA with 150 rebounds, 45 steals and 45 blocks.
CIAA Women's Player of the Year is St. Augustine's Keyona Bryant, who might try to shake things up. Sure, her team is a lowly 13-13 overall, but Bryant led the CIAA in scoring this year with 17.4 points per game, and pulled down 9.7 rebounds a game, good for third in conference.
Upsets aren't unheard of in the tournament, and with eight in-state teams competing, it should be interesting to see which teams can get hot behind a rallied fan base coming to Charlotte with championships on their minds.