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HBCU Basketball

More than championships are at stake as MEAC, SWAC teams face off at tournaments

Winners will secure conference titles, automatic bids to NCAA tournament

This week, teams from historically Black colleges and universities are looking to earn their respective conferences’ automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament takes place Wednesday through Saturday at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, which runs concurrently with the SWAC tournament, takes place at Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.

Here are the teams and players to watch in this week’s SWAC and MEAC basketball tournaments.

Teams to beat


Men: Norfolk State

Norfolk State guard Joe Bryant Jr. (right) shoots while under pressure from Houston guard Marcus Sasser (left) on Nov. 29, 2022, in Houston.

Kevin M. Cox/AP Photo

Despite entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed, the Norfolk State Spartans are still the favorites to win a third consecutive MEAC championship. The team returns two key starters from a season ago, Kris Bankston and reigning MEAC player of the year Joe Bryant Jr.

Twelve Norfolk State players have won a conference championship during their tenure with the Spartans. The Spartans lost three of their final four regular-season games, but expect them to lean on their conference championship experience to win.

Women: Norfolk State

For the second consecutive year coach Larry Vickers has led the Spartans to a MEAC regular-season title. A season ago Norfolk State ended the year tied for first in the conference for the first time in team history and made it to the MEAC tournament final before falling to Howard. This season the Spartans won the regular season outright and are looking to win their first MEAC championship since 2002.

The Spartans return nine players from a season ago including graduate student Camille Downs, who won MEAC defensive player of the year last season. Downs and fellow graduate student Deja Francis, a 2022 All-MEAC First Team player, led the offense for the Spartans, averaging 12.0 and 11.4 points per game, respectively. The team heads into the tournament with the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense in the MEAC.


Men: Grambling State

The Grambling State Tigers have won nine straight games and have all the momentum heading into the tournament. The Tigers are regular-season co-champions with Alcorn State, their first regular-season title since 2018. Led by SWAC player of the year Cameron Christon (12.9 points per game) and senior guard Shawndarius Cowart (11.4 points per game), Grambling State didn’t lose a single game in February and is looking for the same results in March.

Women: Jackson State 

Jackson State guard Jariyah Covington plays during a game against LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 19, 2022, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Matthew Hinton/AP Photo

Coach Tomekia Reed and the Jackson State Tigers have cemented themselves as the team to beat in the SWAC. The Tigers have won four consecutive SWAC regular-season titles and are seeking their third consecutive tournament title. A season after going undefeated in the conference, the Tigers are heading into this year’s tournament with a 17-1 conference record; their only loss came at Prairie View A&M on Jan. 14.

Though the Tigers lost the last two SWAC players of the year, Ameshya Williams-Holliday and Dayzsha Rogan, Ti’lan Boler and Jariyah Covington have stepped up as the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers for the team. Boler finished the regular season with 12.7 points per game and earned All-SWAC First Team honors. Covington finished with 10.8 points per game, earning All-SWAC Second Team honors. The Tigers, who lead the conference in points per game and points allowed, are headed into the tournament riding a 14-game winning streak.

Top contenders


Men: Howard

Within four seasons of taking over the Howard Bison, MEAC coach of the year Kenneth Blakeney has turned the program into one of the top contenders in the conference. The Bison handily defeated Norfolk State 87-67 last week to secure their first regular-season title since 1992.

With the MEAC’s No. 1 3-point shooting percentage and its No. 3 offense, the Bison have found their balance behind guard Elijah Hawkins running the offense and forward Steve Settle III controlling the paint on defense. Hawkins, reigning MEAC rookie of the year, leads the Bison in points with 13.4 per game and leads the conference in assists with 5.9 per game. Blakeney, who has led the team during its most successful back-to-back seasons in nearly three decades, has the talent necessary to finish with a tournament title.

Women: Howard  

Howard forward Brooklynn Fort-Davis (center) goes up for a basket between Norfolk State defenders Camille Downs (left) and Deja Francis (right) at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament championship on March 12, 2022, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Mike Caudil/AP Photo

A season after winning the MEAC tournament, the Bison are positioned for another deep run this year. The team returned four starters from last year’s conference championship team and finished its regular season with a win over regular-season MEAC champion Norfolk State.


Men: Alcorn State

For the second consecutive season Alcorn State coach Landon Bussie and the Braves won the regular-season title, sharing it this season with Grambling State. Bussie was named SWAC coach of the year in 2022 after winning the program’s first SWAC title in two decades. The Braves have won nine of their last 10 games, including a season sweep of reigning SWAC champions Texas Southern.

Women: Alabama State

Alabama State’s NCAA hopes ended in the SWAC tournament title game a season ago to Jackson State, but the Hornets returned multiple starters this season. Led by guards Ayana Emmanuel and Jayla Crawford and forward Shmya Ward, the Hornets secured the No. 3 seed in the tournament and have the talent to make it back to the championship game.

Upset watch

Men: North Carolina Central

Coach LeVelle Moton has led the North Carolina Central Eagles to four conference tournament titles during his reign, and if any coach in the conference has the opportunity to unseat Norfolk State, it’s Moton. After a three-game losing streak in the middle of the conference season, the Eagles were able to pull together and finish the season on a seven-game winning streak, avenging early losses to both Howard and Norfolk. If the Eagles continue their hot streak into March, they are more than capable of winning their first MEAC tournament title since 2019.

Women: Prairie View A&M

The Prairie View A&M Panthers had their upset moment midway through the season when they defeated Jackson State in January, giving the Tigers their first conference loss in two years. As the fifth seed in the tournament the Panthers could run into Jackson State again in the quarterfinals, with one win under their belt against the reigning SWAC tournament champions and an offense ranked second in the conference in points per game.

Players to watch

Joe Bryant Jr. and Kris Bankston, Norfolk State 

Bryant, who won his second MEAC player of the year title, recorded a career high in points per game (17.3), ranking third in the conference. Bankston totals 7.1 rebounds and 14.3 points per game. He also leads the MEAC in field goal percentage, shooting 69.7% from the field this season.

Destiny Howell, Howard

Howard guard Destiny Howell reacts to a score during a game against Incarnate Word in the NCAA tournament on March 16, 2022, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Sean Rayford/AP Photo

Destiny Howell, the MEAC player of the year, is averaging career highs in points (16.5), rebounds (3.9) and assists (1.9) per game. Howell leads the conference in scoring and is second in the conference in three-point percentage (34.9%). Howell also was named conference player of the week four times this season.

Ayana Emmanuel, Alabama State

Ayana Emmanuel, the SWAC player of the year, has established herself as one of the best scorers in the SWAC this season, averaging a conference-best 16.9 points. An All-SWAC First Team selection last season, Emmanuel is also a defensive threat for the Hornets, leading the team in steals on the season (48).

Liner Notes

Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament

When: March 8 through March 11
Where: Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama
Seedings: View men’s and women’s brackets.


Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament

When: March 8 through March 11
Where: Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia
Seedings: View men’s and women’s brackets.


Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."