Tournament preview

March 01, 2006|By KENT BAKER

CIAA Men

What -- Central Intercollegiate Ath letic Association men's basketball tournament

Site -- Charlotte Bobcats Arena

When -- Today through Saturday

2005 champion -- Virginia Union

2006 favorite -- Virginia Union. The defending titlist won five straight down the stretch after losing to Bowie on Feb. 7 to finish with a 22-3 overall record and 14-2 in the league. It is assured of a berth in the South Atlantic regional regardless of the outcome in the CIAA field. Vir ginia Union has held opponents to a conference-best .379 field-goal per centage, leads the league in rebound ing and has outscored its foes by 19 points a game.

Dark horse -- St. Augustine's. This team captured five of its final six games and boasts the most pro ductive offense in the CIAA, averag ing nearly 87 points per start. G Anto nio Fitzgerald (22.5 ppg), F Nicholas King (20.3), the former Coppin State star, and G Claude Neeley (19.5) are the three leading CIAA scorers and Neeley paced the league with 8.8 re bounds.

Player to watch -- Darius Har grove, Virginia Union. A veteran of the 2005 national championship squad, Hargrove was chosen the CIAA Player of the Year. The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds and had a league-leading .852 free-throw percentage. He and fellow senior Duan Crockett (17.3 ppg), midsized but with exceptional speed and leaping ability, are the mainsprings for Coach of the Year Dave Robbins.

Outlook -- Inconsistency plagued annual contender Bowie State, which finished 18-10, but drew a first-round bye as the No. 2 finisher in the East and will play the winner of the Winston-Salem-St. Paul's game at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The Bulldogs have fallen in the quarterfinals the past two years and will place more emphasis on the conference tourna ment this time because they are not a cinch to be picked for the regionals. Derrick Payne (18.4 ppg, 8 rpg), an all-conference pick, is the leader.

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