A conference championship in DI HBCU women's basketball means bragging rights and an automatic NCAA tournament berth. Last year, we saw two HBCUs secure auto-bids — Howard and Jackson State — but who could challenge the defending champions?
Here are the top challengers to every defending HBCU women's basketball conference champion.
Howard is the defending MEAC champion. Here's who can challenge the Bison in 2022.
Top contender: Norfolk State
Norfolk State finished as the MEAC's runner-up, falling short in the conference tournament title game. In 2022, the Spartans are looking for redemption, with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Camille Downs back for another year. Downs proved last year that she was not only the best defender in the MEAC, but also one of the best defensive players in the country, finishing fourth nationally at 3.3 steals per game.
With fellow first-team All-MEAC guard Deja Francis returning, Norfolk State's backcourt will again have its 1-2 punch. The duo could carry the Spartans to the conference title.
Top contender: Coppin State
Coppin State returns the MEAC's leading scorer, Jaia Alexander. Alexander averaged 15.8 points per game while grabbing 7.1 rebounds last year. With another year of experience, Alexander figures to increase her production this winter. However, she won't be alone at Coppin State as guard Mossi Staples and center Jalynda Salley join her in the starting lineup. Salley stands 6'4'', providing an inside presence to balance Alexander and Staples' effectiveness on the perimeter. Together, the trio could lead Coppin State on a conference title run.
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Sleeper: Morgan State
Morgan State finished a buzzer-beater away from last year's MEAC title game after finishing tied for first during the regular season — its first-ever MEAC title. This year, the Bears look to compete yet again, powered by its big three. Ja'Niah Henson, Taylor Addison and Charlene Shepherd all return with a chip on their shoulder after falling short in the postseason. In the semifinals, Addison failed to score, Henson went 0-5 from three and Shepherd went scoreless in the second half.
Morgan State's trio is poised for a bounce back after the postseason performance, but will have to do so without Dahnye Redd and Adia Brisker. Yet, Addison, Henson and Shepherd have shown improvement year-to-year. If the trio can take the next step, the Bears can contend for a title.
Jackson State is the three-time defending SWAC champion. Here's who can challenge the Tigers in 2022.
Top contender: Alabama State
Alabama State returns a trio that averaged almost 41 points per game last year in Ayana Emmanuel, Shmya Ward and Jayla Crawford. Emmanuel and Crawford tag team in the backcourt, with both shooting over 34 percent from deep. Meanwhile, Ward averaged a double-double from her forward position. The Hornet trio is balanced and finished as runners-up in the SWAC last March. With that game behind them, Alabama State enters the year as the top contender to dethrone Jackson State
Sleeper: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Arkansas-Pine Bluff could be considered a sleeper team in the SWAC because of preseason Player of the Year pick Zaay Green alone. Yet, considering the bevy of transfers that will be joining the 16.4 point per game scorer, the Golden Lions look like a dark horse in the conference.
Guards Raziya Potter and Corina Carter join Green in the backcourt, bringing veteran experience as upperclassmen and playmaking skills shown at their last stops. In the frontcourt, Azaria Robinson transfers in from Little Rock, where she was a record-setting rebounder, and former five-star prospect Maori Davenport transfers in at center. The influx of talent plus a star already on the roster looks like the perfect ingredients for a title push.