What must HU and MEAC do to advance in big-college ball?

By Kristian Winfield

It was a game everyone wanted. It was a game the students thought they could win. It was a game the coach even asked for.

Suffice it to say, be careful what you wish for.

This season, the Hampton University Lady Pirates (28-5, 16-0 conference) made their fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. The ladies earned a No. 12 seed out of the 16 in the Stanford region.

It was the highest seed ever given to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) team.

"We're real happy [with a 12 seed]. We're elated," said head coach David Six at the selection show on March 23. "I thought we were a 12, and it's nice to see the NCAA did the right thing."

But high expectations hit rock bottom in the first round against the fifth-seeded, 20th ranked Michigan State Spartans.

Hampton was sloppy through and through -- an uncharacteristic trait for a team that had been riding an 18-game winning streak and had won 48 consecutive MEAC games.

But Michigan State is not from the MEAC; it's from the Big Ten -- and in the Big Ten, preparation and execution wins ball games.

"We had about two weeks of rest to prepare for them, so we knew their sets backwards and forwards, their plays and their personnel," said Michigan State forward Annalise Pickrel, who finished with 21 points on a perfect seven-for-seven shooting from the field.

The Spartans' flurries of off-ball screens freed up teammates for open threes and uncontested layups. Hampton shot 18 percent from the field in the first half and couldn't recover from a 32-point halftime deficit. Michigan State would win, 91-61.

Aerial Powers, MSU's star freshman, finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds, while holding Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton's star freshman, to four points on one-for-15 shooting.

The Lady Pirates, who are the standard for MEAC sports, have earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past five seasons. Excluding one nail-biter -- a four-point overtime loss to Kentucky in 2011 with arguably Hampton's most loaded roster in school history -- they have never quite stacked up to some of the better teams in other conferences.

Hampton's volleyball and softball teams both made the NCAA Tournament last season as well. Like the women's basketball team, they were dismissed in the first round.

Things worsen for HBCUs in men's sports.

MEAC men's basketball teams have only won three round of 64 games since the conference qualified for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in 1981. The conference has a 5-33 record (.182) in the tournament and an average margin of loss of minus 15.

The writer is a student in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

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