After taking a year off because of the pandemic, the NCAA Tournament made a triumphant and historic return Thursday by getting off to a very Black start after two teams from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) swept their play-in games to advance to the coveted field of 64 teams.
The Texas Southern Tigers beat the Mountaineers from Mt. St. Mary’s University and the Norfolk State Spartans edged Appalachian State University to sweep their two “First Four” games played at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.
It was the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and a team from the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) won games in the same tournament. Both MEAC and the SWAC are comprised entirely of HBCUs and there are no other HBCU teams in this year’s tournament.
Texas Southern’s 60-52 victory also gave the Tigers the historic distinction of being the only team with multiple wins in the “First Four,” a term referring to the number of teams playing on the NCAA Tournament’s opening night for the chance to join the field of other teams. The Tigers have now won twice in the “First Four,” accounting for both of the school’s NCAA victories. Its previous victory was in 2018 over North Carolina Central University, an HBCU in the MEAC.
Wichita State played Drake and Michigan State went up against UCLA in the other two “First Four” games played Thursday.
John Walker III, a forward for Texas Southern who finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds, said during the post-game press conference that Thursday night’s win made him feel “like I’m on top of the world.”
Norfolk State, which played in the later game, eked by Appalachian State by a score of 54-53 after squandering an 18-point lead.
In classic NCAA Tournament fashion, none of the so-called experts expressed much confidence in the HBCU teams ahead of their games Thursday night.
Typically, HBCUs serve as also-ran formalities for more talented teams from predominately white universities that are favored to win. Thursday was no exception to that rule, as oddsmakers described the Texas Southern-Mt. St. Mary’s game as a toss-up and had Norfolk State as a three-point underdog to Appalachian State.
They were wrong.
However, it doesn’t get any easier from here.
Texas Southern will face off Saturday against the University of Michigan, a team that has hovered in the top 5 all season long. Norfolk State squeaked past Appalachian State for the right to play Gonzaga University, an undefeated team that has been No. 1 for the entire season.
With that said, HBCUs are not exempt from March Madness in the truest sense of the term. Norfolk State also made history in dramatic fashion last time it was in the NCAA Tournament when the 15th seeded Spartans, led by current NBA player Kyle O’Quinn, upset the heavily favored University of Missouri.
And in 2001, 15 seed Hampton University upset 2 seed Iowa State to advance to the round of 32 in a moment this Hampton University alumni writer will never forget.
That means anything can happen on Saturday.
and show up only to get blown out by their opponents. But this year
CBS Sports, the main network televising NCAA games