Coach Darrell Brooks of Bowie State was asked this season about the confusing CIAA basketball schedule and which games count in the conference standings.
Brooks, who is in his 11th season and has won two CIAA titles, smiled and said: “I think we are going to count just the wins.”
The CIAA schools intended to go to a 22-game schedule in which every school would play each other twice, but that changed during the fall, with the league saying that chancellors and presidents never approved the change. The CIAA will count fewer conference games to determine the Northern and Southern Division standings.
The standings in each division, despite the unbalance of the divisions with five schools in the North and seven schools in the South, will then determine the seedings for the CIAA tournaments in late February in Charlotte.
Winston-Salem State will resume its schedule today at Bowie State in a women’s and men’s doubleheader starting at 2 p.m., but those games won’t count in the CIAA standings. The two schools played in a doubleheader in Winston-Salem in November, and those outcomes were considered conference games and counted in the CIAA standings.
Coach Cleo Hill Jr. of the WSSU men’s team acknowledged that he’s had to study it long and hard to determine which games count and which don’t.
“You have to go back to last year and if you went there and you go there again this year then it doesn’t count (in the CIAA standings),” Hill said. “So Bowie State’s game earlier this year here at home counted, but Saturday’s game at Bowie will not count.”
Hill said that in the summer the coaches had heard there would be a 22-game schedule, but in the fall the CIAA decided against it.
“In September we were told we were going back to the 16-game schedule and we were not given a reason as to why,” Hill said. “So now some of these games against conference opponents are really non-conference games.”
The Rams have already been to Virginia State to play a conference game, but when the Trojans come to the Gaines Center next week in a women’s-men’s doubleheader, those games won’t be considered conference games.
The one thing that didn’t change is schools in the same division will play each other twice, and those will count in the CIAA standings.
Ben Baxter, an assistant commissioner at the CIAA, said Northern Division teams will play 15 conference games (eight division and seven cross-division games) and the Southern Division teams will play 12 division games and five cross-division games.
Most CIAA schools that had already planned for a 22-game schedule against conference opponents decided to keep their schedules intact instead of finding other non-conference opponents.
“We didn’t have many options because most schools who we would have played in non-conference already had their schedules completed,” Hill said.
Hill said it doesn’t really matter at this point which are conference games and which are not.
He said he’s much more interested in seeing his team improve in each game.
The Rams (5-5 overall and 3-2 in the CIAA) played their best game of the season against the Bulldogs (8-6, 1-2) on Nov. 23 at the Gaines Center. The Rams shot a season-high 66% and rolled to an 88-65 victory.
“Everybody is trying to take the lessons they learned in November and December and take them into January,” Hill said about the rest of the regular season. “We feel like we have a good enough group with the depth to handle our schedule. I haven’t counted it yet but there’s a stretch coming up where we play five games in like eight days.”
Guards Julius Barnes (foot) and Justice Kithcart (knee) have been fighting nagging injuries but went through a full practice this week. Kitchart had been wearing a bulky brace on his right knee but practiced without it.
“He had to wear that brace for five weeks and the five weeks were up so it’s feeling pretty good,” Hill said about Kithcart’s health.
The Rams have showed balance up and down the lineup with Robert Colon (13.2 points per game), Jaylen Alston (12.4), Kithcart (10 points) and Jon Hicklin (nine points).
Hill says with so many newcomers to his roster it’s taken time to mesh.
“With our junior college guys or our freshmen or our transfers like Glen Campbell, who has been out two years, they don’t hit their stride until this month,” Hill said. “So I really think our best basketball is in front of us.”