It’s that time of year again. The time of year where the big boys from the power conferences are put squarely on upset alert by the mid-majors from lesser known conferences. Every low seed becomes a potential cinderella capable of pulling a shocking upset or making a deep tournament run that no one but the players who are on the court expected.
Missouri is not one of those teams. Mizzou earned the No. 2 seed in the West Region and have a great shot at reaching their first Final Four in school history. To get there, the Tigers will have to start their run against the Norfolk State Spartans, a 15-seed that will have their eye finding on their own glass slipper that fits.
Norfolk State University is located in Norfolk, VA, the same city as one of Missouri’s regular season opponents, Old Dominion. Norfolk sits on the east coast of Virginia at the opening of the Chesapeake Bay, making it one of the more scenic and functional port cities in the country. Norfolk has a considerable military presence due to its location on the coast, and is home to the largest naval base in the world, as well as NATO headquarters. Norfolk is the second largest city in Virginia with a population of 242,803, as of the 2010 census, attracting a diverse population with its prime location on the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the many business opportunities that are also offered. Norfolk is large enough to offer options in several ventures, one of which being higher education. Norfolk State is one of five colleges in the city of Norfolk, which includes Old Dominion University and Tidewater Community College. NSU isn’t as large as the other two schools, but since neither of them are playing in the NCAA Tournament, we’ll turn our attention to Norfolk State.
Norfolk State College was founded in 1935 originally as the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University (VUU). VUU was founded in 1865 to give newly freed slaves a place to get an education with a Baptist religious influence. Because of the nature of VUU, Norfolk State is a historically black university and has been since its inception. In 1942, the school individualized itself from VUU, becoming Norfolk Polytechnic College, but became a part of Virginia State College two years later by order of the Virginia Legislature. NSU saw groundbreaking expansion during the 1950s, with enrollment growing to over a thousand, and also receiving a permanent site in the city of Norfolk. The first permanent building, Brown Hall, was opened on campus in 1955. In 1969, NSU again became an independent school, this time for good. The school, which had expanded to 5,400 students by that time, was renamed Norfolk State College. A decade later, it gained full university status, becoming Norfolk State University, the name by which it is known today.
NSU is the third-largest college in Norfolk and 17th largest in the state of Virginia, with enrollment peaking at over 9,000 in 1995. Today enrollment sits at 6,264 undergraduates enrolled as of Fall 2011. NSU has maintained its heritage from when it was part of VUU, and is one of the largest predominantly black institutions in the country, with 88 percent of the students enrolled being black, according to the school’s website. NSU offers its students a number of academic possibilities divided into eight schools/colleges. The largest of the eight are the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, which make up nearly 79 percent of the undergraduate population. The University also offers over 80 extracurricular activities, including various clubs, musical programs, and a 1,000 watt radio station that is entirely student run.
The Spartans of Norfolk State compete in 13 men’s and women’s varsity sports as a part of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). NSU has been a member of the MEAC since 1997, a conference that includes 12 other historically black universities. The conference plays at the Division I FCS level, Norfolk State has seen a fair share of success within the conference, especially this past year, during which it won conference championships in men’s basketball, men’s cross country, football, and men’s and women’s track and field.
The case can be made that the Spartans have never been on as large a national stage as they are right now, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years at the Division I level for basketball. The Spartans earned their way by winning the MEAC Conference Tournament after finishing 25-9, 13-3 in conference play. NSU had the best overall record in the conference by four games, but finished second in the standings behind Savannah State. They won their birth to the Big Dance by defeating Bethune-Cookman 73-70 in the tournament finals. The Spartans didn’t play the toughest schedule in the world, only playing three games against tournament teams (a 73-62 victory over LIU-Brooklyn and two losses to Marquette), but all that was moot when they secured the NCAA Tournament automatic berth that comes with the conference championship.
The Spartans are led by senior center Kyle O’Quinn (15.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG). The 6’10” big man has been a beast all season, scoring double digits in 30 of 34 games played this season and registering 19 double-doubles, which tied for fifth in the nation. Behind O’Quinn are a pair of double-digit scorers in senior forward Chris McEachin (12.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and sophomore guard Pendarvis Williams (11.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG). Beyond that trio, however, no other player averages more than 6.8 PPG, not making the Spartans the deepest of teams.
Depth is an important aspect of making a run in March Madness, but there are some teams where one player can make a huge difference. Kyle O’Quinn is a very talented big man and has quietly put together some of the best numbers in the country from a center. O’Quinn will try to make the most out of his time in the limelight, but his stay might be a short one.
Mizzou has been one of the better teams in the country, compiling a 30-4 record which includes a Big XII Tournament Championship. The Tigers own the sixth-best scoring offense in the country at 80.3 PPG and shoot 50.4% from the field, which is good for third in the country and is remarkable for a team that employs a four guard lineup. The Tigers are one of the most balanced teams, with five players averaging in double figures, led by All-Big XII senior guard Marcus Denmon (17.6 PPG, 5.1 APG). The Tigers are not deep, however, playing only seven men in the rotation and only two big men. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG) shot nearly 70% from the field and has been incredibly efficient all year, but the matchup with O’Quinn will be a deciding factor in the game. Mizzou’s lack of depth at the forward position gives NSU the advantage inside with O’Quinn. If they can take advantage of that and get timely shooting from the perimeter, they could make things interesting. However, the Tigers have too many scoring options for Norfolk State to handle and if they play anything like they did in Kansas City while winning the Big XII Tournament, they should take care of their first round matchup going away.
Topics: All-Big XII, Bethune-Cookman, Big XII Tournament, Brown Hall, Chesapeake Bay, Chris McEachin, Final Four, Kyle O'Quinn, LIU-Brooklyn, Marcus Denmon, Marquette, MEAC, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Tigers, Mizzou, NCAA Tournament, Norfolk, Norfolk State Spartans, NSU, Old Dominion, Pendarvis Williams, Ricardo Ratliffe, Savannah State, Tidewater Community College, Virginia, Virginia State College, Virginia Union University, West Region