Conference Preview: MEAC

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Two years ago, North Carolina Central was the top seed in the MEAC Tournament and captured the tournament title and the conference’s automatic bid.  That may not be a strange event in most conferences, but it was in the MEAC, as the Eagles are the only top seed to have even played in the conference tournament championship game in the last five years.  In 2013, Norfolk State had entered the MEAC tournament undefeated in conference play and lost in the quarterfinals.  Last year, it was North Carolina Central the entered the conference tournament undefeated and fell in the semifinals.  Hampton came out of the 6 seed last year to take the automatic bid, and won their First Four game over Manhattan before falling in the Round of 64 to Kentucky.  North Carolina Central played in the NIT, Delaware State was in the CBI, and both Norfolk State and Maryland-Eastern Shore were in the CIT.

This season, North Carolina Central looks like they will be taking a step back, while Hampton appears to be the team with the best shot at the regular season title (and potential kiss of death in the MEAC Tournament that comes with that honor).  Norfolk State and Maryland-Eastern Shore will also both be in the hunt for the crown, as should Howard, a team that was expected to step up last season but fell short.  UMES may be the most intriguing story in the conference as Bobby Collins significantly turned the program around in just his first year at the helm last season, leading them to their first postseason appearance since 1974.  Predicting the regular season champion is a lot easier in the MEAC than predicting the automatic bid winner as recent history has shown that a team needs to only finish in the top 7 in the conference to have a shot at winning it.

Predicted Order of Finish

1.  Hampton – The Pirates are the pick to win the MEAC as they return their top three scorers including Dwight Meikle in the frontcourt along with guards Reginald Johnson and Quinton Chievous.  Head coach Edward Joyner’s squad returns a deep bench as well.

2.  Howard – This could be one of the best years for the Bison in quite some time with James Daniel and James Miller back, as well as having Prince Okoroh healthy.

3.  Maryland-Eastern Shore – The Hawks lost Mike Myers and his almost 16 points per game, but they do return Dominique Elliott down low and a pair of strong guards in Devin Martin and MEAC Rookie of the Year Ryan Andino.  Bobby Collins won the conference Coach of the Year award last season and his team should be challenging for the top spot in the league again this year.

4.  Norfolk State – The Spartans have one of the MEAC’s best backcourts in the combination of Jeff Short and D’Shon Taylor.  They will need to answer some serious questions down low if they want to contend for the league title.

5.  North Carolina Central – The Eagles will take a big step backwards after going 16-0 last season in conference play as four starters from that squad are gone.  All is not lost, however, as they do return guard Dante Holmes who averaged over 10 points per game, and welcome back forward Jay Copeland who missed all of last season due to injury.

6.  North Carolina A&T – Bruce Beckford leads a strong, veteran frontcourt on a team that returns all five of its starters from last season.  The Aggies will be greatly improved from last year’s 9th place finish, but may still not have enough pieces, especially in the backourt, to challenge for the top portion of the conference standings.

7.  Morgan State – It is tough to overlook head coach Todd Bozeman’s team, even coming off of a 24 loss season.  Cedric Blossom will lead the way this year for the Bears, who should improve as their young players gain more experience.

8.  South Carolina State – Despite returning four starters from last season, the Bulldogs are coming off a 22 loss campaign and do not appear to have the pieces to finish in the upper half of the conference standings.

9.  Delaware State – The top four players are gone from last year’s CBI team, and the Hornets appear to be in rebuild mode.

10.  Savannah State – The Tigers only return one player that averaged more than 5 points per game last year.  They will need their newcomers to lead the way, but it is tough not to expect another long season.

11. Bethune-Cookman – Ricky Johnson is the team’s best player, but there just are not enough other pieces here to help him.

12.  Coppin State – When a 23 loss team loses its top three scorers, it is never a good sign.

13.  Florida A&M – The Rattlers remain banned from the MEAC tournament and postseason play due to their APR.  Last season, they picked up only two victories.  In the offseason, they lost their top three players.  Once again, FAMU is an early season candidate for the coveted HOOPSHD “Centenary Award”, given at the end of the year to the nation’s worst team.

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