The MEAC Basketball Conference is not a powerhouse in the world of the NCAA. The majority of the teams usually fall below .500. The schools are not really known nationwide. They are found in Division I-AA, and there are a number of question marks regarding coaching, players, and progress. But it was able to produce Hampton, a team with a 24-8 overall record and an 11-5 MEAC conference record, to be the team representing the conference in the NCAA tournament. Bethune-Cookman had a better conference record, but were 3½ games behind Hampton in overall performance.
In the conference itself, Bethune-Cookman were regular season conference champions and obtained the top seed in the conference tournament. But Hampton became the MEAC tournament champion beating Morgan State in the finals.
Hampton ended up being ousted by Duke 87-45 in the first round of 2011′s NCAA tournament.
But here is 2012, and the slate is wiped clean. These eleven teams start once again and try to ready themselves in the direction they need to be able to produce a winning record and convince the voters they are worthy of a championship.
So the following is a team by team analysis on the starters, the changes, the schedule, and the 2012 prediction:
Bethune-Cookman: Last year, they finished 13-3 in the conference. However, they were eliminated by Morgan State in the conference tournament, and the voters decided that the Wildcats should not be a part of the NCAA tournament. They lose their top scorer from last season, C.J Reed (of whom transferred to Central Florida), but their leading rebounder, Garrius Holloman, returns. Junior guard Kevin Dukes and junior forward Javoris Bryant also return. Add along a 6-9 center in David Baroum looking to make a name and a talented 6-7 forward from Jacksonville named Alex Smith, and this makes the Wildcats one of the more experienced and seasoned teams coming into the season. Their schedule puts them starting the conference play against Florida A&M on 12/3, and ten of their next twelve games on the road. Not an easy task for Bethune-Cookman, but they should still produce a winning season.
Prediction: 2nd in MEAC
Coppin State: The Eagles finished the 2010-11 season with a 11-5 conference record and 16-14 overall, good enough to place third in the MEAC. This is credible for two main reasons. One reason is that Coppin State played more Top 25 teams than any other team in the conference (although they lost them all). The second reason is that four of the starting five return this year — all averaged at least 11 ppg last season. Senior guard Michael Harper is the main man on this team. He averaged 15 pts in the 2010-11 year and with him comes senior guard Tony Gallo (avg. 12 ppg) and senior forward Akeem Ellis, who averaged around twelve points and six rebounds last year. However, this team is still small in size despite the additions of freshman Brandon St. Louis, a 6’8″ freshman from upstate New York and Osmon Olol, a 6’9″ senior transfer from Toronto. To this point, they only have one ranked team on their schedule (UConn), but they also play a dangerous Purdue team who made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament. They also have Oklahoma, Illinois, and start their MEAC schedules at Howard on Jan. 4th. A soft February schedule should put the Eagles in a good position. But because they led the conference in scoring at about 74 points per game and led the MEAC in three-pointers, Coppin State should be a team to look out for this year. But they will have to limit their turnovers; they averaged 13 a game last year.
Prediction: 4th in MEAC
Delaware State: This hopes to be a changing year for the Hornets. They finished third to last in the MEAC conference, including an eight-game losing streak to finish the 2010-11 season and 12 of their last 13 games. The Hornets were high turnover team (avg. 11 per game) and most of the starting lineup has departed. The only returning threat for Delaware State would be sophomore guard Casey Walker, who happens to be the leading scorer for the team last year. Twin brothers Marques and Brandon Oliver look to provide a spark in an offense that ranked second in three-point field goal percentage and a defense that was number in the conference in steals. The Hornets were also the best free-throw shooting team in the MEAC. Senior guard Jay Threatt looks to be a threat to opposing defenses with his durability and all-around basketball skills. He was the individual conference leader in steals and assists last year. Still, the Hornets have to work on rebounds — they finished last in that department. Their schedule puts them at Georgia Tech and Notre Dame in the beginning, on the road against Georgia, a rematch against NC State (lost by two last year), and a brutal conference schedule in February that has the Hornets playing Hampton, Norfolk State, and Morgan State twice.
Prediction: 8th in MEAC
Florida A&M: The Rattlers have some work to do. They finished the 2010-11 with a heartbreaking four-game losing streak that included two overtime games against Bethune-Cookman and UMES. They only won one road game all of last year and were the team in the MEAC that committed the most turnovers. The Rattlers are also a poor shooting team, ranking last in free throws and next to last in field goal percentage. But FAMU was the best rebounding team in the conference last season and looks to build off of that, returning all of their starters. The problem with that is that if the starters did not produce and they return, they will continue to lack production unless schemes or styles change. Until then, FAMU will more than likely not be a threat to opponents this year. They have a lot of juniors and seniors on the team. This is good for experience, especially with a schedule that puts seven of their first ten games on the road.
Prediction: 7th in MEAC
Hampton: Hampton brings back two of top three scorers from last year in senior guards Darrion Pellum and Kwame Morgan. These two ringleaders led the Pirates to the best overall record in the MEAC and second in conference play. Their schedule is pretty weak and should finish strong again this year. Hampton plays against the Atlantic 10 and the Colonial conferences, both average to sub-par conferences similar to the MEAC conference. Last season, the Pirates defeated Fordham and Liberty (both of the schedule this year) and put up good fights against Bethune-Cookman, last year’s MEAC champion. They led the MEAC in blocked shots and overall has a stingy defense that will give opponents fits if they are not consistent with their game plan. With only one freshman and one sophomore on the entire roster for the 2011-12 season, the Pirates look to pick up where they left off and improve to become the team representing the MEAC in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Prediction: 1st in MEAC
Howard: Howard finished last in the conference record wise. The Bison won only six games out of thirty all of last year. They finished last in scoring and assists and second to last (behind FAMU in both categories) in blocks and free throws. They do have a dangerous player in Mike Phillips. A junior forward, Phillips led the team in scoring and rebounding. Junior guard Anton Dickerson will be someone Phillips will look to for assistance with opposing defense start double-teaming. Because Phillips has had to face inconsistency with his teammates, it causes him to want to control the game. This leads to turnovers and bad play more often than not. Their first four games are on the road, including play against Bowling Green, Old Dominion, and Rider. Rider is a team Howard played last year and defeated. Their conference play starts early in December against Hampton and then Delaware State (both home games), but finish the season with dangerous road tests at Morgan State, Coppin State, and Delaware State. Howard should start looking to next year already.
Prediction: 10th in MEAC
MD-Eastern Shore: UMES was not the worst team in the conference last year, but they were pretty close. Only Howard finished worse. The Hawks will face some interesting road tests this year. Some opponents they have to face include at Wyoming, at Kansas State, and at Virginia. They also have a despicable four game conference road stretch late in the season that includes Morgan State, Coppin State, and Hampton. They return their leading scorer Hillary Haley, a 6’6 senior guard, as well as senior forward Tyler Hines, who averaged 8.7 pts and 7.5 rebounds per game last year. They lose two starting guards in Dishawn Bradshaw and Kevin White, which means they will have to have some serious inside game to compete. UMES ranks close to the bottom in almost every statistical category offensively and losing two guards only adds salt to the wound. In addition, the Hawks ranks last in blocks. They won nine games last year; that should be the same number of games they will win this year.
Prediction: 12th in MEAC
Morgan State: The Bears were one of the those that were up and down last season. After barely beating Loyola Marymount, they lost four of their next five games. Then they won back to back games before losing three of the next four. They finished the season on a three game losing streak and then made it to MEAC tournament finals, only to lose to Hampton in a close one. They return forwards DeWayne Jackson and Kevin Thompson. Add a returning center in Ian Chiles and hybrid G/F Arin Brooks, and you have a team that will continue to be dominant in the paint like they were last season. That leaves their weakness to be perimeter play. Senior guard Amir Ali averages only six points per game. His physique (6’4″, 230 lbs.) makes him slow to penetrate the lanes. This enables defenses to react easier. They hope to get assistance in that department from Jeremy Canty and Justin Black. This year, Morgan State plays two home games before 2012. This includes dates at USC and at Xavier. They also finish the season with four straight road games. But since the majority of the conference does not have big players, the Bears season should be relatively easy.
Prediction: 3rd in MEAC
North Carolina A&T: A&T finished the season with a 15-17 record and above .500 in the conference. This is pretty good because of the brutal schedule they had last year that included road games at Ohio State, Florida, Ball State, and Arkansas (all tournament teams). Because of that, they have the majority of their conference games at home including four of the last six games. But the catch is the “winter run” that includes tests at Hawaii, Akron, Ohio, and Houston in consecutive games. Thomas Coleman can be considered one of MEAC’s finest players: he had the highest individual field goal percentage in the conference, second in rebounds, third in points and third in blocks. Unfortunately, he will not be with the Aggies this year; his production made up almost one-fourth of the team. They will have to make it up with a young squad that includes freshmen Trey Smith (G), Anthony Estes (F), and Jacob Carson (C). This roster is deep and the Aggies could surprise people this year. But youth leads to inexperience and there will be some games in their schedules lost simply because of that.
Prediction: 6th in MEAC
North Carolina Central: The Eagles were not officially part of the MEAC until this year, but played most of the games against MEAC opponents. They turned out pretty good beating FAMU and Coppin State twice, and only losing to BCC by a few points. They took Oklahoma to overtime in a loss and finished the season at .500. This year, their schedule includes a game at Wake Forest just before Thanksgiving and a few division II teams before playing ten of their last thirteen games on the road. The majority of these games are MEAC games. They will miss leading scorer C.J. Wilkerson but they have seniors Nick Chasten and Landon Clement to carry the team this year. Also, look out for senior guard Justin Leemow. His style of play is similar to Steve Nash — does not score many points but helps his teammates scores with his assists. NCC should turn some heads this season.
Prediction: 5th in MEAC
Norfolk State: Norfolk State was tops in the MEAC in assists and second in the MEAC in field goal percentage. They were the least penalized and least mistake-prone team. Yet, they finished sixth — which is about in the middle of the pack. Their eleven-game losing streak last season definitely was the cause of that. Yes, it included eight road games but still out of those eleven losses, they lost by more than five points in seven of them. Kyle Quinn is a 6’10 senior from Queens. He averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds last season. He carried the team last year and will do it again this year along with senior guard Chris McEachin. They lose major players in Rob Hampton (14 ppg) and Aleek Pauline, who averaged eight points, five assists, and four rebounds last year. They hope Jamal Funtes and Kievyn Lila-St. Rose can make nice replacements. The Spartans play Marquette, Drexel, and Virgina Tech before playing seven of their next nine on the road that includes tests against Coppin State, Morgan State, and Hampton. Add to that a bumpy finish that includes road games at FAMU, BCC, and A&T, and the Spartans may see this year as a long one if they can not improve on their outside shooting.
Prediction: 11th in MEAC
Savannah State: The Tigers join the MEAC this year along with North Carolina Central. After being an independent team and finishing the 2010-11 basketball season with a 12-18 record. What is so interesting about this record was that Savannah State lost 12 of the first 13 games and then finished by winning 10 of the last 11. This team seems to find something of an identity close to the end of last season. But they lose their top scorer in Jovonni Shuler. So expect contributions from Preston Blackmon and Joshua Montgomery, who return as starters this year. The roster only consists of sophomores and juniors. With this season’s schedule including road games at Georgetown, Butler, and Wisconsin and an easy conference schedules with home games against BCC, Morgan State, and Coppin State, the Tigers may be looking down at a few teams this year.
Prediction: 9th in MEAC
South Carolina State: The Bulldogs ranked in the middle in most of the stats last season. However, their inability to create turnovers and score points caused them to fall to the cellar of the MEAC. The leading scorer (Darnell Porter) was the only player to score an average of at least ten points or more per game. He is gone. Other than that, you have seniors Brandon Riley and Omar Sanders that look to provide some leadership to the team. Their roster is similar to a bag of M&M’s — different but the same. They have men of all classes but no one taller than 6’8″ and no one shorter than 6’2″ — well except Riley (5’9″). Their schedule is brutal. The spend the entire month of December playing on the road that includes games against #11 Pitt, #12 Baylor, a MEAC game against Norfolk State, and Oklahoma and South Carolina. Their ending is soft with some home games but playing against BCC, NCC, and A&T was not what they had in mind. I almost feel sorry for this team.
Prediction: 13th or last in MEAC