The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is summed up in one word. Competitive.
In recent years, Hampton and North Carolina Central have stood tall atop the MEAC. Reigning champions, the Hampton Pirates, won the MEAC outright last season and conference tournament the previous season.
North Carolina Central looks to rekindle the fire of back to back regular season titles in 2014 and 2015, including the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 2014.
Don’t sleep on South Carolina State along with Howard University, both are equipped with the talent and experience capable of taking home the MEAC crown.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preseason Power Rankings
When a team returns all five senior starters, the chemistry mixed with the experience can propel to title contention. Howard finished last season in the middle of the conference, but having that core group a year wiser, knowing each other’s game, and providing leadership raises their stock. Not to mention, the return of the nation’s leader scorer and MEAC player of the year James Daniel, III as the anchor for the Bison.
2. North Carolina Central
After a down season, the MEAC’s second best scoring defense incorporated some key transfers that will boost their offensive production. Four of the six transfers are eligible for this season, creating depth, providing length to an already stout defense, while also improving perimeter shooting. NCCU led the MEAC in assists and three-point field goal percentage.
3. South Carolina State
Eric Eaves has a knack to score, two-point field goals, three-point field goals, getting to the foul line, and will lead with a core group of veterans plus youth. South Carolina State shares the basketball, leading to the top field goal percentage in the league. If the Bulldogs develop some depth with their propensity to score, they could be a dangerous team throughout the season.
4. North Carolina A&T
New head coach Jay Joyner will have plenty at his disposal in the scoring department. The Aggies leading scorer Sam Hunt returns with his 15 points per game average, paired with junior college transfer Donte’ Watson, can provide stability on the offensive end. Given the Aggies many new pieces, if coach Joyner creates excellent chemistry, this group will compete immediately.
The Hawks are continuing to rebuild and improve on their 7-9 conference record from last season. They lost their two leading scorers Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott to graduation, but have reloaded with group of transfers that should improve their standing in conference. The non-conference schedule for UMES should pay dividends when they enter league play. UMES will face five times with 20 wins last season.
6. Norfolk State
Head coach Robert Jones will need to hang his hat on building this year’s team around that league leading field goal percentage defense. The loss of 3 starters that led the team in scoring, 8 newcomers, and the inexperience of the 4 returners will make it a challenge to reach the 12-4 conference record mark this season.
For the defending MEAC champions, it will be an uphill battle in an attempt to slide on those dancing shoes once again. It’s always a challenge when an experienced group graduates, especially 4 out of the 5 starters, as is the case for Hampton. Championship programs will always compete, which means there is always the opportunity to make a run. If this is to occur, Hampton will need the youth to grow up quickly.
8. Morgan State
Phillip Carr is the heart and soul of this team, coming in as the teams leader in minutes, rebounds, blocks, and points with the departure of the Bears two leading scorers. It is his responsibility to lead this young Morgan State which features only one scholarship senior in Kyle Thomas. Next season could be beneficial, if the standard is set this year.
9. Coppin State
Coppin State is in the rebuilding process with a new head coach, the loss of 3 out of 4 of their top scorers, and a team that didn’t defend very well last season. Terry Harris, Jr. averaged 12.4 points per game as their second leading scorer, will have to take on a larger role. The Eagles have some potential in recruits and/or transfers, but the system being implemented has to develop.
10. Delaware State
Delaware State returns MEAC rookie of the year and the team’s leading scorer from last season in sophomore Devin Morgan. The Hornets finished the 2015-’16 on a 5-game losing streak and struggled with just the 343rd scoring offense in the nation. For the Hornets, continuing the process of building around Morgan is the glimmer of light at the moment.
Fresh off of the NCAA’s APR sanctions, Florida A&M can now compete in post season play. There is potential for the future with a plethora of freshmen on the roster. Junior college transfer Desmond Williams can provide a spark for the Rattlers as he averaged 15.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
12. Savannah State
With the best scoring defense in the MEAC, along with MEAC all-rookie team Kamil Williams, the Tigers are looking to move in the right direction. Savannah State will need big seasons from Troyce Manassa and Joshua Floyd to increase the team’s offensive production.
Undoubtedly, 2nd Team all-MEAC selection Jordan Potts and all-rookie MEAC performer Quinton Forest will be asked to carry a heavy load for Bethune-Cookman this season. This is especially true given the loss of MEAC defensive player of the year LaRon Smith. Developing a consistent rotation during a challenging non conference schedule can instill confidence in the role players taking on more responsibility.