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MEAC Preseason Power Rankings: Morgan State wants a chance at Norfolk State and NCCU

The usual suspects are at the top of the food chain.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-NC Central vs UC Davis Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The usual characters are in position again in the MEAC.

Another constant: newcomers bring in faces, personalities, and styles that create some sense of uncertainty for coaches around the league.

In recent memory, it has been the battle of Norfolk State and North Carolina Central for league supremacy. While those programs aren’t going away quietly, a few teams are on their heels and could challenge for the title.

Take a look at the MEAC landscape in 2017-2018.

1. Norfolk State Spartans

Robert Jones’s Spartans are in position to extend their streak of postseason tournament experiences once again this season. Sensational senior point guard Zaynah Robinson is running the show along with junior Alex Long. The front-runner to win the league just re-tools then competes every single night. For the Jones-led Spartans, they hang their hat on being sound defensively.

Kenpom ranked Norfolk State as the top defense in the MEAC last season. With the ball pressure created by Robinson, the length of their forwards, and 7’0 redshirt senior Dan Robinson protecting the paint, don’t expect the Spartans to let up. Kyle Williams and transfer Nic Thomas are contributors that will make it tough to keep up with Norfolk State.

2. NC Central Eagles

Coach Moton seems to have found the formula to find the right pieces at the right time that fit the Eagle puzzle. This season just might be the toughest puzzle to piece together with the bulk of pieces that are gone through graduation. Senior Pablo Rivas will be called upon to lead the defensive-minded motto that is NCCU. He will also be expected to capitalize on more offensive opportunities as one of the few returners. Kyle Benton and C.J. Wiggins will be called upon as well to pick up the slack. The Eagles’ brand of basketball led to Kenpom ranking them first in the MEAC in eFG offense and third in defense.

3. Hampton Pirates

Many teams would love to have a “rebuilding” season similar to the one conducted by the Hampton Pirates. The youthful core orchestrated by sophomore guard Jermaine Marrow and a slew of guards produced an 11-5 MEAC record. The team is only going to get better in 2017-2018 with four starters returning. The guard-heavy identity puts so much pressure on the opponent due to the spacing and shooter around Marrow. The addition of Malique Trent adds some punch, and Trevond Barnes had an excellent summer, particularly in Puerto Rico. Those two can help generate more matchup challenges. The Pirates’ style of play, depth and increased post play can make them MEAC contenders. Greg Heckstall and Austin Colbert must become forces in the paint for a balanced regime.

4. Morgan State Bears

Todd Bozeman’s Bears are certainly a team to consider for the MEAC title. Morgan State will use its stifling number defense as the catalyst. As if their defense wasn’t enough to worry about, a veteran group is back and on the same page. The Bears starting five know how to play with one another, and having them back together makes things smooth heading into the season. Phillip Carr and Tiwian Kendley are the two-headed monsters that will wreak havoc on the conference.

Phillip Carr is a first-team All-MEAC performer that plays both ends of the floor. Look for him to anchor the defense once again in an attempt to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. Kendley has the talent to end up as a first-teamer as well. Last year he led the MEAC in scoring at 21 points per game so expect more of the same production.

5. South Carolina State Bulldogs

A change in gameplay is on the horizon in Orangeburg, South Carolina as the South Carolina State Bulldogs have become fairly young on the perimeter. Tempo and pace are going to need to be more methodical for the Bulldogs to have success. Senior Tashombe Riley will be the backbone for the Bulldogs. Standing 6’7, Riley will need to expand his game and use his experience to bring the rest of his team up to speed.

6. UMES Hawks

Every season seems to trend upward for the Hawks and head coach Bobby Collins. Coming off a semifinals appearance in the MEAC Tournament, Maryland Eastern Shore feels confident they have built a unit capable of taking that next step. Logan McIntosh and Ryan Andino will have to find a way to be in sync as they both are passionate about what abilities they can bring to the table.

What could end up being the reason the Hawks propel into championship status is the wealth of size stockpiled in the frontcourt. The rock solid 6’8, 250-pound Isaac Taylor gets the edge because of familiarity with the program to start for the Hawks. He will have to perform because Collins brought in three freshmen with plenty of size that provides some depth.

7. Savannah State Tigers

Savannah State is going through a challenging time. There is still no opportunity for postseason play due to APR scores, and they will also be transitioning out of the MEAC to Division II by 2019-2020. Nonetheless, the Tigers are steadfast in their approach. UPTEMPO, UPTEMPO, UPTEMPO! The Tigers run and it paid off as they finished 10-6 in MEAC play last year.

8. Howard Bison

Howard is in an interesting transition after being considered a team to finish at the top of the MEAC last season. Things went downhill pretty quickly with the injury of prolific scorer James Daniel. The arrival of sophomore Charles Williams, last year’s Freshman of the Year, provides a type of athlete to continue to build around. The lone senior on the roster, Dalique Mingo, finds himself as an integral part of the attack presented this season. How well the youth adapts and the speed at which they grow will determine where the Bison fall on the MEAC spectrum.

9. Delaware State Hornets

It is an uphill battle to find offense for the Delaware State Hornets. They lost four of their top scorers from a year ago, but the arrival of some talented scorers provide hope that the Hornets won’t skip a beat. Saleik Edwards from Brunswick Community College in N.C. has a polished offensive game. He’s at his best slashing and mixing in the in-between game, but also has the ability to step out to be a streaky three-point threat. Delaware State brought Saleik’s JUCO teammate Daivon Gamble to the Hornets family to help shore up their rebounding deficiencies. Gamble is 6’8 and is a capable low post scorer with a toughness that improves paint defense.

10. Coppin State Eagles

Another program in transition is the Coppin State Eagles. They too turned to a local product, former outstanding Maryland Terrapin Juan Dixon. Dixon should be a great fit. Knowing the area for recruiting and his success as a player at the Division-I level should help players buy into his program. The Eagles only return two starters, but that isn’t stopping Dixon from laying the foundation. The impact may not be seen next season, but look for this program to be on the rise if recruits buy into what coach Dixon can offer.

11. North Carolina A&T Aggies

For North Carolina A&T, things can only improve. A completely new roster with 11 new faces can hopefully ignite a change in culture and the on-court product. The challenge for the Aggies begins on the defense, where they finished last in five categories on Kenpom.

With the departure of Sam Hunt, who transferred to NC State, North Carolina A&T will most likely play through Davaris McGowens. McGowens led the team in rebounds and was third in scoring. The Aggies’ strength will be in the frontcourt as they added length and size through transfers at the forward position. An increased tempo could pay dividends for the Aggies who look to move into the middle of the pack in the MEAC.

12. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

Bethune-Cookman turns their program over to a hometown, well-respected coach in Ryan Ridder. He brings his JUCO success to the Wildcats in hopes to extend his excellence to the Division-I level. Brandon Tabb should be the focal point after coming off a season where he posted 17.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. What happens with the Wildcats will depend heavily on several transfers. A pair of Morehead State transfers, Malik Maitland and Soufiyane Diakite, will have the opportunity to compete for minutes. Keep an eye on Quvondo Johnson (20.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.7 apg). The Santa Ana College transfer can score and has the potential to be effective in multiple phases of the game. The Wildcats also received a boost from City College of San Francisco transfer Armani Collins on the perimeter. Experience will be lacking in the frontcourt, and Cletrell Pope will look to give Bethune-Cookman more of his 13.7 points and 14 rebounds from JUCO.

13. Florida A&M Rattlers

The Rattlers went out and brought in a veteran coach to the program in hopes of bringing some stability. Robert McCullum, like Ridder at Bethune-Cookman, knows the state of Florida. That gives Florida A&M the belief that he can bring in top talent to get the program headed in the right direction. His wealth of experience at the Division-I level should have his team prepared and developing students of the game.

Third-team All-MEAC selection Desmond Williams returns his 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Williams is one of the most dynamic players on the low block that will be tops on every MEAC teams scouting report.