Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia will surely be rocking with the soulful MEAC conference tips-off its tournament Monday. Each school will have its band booming and fans fired up, all while the competitive MEAC squads hit the hardwood in what should be a week of excellent matchups.
While most of the games in conference play were fairly close, the top tier reigned supreme. The NC Central Eagles controlled the league throughout the regular season, but finished by dropping their final two games. Norfolk State finished a game back of the Eagles using stifling defense, holding teams to just 37 percent from the field. The Morgan State Bears and young Hampton Pirates tied for third, but the Bears grabbed the 3 seed in tourney play.
NC Central has the pedigree, veterans, and talent to take care of business, as the Eagles proved by rolling off 13 straight conference wins. Then again, they’ve already shown they can be prone to the upset.
12 teams from the MEAC will compete in the tournament in Norfolk, Virginia, this week minus Savannah State, who is ineligible due to Academic Progress Rate NCAA sanctions. Seeds 5-12 will play in the first round, with the seeds 5 and 12 as well as 6 and 11 playing on Monday evening. The seeds 7-10 will play Tuesday night, while the top four seeds receive a first-round bye into the quarterfinals on Wednesday and Thursday.
How to Watch
The opening rounds, quarterfinals, and semifinals games will be streaming live on ESPN3. The championship game can be seen on ESPN 2.
(All times eastern)
Opening Round: Monday, March 6
Opening Round: Tuesday, March 7
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 8
No. 1 NC Central vs. 8/9 Winner, 6 p.m., ESPN3
No. 2 Norfolk State vs. 7/10 Winner, 8 p.m., ESPN3
Quarterfinals: Thursday, March 9
No. 3 Morgan State vs. 6/11 Winner, 6 p.m., ESPN3
No. 4 Hampton vs. 5/12 Winner, 8 p.m., ESPN3
Semifinals: Friday, March 10
Semifinal 1, 6 p.m., ESPN3
Semifinal 2, 8 p.m., ESPN3
Championship: Saturday, March 11
Championship, 1 p.m., ESPN 2
Three Things to Watch
1. Which team can surprise a top four seed?
Bethune-Cookman is entering the tournament on a two-game winning streak and is matched up with Delaware State, who is coming off a home win against Howard. In their only matchup, the Hornets won in overtime, 88-82, so this could come down to the wire. If Delaware State advances, it could be a matchup challenge for top-seeded NC Central. Delaware State went on the road and beat the Eagles to open conference play, so they know they can play with them.
Maryland Eastern Shore has a chance to make some noise, especially if it can avenge a one-point loss to Hampton in the quarterfinals. Then there’s 6 seed Coppin State, which is quietly putting together pieces to build for the future. The Eagles have an uphill task, as they did not win a game against any of the top four seeds.
2. Is Hampton peaking at the right time?
The Hampton Pirates are the defending champions, but had to replace a wealth of talent. Winners of eight of their last 10, the Pirates seemed to have meshed, and it’s showing. Led by freshmen point guard Jermaine Marrow (15.4 points per game), Hampton is fourth in the MEAC in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Pirates lead the league in team free throw percentage at 72 percent, which is critical during tournament play.
3. Can NCCU get back to its brand of basketball?
North Carolina Central is the top seed for a reason. The Eagles have exceptional guard play, they defend, and they have players that can create in crucial moments within a tight game. The question is, can they find their shooting touch from the perimeter? In their past two losses, the Eagles shot just 11-58 from three, and against North Carolina A&T, shot just 33 percent overall. If NC Central finds its shot, it would be difficult to see the Eagles not taking home the title.
NC Central will face the Morgan State for the championship, and the Eagles will dance for the second time in school history with a 68-63 win.