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MEAC Monday: Norfolk State and Morgan State’s schedules outline a tough non-conference

Sizing up the competition for league play

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Preparation is key.

The MEAC will surely be a conference with many teams in the hunt for the top spot, and how well they develop in the non-conference may make all the difference.

That non-conference schedule has started to become clearer. The Morgan State Bears have been releasing individual games from their schedule, while the Norfolk State Spartans have released their full schedule.

Here are some of the key matchups:

For the season opener on Nov. 10, Morgan State will hit the road to face the Binghamton Bearcats. Following the trip to Vestal, NY, the Bears will head down to sunny Florida for a date with the South Florida Bulls on Nov. 13. There, they get an opportunity early in the year to make some noise if they can knock off the Bulls, who went 1-17 in the American Athletic Conference last season. The home opener for Morgan State brings in Division II opponent Lincoln. This will be the first chance for the Bears to compete on their newly renovated home court.

The new design can be seen here.

The Bears’ most-recently revealed matchup has them traveling to West Virginia on Nov. 18. Facing a Bob Huggins team will definitely build your toughness and identify how well your team can handle pressure. Todd Bozeman is fortunate to be returning five upperclassmen in the backcourt, so that experience should give the Bears confidence, even if the challenge of the fiery Mountaineer defense is too much.

Meanwhile Norfolk State is looking to add a seventh consecutive postseason appearance in 2017-18. The Spartans released their full schedule Aug. 4.

The Spartans are taking on all challengers. Key non-conference matchups have Norfolk State meeting with Auburn, Grand Canyon, and Loyola Chicago. Opening the season on the road in the SEC at Auburn is a huge test, but shows the confidence head coach Robert Jones possesses.

A west coast trip will show just where the Spartans stand, as they have a chance to show that they are moving into a higher tier in the mid-major ranks. They will face San Diego on Nov. 18, followed by a Nov. 20 game at Grand Canyon — likely one of the stronger mid-majors this season.

In a Thanksgiving tournament in Little Rock, Norfolk State will play two games — against Robert Morris on Nov. 24 and host Little Rock on the 26th. Another opportunity for a resume-building win will be when they travel to Loyola Chicago, a solid team that made some noise last season.

The biggest matchup for the Spartans is the game at the Scope in Norfolk on Dec. 22 against an in-state foe, the Old Dominion Monarchs. This game has more than just a quality win impact, with bragging rights on the line.

Norfolk State is certainly letting its fans and people around the basketball landscape see that it is willing to play anyone. The Spartans’ non-conference schedule is tough, but so are they. They defend, return a conference-player-of-the-year-caliber point guard in Zaynah Robinson, and combine depth with experience.