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MEAC Notes: Tourney staying in Norfolk, Savannah State and Bethune Cookman keep rolling

According to the Virginian Pilot, the MEAC tournament will stay in Norfolk. Also, who’s going to stop the Tigers and Wildcats?

Maryland Eastern Shore guard Ahmad Frost (11) and Savannah State guard Jahir Cabeza (30) watch a free throw float towards the basket on Saturday, Jan. 13 in Savannah.
Mitchell Northam, Mid-Major Madness

The MEAC tournament won’t be looking for a new home after all.

According to the Virginian Pilot, the conference has signed a three-year extension to keep its men’s and women’s basketball postseason tournaments at Norfolk’s Scope Arena.

The tournament has been held there since 2013 – and was played in Winston Salem, North Carolina before that – but the Pilot had previously reported that the MEAC was looking to move the tournament, and that was before Hampton announced it would be leaving for the Big South.

Norfolk’s Scope is an aging arena originally built in 1971, but there are many positives at having the tournament there for the MEAC.

For starters, the MEAC offices are located there. Second, seven MEAC schools, aside from Hampton and Norfolk State who can practically walk to Scope, can drive there in less than five hours – Maryland Eastern Shore, Howard, Morgan State, Coppin State, Delaware State, North Carolina A&T and NC Central.

The Pilot reports that the MEAC put the tournament up for bid and had offers from “several” cities. Two venues that would’ve made sense are Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena – which used to host the CAA tournament – and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, which is just up the road from Maryland Eastern Shore and hosts the largest holiday high school basketball tournament in the country. The MEAC already hosts its baseball and volleyball postseason tournaments on the Delmarva Peninsula.

The conference currently has 13 members, but that number will fall to 12 next year when Hampton leaves, and 11 the following year when Savannah State moves to Division II.

According to the Pilot, the MEAC tournament sold 74,281 tickets in 2016. Seeing if that number dips without local power Hampton around will be something to watch going forward.

Tigers keep rolling

Horace Broadnax has to chuckle a bit when he looks back at the preseason poll, where his fellow coaches picked the Savannah State Tigers to finish fifth in the conference.

The Tigers might be headed to Division II soon, but that doesn’t mean they’re just going to roll over for the rest of their Division I days. Broadnax’s side is 5-1 in conference play, and don’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Savannah State still leads the country in adjusted tempo with 81.7 possessions per 40 minutes, according to KenPom. They’re also in the bottom 10 in the country in three-point percentage, shooting just 29.2 percent from behind the arc while attempting an NCAA-leading 846 shots from outside. But that doesn’t seem to bother their production.

The Tigers have scored more than 100 points in each of their last two wins over Hampton and Norfolk State. Junior guard Dexter McClanahan continues to lead them, scoring a combined 62 points in those two games, along with nine rebounds and five assists.

With the NCAA granting them a waiver, this could finally be the year Savannah State donates its “Never Made The Tournament Club” members jacket to Goodwill.

Is Bethune Cookman the favorite?

Speaking of exceeding expectations, where did Bethune Cookman come from?

MEAC coaches picked the Wildcats to finish ninth in the conference this year, but all Ryan Ridder has done in his first season at the helm is help the Wildcats prove doubters wrong.

The Wildcats are undefeated in conference play and also have non-conference wins over Stetson, Cal Poly and Jacksonville. And remember, this team nearly beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta in November. Ridder’s side fell short, but another HBCU would deal Josh Pastner an L about a month later.

With a sharp shot, Brandon Tabb has led the Wildcats this season on the floor, scoring 18 points per-game and shooting 35 percent from three-point range.

Transfers Shawntrez Davis (Palm Beach College) and Soufiyane Diakite (Morehead State) have been big helps too, especially in the paint, each averaging eight rebounds and double-digits in points per-game. The duo has helped Bethune Cookman average 41.2 rebounds per-game as a team so far this season, which is eighth in the country.

Like Savannah State, Bethune Cookman has never been to the big dance. Come March, that could change on the floor of Norfolk’s Scope.

Shawntrez Davis, a Bethune Cookman, warms up before a November contest against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Mitchell Northam, Mid-Major Madness

RJ Cole is really good

Howard’s RJ Cole became the first MEAC player to receive CBS Sports’ Freshman of the Week award. The Union, New Jersey native averaged 26 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals in wins over North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central last week.

The 6-foot-1 guard in seventh in the nation in scoring with 23.4 points per-game and leads the MEAC in assists with six per-game.

Cole is the reason why Howard beat UNC-Wilmington in December. In that game, Cole poured in 42 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Cole was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, and according to 247sports, he picked the Bison over offers from Boston, Monmouth, Bucknell, Penn, Robert Morris, St. Francis (PA), Loyola Maryland, Long Island, Wagner, Brown and Hofstra.

Games of the Week

N.C. Central at N.C. A&T – Saturday, Jan. 27 at 4 p.m.

Bethune Cookman at Hampton – Monday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.