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MEAC Preseason Rankings: Bethune-Cookman heads a crowded group at the top

It’s Bethune-Cookman’s conference to lose, but will they continue their dominance from last season?

NCAA Basketball: Bethune-Cookman at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, power rankings are just a starting point and a measuring stick. The past few years, those who are ranked high are often overtaken by dark horse contenders or consistent winners. Last season was a great example of this.

Hampton, Bethune-Cookman, and Savannah State were tied at the end of the regular season (Hampton won the tiebreaker). But who represented the MEAC in the NCAA Tournament? NC Central. Yep, LeVelle Moton did it again. It just proves that the MEAC is as hard of a conference to pick before conference play starts as any in the country.

What’s not hard to see is that the MEAC is in an interesting phase. Hampton departed for the Big South, and Savannah State is saying farewell to the conference and Division I after this season. Despite the various questions about membership, the conference slate will be quite entertaining and down to the wire as it has been recently. Here’s our MEAC Preseason Rankings.

1. Bethune-Cookman (18-14, 12-4 MEAC)

After a dominant regular season, BCU’s season was ended by Morgan State during the MEAC tournament. Despite the early departure, the stock is still high for BCU this season. Overall, it is BCU’s conference to lose.

Brandon Tabb is gone and is now overseas but the Wildcats will not miss a beat. Ryan Ridder’s team is loaded with experience. His roster is full of upperclassmen that make up one of the most experienced groups in the conference. Shawntrez Davis, Isaiah Bailey and Soufiyane Diakite (2017-18 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year) are the players to watch. It will take a lot to stop this team.

2. NC Central (19-16, 9-7, First Round NCAA Tournament)

Coach Moton is both a fan favorite and a thorn to the side of other MEAC coaches. He always finds a way to produce regardless of the circumstances. This season, the Eagles can prove their dominance way earlier than they did last season. Raasean Davis is the lead Eagle on a mission this season. Davis was 4th in rebounding and 6th in blocked shots within the conference last season. His defensive play can open the floor for guard Reggie Gardner Jr and point guard Jordan Perkins.

3. Norfolk State (14-19, 11-5)

Hidden in the crowded MEAC standings last season was an NSU team that went 11-5 in conference play. Alex Long was second in scoring last season and he will be looked to step up as leading scorer from last season. Steven Whitley and Armani Branch also return as scoring options. BJ Fitzgerald is one face to watch. The Virginia native made waves on the Virginia high school scene, winning titles and individual awards along the way. He could continue the recent trend of freshmen making noise within the conference.

4. Howard (10-23, 7-9)

R.J. Cole and Charles Williams, that’s all.

That duo took the MEAC by storm last season, gaining MEAC First Team honors. Cole averaged 23.7 PPG as Williams averaged 20.4 PPG, ranking first and second in the MEAC, respectively. It’s a luxury to have two high scoring players within one rotation.

But here’s the issue for HU: both players carried the team throughout the season. Besides Cole and Williams, no player averaged over seven points last season. Coach Kevin Nickelberry will need to motivate his team to get some stars some help. It will be more mental than physical.

5. Savannah State (15-17, 12-4)

Savannah State’s upcoming switch to D2 has affected the program. The Tigers had a few transfers in the offseason, which mean that readjustments must be made quickly. The program lost six seniors, so there’s going to be plenty of fresh faces for the Tigers. Coach Horace Broadnax will have some heavy work to do as SSU competes in one more season the MEAC.

6. Morgan State (13-19, 7-9)

Todd Bozeman is a campus favorite at MSU. He lost Tiwian Kendley and Phillip Carr this offseason, and also had a few players transfer out of the program. Now on paper, this is bad. But Coach Boze geared up by completely redoing his roster with transfers and freshmen. Martez Cameron, Dave Syfax, and Stanley Davis are the major players to watch. In terms of transfers, 6’8 junior college forward Victor Curry is in the mix.

7. North Carolina A&T 20-15 (11-5)

Reigning MEAC Coach of the Year Jay Joyner shocked the conference last year as the Aggies pulled off a 17-win turnaround. The Aggies bring in nine newcomers, so establishing team chemistry will cause the Aggies to fall back a little bit this year.

8. Florida A&M 9-25 (7-9)

Robert McCollum’s team showed some potential last season during his first full season as FAMU head coach. This year, FAMU’s success will be hard to tell on paper. The Rattlers are bringing in seven newcomers, including Tulane transfer Darian (D.J.) Jones and 6’10 St. Francis (PA) transfer Ifyeani Umezurike.

9. South Carolina State 10-22 (6-10)

Former UMES coach Boddy Collins was added to the coaching staff by head coach Murray Garvin in the offseason. They could shock some teams, but it will be hard when conference play gets heated.

10. Delaware State 4-28 (2-14)

Eric Skeeters is the new head coach for DSU, coming from UMBC’s historical coaching staff that took a historic run in the NCAA Tournament. DSU’s program is in need of a refresh so this year will be a rebuilding year.

11. Coppin State 5-27 (5-11)

Juan Dixon is a legend in the state of Maryland due to his illustrious playing career at UMD College Park. What wasn’t so illustrious was his first season at Coppin State. The Eagles lost their first 17 games last season, finishing 5-27 overall. But, their wins came in conference play which shows promise.

12. Maryland-Eastern Shore 7-25 (3-13)

Interim head coach Clifford Reed will be leading a program during a transitional phase. Former Coach Bobby Collins left the program after his contract was not renewed by the university. UMES will be conducting a national coaching search after the end of this season. In the meantime, the Hawks will be looking to fix its offensive woes; they were nearly dead-last in the country in scoring.