Unlike other conferences, the MEAC did not wait to deliver a heavyweight battle. Bethune-Cookman traveled to Durham, NC to battle North Carolina Central on the first day of conference play.
BCU is the projected winner of the conference as voted during the preseason. But NC Central is the second team. As you may or may not know, the Eagles have clinched the last two tournament berths for the conference.
Coach LaVelle Moton truly has developed a consistent brand of basketball for the Eagles. Ryan Ridder has done the same for BCU, but Saturday evening was not the best evening for Ridder’s Wildcats as the Eagles won 68-59.
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
BCU has slowed down without Isaiah Bailey
Isaiah Bailey was ruled out for the season after the third game of the season. He’s an elite scorer and is a gifted passer. BCU played okay without him during nonconference play but now MEAC play is here, his presence will really be missed. And with Soufiyane Diakite not seen in the lineup lately, the Wildcats will truly have to rely on their game plan and skill levels to carry them.
After missing much of last season, Malik Maitland leads the team in scoring. His return is going well but now he has to carry the load of Bailey too. To make things a little more difficult, he only scored six points during this contest. Cletrell Pope is playing impressively about being redshirted last season. His 15 points and 20 rebounds made a statement.
But besides Pope, who will step up?
NC Central’s Raasean Davis is a legit MEAC POY Candidate
We know about RJ Cole and Charles Williams from Howard, but Raasean Davis is a darkhorse candidate for the MEAC Player of the Year. He’s scored in double figures in 12 out of 15 games so far this season. He’s shot over 60% shooting in eight contests this season. Plus almost all of his points come from on-the-court baskets — not the free throw line.
He’s No. 2 in the conference in rebounding, No. 1 in field goal percentage, and No. 3 in blocks. His ability to get second chances and stifle offenses is worth noting. And although offense can easily get an award, his defensive efforts make him different than most.
BCU’s first three MEAC games will set the tone for conference play
This loss is not very bad for BCU. Just something to learn from and move on from as well. But the kicker is that the Wildcats face the best three teams in the conference to open their season all on the road.
RJ Cole and Charles Williams are waiting or them this Saturday as Howard is looking for a major win. Two days later, they will have to face Nic Thomas and Steven Whitley at Norfolk State. NSU is the standard of excellence in MEAC when it comes to consistency; they have not had a losing conference record since joining the conference in the late 90s.
Howard has the top scoring offense in the conference while Norfolk State has the No. 2 scoring defense. The Wildcats will have their hands full to start the season.
Their ability to handle tough crowds, play shorthanded (as it seems right now), and handle tight situations will truly set the tone of their season. Ryan Ridder has the ability to get past this stretch; it just won’t be so easy.
NCCU’s depth is loaded
”This season, the Eagles can prove their dominance way earlier than they did last season”
This was a prediction from my MEAC preseason post back in October. It’s proven to be true so far. The Eagles are playing well and this statement game was seen by everyone. A key reason for their potential dominance is their depth. To the delight of Eagle fans, most NCCU players in the main rotation have scored in double figures so far this season.
During this contest, the Eagles had four players in double figures. Raasean Davis and Larry McKnight Jr went perfect from the floor. Jordan Perkins and Reggie Gardner Jr struggled shooting wise but despite the rough shooting night, NCCU still had enough to push off BCU.
For example, Randy Miller Jr is a newbie to this team and he was quite tonight but have been putting up points as well this season. That’s what’s dangerous about this team: They have multiple players who can quickly score in double figures and dominate while doing so. Their scoring depth is scary on paper and it’s even scarier if someone has a breakout night for the Eagles.
But of course, it’s the first game of the conference slate. The conference will not come down to these two teams — just know that every other MEAC team has BCU and NCCU circled on their calendars.