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MEAC Update: Takeaways from the halfway point

Norfolk State and Florida A&M are the top teams at the halfway point

NCAA Basketball: Florida A&M at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s halfway through MEAC play and things are looking close. There’s a true handful of teams that can take the regular season title as well as the league’s automatic bid. Norfolk State is the only that has not lost in conference play. The Spartans are currently sitting at 8-0. Our MEAC dark-horse pick in the preseason is currently the top horse and is not slowing down anytime soon.

Let’s look at some takeaways from conference play so far.

This is Sparta: Norfolk State is the top team in the conference

Norfolk State is the top team in the conference — if you didn’t notice, its last win proved it. The Spartans’ 24-point comeback on the road against Howard shows how good this team is. The Spartans currently rank within the top three in the MEAC in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, blocked shots, and three-pointers made.

What makes this team different than most MEAC teams is that the Spartans are dominant on both sides of the court. The core of Nic Thomas, Jordan Butler, Steven Whitley, and Derrik Jamerson is a tough core to stop.

And luckily for the Spartans, their two hardest road games are their next two games (at BCU and FAMU). After that, it will be a six-game sprint to secure the top seed in the MEAC tournament.

Oh yeah, the tournament is being held a few blocks away from their campus. So the advantage will be real.

Rattlers’ Strike: Florida A&M is a force that no one should underestimate

In the preseason, the Rattlers were projected to finish seventh in the league this year. They only had one player named to the MEAC Preseason teams as well. Yet as a program that hasn’t gone over .500 in league play since the 2007-08 season, that’s the expectation that most would have.

But Justin Ravenel and his teams have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. Florida A&M only had seven MEAC wins last season; they already have seven wins with a seven games to go. Justin Ravenel has been a crucial piece for this team. He’s coming off a 25 point performance against NC Central this past Monday. Kamron Reaves is a key component as well. What’s interesting about this team is their size. They have four players who are 6’8 or taller. That size has worked in their favor.

North Carolina A&T is in a very good place

After two underwhelming performances, the Aggies find themselves in third place right now.

But they are in a good place. Here’s why.

Their next two games are against Delaware State and Maryland-Eastern Shore. That’s two winnable games. They face Howard and Norfolk State on the road. But then, they have four straight home games. So the Aggies are looking at six home games to end the season. That’s a huge help as teams are starting to position themselves for conference tournament seeding.

NC Central’s inconsistency is hurting its potential

North Carolina Central is well known to most MEAC fans. Since their first season back in 2011, the Eagles have only had one losing season in conference play — and that season was 7-9, which is not bad as far as losing seasons go. With all of that said: Coach LaVelle Moton has built a powerhouse, a staple within the MEAC basketball ranks. When discussing the league outlook, this team always pops up in the discussion.

But NC Central is 1-3 in their last four games. They have Howard, Norfolk State, and NC A&T left on their schedule, and they are all road games. Something has to give for this NC Central team. Yes NCCU can go on a run and end up back in the NCAA Tournament, but the MEAC is different this year. There are truly a lot of good teams that can trip you up or dominate you.

Coppin State is finding its wings

Coppin State did not have any wins before MEAC play. They currently have four, which means that progress is being made in West Baltimore. They are in the middle of the pack, sitting at 4-4 right now. Three of their four losses have been by less than nine points so the Eagles have been competitive for almost all of their MEAC play so far.

Dejuan Clayton and Lamar Morgan are the heartbeats of this team. Both players average over 30 minutes a game for the Eagles.

Howard needs a better team dynamic to get to the next level

RJ Cole and Charles Williams alone can push a team to greatness. But basketball is a team game and Howard needs more of a team effort.

Cole leads the league in scoring in Williams is literally right behind him. What’s hurting HU is the dependence on those two players as well as Chad Lott. Besides those three, no one on HU’s roster is averaging over six points. That’s a major problem. To make things harder, they have six road games left with only two games at home.

More players will need to step up. If not, HU might see a very early exit in the MEAC tournament.

Morgan State and close games are not the best of friends

Morgan State’s five out of six MEAC losses were determined by six points or less. The Bears are literally a couple calls, shots, or defensive stops away from having a completely different standing in the league. Despite that, they will have to dig deep in the second half of the MEAC play.

MEAC Power Rankings

1. Norfolk State (13-10, 8-0 MEAC)
2. Florida A&M (10-14, 7-2 MEAC)
3. North Carolina A&T State (11-11, 6-2 MEAC)
4. Bethune-Cookman (10-13, 5-4 MEAC)
5. North Carolina Central (10-13, 5-4 MEAC)
6. Howard (10-13, 4-4 MEAC)
7. Coppin State (5-19, 5-4 MEAC)
8. Savannah State (7-15, 4-4 MEAC)
9. Morgan State (8-14, 3-6 MEAC)
10. South Carolina State (4-20, 2-6 MEAC)
11. Maryland Eastern Shore (4-21, 2-8 MEAC)
12. Delaware State (4-18, 1-8 MEAC)

Games to Watch (all times EST)

Saturday, Feb. 9

Norfolk State at Bethune-Cookman, 4 p.m.
Maryland Eastern Shore at N.C. Central, 4 p.m.
Howard at Florida A&M, 4 p.m.
Delaware State at North Carolina A&T State, 4 p.m.
Morgan State at South Carolina State, 4 p.m.
Coppin State at Savannah State, 8 p.m.

Monday, Feb. 11

Coppin State at South Carolina State 7:30 p.m.
Maryland Eastern Shore at N.C. A&T State 7:30 p.m
Norfolk State at Florida A&M 7:30 p.m.
Howard at Bethune-Cookman 7:30 p.m.
Delaware State at North Carolina Central 7:30 p.m.
Morgan State at Savannah State 8 p.m.