The regular season is over.
It was filled with so many great performances and talking points. But this is March, and we are talking about the MEAC. As coaches and fans know, the MEAC is mainly a one-bid conference. Due to this sharp reality, the MEAC Tournament is the epitome of March Madness. There’s no bubble to watch or schedule to compare to others. The goal is to win three or four games within the same week. It’s direct as you can get.
No team is counted out until they lose. Regular season wins are cute and good for the morale, but when MEAC Madness gets loose, past performance does not matter at all. 11 MEAC teams will be arriving to Norfolk, Virginia with the same goal in mind: Run the gauntlet and secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
First Round | Monday, March 11
Game 3: No. 6 Savannah State vs. No. 11 Delaware State, 6 p.m.
First Round | Tuesday, March 12
Game 6: No. 8 Maryland Eastern Shore vs. No. 9 South Carolina State, 6 p.m.
Game 7: No. 7 Coppin State vs. No. 10 Morgan State, 8:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals | Wednesday, March 13
How to Watch: Flo Hoops
Game 10: No 1 Norfolk State vs. Winner of Game 6, 6 p.m.
Game 11: No. 2 North Carolina A&T State vs. Winner of Game 7, 8 p.m.*
Quarterfinals | Thursday, March 14
How to Watch: Flo Hoops
Game 14: No. 3 North Carolina Central vs. Winner of Game 3, 6 p.m.
Game 15: No. 4 Howard vs. No. 5 Bethune-Cookman, 8 p.m.*
Semifinals | Friday, March 15
How to Watch: Flo Hoops
Game 18: Winner of Game 10 vs. Winner of Game 15, 6 p.m.
Game 19: Winner of Game 11 vs. Winner of Game 14, 8 p.m.*
Championship | Saturday, March 16
How to Watch: ESPN U
Game 20: Winner of Game 18 vs. Winner of Game 19, 1 p.m.
Favorites: The Power Players
Norfolk State (14-2 MEAC)
Norfolk State dominated the MEAC this year. Despite dropping their last game of the season, the Spartans were the class of the MEAC this year. Led by Coach Robert Jones, who is used to winning at NSU; the Spartans went on a tear some games and had clutch performances in others. NSU has to be taken seriously due to their depth. Nic Thomas and Steven Whitley are key components for the Spartans. Derrik Jamerson Jr. is an absolute danger to defenses with his three-point shooting — so dangerous, he’s ranked third in the nation. Yeah, good luck stopping that. Jordan Butler, Alex Long, and Mastadi Pitt are also key guys for this squad.
NSU can run through the table and win this tournament. But the Spartans have two things against them: the bracket and history.
Let’s start with the bracket. There’s two teams that beat NSU this season, Howard and Bethune-Cookman. If they make it to the semifinals, NSU will have to face one of those teams. It won’t be easy and the Spartans will have to come with their best game to get to the finals.
On a broader level, recent history has not been nice to NSU at all. The tournament is held basically blocks away from their campus and the Spartans have not won it since 2012. Coach Jones understands that the proximity to campus does not make things automatically easier for his teams. They will be looking to break the streak this season.
North Carolina A&T (13-3 MEAC)
After going 3-29 during the 2016-17 season, North Carolina A&T coach Jay Joyner has put together a dominant team. By going 11-5 last season, he secured the best MEAC record by the program since 1986 when they went 16-0 under the legendary Don Corbett. When all was said and done, the Aggies’ 17-win single-season turnaround tied the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos for the best in the nation.
As for this year? Well, Joyner led them to an even better conference record.
The Aggies went 13-3 this season and were just as dominant as Norfolk State. They only lost one game in the final month of the season. More impressively, they swept North Carolina Central this season.
Qua Copeland, Milik Gantz, Terry Harris, and Ronald Jackson are some of the key players for this team. Their first game will be against Morgan State or Coppin State; these teams won’t be issues for the Aggies unless March Madness strikes again. In all seriousness, the true test for the Aggies will be if they can beat NC Central for the third time this season. The Eagles and Aggies could square off in the semifinals. The Aggies have a good chance to win this tournament. It will take some strong performances like they have been supplying lately.
North Carolina Central (10-5 MEAC)
Coach LaVelle Moton is the most well-known coach in the MEAC. He’s respected and is a great figure to promote within and outside the world of HBCU hoops.
This postseason, he and his Eagles have a stiff task ahead of them. On a mental level, everyone knows that NC Central is a different team in March. They have won three out of the last five MEAC tournaments — and three regular season titles as well. But this season, the Eagles aren’t the top dog in the fight. They are seasoned and well prepared, but a little more work has to be done against the rest of the contenders.
Let’s start with the Aggies. Since the 2015-16 season, NC Central has only beaten NC A&T twice. With the latest 22-point win, the Aggies have beaten them six times in that span. So if NC Central makes it to the semis, they will have to get over the hump and beat North Carolina A&T. The same goes for the title game if they make it that far. Norfolk State, Bethune-Cookman, and Howard can give the Eagles a good game as well. The reality for NC Central is that their program is still a top one in the conference, there are just a few more power players this time around.
There are no worries though: Raasean Davis has been a double-double machine this year. He’s going to get a few votes for MEAC Player of the Year. Jibri Blount and Larry McKnight Jr will come in strong for the Eagles. March is a chess match for Moton, and he has won a lot. But this season, the game is harder.
Howard (10-6 MEAC)
Howard starts and ends with RJ Cole and Charles Williams. Enough said.
Both players have scored over 500 points this season on the highest-scoring team in the conference. Coach Kevin Nickelberry led the Bison to a 10-6 MEAC season, which is tied for Howard’s best MEAC record since 1991. Even better, the Bison are rolling into a four-game winning streak, all on the road. Their latest three-point win was over Norfolk State on their home court. Williams scored 27 points and Cole capped off a 36-point performance with the go-ahead bucket to push Howard to a good end of its season.
It’s quite understood that RJ Cole and Charles Williams will have to have a good tournament in order for Howard to succeed — all while getting a lot of attention from the defenses. The key for HU to progress in this tourney is to have help from its role players.
Dark Horses: The Bracket-Breakers
Bethune-Cookman (9-7 MEAC)
If you forgot or didn’t know, Bethune-Cookman was projected to finish first in the MEAC this season. Despite finishing fifth, the Wildcats are an athletic team that can shake up the bracket. Cletrell Pope can rebound anything. Malik Maitland and Shawntrez Davis can break out when needed as well.
They will start the tourney against Howard, the teams split the season series. If BCU’s defense can find a way to force other Bison players to shoot, that could be the key that ignites a deep tournament run.
Savannah State (8-8 MEAC)
The Tigers will be leaving D1 after this season to go to D2. It’s their last MEAC tourney for the foreseeable future, and crashing the party would be the best way to go out. Their offense is fast-paced and unlike like what any MEAC teams can face. Coach Horace Broadnax might unload his Tigers and run an absolutely high-paced offense that will test the fatigue of his opponents. It’s SSU’s swan song and it will be filled with a lot of shot attempts and transition offense.
Coppin State (7-9 MEAC)
When shooting well, Coppin State is a dangerous team. The Eagles will start against Morgan State, a team they swept this season. And although their chances are slim to win the whole thing, Juan Dixon’s team can make an impact that can set the tone into the offseason.
On paper, Norfolk State can take this and take it easily. North Carolina A&T can do the same. NC Central can pop up again and take another MEAC title. Howard can turn every game into a shootout and win while doing so. Bethune-Cookman can make a splash as well. It’s hard to call, but if Norfolk State makes the championship game, the tourney belongs to the Spartans — but that’s the same for NC A&T. The ability for one of those two teams to dominate and not get tripped up will determine a lot at the end.
But, it’s MEAC madness. Anything can happen.