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MEAC Tournament Preview: Can anyone disrupt the North Carolina Central dynasty?

The tournament is in Norfolk but everyone has to beat that team from Durham.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four Practice Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The MEAC Tournament is here! As the conference play wound down, some consistent players rose from the pack. Yes, as is generally the case, North Carolina Central is the one seed and looking forward to winning its fourth straight tournament. With that, the Eagles have an automatic bid to the NIT if they do not win this tournament. Their rival, North Carolina A&T is right behind them as the second seed. The Aggies held first place for the majority of the season but lost their top seed by losing to NC Central in their season finale. In addition to that, Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman are within striking distance as well.

The madness is back in the Norfolk Scope this season. Let’s preview this year’s MEAC Tournament.

Bracket

Schedule

First Round | Tuesday, March 10

Game 3: Delaware State vs. MD Eastern Shore, 6 p.m.

Game 4: SC State vs. Howard, 8 p.m.*

Quarterfinals | Wednesday, March 11

Game 7: NC Central vs. Winner of DSU vs UMES, 6 p.m.

Game 8: NC A&T vs. Winner of SCSU vs HU, 8 p.m.*

Quarterfinals | Thursday, March 12

Game 11: Bethune-Cookman vs. Morgan State, 6 p.m.

Game 12: Norfolk State vs. Coppin State, 8 p.m.*

Semifinals | Friday, March 13

Game 15: NCCU, UMES, or DSU vs. Winner of BCU vs MSU, 6 p.m.

Game 16: NCAT, SCST, or HU vs. Winner of NSU vs CSU, 8 p.m.*

Championship | Saturday, March 14

Game 17: NCCU, UMES, DSU, BCU, or MSU vs. NCAT, CSU, HU, NSU, or SCSU, 1 p.m.

Breaking Down The Madness

Unlike other tournaments, the lowest seed does not face the top seed if the lowest seed wins its first game. In this case, Delaware State and MD Eastern Shore will battle for a right to face NC Central. DSU and UMES split their season series, 1-1. On the other end of the bracket, SC State and Howard will face off with a chance to face North Carolina A&T. SC State picked up an overtime victory over the Bison earlier this season.

The quarterfinals are loaded with good matchups. Let’s look at the top seeds. NC Central had issues with DSU and UMES during their first matchups. DSU defeated them with a last-second shot by John Crosby, while UMES pushed them to overtime. During the next respective matchups, NC Central defeated them both by 15-plus points. North Carolina A&T will open up with either SC State or Howard. SC State picked up an 11-point win recently, throwing a wrench in A&T’s regular season title plans. While for Howard, the lowest seed could not keep up with the Aggies. NCAT and NC Central probably won’t fall this early but if they do, it will take a big performance by a lower seed to do so. And it won’t be a surprise.

Looking at the other two matchups in the quarterfinal round, we have Norfolk State against Coppin State and Bethune-Cookman against Morgan State. Norfolk State has not had any issues with the Eagles this season with blowouts in both contests. On the other hand, Bethune-Cookman picked up a close victory in their only contest against Morgan State.

This is where the bracket structure comes into play. Bethune, Morgan, Norfolk, and Coppin do not have to play until Thursday. With the MEAC schedule ending on a Thursday, it gives those teams a week of rest before playing. Meanwhile, NCAT and NC Central, the top two seeds, will play on Wednesday. This means that when the semifinals are set on Friday, two teams will have a day of rest while two teams will be coming off a week of rest and a game being played the night before. From what we’ve seen, one day of rest has not been the biggest benefit.

NC Central, barring an upset, will face either Bethune-Cookman or Morgan State. BCU has not hit their expectations as of late, the squad was predicted to finish first last season and due to injuries, the prediction did not come to fruition. Meanwhile for Morgan State, despite having seven MEAC losses, the Bears have played close against the MEAC’s best.

On the other side of the bracket, we could have a primetime showdown or a team causing madness in the bracket. A potential NC A&T vs Norfolk State matchup will probably be the best game of the tournament, especially with it being a home game for NSU as the tournament is in Norfolk. Coppin State could shock NSU and roll into the Friday night slot, a major move for the program.

But it’s the MEAC, so it could be madness. Literally, the only thing guaranteed in this tournament is either Morgan or Bethune and Coppin or Norfolk landing in the semifinals due to the bracket structure. With the higher seeds playing early, it’s not promised that NCAT or NCCU making it far in the tournament. A lower seed can easily get hot and wreck people’s plans.

With all of that being said, NC Central is once again the team to beat. But overall, no one is counted out until the clock hits zero.