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MEAC tournament bracket and predictions: Top-seed Hampton makes for an interesting storyline

The Pirates won a tiebreaker over Savannah State and Bethune Cookman for the top seed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

Bethune Cookman’s Isaiah Bailey is averaging 16.5 points per-game this season.
Mitchell Northam, Mid-Major Madness

Returning the conference’s leading scorer and Defensive Player of the Year from a season ago, many picked Morgan State as the favorite to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. On Thursday, the Bears ended their regular season with a loss to the struggling four-win Delaware State Hornets and have now lost three of their last four games.

When the dust settled on the MEAC’s regular season Thursday night, there was a three-way tie at the top of the conference, with three teams sporting 12-4 league records. By way of a tiebreaker, Hampton grabbed the top seed for the MEAC’s post-season tournament, a first-round bye and the MEAC’s NIT berth by having the best head-to-head record and a better winning percentage than Savannah State and Bethune Cookman.

For the first time since 2013, all 13 MEAC teams will play in its post-season tournament.

Hampton enters the tournament as the conference’s hottest team, having won seven straight games. The Pirates are led by Jermaine Marrow, who is averaging 19.8 points per-game. The 6-foot sophomore is also averaging about five assists and five rebounds per-game. In 15 games this season, he’s scored at least 20 points.

According to KenPom, Hampton is the highest ranked MEAC team at No. 240.

The Pirates may enter the tournament with the most interesting storyline too. The school is at war with the conference right now, as the Pirates called the MEAC “unreasonable” and “vindictive” for the demands it made as the Pirates transition to the Big South Conference. Hampton told the MEAC it was leaving for the Big South in November, more than four months after the July 1 deadline. Hampton had plans to keep playing a MEAC schedule in football for a bit, but in a press release, the conference spelled out several sanctions. Among them:

  • The Pirates must play eight football games against MEAC teams from 2018 to 2021 as a non-conference member, which means they would not be eligible for the league championship or to play in the Celebration Bowl.
  • No players or coaches would be eligible for postseason honors, such as Player of the Year or all-conference teams.
  • The school must pay a penalty, which the conference says its bylaws allow for when “member institutions fail to follow MEAC policies.” No amount is mentioned, but Hampton said last week it has been instructed to pay a $250,000 fee, according to the Daily Press.
  • Hampton will not be eligible for any conference revenue following its departure on June 30.

This will probably be Hampton’s final appearance in the MEAC basketball tournament. The Pirates hoisting a trophy at the end of it all next Saturday could make for an uncomfortable atmosphere for the MEAC’s brass.

But Hampton is not guaranteed to win this thing. Other favorites include Savannah State and Bethune Cookman.

The Tigers are the fastest team in college basketball, leading all 351 Division I teams in adjusted tempo with 83.2 possessions per-game, according to KenPom. Savannah State is the MEAC’s only team capable of scoring 90 points or more on any given night, having done so 14 times this season. The Tigers are a member of the “Never Made the Tournament Club” and have just two chances left to appear in the big dance. After the 2019, they are moving to Division II and joining the CIAA. This year may be their best chance.

Bethune Cookman has been a pleasant surprise this season thanks to the guidance of first-year head coach Ryan Ridder. The Wildcats nearly beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta earlier this season. They’ve won 18 total games and seven of the their last nine. They’re led by Brandon Tabb and Soufiyane Diakete. The former is averaging 18.6 points per-game and leads the conference in free throw percentage. The latter leads the conference in rebounding with 9.7 boards per-game.

Teams that could play upset to the favorites include North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, and an RJ Cole-powered Howard squad. And don’t count out Morgan State just yet either. This should make for a fun week in Norfolk.

Bracket

How to watch

All of the preliminary MEAC tournament games will be streamed live online at ESPN3. The MEAC Championship game, set for Saturday, March 10 at 1 p.m., will air live on ESPN2.

Schedule

Monday, March 5
No. 4 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 13 Delaware State – 6:30 p.m.
No. 5 Norfolk State vs. No. 12 Maryland Eastern Shore – 9 p.m.

Tuesday, March 6
No. 8 Howard vs. No. 9 Florida A&M – 4 p.m.
No. 6 North Carolina Central vs. No. 11 Coppin State – 6:30 p.m.
No. 7 Morgan State vs. No. 10 South Carolina State – 9 p.m.

Wednesday, March 7
Howard/FAMU vs. No. 1 Hampton – 6 p.m.
Morgan/SC State vs. No. 2 Bethune Cookman – 8 p.m.

Thursday, March 8
NC Central/Coppin vs. No. 3 Savannah State – 6 p.m.
Norfolk/Eastern Shore vs. NC A&T/Del. State – 8 p.m.

Friday, March 9
Semifinals at 6 and 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 10
Championship at 1 p.m.

Prediction

Hampton and Savannah State – two teams who won’t be in the MEAC within two years – meet for a third time this season in the conference final. In a high-scoring and tight game, the Tigers come out on top for their first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament.