|Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Outlook|
|By Scott Haynes, Associate College Basketball Editor|
OUTLOOK : One of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history came last season from Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference automatic qualifier Norfolk State, and a handful of teams are attempting to stake their claim at dethroning the Spartans here in 2012-13.
Norfolk State shocked the basketball world by defeating No. 2 seed Missouri last year, but it will be hard-pressed to repeat a 26-win season with the loss of perhaps the conference's best big man in Kyle O'Quinn.
Savannah State actually won the MEAC regular season championship, finishing a game ahead of Norfolk State with 13 conference wins. This appears to be the Tigers' year as they return every single player from that squad. Don't sleep on Delaware State however, which looked impressive in league play last year (12-4), and returns the reigning conference Rookie of the Year in Tahj Tate. Bethune-Cookman recovered from a slow start to put together a solid campaign in 2011-12, and if it can piece things together for the whole season it will certainly be in the mix.
North Carolina Central and Morgan State will be knocking on the leader's door, although these are a pair of teams that seem to be trending in different directions, with the Eagles improving in recent seasons while the Bears have been on the decline. Coppin State has been historically strong in the conference, but was mediocre a year ago.
Hampton won the league title just two seasons ago but faltered mightily in 2011-12 and while it could be in for a stronger year, it'll still find itself in the bottom-half of the MEAC standings. Florida A&M had a down year last season but made some noise in the conference tournament, which lead to plenty of optimism.
North Carolina A&T was once a perennial conference power but is now nothing more than an afterthought. Howard also struggled last season but it has shown marked improvement over the last few seasons.
Maryland Eastern Shore and South Carolina State were both bottom-dwellers a year ago, and a major turnaround seems unlikely this time around.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION : Savannah State
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH : 1. Savannah State, 2. Delaware State, 3. Norfolk State, 4. Bethune-Cookman, 5. North Carolina Central, 6. Morgan State, 7. Coppin State, 8. Hampton, 9. Florida A&M, 10. North Carolina A&T 11. Howard, 12. Maryland Eastern Shore, 13. South Carolina State
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS :
SAVANNAH STATE : The Tigers have come a long way since going winless in the 2004-05 season, winning their final 13 games of the regular season in 2012 to finish 21-12 (14-2 MEAC) in securing their first-ever regular-season MEAC championship. Although they lost in the conference tournament, their regular season success earned them a bid in the NIT, their first postseason appearance as a member of Division I. Things are looking up for Savannah State and reigning MEAC Coach of the Year Horace Broadnax as the starting lineup is anchored by senior forward Rashad Hassan (13.0 ppg) and senior guard Deric Rudolph (13.3 ppg), who were both named to the All-MEAC Second Team last season. Arnold Louis brings stability in the front court alongside Hassan with 9.5 ppg and a team-high 7.8 rpg. Cedric Smith (4.8 ppg), another senior, started all 33 games a season ago. In addition to retaining all of its players from last year, Savannah State will benefit from the addition of a pair of transfers in Khiry White and Deven Williams. With the chemistry from last season's team still in place, anything less than a trip to the Big Dance in 2013 will be a disappointment.
DELAWARE STATE : Despite sporting a modest 15-14 overall record, the Hornets were impressive in MEAC competition in 2011-12, finishing with a 12-4 mark, although they lost to Florida A&M (65-55) in the second round of the conference tournament. Things are looking up for two-time MEAC Coach of the Year Greg Jackson and his squad however, as Delaware State returns six of its top seven scorers, including the reigning conference Rookie of the Year, Tahj Tate. The 6-4 guard finished fifth in the league in scoring in his first season (16.1 ppg), and he has the potential to be the league's top scorer. Joining Tate in the starting lineup will be the sharp-shooting Casey Walker (13.3 ppg), who was third in the conference in three-pointers (2.6 per game). Marques Oliver (11.4 ppg) is one of the most polished forwards in the league, ranking third in blocks (2.6 bpg), sixth in field goal percentage (.555), and eighth in rebounding (7.2 rpg).
NORFOLK STATE : The Spartans had the best overall record in the MEAC last season, going 26-10, and though at 13-3 they finished a game behind Savannah State for the regular season title, they breezed through the conference tournament to clinch their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State made the most of its trip to Omaha, as it became just the fifth No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed as it upset Missouri, 86-84. Anthony Edwards has done a solid job during his five seasons at the helm, but an improvement upon 26 wins may prove difficult as the team returns just one starter from its Cinderella run. Pendarvis Williams (11.9 ppg, 2.5 apg) returns for his junior campaign with plenty of big-game experience under his belt, scoring 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the win over Missouri. Although he wasn't a starter last season, Jamel Fuentes (3.1 ppg) still led the team in assists with 2.9 per game, and should be a nice fit alongside Williams in the backcourt. Up front, Norfolk State will be noticeably thinner, especially without former star Kyle O'Quinn (15.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg). Rob Johnson (6.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) along with a pair of seven-footers in Brandon Goode and Paulius Vinogradovas will need to step up their game.
BETHUNE-COOKMAN : The 2011-12 season did not start off the way the Wildcats would have liked, suffering losses in 11 of their first 15 games, but they managed to rally to finish 18-17 for their fourth consecutive winning season. At 11-5 in the MEAC, they finished fourth in the conference and came within one game of clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Norfolk State in the conference tournament championship game. In his second season as head coach, Gravelle Craig hopes his team can take the next step with the help of three returning starters. Despite being small in stature, 5-9 guard Kevin Dukes came up big quite often last season, leading the team in scoring at 11.7 ppg. Adrien Coleman (11.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) was right on Dukes' heels for the team's scoring lead and he paced the unit with 48 steals. Ricky Johnson (6.0 ppg) was effective as a freshman, and senior Javoris Bryant (6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) brings a veteran presence off the bench. A transfer from City College of San Francisco, 6-8 center Myron Respress figures to see plenty of action.
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL : In three years as the Eagles' head coach, LeVelle Moton has won nearly half as many games as he has won (39-52), but with a young squad in 2011-12 his squad managed to turn some heads with a 17-15 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the MEAC. The loss of All-MEAC forward Dominique Sutton (16.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is undoubtedly a blow, but NC Central returns four other key performers, making it a good bet improvement is on the horizon. With Sutton gone, Ray Willis takes over as the team's primary scorer. He was right on Sutton's heels last year (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), and as the main man this winter he has the potential to eclipse those solid numbers. Emanuel Chapman isn't much of a scorer (3.3 ppg), but he's one of the league's best passers, handing out more than five assists per contest last year. Ebuka Anyaorah (8.3 ppg) and Jeremy Ingram (9.3 ppg) are both able to extend the floor with three-pointers. A total of 10 newcomers should mesh well with the solid core of returnees, including 6-7 Ball State transfer Jay Copeland.
MORGAN STATE : The Bears have fallen on hard times since winning back-to-back MEAC Tournament championships in 2009 and 2010. Last season, they finished with more than twice as many losses as wins overall (9-19), and went just 6-10 in conference play. Todd Bozeman is a former MEAC Coach of the Year, and after such a disappointing season he is surely eager to turn things around in 2012-13. Morgan State returns just two starters, but it brings back arguably its most important piece in 6-8 forward DeWayne Jackson, who led the team in scoring a year ago with 12.4 ppg. Also returning is imposing 7-2 center Ian Chiles (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg), who shot better than 57 percent from the field last year. Justin Black only played in 15 games last season, but when he was on the floor he was effective in netting 8.3 ppg. The addition of transfers Christian Kabongo (New Mexico State) and Daryl Traynham (UMass) will also be crucial in helping change the Bears' fortunes.
COPPIN STATE : Head coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell heads into his 27th season as head coach of the Eagles, and he has put together six 20-win seasons and four bids to the NCAA Tournament, but 2011-12 wasn't the strongest year for Coppin State. The team logged a winning mark in conference play (9-7), but finished the season with a losing record overall (14-16), and it was knocked out of the MEAC Tournament in the first round. If the Eagles wish to turn things around they will need to do so with an entirely new crop of players, as all five starters from a season ago have moved on, taking a whopping 60.5 ppg with them. In order to replace that kind of production, several players are going to need to expand their role in 2012-13, starting with guards Taariq Cephas (5.7 ppg) and Michael Murray (5.3 ppg). No other returnee averaged more than 2.1 ppg last year. A handful of the nine newcomers (five freshmen, four transfers) will have no choice but to contribute as soon as possible.
HAMPTON : Following a fantastic 2010-11 season in which they finished 24-9 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the Pirates followed that up with a hugely disappointing season last year, going 12-21 overall and 6-10 in conference. Even if Hampton can't live up its massive success of two seasons ago, fourth- year head coach Edward Joyner, Jr. hopes to find a nice balance between the past two extremes. He will need to do so without last season's leading scorer however, as Darrion Pellum (18.3 ppg) has graduated, although the team certainly won't miss his woeful .362 field goal percentage. The only returning starter for the Pirates is 6-10 center David Bruce (9.2 ppg), who was one of the league's best rebounders a year ago with 7.3 per game. Jasper Williams (5.6 ppg) is the only other returning player who logged significant minutes last season, but he will need to improve upon a dreadful .293 field goal percentage if he wants to be effective as a member of the starting lineup. Nine newcomers are on campus, including 6-11 center Oumar Sall from Senegal.
FLORIDA A&M : Clemon Johnson's first season as the head coach of the Rattlers was not very good on the surface, as the team went just 10-23 overall. Six of those wins came in conference play however, which allowed Florida A&M to qualify for the MEAC Tournament where it turned some heads by defeating Coppin State (74-72) and Delaware State (65-55) before falling to eventual tournament champion Norfolk State (58-46). FAMU will try to use that momentum and bring it into the 2012-13 season, but it will need to do so without its top performer from last season in Amin Stevens (17.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg). In fact, Reggie Lewis (11.2 ppg) and D'Andre Bullard (4.0 ppg) are the only remaining players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season. Among three incoming freshmen, McWisdom Badejo (6-9, 250) figures to see the most playing time, at least at the outset.
NORTH CAROLINA A&T : The Aggies were once a perennial power in the MEAC, making nine NCAA Tournament appearances from 1982 to 1995, but they haven't been a championship contender in a very long time, culminating in a 12-20 record (7-9 MEAC) last season. Looking to change the nature of the program, NC A&T brought in a veteran coach to fix the situation in Cy Alexander, who formerly led South Carolina State to five conference tournament titles in 16 years. The turnaround isn't likely to happen overnight however, especially considering he will be without the team's top two scorers from last season in guards Nic Simpson (11.4 ppg) and Marc Hill (10.5 ppg, 3.4 apg). The Aggies figure to work their offense through its bigs, as Adrian Powell (10.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg), DeMetrius Upchurch (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and Austin Witter (6.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) all put together solid campaigns in 2011-12. Jeremy Underwood (5.0 ppg, .278 FG percentage) and Jean Louisme (4.7 ppg, .327) seem to be first in line to replace the departed guards despite having sub par campaigns last season.
HOWARD : The Bison won just 10 games a season ago, but it was a marked improvement from the six wins it obtained in the 2010-11 season. In fact, it was the first time a Howard team had won double-digit games since 2003-04. The standards for the Bison have been extremely low over the past decade, but third-year head coach Kevin Nickelberry hopes to continue to change the culture in the locker room this year with the return of nearly all of its key performers. Simuel Frazier (9.0 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Prince Okoroh (8.6 ppg) saw plenty of action as freshmen last season and their roles are only going to continue to expand with more seasoning. Calvin Thompson (9.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Mike Phillips (7.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are two of just three seniors on the team, and their leadership is invaluable. Howard attempted more than 400 3-pointers a year ago, and improving upon its .318 rate from beyond the arc will go a long way in improving its record.
MARYLAND-EASTERN SHORE : The Hawks finished 2011-12 with just 7-23 record (4-12 MEAC), marking the second straight year they failed to win 10 games. Head coach Frankie Allen will once again have his hands full for a team that has never qualified for the NCAA Tournament and whose only postseason appearance came in the 1974 NIT. UMES will need to start fresh with new go-to guys as both Percy Woods (10.9 ppg) and Hillary Haley (10.9 ppg) have graduated, although it may be a blessing in disguise considering neither player topped 36 percent field goal shooting, and Woods committed more than three turnovers per game. Likely taking over as the primary scorer this season will be Louis Bell (7.9 ppg), who showed promise from 3-point range by connecting on 34.1 percent of his shots. Ishaq Pitt (7.0 ppg) will join Bell in the backcourt, and Ron Spencer (6.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) provides a solid presence in the paint.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE : The Bulldogs are fresh off one of the worst seasons in their history, going just 5-26 overall and winless in the MEAC (0-16). Head coach Tim Carter, who led the team to consecutive winning seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, is optimistic that a dreadful, injury-plagued season is behind South Carolina State, but if it wants to move past its failures it will need to overcome the loss of its top scorer Brandon Riley (17.3 ppg), and top rebounder Omar Sanders (11.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Returning to the fold is team captain and starting point guard Khalif Toombs, who is a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and who put up solid numbers last season (10.8 ppg, 4.4 apg). Joining Toombs in the SCSU backcourt will be sophomore Devin Joint (3.4 ppg), while Luka Radovic (4.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is expected to earn a bigger role this season after being a bench player in his freshman year. Dominique Yourmans (6-10, 230) will also bring some much-needed size to the frontcourt after transferring in from Snow Community College.