Who in the blue flames of hell does this? Unbalanced schedules are one thing, but at least make everybody play everybody once.
Meanwhile, North Carolina A&T went into the conference tournament with a losing record and came out with a bid to the Big Dance, thanks to a totally goofed-up championship event in which none of the top four seeds reached the semifinals. The good news was that all the conference tourney carnage put three MEAC teams into postseason tournaments for the first time ever, as Norfolk State went to the NIT and Savannah State played in the CIT.
In a league like this, there's a real chance that preseason predictions will be shot to hell by one team making a four-day charge like A&T did. There's not much reason to expect that anyone projects as an all-conquering Harvard-esque juggernaut this season, so the MEAC falls in dead last among TBI's conference rankings.
For standings and awards, read past the jump.
(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Norfolk State
Jones' hiring was rated the second-worst coaching change in America by TBI, not so much because Jones is unqualified or will do a poor job, but more because it's simply an interim tryout. Spartan athletics could have done better for a guy who was instrumental in assembling the team that beat Missouri in the 2012 NCAA tournament, including being the lead recruiter of star center Kyle O'Quinn.
What Jones brings back should be more than sufficient to win a league with tons of athletes, but not many players.
Senior Pendarvis Williams is probably the only decent NBA prospect in the MEAC this year. Williams has been dazzling in his shooting consistency over his three years, putting up a shooting line near .450/.400/.800 each season. His work is even more impressive considering that he's the only Spartan perimeter player who could shoot straight last season.
Point guard Jamel Fuentes (.318 FG%) and wing Malcolm Hawkins (.370) return, and if either could push 40 percent from the floor, Williams would likely buy them lunch or Isotoner gloves or something. Fuentes was a 38-percent true shooter, but it was his 36.3 assist percentage (A%) that made him valuable. That figure ranked in the top 30 nationwide.
Hawkins was an 11-PPG man last season, despite that poor shooting and getting whistled for three fouls per game. He led the Spartans in usage rate at 25.3. When he's sharing the court with an efficient assassin like Williams, that should never happen. Hawkins' performance in the NIT loss to Virginia summed up his season quite well: 12 points, 3-9 from the floor, five rebounds, two steals and five fouls. He can make plays defensively, but for the love of God, stop him before he shoots again.
Finally, there isn't a better post duo in the MEAC than 7-footer Brandon Goode and All-Rookie team member Rashid Gaston. Both were better than 10-percent offensive rebounders, 17 percent on the defensive end and Goode almost cracked a 10 percent block rate. Gaston crushed FAMU for 20 and 10 last March, while Goode started the season with a dub-dub in a win over Rhode Island. Goode does need to lay off the fouls, though (six DQs last season).
Bench help comes from wings Kievyn Lila-St. Rose, Jordan Weathers and Marist transfer Anell Alexis. Marese Phelps backs up Fuentes after coming second to him in both assist and steal percentage last season. Fresno State transfer/Chinese junior national Sun "Grant" Hefeng will lend post support.
2. Morgan State
To get back to the top this season, the Bears need to be that team that improves when it brings everyone back. Six of MSU's seven double-digit minute earners are back, including Old Brother Hubbard.
28-year-old senior Anthony Hubbard returns for one more season after finishing second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding (11.2/6.5). Hubbard's 66.5 FTA/FGA ratio was one of the nation's 40 best, and he'd be damned lethal if he could make more than 57.5 percent.
Third-team All-MEAC selection Justin Black is the league's No. 3 returning scorer after putting up 14.2 PPG last year. Black upped his FG% by 10 points last season, getting up to 43.9, and he led the team in assists to boot. One more point and one more assist against Liberty last November, and Black would have had MSU's first-ever triple-double.
Whatever Black did to improve his shooting, he needs to share it with point guard/coach's kid Blake Bozeman. Bozeman shot 28.6 percent from the floor, which had to be one of the worst figures for any full-time starter in America. Bozeman also turned the ball over on 26 percent of his possessions, yet he was the only Bear to start every game. Weird, huh?
Sophomore backup Donte Pretlow struggled in his own right with a 41.2 TO%. Freshman Emmanuel Matey averaged seven APG as a senior at Roosevelt HS (Greenbelt, Md.) and won a state title. He should get a crack at the starting spot or sue for nepotism.
As a team, MSU's TO% (22.3) was one of the 50 highest in the nation. Failure to tighten that up will have the Bears staying home in March again.
For the unwary traveler who ventures into the lane, he's going to be met by some enormous Bears. Seniors Ian Chiles (7'2", 270) and Thair Heath (6'9", 220) join 6'9" junior Shaquille Duncan in doing Morgan State's dirty work. Duncan's a vicious shot blocker, Heath can bang with anyone on the glass and Chiles combines the two. Chiles has 100 blocks over the past two seasons, but averages fewer than two fouls per game.
The Bears need one more backcourt scorer, especially if Bozeman and Pretlow can't figure out how to throw the ball into the ocean.
HU still won 11 MEAC games because no matter how wretched their offense looked, the opponents usually looked just as bad. The Pirates' defense was among the top 20 nationally in many of those above categories. So what if the games were brickfests that would have made fans cringe back in the 1950s?
If the Hampton offense can get out of its own way, this is a team that can make a run at the title. Most of last year's freshman-and-juco-laden squad is back this year, FWIW.
Point guard Deron Powers won MEAC Rookie of the Year and CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major All-American honors last season by averaging 11.9 PPG and 4.6 APG, the latter figure fourth in the league. He crushed Howard with 22 points, six assists and seven steals, but his eight turnovers kept the Bison in the game for a mere eight-point loss. That ably sums up Powers' season as a whole. If he can tighten up with the ball, he'll seize an All-MEAC first-team selection.
Forwards DuVaughn Maxwell, Emmanuel Okoroba and Dwight Meikle were significant forces on the defensive end, with Maxwell averaging a steal and 2.5 blocks per game. Meikle went for a combined 25 points and 15 rebounds against Richmond and Ohio in only his second and third collegiate games. Freshman Phillip Reed (6'10", 210) will lend his length to the cause.
Guards Ke'Ron Brown and Ramon Mercado were part-time starters as coach Ed Joyner searched in vain for someone who could shoot. Neither one could (a combined 25% from deep), but Brown's 4.3 S% led the MEAC and his 1.7 SPG ranked sixth. Mercado and Maxwell are the only seniors on this year's squad.
Now for the bad news. Usually, when a team goes on an international summer tour, they're capable of putting up high-end numbers against overmatched opposition. During the Pirates' three games in the Bahamas, they made EIGHT of 50 three-pointers. That's 16 percent, folks.
Overall, they shot a slightly encouraging 42 percent from the floor, but the games don't promise to get much prettier than they were last season. The defense will need to force opponents down the plank again for this prediction to be anywhere close.
4. Coppin State
Guards Taariq Cephas and Andre Armstrong and forward Michael Murray provide a solid nucleus for Coach Fang to build around. As a sophomore, Cephas struggled in the full-time point guard role, but he improved late. Over the final nine games, he shot 45.4% from the floor (38.6% on the season), and he scored 27 points in the season-ending loss to Bethune-Cookman. He desperately needs to improve on his 28.0 TO% from last year.
Armstrong was wildly inconsistent until mid-January, but put it in beast mode over his final 14 games. Over that span, he put up 18.4 PPG on 41% shooting. Continued form like that will see him challenge for MEAC Player of the Year honors.
Murray led the league in rebounding at 8.9 per game and cranked out 10 double-doubles, including 27 and 12 against a St. Joseph's team that was a sexy pick to win the Atlantic 10. He fell one point short of adding another dub-dub against top-ranked Indiana.
Despite standing only 6'5", Murray was unstoppable on the glass, but he had no support. The Eagles put up the 10th-worst overall rebounding percentage in the country. Senior Charles Ieans (6'9", 215) and junior Brandon St. Louis (6'8", 200) have to play to their size.
Opponents shot 29.4% outside the arc against the Eagles last year, but a sizzling 53.2% inside it. That must improve before CSU can even sniff a conference crown.
5. North Carolina Central
--If NCCU had been able to hang onto forward Stanton Kidd, the MEAC would be a mildly interesting two-horse race with Norfolk. And if I was made of money like the dude in the Geico ad, I'd be hooking up with swimsuit models. Unfortunately, neither has happened. I'm merely covered in skin and Kidd's off to Colorado State.
|Yep, definitely Stanton Kidd's fault I'm not in a 3-way right now.|
Central does, however, bring back Jeremy Ingram, a gunner who actually combined volume and efficiency. (Yes, that's the first time the word "efficiency" has been used in regards to a player in this preview. It's likely to be the only one.) Ingram was a 53-percent effective shooter and a 59-percent true shooter, both of which are video game numbers compared to some of the MEAC's other perimeter players.
Ingram hung 20 on Marquette just before New Year's and later put up 32 against Bethune-Cookman. He picked a bad night for his worst game, though, struggling to 3-17 shooting in the conference tournament and helping to begin A&T's charge toward TBS airwaves. Still, if anyone's going to challenge Pendarvis Williams for POY, it's going to be Ingram.
Point guard Emanuel Chapman has finished second and first in the MEAC assist race the past two seasons. He could be a decent scorer if he was ever willing to put shots up (fewer than four FGA/game over two years). Still, he works well with Ingram and that's what matters.
Jay Copeland, a 255-pound junior, is the only other returnee who averaged more than 3.5 PPG last season. Copeland finished fifth in the league in OR% (11.0), but also came in fifth with 3.1 fouls per game. If he can stay on the court, perhaps he becomes a solid replacement for Kidd. Junior Karamo Jawara and juco transfer Ramon Eaton are the only players on the roster 6'8" or taller, so Copeland's availability is of utmost importance.
Former Georgia guard Ebuka Anyaorah averaged 8.3 PPG in 2011-12, but saw last season cut short by a broken foot. Look for him to provide the spark off the bench along with grad transfer Reggie Groves, a North Carolina native who comes home from Canisius.
NCCU's defense was killer last season, ranking fifth in America in defensive efficiency. Of course, most of that had to do with opponent inefficiency, as Ken Pomeroy's adjusted figures placed the Eagles 96th. Still, that's respectable for a MEAC squad. Now, can they do that again to account for Kidd and guard Ray Willis' lost scoring?
6. Savannah State
The primary returnee is junior guard Deven Williams. The conscience-free gunner who took the shot on 34.5% of his available possessions was finally unleashed late last season. He lit Maryland-Eastern Shore (twice), Morgan State and East Carolina for an average of 21 PPG over his last four, hitting more than 50% from deep. He made a solid 37% for the year.
Forward Jyles Smith is a remedial offensive player at best, but he finished in the MEAC top-10 in OR% and DR%, plus swatting a ludicrous 14.6% of available shots, fourth-best in the nation.
There are no experienced scorers on the roster aside from Williams. Freshman guard Alante Fenner was an 18-PPG man in high school. Juco transfer Hikeem Champaigne put up 10.4 and 8.5 at Denmark (S.C.) Technical College.
Guards Khiry White and Robert Burger both carded strong steal percentages, and their teammates will have to chip in with strong defense as well. The Tigers' defensive efficiency was third-best in the nation according to StatSheet, 30th per Pomeroy. Like NCCU, they need to ride one talented gunner and repeat the stifling defense to contend.
7. Florida A&M
With most of that struggling roster back and only two players on this year's team measuring 6'8" or taller, FAMU is yet another MEAC team that desperately needs to play more consistent basketball.
Guards Jamie Adams and Reggie Lewis could have a claim as the league's best backcourt, but they have a lot of work to do. Lewis shot 32.9% from deep last season, which in this league seems to approach Steve Kerr territory.
Adams could be a solid point guard at this level if he concentrated more on distribution. He took 29.4% of the available shots, made only 34% of his attempts and had more turnovers than assists. A senior who came to FAMU from a junior college before last season, drastic improvement doesn't seem all that likely. Adams did lead the league with 1.9 SPG, and the more of those he can turn into easy points, the fewer ulcers coach Clemon Johnson will get watching him shoot.
Swingmen Jamari Bradshaw and Trey Kellum fight hard on the glass, and Kellum was actually a 10-percent offensive rebounder last year. Both still stand only 6'6", though. Senior Onyekachukwu Odi and juco transfer Pierre Crawford are the sole big men on the roster, and Odi played only 12 minutes per game last season. In that time, though, he blocked 1.2 shots per game, so he'll be counted on to protect the rim.
Reserve guards Muhammad Abdul-Aleem, Walter Davis and D'Andre Bullard are all capable defensive playmakers, and Davis shot a respectable (another rarely-used word in MEAC discussions) 47.8% from the floor to boot.
8. North Carolina A&T
Guards Lamont Middleton and Jeremy Underwood and forward Bruce Beckford are the only experienced returnees. The 6'3" Middleton may have free rein to torment opposing defenses by getting them into ridiculous foul trouble. He took 227 foul shots last season, 23rd-most in the nation. Unlike most players who get a ton of free throws (i.e. bricklaying big guys), Middleton actually made 70% last year.
Beckford cracked double-figure scoring in seven of his final 13 games and shot 55% for his freshman season. At 6'7" and 215, he's not ideally built for low-post combat, but he'll have to give it a valiant effort until freshmen Steven Burrough and Jerome Simmons and juco transfer Bryan Akinkugbe are ready to play major minutes. Still, the potential is there for Beckford to make all-conference.
Underwood, like Middleton, loves to get others in trouble. He took 105 free throws vs. 154 field goals, a .681 ratio that would have ranked 34th in the nation. And he hit 80% of his attempts. Respect.
The aforementioned post newcomers will have to lend Beckford some post support, and the 6'9" Burrough is especially intriguing after he blocked 5.4 shots per game as a senior. Freshmen James Whitaker and Nick Reese will provide wing support. Reese averaged 14 and 11 as a senior, making first-team All-City in Los Angeles.
Coach Cy Alexander is banking on such a young team getting hot late once again. In these one-bid leagues where the regular season is largely ignored, it could happen.
9. South Carolina State
Hezekiah himself is a bit of an anomaly. Somehow, a 6'11" player who took about 160 of his 314 shots near the rim only managed to put up 56 free throws. About 90% of his points came from two-point baskets, a figure that led the nation. He only made 68% of the few freebies he did take, so it's not like he's all that feared a shooter.
Despite all of Hezekiah's mid-range jumpers and uncontested dunks, the rest of his team couldn't defend a blind man from peeping-tom charges. SCSU's -25.6 efficiency margin (per Pomeroy) was one of the nation's worst.
Sophomore Darryl Palmer, a solid rebounder and shot-blocker at 6'7"/210, provides the best post support for Hezekiah. Both were All-MEAC selections last year. Senior Adama Adams is the likely successor to steady point guard Khalif Toombs. Adams was a 46-percent effective shooter last year, and is a member of the Senegalese national team.
Sophomore Devin Joint is a great rebounder for his 6'4" frame, finishing third on the team at 5.2 RPG. He pulled 13 boards and blocked four shots against NCA&T for one of the Dogs' two league wins. He is not, however, a great passer, an indication that this particular Joint never gets past the "puff, puff" phase. (EDITOR'S NOTE: I should probably leave the joke out if I have to explain it, but this is a pun on Joint's name, not an inference as to how he spends his free time. Thank you.)
The Bulldogs are like so many other MEAC teams in that they can't shoot their way out of a phone booth. Unlike a Savannah State, however, SCSU also lacks a dominant defense to keep it in the game. One end or another must improve, or else new coach Murray Garvin won't have any better luck than predecessor Tim Carter.
10. Delaware State
The Hornets will miss top scorer Tahj Tate and leading rebounder Marques Oliver, but they may have some candidates to take up the slack. Senior shooting guard Casey Walker badly regressed last season, dropping from a 52.4 eFG% in 2011-12 to a 39.6. If he rediscovers his stroke, he and Bell can be the league's best perimeter duo. Walker put up 24 and 11 in a narrow four-point loss at Penn State.
Swingman Miles Bowman (6'5", 190) defied his frame to put up great rebounding percentages (10.5/21.5), but his minutes vacillated rapidly. 6'10" center Kendall Gray struggled on the glass, but his 2.6 BPG ranked him 20th nationally. He flirted with a trip-dub in a November overtime win over Wagner (17 points, seven boards, eight blocks).
Point guard Albert Thomas returns for his senior year, and coach Greg Jackson hopes that he can tighten up his 28% turnover rate from last season. To his credit, Thomas is already judicious with his shot selection, being the only returning Hornet who shot better than 50% from the floor.
DSU was another team that struggled to defend inside the three-point arc, allowing opponents to make just under 48% of their two-point shots. With only two players on the roster taller than 6'7", that defense may struggle again. That makes it even more urgent that players like Bell and Walker hit shots.
Johnson, a product of Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary's HS (you know, like that one guy), regressed as a shooter last year, losing 10 points off his TS%. As a junior, he'll need more games like his 25-point game against FAMU last February. Jackson is a shaky jump shooter (59% of his shots were threes) who doesn't care to attack the tin that much (.090 FTA/FGA). He can get hot, as FAMU found in January when Jackson drilled 6-of-8 on them for 20 points in a BCU win.
Hofstra transfer Daquan Brown will need to be active immediately, because his 6'10" frame is about all the Cats have in terms of size. Brown had his moments in his limited time with the Pride, including a 13-point game against Delaware. High Point transfer Travis Elliott will be the other primary post operator.
Craig has mined Toledo well this offseason, signing high school teammates Tony Kynard and Clemmye Owens along with juco guard Maurice Taylor. All of these guards will need to play some inspired ball to put BCU back among the MEAC elite.
12. Maryland-Eastern Shore
Forward Kevin Mays was a bright spot last season, averaging 13.3/6.7 as a freshman, but he's not listed on this season's official roster. Anyone with information on his apparent departure is encouraged to share. Guard Kyree Jones put up some big scoring numbers in bad losses, going for 20-plus in five of his first nine games. Those included a combined 49 in a pair of 32-point blowouts to Maryland and Cincinnati. He missed most of the conference season through injury, however.
The Hawks' other solid forward, 6'6" Troy Snyder, returns for his senior season after leading the team in rebounding and steals. He finished strong, averaging 13.5/8.3 over UMES' final four games.
As a team, UMES shot a mere 35.7% for the season, ranking them DEAD F'ING LAST IN AMERICA. If no one can bring that figure up, and we mean WAAAAAAAY up, there's not much call to expect more than last season's two victories.
Nine freshmen load the Bison roster, and the primary returnee has been a defensive stopper thus far in his career. Junior swingman Prince Okoroh had the occasional highlight (a dub-dub against SC State, 15 and 5 with six steals against Norfolk), but he's never been a main scoring option.
Redshirt freshman Keon Hill and true frosh James Daniel will battle for the point guard role, with rookies J.T. Miller and Kofi Andoh having the best upside for the wing positions. Miller averaged 26 PPG at Mt. Zion Academy in Durham, N.C.
Finally, Maryland freshman Marcel Boyd (6'10", 230) joins the Bison after only starting basketball as a high school frosh. He and 6'8" College of Charleston transfer James Carlton are as burly as it gets on this roster.
With so few known quantities, coach Kevin Nickleberry will spend the early part of the year just getting to know what lineups work. That's always fun, but especially when those early games are against schools like Harvard, Pitt, Houston and USC.(#sarcasmfont)
By the time conference play starts, Nickleberry hopes he's got a handle on everyone's role. The recruiting class needs to succeed in spectacular fashion for the Bison to push for the top half of the standings. And one final note: none of these recruits were born the last time Howard was in the NCAA tournament (1992). Just sayin'.
|Oh, yeah, and Bhullar's brother's bus-sized, too.|
Bethune-Cookman: Nov. 25 at New Mexico State
--Just to see if 7'5", 350-pound Sim Bhullar just straight up eats Travis Elliott and flosses with Daquan Brown.
Coppin State: Dec. 28 at Toledo
--Michael Murray and Rian Pearson are two of the best undersized rebounders in America. Do they go head-to-head here?
Delaware State: Nov. 25 vs. Delaware
--The in-state rivalry could sway DSU's way if it had some sort of inside muscle to overpower the Blue Hens, who lost glass-eater Jamelle Hagins. However, they don't, so expect Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt to spend the night penetrating and hitting FT's.
Florida A&M: Nov. 8 at Rutgers
--The Rattlers are the first test for Eddie Jordan's patched-up Scarlet Knight program. If the NCAA hadn't cleared Kerwin Okoro and J.J. Moore, FAMU's chances would have looked a lot better.
Hampton: Nov. 29 vs. Liberty (Corpus Christi Challenge in Corpus Christi, Tex.)
--Can the Pirate defense douse the Flames' skilled backcourt of John Caleb Sanders and Davon Marshall?
Howard: Nov. 13 at Old Dominion
--Yes, there are those big programs mentioned in the team's capsule, but which one of those will the Bison win? ODU will still be getting its bearings under new coach Jeff Jones, and a Howard win could make some recruiting noise in the DMV region.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: Dec. 31 at Virginia Tech
--The Hawks play consecutive games against power-conference doormats (Mississippi State being the second). Now, if only there was enough talent in Princess Anne to confidently predict an upset.
Morgan State: Dec. 18 vs. High Point
--The Bears host one of the Big South favorites, who boast a superb forward duo in John Brown and Allan Chaney. They did this.
Norfolk State: Dec. 15 at Boston University
--If ESPN was still running BracketBusters, this game would fit well in February. BU has the tools to win the Patriot League in its first season, and you just read about the weapons on hand for Norfolk.
North Carolina A&T: Nov. 26 at Ole Miss
--If the Aggies are nice to Marshall Henderson, he can always tell them where Oxford's best bars are.
North Carolina Central: Dec. 3 at Old Dominion
--ODU's expected to lease the cellar in the new, fattened Conference USA. The "upset" may be one in league affiliation only.
Savannah State: Dec. 19 vs. Miami (FL)
--The Hurricanes should still win...but they are depleted from last year's ACC champions and come to the Tigers' habitat. I wouldn't wager on it, but I might try to watch it.
South Carolina State: January 3 at South Carolina
--State rivalry, best I can do. Kinda like Latin.
ALL-MEAC FIRST TEAM:
Justin Black, Morgan State
Matthew Hezekiah, South Carolina State
Jeremy Ingram, NC Central
Deron Powers, Hampton
Pendarvis Williams, Norfolk State
ALL-MEAC SECOND TEAM:
Andre Armstrong, Coppin State
Rashid Gaston, Norfolk State
Du'Vaughn Maxwell, Hampton
Lamont Middleton, NC A&T
Michael Murray, Coppin State
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Pendarvis Williams, Norfolk State
--Predicting a repeat is boring, but how many better options are there? Shooting 45% is a big deal in this conference.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Robert Jones, Norfolk State
--This should get him a full-time contract.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: J.T. Miller, Howard
--Somebody's got to be able to score on that team, right?