IDo you hear that? It's the popping of stadium popcorn, the bouncing of basketballs on the hardwood, and the swishing of jumpers going through the net. In other words, it is college basketball season! So to prepare you for the upcoming year, VAVEL USA's Ben Anderson, Tyler Bennett, and Peyton Wesner gave their view on which teams and players will thrive during the 2015-2016 MEAC season.
1. When the MEAC is mentioned, one's mind seems to gravitate to Hampton, Norfolk State, and North Carolina Central. What team (not previously named) has the potential to steal the spotlight from the powerhouses?
Morgan State has come across some doldrums lately, and is craving the shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament. Many remember head coach Todd Bozeman and his wild days of head coaching the California Golden Bears in the '90s. Yet despite a change of schools and an eight year NCAA coaching ban, he has still taken Morgan State to two NCAA Tournaments appearances very early in his tenure. Yet with the program coming off its worst season during the Bozeman era, the ship will need to be turned around quickly. Cedric Blossom will be the leading man for the Bears, a fantastic big man that will attain many double-doubles. Blossom will star with continually improving small forward Andrew Hampton, senior floor general Donte Pretlow, and big man Kyle Thomas. Don't sleep on the intriguing Bears.
One team who stole a bit of the spotlight last season has the potential to do so again this year, and that is the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks. After covering the Hawks for the better part of the last two seasons, I saw how the team incredibly turned around in just one season under new head coach Bobby Collins. The Hawks went from last place to third place in 2014-2015, won 18 games overall, and appeared in the 2015 CIT. This season, with a returning nucleus that features the reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year Ryan Andino, Dominique Elliott, and Devin Martin, the Hawks have the potential to surprise people once again. Plus, Coach Collins has done wonders with the program in just one season as they’ve all bought into his systems and philosophies. It’ll be interesting to see how the teams follows up last season's ride, especially without their leading scorer Michael Myers. However, the Hawks are flying high after last season, and are looking to have another strong performance.
Considering the conference is called the Mid-EASTERN Athletic Conference, it is only appropriate that the team to shine outside the aformetioned three is the Maryland-EASTERN Shore Hawks. The Hawks flew out of the MEAC cellular last season--where they spent three consecutive years--on the shoulders of big man/guard combo Mike Myers and Devin Martin (14.0 PPG & 4.3 RPG). Although Myers is no longer suiting up (graduation), Dominique Elliot, a third team MEAC preseason selection this year, will step into the gaping hole and become a formiddable replacement. Throw in an improved "fab freshman", now "stud sophomore" in 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year Ryan Andino, and Martin's Hawks will have no trouble competing in a very good mid-major conference.
2. Newcomer (Freshman or Transfer) of the Year?
6'10" Demola Onifade brings a large presence to Delaware State, a team losing a ton of talent. The Nigerian native had a fantastic career at Camden Catholic in New Jersey. While his offensive skills are very raw, his shot blocking ability is a large part of the excellent defense he plays. Watch him play big minutes and get plenty of critical rebounds for the Hornets.
Not to be confused with country star Sam Hunt, who makes his presence known on stages across the world, North Carolina A&T's Sam Hunt makes his presence known on the hardwood. The 6’2’’ guard will suit up for his first season with the Aggies this season after transferring from Jacksonville. With the Dolphins, Hunt averaged 4.1 points per game, and broke the double-digit barrier on several occasions as a freshman. He is a local product, hailing from nearby Greensboro, North Carolina, and will look to make the local community proud. Hunt will likely be given the reigns in the back court, and have every opportunity to lead the Aggies into contention in the MEAC.
One. One of Coppin State's top nine scorers is returning this season (Christian Keesse-9.6 PPG). So how will the Eagles get their points? From Junior College transfers, specifically Terry Harris Jr. Harris Jr., a six foot, eight inch wing, is a versatile option as he can take defenders down on the block and dominate the post in addition to attack from the perimeter, where he shot at a 41% clip his sophomore year in Baltimore. To put his talent in perspective, he averaged 20.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in "limited action" last season! So with the following in consideration, Harris Jr. is sure to make an impact, one in which I feel will put him at the top of all newcomers.
3. With a total of two regular season conference losses in three years and only one NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it, will North Carolina Central be able to carry their dominance from January and February into March?
North Carolina Central is not the same team, sadly. No more Jordan Parks ripping teams apart down low. No more sharpshooter Anthony McDonald. Sensational point guard Nimrod Hilliard is now in Denmark with a professional basketball team. Even critical post player Karamo Jawara is gone. Now 2014-15 4th-leading scorer Dante Holmes (10.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, & 2.4 APG) captains the ship, so the team has a long way to go before they climb back to the top.
LeVelle Moton is a great coach, and he will do everything he can to get the Eagles ready for March basketball. Unfortunately, this year will be the toughest for North Carolina Central in the last few. It’s tough to see them dominating the conference like they have over the past three years in 2015-16. The Eagles lost a ton of talent from last year’s team, including Jordan Parks and Nimrod Hilliard, which will be tough to replace. Meanwhile, teams like Hampton, Howard, and Norfolk State all returned the majority of their top players, significantly closing the gap between the Eagles and the rest of the conference. So, in short, the Eagles will not be able to translate their early-season dominance to March this season. They may make a postseason tournament, but chances are it won’t be the "Big Dance."
No! No way! Lacking Jordan Parks and Anthony McDonald due to graduation in addition to Nimrod Hilliard, the Eagles will find themselves flying at the same level as others, if not below it. Ultimately, incoming JUCO transfers, A.J. Lynch for example, and freshmen (C.J. Wiggins and Nate Allen) entering the fold will have to step up and try to match the missing production. Yet, I do not see them coming close, especially considering the contributors Hampton and Norfolk State bring back. So my apologizes Dante Holmes but this year looks as though it will not be as enjoyable as the previous two.
4. MEAC Player of the Year?
Jeff Short is a beast, and will be expected to be more of one as Rashid Gaston jumped to Xavier. The pressure is on the speedy veteran as Norfolk State looks to acclaim former glory. He's extremely accurate from the field, and marvelous on defense. Just an all around stud. Can't argue much with this pick.
Despite his name being Short, Norfolk State's Jeff Short is a monster talent in the MEAC, and will have the Norfolk State Spartans in the running for the MEAC title this season. With the Spartans losing Rashid Gaston via transfer to Xavier, Short becomes the front man on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, the All-MEAC honoree led the team in scoring with 19.1 points per contest to go along with 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The former Fordham transfer is set to cause havoc on the rest of the MEAC for one more season, and could put up huge numbers for the Spartans being their go-to option on offense. He’s got the shooting ability to hurt you on offense, plus the size at the guard position that allows for him to battle in the paint and grab rebounds. He’s got it all, and should take home the hardware this season
Fordham, you really, really, really should have enticed Jeff Short to stay a few years ago because he is one great player. Short, who was recognized as a finalist for the Riley Wallace Award (given by CollegeInsider.com to the top transfer in Division I basketball), was phenominal in his first season with Norfolk State as he bucked 19.1 points while ripping down 4.2 boards per game. To further portray his talent, I have not seen an MEAC player of his skill set since former Spartans' star and current New York Knick Kyle O'Quinn! Seriously, there is nothing Short can't do! He takes the ball to the rim, tickles the twine from beyond the arc at a 39.4% clip, and connects on 82.0% of his attempts at the charity stripe. In my estimation, Short is by far the best player in the conference and, barring injury, he will win this award without a problem.
5. The team who receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be..
NCCU is not the same team. Norfolk State has a problem down low. Where does this leave us? Hampton once again. Dwight Meikle is a stud down low while Quinton Chievous is a lightning bolt. Throw in senior marksman Brian Darden and you've got a good core. You've also got a back-to-back MEAC Tournament Champ.
After securing a berth to the NCAA Tournament last season, and winning in the First Four over Manhattan, the Hampton Pirates are hungry for more. The team made their first appearance since 2011, and are looking to make it two years in a row. With the decline of North Carolina Central, the Pirates have a great opportunity to renew their ticket to the Big Dance. Quinton Chievous and Dwight Meikle are two of the best players in the conference, and they are back to lead the way for Edward Joyner Jr.’s team. With a veteran group who received a taste of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, and knows what it takes to get there, the Hampton Pirates will be the team cutting down the nets at the MEAC Tournament Championship come March.
Home-cooking will be the meal of the day this March at the MEAC Tournament because the Norfolk State Spartans will return to the "Big Dance." As previously implied, "star senior" Jeff Short will not be stopped by the opposition, whether it is Hampton, North Carolina Central, or Maryland-Eastern Shore. Now, even though Short's right hand man RaShid Gaston decided to transfer to Xavier, D'Shon Taylor is back and hungry to up his very solid junior stats (13.0 PPG & 5.0 RPG). All in all, the 2015-2016 MEAC Player of the Year is going to seal his legacy as one of the best Spartans in school history by leading his team to the NCAA Tournament during his senior year.
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