MEAC Preview 2016-17

- Ky McKeon

MEAC Preview

  1. Howard
  2. South Carolina State
  3. Norfolk State
  4. Hampton
  5. N.C. Central
  6. Bethune-Cookman
  7. Maryland – Eastern Shore
  8. Coppin State
  9. North Carolina A&T
  10. Morgan State
  11. Delaware State
  12. Savannah State
  13. Florida A&M

All Conference Awards

POY: James Daniel, Howard
Coach of the Year: Kevin Nickleberry, Howard
Newcomer of the Year: Kiwian Kendley, Morgan State

1.     Howard

Key Returners: James Daniel, James Miller, Damon Collins, Marcel Boyd, Solomon Mangham, Tyler Stone
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Charles Williams, Kai Tease, Nate Garvey


Postseason Projection: 16 Seed (Auto-bid)

Howard has not had a winning basketball season since 2001-2002, but Head Coach Kevin Nickleberry has put in good work since arriving in D.C. seven years ago. The Bison have experienced a positive trajectory under Nickleberry, and now finally have a squad that looks poised to make waves in the MEAC this season.

The Bison have one of the most experienced teams in the conference this season, likely starting five seniors. Dynamic playmaker James Daniel returns to run the point for Howard, and looks to continue his college dominance in his final season. Daniel led the country in points per game and free throws attempted last year, scoring 27.1ppg and attempting 300 charity throws. The guard was second in the entire nation in percentage of shots used and fifth in total possessions used. His forte is driving to the basket where he draws fouls at a torrid rate (8 fouls drawn per game; 4th in the country). He finishes those massive amount of free throw attempts at a 84.5% clip, but is a true volume scorer from the field (42.1% from two; 32.9% from three).

Daniel’s ridiculous FT rate vaulted the Bison to their 2nd national FT rate rank, but also like Daniel, the Bison were wildly inefficient from the field. Daniel shot 222 threes last season – only two other players shot over 40. This should change slightly this year with the return of James Miller, a 2-guard that missed most of the 2015-16 season. Miller was a 34% three-point shooter (good for Howard) as a sophomore, and also has a knack for drawing fouls driving to the cup. Damon Collins, the third backcourt member, isn’t much of a shooter, but he contributes heavily on the defensive side.

Inside, the Bison will have one of the better frontcourts in the MEAC with the return of big man Marcel Boyd. Boyd is a walking double-double; he ferociously grabs boards and enjoys bullying smaller bigs in the paint. The 6’10” forward boasted the 13th best free throw rate in the nation, but shot an unfortunate 55.7% from the line. Joining Boyd inside will be returning seniors Solomon Mangham and Tyler Stone. Both big men poured in over 7ppg last season, though Mangham was hurt for half the year. Either forward could start on a given night – Stone offers a bit more offensively in the post, but Mangham is the better outside shooter. All three big men mentioned will be tasked with improving Howard’s rebounding out of the zone; the Bison were destroyed on the D-boards last season (consequence of zone), yet were a top-75 offensive rebounding team in the country.

A few other key pieces include redshirt senior Prince Okoroh, and freshmen Charles Williams, Kai Tease, and Nate Garvey. Okoroh has missed the past two seasons due to injury, but he was one of Howard’s best players back in 2013-14, averaging 13.8ppg and 5.3rpg. Okoroh is yet another Bison that excels at slashing to the basket, and potentially could be their best perimeter defender if fully healthy. Williams is a highly touted recruit that received offers from much more prestigious basketball schools than Howard. His athleticism will allow him to carve out an immediate role. Tease will contribute as a high-scoring combo guard with excellent shooting ability.

On paper, Howard looks like a clear favorite to cut down the MEAC nets. But let’s remember this was one of the worst shooting teams in the nation last season – in fact, they were literally the worst (351st in eFG%). They also were atrocious at handling the ball, ranking 350th in TO rate. This latter stat should improve, but the shooting woes may still linger. Nonetheless, Howard’s experience and athleticism should allow them to finish comfortably in the top three of the MEAC and challenge for the crown. If fully healthy, they could be heading to their third Dance in school history and first since 1992.

2.     South Carolina State

Key Returners: E.J. Eaves, Ed Stephens, Tashombe Riley, Greg Mortimer, Ty Solomon
Key Losses: Gabe McCray, Daryll Palmer
Key Newcomers: J.J. Richardson, L.B. Jones


Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI/CIT

South Carolina State may still be smarting over their MEAC championship loss to Hampton last season, but the Bulldogs return a talented roster that features the best backcourt in the conference. The Bulldogs have been a fairly competitive MEAC squad since their last Tourney appearance in 2002 but haven’t been able to separate themselves as an elite team. This could change in 2016-17, as Murray Garvin’s looks poised to be a top-three lock in the usually poor MEAC conference.

The backcourt is the driving force of the Bulldog offense, an offense that ranked 2nd in the MEAC last season in terms of efficiency. All-Conference guards E.J. Eaves and Ed Stephens return to lead the Dogs with Ty Solomon and Greg Mortimer settling into supporting roles. Eaves is an electric guard that scores via slashing his way to the basket, where he finishes his attempts at a 58% clip. His strong drives also result in lots of trips to the foul line, where Eaves enjoys a lovely 75.6% FT%. Most MEAC teams eschew the three-pointer, and SCSU is no different, choosing to focus their offense instead on penetration and post cuts. Stephens, a sharp shooting 2-guard, likes to ignore the Bulldogs primary scoring method, and for good reason – he shot 39.9% form downtown last season on 213 three-point attempts. Mortimer is the team’s best defender and will likely fall into a sixth man role. On offense, he offers versatility with his ability to both drive to the hole and shoot from the perimeter. Solomon is a pass-first PG who ranked 7th in the MEAC in assist rate last season, but struggled mightily with turnovers. Tightening down on those will be key to the Dogs’ success, as none of the other key players tend to have turnover issues. Newcomer J.J. Richardson, a JUCO transfer, should also play an enormous role in Garvin’s dynamic backcourt. Richardson scored over 1,000 points in two seasons at his JUCO suggesting the dude knows how to put the ball in the basket.

The key players in the frontcourt, a source of easy offense for the Dogs last year with now-departed Gabe McCray, are junior Tashombe Riley, and five potential-laden freshmen in Ian Kinard, David Bottenberg, L.B. Jones, Ozante Fields, and Damani Applewhite. Riley, Kinard, Fields, and Bottenberg are the more post-bound players of this group, while Applewhite and Jones represent the win slashers.

Riley is a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor but struggled finding the cup on most of his field goals (biggest value to the team is his boards though). Kinard or Bottenberg should start at the five on opening day. Kinard appears to be the more talented offensive player, but Bottenberg has the edge on the boards. Fields put up ridiculous rebounding numbers in high school, but he played in Class 1A, so maybe a we taper expectations a tad (not a slight you guys, just, you know, overall less competition).

Applewhite should be a strong versatile addition for Garvin’s squad – he has potential to impact several aspects of the game for the Dogs, including on the defensive end where SCSU was brutally gashed last season (10th ranked MEAC defense; 314th nationally). Jones, too, should fit in nicely as a defensive piece off the pine.

Offensively, SCSU should be just fine, in fact they should probably be the best offensive team in the conference. Their shooting ability combined with their propensity for driving the lane and picking up calls is nearly unmatched by any other squad in the MEAC. Defensively, though, is where SCSU could struggle. The new freshmen offer hope to fortify that end, and Mortimer should still be one of the best defenders in the conference, but they were simply putrid in nearly every facet on D last season.

3.     Norfolk State

Key Returners: Jordan Butler, Zaynah Robinson, Jonathan Wade
Key Losses: Jeff Short, D’Shon Taylor, Charles Oliver
Key Newcomers: Bryan Gellineau, Dan Robinson, Kerwin Okoro, Carrington Ward, Micah Goss, Kyle Williams


Postseason Projection: Vegas 16 / None

Norfolk State, a school that is the source of one of my most painful basketball watching memories, boasted the MEAC’s best offense a season ago thanks to their offensive rebounding ability, ball protection, knack for drawing fouls, and free throw percentage. The Spartans were amongst the top 100 teams in both o-boards and free throw rate, and ranked 3rd nationally in FT% and 1st in Stl% on offense (that means opponents didn’t steal the ball from them). The graduation of Jeff Short, the team’s best scorer and secondary ball handler, hurts, but the Spartans still appear to be a top tier MEAC squad this season.

Zaynah Robinson is about as steady of a point guard as you can find in the MEAC conference. Robinson ranked 8th in the conference in TO Rate and 9th in Assist Rate. His ability to protect the rock and shoot the three-ball (38.3%) should catalyze the Spartan offense this season. Jonathan Wade has seen the biggest jump in production thus far into the young season. Wade is averaging 22.3ppg in three games (two of those were against non-D1 opponents). He’s averaging eight free throw attempts per game and shooting 6/9 from three – dude can score from anywhere. Oh, Wade also leads the Spartans in rebounding despite standing 6’4” and playing out on the perimeter.

Two JUCO imports, Micah Goss and Carrington Wood, will slot into the lineup alongside Wade and Robinson. Goss looks to be primarily a spot-up long-ball shooter, while Wood is the more dynamic scorer driving to the hole. Both guards, along with fellow JUCO transfer Kyle Williams, should all see major minutes this season (currently all are averaging over 20mpg).

Inside, the Spartans are led by returning junior Jordan Butler, a 6’7” power forward with an affinity for swatting balls. Butler ranked 2nd in the MEAC in Block % last season, and 40th overall in the country. He’s also one of the best rebounders and most consistent post scorers in the league. Alex Long is also a great shot blocker, so it’s no wonder the Spartans ranked 9th in the nation in Block % last season. Good luck scoring on those two in the paint. Transfers Bryan Gellineau (JUCO) and Dan Robinson (Iona) both hover around the 7-foot mark, and both figure to make immediate impacts on the lineup. Tall is always good in the MEAC.

The Spartans should once again have one of the top offenses in the MEAC this year and should be an improved team on defense and on the glass. That formula equals overall success in one of the worst conferences in the country. Sorry for that last shot, I’m just still bitter about 2012.

4.     Hampton

Key Returners: Lawrence Cooks
Key Losses: Reginald Johnson, Jr., Quinton Chievous, Brian Darden, Jervon Pressley, Dionte Adams
Key Newcomers: Lysander Bracey, A.J. Astroth


Postseason Projection: None

Hampton has been one of the more dominant MEAC programs over the past 15 years or so. The Pirates have punched tickets to two straight Dances, earning a 16 seed both times. Coach Buck Joyner enjoyed the fruits of one of the most experienced teams in the country last season, but this year faces perhaps his biggest challenge in his eight-year tenure. The Pirates lose their three leading scorers, leading passer, and top three rebounders from last season, making this a gutted roster. This year’s version of the Pirates will be a young one, flushed with sophomores and freshmen. Joyner will need former reserves to step up this season in order to be successful.

Hampton’s style last year consisted of a high-paced, transition-focused attack that keyed on slashing to the basket, scoring points off drives and offensive rebounds. The Pirates crashed the boards on both ends, often out-working and bullying their opponents to victory. The three-ball was seldom utilized and, when it was, it failed often. Graduate guard Lawrence Cooks appears to be the go-to guy in what will be a mysterious offensive dynamic. Cooks played a spot-up shooter role last season for the Pirates, connecting on 32.1% of his 106 threes. That’s not a great shooting clip, but there’s hope in his 86.4% free throw percentage.

Cooks’s running mates in the backcourt will be a combination of sophomores Kalin Fisher and Akim Mitchell and JUCO transfer Lysander Bracey. Fisher doesn’t offer much in the shooting department but he holds potential in his driving ability and will be counted on as a secondary ball handler. Coach Joyner thinks Fisher can be one of the team’s best scorers in 2016-17. Mitchell has a perfect wing frame at 6’5” 200 lbs. His ability to guard multiple positions while helping bring back the slashing and crashing Hampton style will be crucial to the team’s success. Bracey scored a bunch of points in JUCO and word is he’s a pretty darn good three-point shooter. That would be a refreshing presence for a generally bricky Pirate squad. Freshmen Jaekwon Carliyle and Jermaine Morrow will provide depth in the backcourt.

The key player in the frontcourt is Charles Wilson-Fisher, a 6’9” junior who looks ready for more minutes. Wilson-Fisher is the type of bruising power forward Buck Joyner lives for; he should be a huge factor on the glass for the Pirates this season. Rising sophomores Trevond Barnes and Branden Aughburns will each play bigger roles this season as well. Both have excellent rebounding potential; Aughburns is the far better shot blocker and Barnes is the better offensive threat. A.J. Astroth, a Towson transfer, will compete for a starting spot. His ability to stretch the defense from the four-spot will be a valuable asset for Joyner’s club.

The Pirates are young, but they should still be one of the top five programs in the MEAC this season. This is of course a combination of Hampton’s young talent and the MEAC’s general futility. A third straight NCAA appearance (and third straight 16 seed) would not be shocking.

5.     North Carolina Central

Key Returners: Patrick Cole, Dajuan Graf, Kyle Benton, Rashaun Madison
Key Losses: Dante Holmes, Jeremiah Ingram
Key Newcomers: Ron Trapps, Del’Vin Dickerson, Will Ransom


Postseason Projection: None

Writing these MEAC previews a little late gives me some perspective on how these teams are actually performing (yes, that is cheating), which is nice. NC Central has looked tough in their first two losses this season, falling by 12 to Marshall and then by 6 to Ohio State. Neither of those games should’ve been close, and yet the Eagles made ‘em good games anyhow behind wonderful performances by their outstanding guard tandem. This could be a sign of excellent things to come once MEAC play gets started.

NC Central plays a methodical half-court offense, wanting to create looks inside for their bigs and wanting to attack the rim with their wings and guards. Patrick Cole is the best scorer on the squad – through two games he’s averaging a team high 22ppg through two games. Cole scores basically anyway he wants on the floor whether that be from behind the arc, or off a tough drive through the lane. His big 6’5” frame allows him to shoot over smaller guards and overpower defenders on his way to the cup. This will be amplified during MEAC play. Dajuan Graf and Ron Trapps are the other two major pieces of this backcourt. Graf is the point guard, a pass-first quarterback with the ability to get buckets via penetration. He’s one of the best distributors in the conference. Trapps is a Coastal Carolina transfer. He’s come off the bench the first two games this season, but still gets about 30 minutes or so of court time. Just like Cole, Trapps can score in multiple ways on the floor, but his biggest value is his outside shooting. Rashaun Madison starts for the Eagles; he’s a nice secondary ball handler with a good deep jumper.

Up front, the Eagles primarily feature a three-man rotation of returning senior Kyle Benton, Bowling Green import Del’Vin Dickerson, and Illinois State transfer Will Ransom. Benton is a rebounding hoss; he ranked 2nd the MEAC in OR% last season. He’s also one of the better rim protectors in the conference at 6’7”. Dickerson is a 3/4 tweener that has come off the bench the first two contests. Like Trapps, though, he’s played more minutes than the starter on front of him. Dickerson can score in the post and step out on the wing for a three-pointer – he adds to the scoring versatility of this squad. Ransom is a post player that offers the most value on the defensive end where he is a stout shot blocker and boarder.

NC Central is a legit MEAC title contender this season. Their versatility on offense makes them a very tough team to stop. On defense, the Eagles should be an improved team from last year with the additions of Dickerson and Ransom. Patrick Cole could contend for conference POY.

6.     Bethune – Cookman

Key Returners: Jordan Potts, Diamante Lewis
Key Losses: Mario Moody, Ricky Johnson, LaRon Smith, Randy Holmes
Key Newcomers: Reggie Baker, Brandon Tabb, Jeffrey Altidort, Brandon Suggs


Postseason Projection: None

Bethune-Cookman may be one of the top causes for the phrase, “I had no idea that was even a university, let alone a Division 1 NCAA program”. But they are a university! And a D1 program! The Wildcats (original name!) have never earned a bid to the NCAA Tourney, but they did enjoy a nice run to the NIT back in 2011. Coach Gravelle Craig loses a lot of pieces from last season, but he returns his point guard (and best player) and adds a group of talented transfers.

The Wildcats ranked #1 in the entire country in block percentage last season thanks to now departed big men LaRon Smith and Mario Moody. Though this was a pretty cool stat and may have been the source of some loud cheers from the rowdy Wildcat crowd, this reckless focus on blocking shots left Bethune-Cookman exposed on the glass – they ranked 339th in defensive rebounding percentage (dead last in the MEAC). Offensively, the Kitties like to shoot threes, but they don’t love to make them – BC ranked 53rd in 3PA%, but 311th in 3P%. They play slow, they play a little zone. This is Bethune-Cookman in a nutshell.

Personnel-wise, the Cats are led by senior PG Jordan Potts, one of the best scorers and distributors in the MEAC and receiver of the 9th most minutes per game in the country last season. Early season injuries will keep him out a few contests, but he’ll be a dangerous scorer when MEAC play begins. Key returners in the backcourt next to Potts include redshirt senior Diamante Lewis and reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year Quinton Forrest. Lewis is the best returning shooter at Coach Craig’s disposal while Forrest adds dynamic penetration ability to the wing spot.

A trio of transfers will see major run this season for BC – Reggie Baker, Jeffrey Altidort, and Brandon Tabb. Baker scored over 20ppg for his DII school back in 2014-15; he’ll add much needed scoring, both from the perimeter and via the drive. Altidort is a JUCO guy that will serve as a backup point guard or give BC the enviable dual PG look when he plays alongside Potts. Tabb is stretch four, but let’s hope he shoots a little better than he did in BC’s first contest against St. John’s – dude went 2/10 from the land of plenty.

BC is not the best MEAC team, but they’re also not the worst, hence this middle of the pack ranking. Potts should help keep the Wildcats competitive all year in the conference; if the transfers turn out to be as good as advertised and Forrest breaks out in his sophomore campaign, BC could be a fun dark horse in the MEAC postseason Tourney. 

7.     Maryland – Eastern Shore

Key Returners: Bakari Copeland, Thomas Rivera, Ryan Andino
Key Losses: Dominique Elliott, Devin Martin
Key Newcomers: Tyler Jones, Deven Dorsett, Michael Chambers, Logan McIntosh


Postseason Projection: None

Coach Bobby Collins has been somewhat of a Renaissance man for the Maryland – Eastern Shore basketball program. Back in 2014-15, the Hawks achieved their first winning season in like forever (dates approximate) and finished a respectable 7-9 in the MEAC last season. Collins loses two major contributors from last year’s roster in Dominique Elliott and Devin Martin, but there’s still a lot to like about the Hawks this season. The first game of the season, the Hawks lost by only four points to George Washington, which has to be a source of early pride for UMES. If they can hang with GW, they should be able to find success in the MEAC.

The Hawks featured a balance offense last season, splitting tendencies between going inside and shooting from the perimeter. Bakari Copeland will likely be the #1 option this season on offense. Copeland is a wing that is often forced to play out of position down low. He can shoot a bit from downtown but is most effective attacking the rim. The senior roasted GW to the tune of 21 points in the opening contest with a combination of drives and outside shooting. Joining Copeland up front will be sophomore Isaac Taylor and senior Derrico Peck. Taylor is a true post player, preferring to stay in the lane on both offense and defense. He’s a solid rebounder for the Hawks and isn’t too shabby at deterring shots inside. Peck is the Hawks’ best defender, a lengthy 6’7” wing that excels at stealing and blocking the basketball.

Thomas Rivera and Ryan Andino return to resume their starting backcourt roles. Andino does one thing – shoot threes. The 6’2” guard took 159 long-balls last season (35.2%) versus only 20 twos and 10 free throws. He’ll be the Hawks’ primary outside shooting weapon with Martin gone. Rivera is a steady pass-first point guard that should keep UMES in good hands this season. Rivera ranked 3rd in the conference in assist rate last year (85th nationally) and is already off to a nice 2016-17 in that department. Returning guard Dontae Caldwell should also play a major role in the backcourt this season; he offers good length at the 2 or 3 spot and is able to score using a variety of methods.

Newcomers Logan McIntosh (JUCO), Deven Dorsett (JUCO), Michael Chambers (JUCO), and Tyler Jones (Freshman) will round out Coach Collins’s rotation this year. Chambers is a player to keep an eye on; he’ll bring value as a shooter to the UMES lineup.

UMES’s offense was pretty solid last season (relative to other MEAC schools) thank to their rebounding ability and success shooting the basketball. The defensive end, however, was a disaster last year, and it’s here that needs the most improvement. The Hawks will be a typical high-pressure MEAC defense that wants to force turnovers, but they’ll also be a sieve in the paint and vulnerable on the D boards. I expect a slight improvement on defense this season with Copeland entering his second season in Princess Anne, MD, and the gifted Peck patrolling the half court. UMES could compete near the top of the MEAC this year.

8.     Coppin State

Key Returners: Trey Harris, Jr., Joshua Treadwell, Keith Shivers
Key Losses: Christian Kessee, Trevon Seymour, James Sylvester
Key Newcomers: Joseph Gripper, Dejuan Clayton, Rasool Hinson


Postseason Projection: None

Coppin State isn’t suppose to be a good team this year. The Eagles finished 9-22 (6-10) last season and now have to continue on without their leading scorer, Christian Kessee, and two other key contributors in Trevon Seymour and James Sylvester. However, the Eagles played admirably in their first contest, losing a nail biter to Hofstra (an actual good team) by two points. Coach Michael Grant hopes this performance is a sign of good things to come.

The Eagles are a well-balanced team in that they have clearly defined position pieces. Up front. Terry Harris, Jr. mans the middle. On the wing, Joshua Treadwell is a threat to score 20 any given night. At the point is JUCO transfer Joey Gripper, a capable pass-first distributor. Harris led the Eagles in rebounding last season and ranked second on the squad in scoring. Nothing about Harris’s game is efficient (.378/.234/.727), but it’s clear the potential for value is there. He could be a nightly double-double threat. Treadwell was outstanding in the season opener, torching Hofstra for 25 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. The senior wing found success from the perimeter where he drained five threes, and earned nine attempts at the foul line off hard-nosed drives. He should lead this team in scoring this season. Gripper dished out five assists in the opener; the senior will not offer much in the realm of scoring, but he’ll play an important role as a facilitator.

Senior Keith Shivers, junior Blake Simpson, and senior Izais Hicks, are the primary returning pieces outside of the aforementioned trio. Shivers is a proven scorer from the 2-guard spot and is also one of the Eagles’ better defenders. Simpson is terrific on the glass but inept at scoring the ball. He’ll serve as a bruiser for Grant. Same goes for Hicks, a 6’8” 200 pound senior.

Tre’ Thomas, a JUCO transfer, could earn some starts this season and will likely be the team’s sixth man all year. He’s best served as spot-up shooter where he’ll look to help make up for the three-point production left by Kessee. Dejuan Clayton and Rasool Hinson will both see time this season in the backcourt. The two freshman are both capable ball handlers, and Clayton can be a deadly deep shooter.

Coppin State will likely rely heavily on the three-ball once again this season. They’ll have a few capable shooters on the floor at all times surrounding Harris in the middle. The Eagles will also look to score in transition, an area they had fairly good success in against Hofstra. Expect CSU to be in that clusterfuck that is the middle of the MEAC this season. They could crack the top five, but could also fall into the bottom five. Fun!

9.     North Carolina A&T

Key Returners: Sam Hunt
Key Losses: Bruce Beckford, Joshea Singleton, Denzel Keyes, Ahmad Abdullah
Key Newcomers: Eliel Gonzalez, Donte Watson, Raymon Pratt, Davaris McGowens


Postseason Projection: None

Story time! I played Club Basketball for Mizzou in college. My sophomore year, we made the National Championship down in Austin, Texas. The school we lost to was none other than North Carolina A&T. That team was incredibly athletic and I would not be surprised if they had a few D1 crossovers on the floor that game. While their club team has done well over the years, NC A&T’s real squad has struggled (as many a MEAC team has). The Aggies return only one key player from last season’s 10-win squad, but JUCO additions and a close early season tilt with East Carolina provide hope in Greensboro.

Sam Hunt is that key returning player mentioned above. Hunt is one of the best scorers in the MEAC and has the unique distinction of being one of the top free-throw shooters in the entire country (last season Hunt went 112/124 (90.3%) from the line, which was good for 6th place in the FT% standings). Hunt is a volume scorer that likes to chuck it from just about everywhere – he attempted 193 three-pointers last season and is the only returning Aggie that attempted more than 20 from a season ago. Expect his name to be etched on an All-Conference squad at season’s end.

Hunt’s backcourt mates include JUCO transfer (and former Hofstra player) Eliel Gonzalez, rising junior James Whitaker, JUCO transfer Donte Watson, and freshman Raymon Pratt. Gonzalez will settle into the point guard role formerly held by Ahmad Abdullah; he’s a tough guard that will provide steady ball protection, backcourt rebounding, and scoring. Whitaker is due for a breakout year; he adds versatility and athleticism from the wing spot where he can score off the dribble and behind the three-point line. Watson is a ferocious penetrating wing; he looks to attack the basket almost exclusively on offense. Pratt will serve as the backup point guard in his inaugural season. He’s a scoring point that can hit the triple.

Up front features a three-man revolving door of returning bigs Nick Reese and Mike Owona, and JUCO import Davaris McGowens. Owona and Reese will be on the floor for rebounding and defense – they offer nothing on offense (sorry dudes). McGowens could be one of the better newcomers in the MEAC this year. He’ll offer scoring and rebounding from the 4-spot, and will add a nice interior wrinkle to NC A&T’s offense.

NC A&T won’t take a huge step back this season, but they won’t take the league by storm either. Expect to see the Aggies finish in the exciting 7 – 10 range of the conference standings this year.

10.  Morgan State

Key Returners: Kyle Thomas, Phillip Carr
Key Losses: Cedric Blossom, Donte Pretlow, Rasean Simpson
Key Newcomers: Alex Ennis, Tiwian Kendley, David Syfax, Azariah Sykes, Stanley Davis


Postseason Projection: None

Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State squad won only nine games last season, but by many measures, the Bears’ 2015-16 was a step in the right direction. After enjoying much success during his first eight seasons in Baltimore, Bozeman’s team took a step back in 2014-15 after losing many key players. The last two years have been rebuilding projects, and this season will likely be one as well. However, the Bears have built a solid foundation for future success in the conference. They’ll be an experienced team this season and next and have done well adding talented newcomers by way of the JUCO transfer market and High School recruiting.

Morgan State prefers to score buckets in the interior via post-ups, offensive rebounds, or drives to the basket. Their two best slashers from a year ago, Rasean Simmons and Cedric Blossom, are now gone, but they still have the personnel to achieve their preferred style of play. JUCO transfer Tiwian Kendley is a natural replacement for Blossom/Simmons. No one in the country took a higher percentage of their team’s shots in the first game of the year than Kendley. While the 6’5’’ guard struggled from downtown (1/8), he found success getting to the foul line against the Houston Cougars. Juniors Phillip Carr and Kyle Thomas will also own a large share of the possessions on offense this season. Carr is perhaps the most versatile player on the roster with his unique combination of rebounding, scoring (from all areas), shot-blocking, and passing ability. He’ll be the “glue-guy” for the Bears all year. Thomas struggled against Houston in the first contest of the year, but he was one of Morgan State’s better scorers last year. Like Carr, Thomas can score in a variety of ways.

The book-ends of the lineup (point guard and center) will be sophomore Martez Cameron (PG) and JUCO transfer Alex Ennis (center). Cameron had an objectively terrible game against Houston, posting an o-rating of 23.0, which I didn’t think was possible. There’s hope for Cameron this season, however, since a) Houston isn’t a typical MEAC team, and b) the guard found success last season as a pass-first facilitator and perimeter defender as a freshman. He must work on limiting turnovers this season for the Bears to be truly competitive in the MEAC. Ennis looks likes he’ll be a valuable asset against MEAC schools this season with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability. He’s a bit raw on offense, but those first two skill sets are extremely important for any college team.

Freshmen David Syfax, Stanley Davis, and Azariah Sykes will fill out Bozeman’s primary rotation along with rising sophomore Antonio Gillepsie.

The Bears were one of the better defensive teams in the conference last season with their ability to force turnovers and run opponents off the three-point line. They should continue to be one of the better defensive units in the MEAC this season, but will need to improve offensive efficiency to compete with the big dogs. Kendley has great potential to be a breakout league player.

11.  Delaware State

Key Returners: DeAndre Haywood, Dana Raysor, Devin Morgan, Kavon Waller
Key Losses: Todd Hughes
Key Newcomers: Kobe Gantz


Postseason Projection: None

Like most MEAC schools last season, Delaware State was one of the worst teams in the country in 2015-16 ranking 350th out of 351. Keith Walker’s young squad struggled with just about everything you’d expect a young team to struggle with – turnovers, poor shot selection, and discipline on defense. This year, Walker brings back nearly everyone from last season’s 7-25 (5-11) team, and he has a bench deep with competent basketball players. This could be the most improved MEAC team in 2016-17.

The Hornets are a backcourt-oriented team focused on jacking threes. The three-headed guard monster of Devin Morgan, DeAndre Haywood, and Dana Raysor will once again propel the offense this season. Morgan was the MEAC Rookie of the Year last season. He was the lone bright spot in an offense wrought with inefficiencies. Not only is the young 5’10” guard the Hornets’ most prolific three-point option, but he also may be their best ball handler. He’ll run in a dual PG system with returning senior DeAndre Haywood. Haywood is the highest utilized Hornet; he’s a slasher that has become very adept at getting to the cup on hard drives. His free throw percentage (53.5%) could use some work though. Haywood is also the catalyst of the Hornets’ high pressure, on-ball defense – he ranked 7th in the MEAC in steal percentage last season. Raysor will need to clean up his shooting from a disappointing 2015-16 in which he shot a brutal slash of .423/.299/.694. Redshirt sophomore DeVaughn Mallory started in Raysor’s stead in DSU’s first game this season. Mallory is a major breakout candidate this season with his size and strength on the wing. Freshman Kobe Gantz looks to be the most important newcomer on the roster.

Walker will expect big things from rising junior Kavon Waller, a 6’5” wing that plays both the 3 and 4 for the Hornets. Waller shot 40% from downtown last season and provided steady rebounding. In the first game of the year against a bad team, Waller knocked in 4/6 from downtown and grabbed seven boards. The middle is going to consist of a committee of 6’9” sophomore Demola Onifade, and 6’9” senior Joseph Lewis. Neither guy is really going to wow anyone on offense, but both should be solid rebounders for DSU, and Onifade could be one of the better shot blockers in the conference. Look for upper-classmen Mrdjan Gasevic and Artem Tavakalyan to play important roles off the bench while also offering announcers the unenviable task of pronouncing their names.

Delaware State will be a much better team than last season, but we should still expect to find their name amongst the 30 or so worst teams in the nation. Within the MEAC, the Hornets could compete for a middle-tier finish.

12.  Savannah State

Key Returners: Troyce Manassa
Key Losses: Chris Martin, Lenjo Kilo, Javaris Jenkins, Brian Pearson
Key Newcomers: Austin Dasent, Jahir Cabeza, Joshua Floyd, Robert Kelly, Zach Sellers, Jordan Gaines


Postseason Projection: None

Since joining the MEAC six seasons ago, the Savannah State Tigers have finished under .500 only once in conference play. Last year, they finished 9-7 and scored some respectable out of conference wins (for a MEAC school) to end the year 16-16 overall. That team, which ranked as the 3rd worst offense in college basketball, is long gone. The Tigers lose six rotation pieces (including four starters), but do return their best overall player in senior guard Troyce Manassa and a bevy of talented newcomers. An over-.500 conference performance could once again be in the cards.

Manassa is the glue holding this squad together. The 6’4” guard led the Tigers in scoring and assists last season, while finishing second in rebounds, steals, and blocks. Manassa is very good at the free throw line, where he tends to make his home during most games ranking 11th in the conference in FD/40 and 17th in FT rate. As sad as this sounds, he’s also one of the Tigers’ better three-point shooters at 31.3%. On D, Manassa will be relied on to guard the 2, 3, and 4 spots; on O, he’ll handle the ball most of the time and will see plenty of late shot clock looks (SSU plays slow).

This offense will be far from a one-man show, as Coach Horace Broadnax has done an excellent job bringing in high-level JUCO and freshman talent to put around his budding star. JUCO transfers Austin Dasent, Joshua Floyd, and Jahir Cabeza have looked fantastic in the team’s first two exhibition games averaging 17.0ppg, 14.5ppg, and 9.5ppg, respectively. Dasent appears to be a high-scoring point guard option for the Tigers who should have the ball in his hands often; he knocked down 4 of 7 threes across the two exhibition contests. Floyd is going to contribute on both ends of the floor; he tallied 5 assists and 3 steals in both games this month. Cabeza is an athletic wing that will see plenty of time at the 4-spot guarding up a position. These relatively unknown commodities could make the Tigers a very dangerous under-the-radar squad in 2016-17.

Two freshmen, Robert Kelly (obligatory R. Kelly joke – pick your favorite one) and Zach Sellers will see all the minutes they can handle in their inaugural seasons. Kelly is slated to start at the 5 for the Tigers; he’ll be one of SSU’s best rebounders and can knock down shots away from the basket on offense. Sellers is the point guard of the future for Savannah State. He’s a true point guard that’s capable of scoring in bunches. Jordan Gaines is another freshman looking to contribute immediately.

The bench unit will be filled out by returning sophomores Dexter McClanahan, Kamil Williams, and Isaiah Felder, along with senior guard Casey Wells. Each of them have the potential to be shooting contributors off the pine, but will likely be passed over for a starting gig by the budding newbies.

I’ll be honest, I started this preview thinking Savannah State is going to suck. They won’t though! Despite all of their personnel losses, the Tigers could actually be better than last season. This JUCO class is for real, and their freshman are college-ready ball players. Throw those two assets alongside a proven senior leader in Troyce Manassa, and you have the makings of a MEAC competitor.

13.  Florida A&M

Key Returners: Craig Bowman, Justin Ravenal, K’Ja Johnson, Trey Warren
Key Losses: Malcolm Bernard, Francois Lewis
Key Newcomers: Marcus Barham, Desmond Williams, Andrew Smith, Derrick Dandridge


Postseason Projection: None

Hey, here’s a positive anecdote to the Florida A&M preview, because it likely won’t be filled with too much optimism. Back in 2004, the Ratters made their first ever NCAA Tournament as a play-in 16 seed. 14-year old Ky McKeon was so enamored FAMU’s kick-ass jerseys, that he basically fell in love with the team, so much so that he chose the Rattlers to be his squad that he rolled with in NCAA March Madness 2004 (why did they stop making college basketball games? Those were awesome). The best player on that team was Terrence Woods, who led D1 basketball in 3PM in both 2003 and 2004. Fun facts! Ok, on to the preview of the present day worst college basketball team in one of the worst college basketball conferences…

One more piece of optimism – Coach Byron Samuels finally has a roster of full scholarship players as FAMU is now clear of APR penalties. The roster will take time to improve, but at least it’s trending in the right direction. Focusing on style seems like kind of a moot point with this roster given the plethora of new faces and the fact Samuel has just been focusing on rebuilding a program from the bottom up. However, the Rattlers do have a brief history of applying high ball pressure, allowing them to rank rather highly in the country (and conference) in forcing turnovers. They also do a fair job of defending the three-point line, however they were killed on the D boards last season, which led to easy opponent buckets inside. Offensively, they got to the foul line well last season, mostly thanks to the graduated Malcolm Bernard. Without him, they’ll slide back in this metric, which takes away their best way of scoring points.

FAMU played three exhibition games recently, losing all three in close fashion. From those games, we can infer a few things about their roster lineup. Craig Bowman, as expected will be this team’s leader, primary ball handler, and one of their leading scorers. He’s adept at drawing fouls and getting to the line (yes, much like many guards in this league), but absolutely must improve his floor shooting (34.1% from two; 29.4% from three) if the Rattlers are to vault out of the basement. Marcus Barham and Desmond Williams, two JUCO transfers, will have immediate impacts. During the three exhibition games, Williams led the team twice in scoring, he’s a versatile combo forward that can get buckets and defend multiple spots. Barham was also consistently amongst the top Rattler contributors. Other backcourt factors will be returners Justin Ravenal and Nick Severado.

Inside, FAMU will turn to veteran forward Trey Warren and JUCO transfer Derrick Dandridge. Both bigs can be assets on the offensive end and on the glass for the Rattlers. Coach Samuels has high praise for JUCO transfer Andrew Smith, a 6’10’’ center with major rim protection potential. Rebounding and shot blocking are two of the many areas that FAMU needs to improve.

I want Florida A&M to be good. The 14-year old in me wants them to be great. That may happen in a few years, but this season the Rattlers will struggle to finish even 12th out of 13 teams in the MEAC. Let’s hope they at least grow as a team during this transition year.