Best call(s): Jimmy Roots with an overall excellent preseason assessment of the MEAC. After Hampton caught everyone’s attention last year, with their impressive opening round NCAA tournament victory over Manhattan, most picked them to take the regular season crown this year. Norfolk St. also had relatively high expectations entering this season, after finishing 2nd in the league last year to unbeaten NC Central. However, the transfer of one of the conferences best bigs in Rashid Gaston (now at Xavier) was a huge blow to the Spartans. NC Central was a tricky prediction, given they lost 4 of their 5 starters from a team that dominated the MEAC a year ago. Sharpshooter Donte Holmes is the only returning starter from that team, and leads another veteran Eagles squad into the MEAC tourney, where they look to avenge their stumble from a year ago.
Worst call(s): There were no glaring misses in Jim's preseason predictions, but Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina St. both outperformed our expectations. After starting the year 4-12, Beth-Cook found their stride late in conference play. Led by do-it-all point guard Jordan Potts, the Wildcats finished the year 8-2 to solidify a top-4 MEAC finish, and a critical round 1 bye. South Carolina St. almost picked up one of the league's best non-con wins, losing only by 2 at Kansas St. They also knocked off Miami OH at home in their final game before conference play, and then strung together 5 straight MEAC wins. The Bulldogs did get clipped twice by Savannah St., but took down league champ Hampton on the road 67-62 on January 25th.
Who I want to win: North Carolina Central deserves justice after the nightmarish ending to last year. Ranked in the top 100 per Kenpom.com entering the MEAC tournament, the Eagles soared past Coppin St. in the opening round game 91-43. However, two days later (perhaps still hungover) Central was stunned by Delaware St. 63-57, ending any NCAA tournament Cinderella dreams. While much of that talented has left, NC Central showed signs of promise, almost knocking off league champs Hampton at home, after being down by 15 + for much of the first half. It gives me some confidence they are capable of playing with anyone in this league on any given night, and senior Dante Holmes has surely not forgotten about last year’s tourney slip-up.
Who I think will win: While Vegas may actually have Norfolk St. as the tourney favorite, I’m going to ride with the Pirates of Hampton, Virginia. Senior point guard Reginald Johnson has proven he has the chops to play in big games in March. His ball handling & playmaking, coupled with the freak athleticism of Quinton Chievous, give head coach Edward Joyner a 1-2 punch that can’t be matched by any team in the MEAC. Chievous was injured toward the end of conference play, but has been dominant in his last two games. However, his resurgence wasn't nearly enough to beat Norfolk St. in the last game of the year, who rolled Hampton by 20 at home. Expect a better effort from the Pirates in the title game, assuming they get another crack at the Spartans.
Chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament: Based simply on two players, I think Howard is capable of making some noise. Point guard James Daniel may be the most fun player to watch in the entire league, and when he’s not making ridiculous shots, the Bison can throw it inside to 6’11 Marcel Boyd. They probably have the toughest draw of any team in the tournament, having to get by NC Central, Norfolk State, South Carolina St. and finally Hampton before even thinking about playing in Dayton in a week.