(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- NC A&T and Bethune-Cookman Rise Up: One year ago, North Carolina A&T won only one game against D-I competition. Jay Joyner completely changed his philosophy this year, speeding up from a tortoise pace in 2017, and a completely re-shuffled roster nearly shared the conference title. Bethune-Cookman also had massive roster turnover, and new hire Ryan Ridder (from nearby JUCO Daytona State College) coalesced that new talent all the way to the top of the standings.
- Poor Juan Dixon: As for a coaching hire that did not work out, Maryland legend Juan Dixon struggled in Year 1 at Coppin State. They didn't win a game in the non-conference (it took Dixon until January 8th to get his first W), and the Eagles didn't have a single player finish with an O-rating above 99.
- UMES? More Like U-Med: The Hawks of Maryland-Eastern Shore were a hospital ward this year, as a roster decimated by injuries tumbled to 12th. Ryan Andino and Dontae Caldwell didn't play at all this year (both potentially double-digit scorers) - if they're back next year, a more seasoned roster could slingshot back up the standings.
- Shouts to Savannah: Savannah State will transition to Division II in the coming years, but Horace Broadnax wanted to go down with a fight. His Tigers played at (by far) the country's fastest pace and took the highest share of threes, riding his "Tiger Tempo" to a share of the conference championship. Whether that style can win three games in three days remains to be seen, but here's hoping Savannah finds itself in the NCAA Tourney.
The MEAC is played at Scope Arena in Norfolk - not to be confused with Joseph G. Echols Memorial Hall, where Norfolk State plays its home games. Hampton and Norfolk State usually have good crowds for the event, though.
What to Watch:
- All three teams that shared the conference title earned byes into the quarterfinals, affording them a slight advantage towards winning the league title. There's sadly no day basketball here (except for the title game), as the first round and quarterfinals are staggered over two days each.
- Only Hampton and NC Central have won this event in the past 4 years, as you have to go back to NC A&T's win in 2013 to find a different champion. Levelle Moton and NCC are a little bit down this year, and plenty of worthy challengers will attempt to end that streak.
- Will we get a Savannah State vs. Bethune-Cookman semifinal? Two of the four fastest teams in the country, KenPom's predicted total was 201 points for their meeting on February 24th. Turns out, that was far too low, as Ridder's Wildcats shot 62% and made 16 threes on their way to a 121-92 victory. If we get a rematch, it's highly possible that both teams hit triple digits (something that has happened in four Savannah State games already this year).
Who Will Win:
- Hampton - My preseason pick to win the league, and I'm standing by it. They've won eight straight to close the season, they have perhaps the conference's best player in Jermaine Marrow, the tournament is being played 15 miles from their campus, and coach Buck Joyner Jr. has had success in this event before (3 NCAA bids).
If Not Them, Then:
- Bethune-Cookman - Ridder's instinct to crank the tempo in his first year was spot on, and it helped engineer a turnaround from 6-10 in the league to 12-4 this year. Morehead State transfer Malik Maitland is likely out for the tournament, but his old teammate Soufiyane Diakite (the conference defensive player of the year) plus the offensive triumvirate of Isaiah Bailey, Brandon Tabb, and Shawntrez Davis give the Wildcats a strong chance to cut down the nets.
- Norfolk State - The Spartans have been without the services of point guard Zaynah Robinson all season, but they've won 9 straight games against teams not named Hampton, and they're basically playing home games in the tournament. Diesel Whitley, the team's bowling ball point guard, is fun to watch, and they have more shooting than in recent years.