For the casual fan, the smaller conferences don’t come into focus until the NCAA Tournament is near, and people are frantically trying to learn everything they can about the school their favourite team is playing in the First Round in the 1-vs-16 match-ups.
Teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tend to fall into the category of ‘relative unknowns’ in the NCAA. Hardcore basketball fans know who’s who in the MEAC, and for good reason. The conference has been chalked full of talented players over the years, and the 2016-17 season is no different.
However, this season, the talented stars leading their respective programs are relatively unknown themselves. Stars like Quinton Chievous and Reginald Johnson, Jr. (Hampton Pirates), Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott (Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks), and Cedric Blossom (Morgan State Bears) are all gone, among a slew of other marquee talents.
The likes of James Daniel, Jordan Potts, Ed Stephens, and Patrick Cole are all back for another year, but people already know their names. There are plenty of other stars in the conference who may not get the attention that they deserve on a regular basis.
Here are five names that every basketball fan will want to know as the 2016-17 season approaches, and the journey towards the MEAC Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament heats up.
Bakari Copeland – Sr F, Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
With the recent departures of both Devin Martin and Dominqiue Elliott from the Hawks, Copeland is in position for a big year for the Hawks in 2016-17. Last season, the native of Decatur, GA averaged 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 43.2% from the field. This season, Copeland will be the leader of the offense, alongside guard Ryan Andino.
In the off-season, Copeland declared early for the NBA Draft, but opted to return to school before the early-entry deadline at the end of May. If he can improve his three point shooting (27.3% in ’15-16), he could put up some big numbers for the Hawks and carry them back into contention in the MEAC.
Sam Hunt – Jr G, North Carolina A&T Aggies
Not to be confused with the country music superstar, this Sam Hunt is quickly leaving his mark on the college basketball landscape. The 6’2” guard emerged as one of the nation’s top free throw shooters in 2015-16, hitting on over 90% of his attempts from the free throw line. He missed 12 attempts all season long, going 113-of-125 for the year.
Hunt also led the Aggies in scoring, averaging 15.4 points per contest, which was also good for 8th in the conference. He has quickly emerged as a go-to offensive option for the Aggies, and will likely see more double-teams this year. The Aggies started last season with an 0-7 record, but finished 6th in the MEAC regular season standings. Hunt was a big reason for the Aggies’ turnaround in conference play. Expect him to be a big-time player again this season, especially with the departures of both Joshea Singleton and Bruce Beckford, and he could be posting numbers that could surpass last year’s totals.
Troyce Manassa – Sr G, Savannah State Tigers
Last season was Manassa’s first in the NCAA with the Tigers, and he quietly put together a strong campaign as Savannah State finished with a 16-16 record, and appearing in the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Manassa, who transferred from Lauren B. Wallace C.C., averaged 12.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per contest. He was the team’s top scorer a season ago.
He was a relative unknown last season in the NCAA, but he won’t have anonymity on his side this time around. People know his name, and know what he is capable of. Manassa is a strong shooter from all over the floor, and is capable of carrying the team on offense on any given night (double-digits in 22 games in ’15-16). Look for Troyce Manassa to pick up where he left off in 2016-17, and lead the Tigers towards another post-season berth.
Randy Holmes – Sr F, Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
With recent departures in the front court for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, senior forward Randy Holmes could be in for a breakout year. The team will be without stars like LaRon Smith, who transferred to the Auburn Tigers for next season, and Mario Moody, who graduated. That puts Holmes into a prime position for an increased role and more minutes, setting him up for individual success while helping the team contend in 2016-17.
Last season, Holmes averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while averaging 22.3 minutes per contest in his first year with the Wildcats after transferring from Mineral Area J.C. Holmes showed flashes of promise last season, scoring in double figures six times and posting a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds in the MEAC opener against the South Carolina State Bulldogs. Holmes has the ability to shoot the ball from long distance, which adds another element to his game and the offense for the Wildcats as a whole. As he gains more minutes, Holmes could be an impact player this season for Bethune-Cookman.
Joshua Treadwell – Sr F, Coppin State Eagles
The opportunity is there for Joshua Treadwell to become the big man on campus for the Coppin State Eagles this season, especially after the team was hit hard by the transfer epidemic. James Sylvester, Christian Kessee, and Trevon Seymore all opted to transfer from the program following last year, leaving holes all over the Coppin State lineup. Fortunately for head coach Michael Grant, the now-senior forward is back and ready to be ‘the guy’.
Treadwell finished third on the team in scoring a season ago, averaging 10.5 points per contest to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists. At 6’5”, Treadwell has the shooting ability from all over that will keep his opponents honest, and the size that will allow him to be an impact player on both ends of the floor. He connected on 37.9% of his three point attempts a year ago, and 44.1% of his field goal attempts. Alongside fellow senior forward Terry Harris, Jr., Treadwell gives the Eagles a strong front court duo that can shoulder the load of offense and lead the team in 2016-17.
– T. Bennett