2016-17 Conference Previews: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Bakari Copeland will take on a lead role for the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks in 2016-17 with the departure of both Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott. Can he lead the Hawks back into contention in the competitive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference?
Bakari Copeland (21) will take on a lead role for the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks in 2016-17 with the departure of both Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott. Can he lead the Hawks back into contention in the competitive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference?

Over the past two seasons, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) has been dominated by one team: the Hampton Pirates.

The Pirates have represented the conference in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, and they won a conference-best 13 games in MEAC play a season ago. Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Pirates have their sights set on a three-peat, while the other 12 teams will be looking to knock them from atop the conference hierarchy.

There are a handful of teams who have the talent and experience in place to knock off the Pirates atop the MEAC. From top to bottom, this year’s race for the MEAC crown will be one of the more competitive races across the NCAA. With talent scattered all over the conference, any team can win on any given night in 2016-17.

Atop the conference, the South Carolina State Bulldogs and the Howard Bison look like the two teams who will be battling for top spot as the season moves along.

The Bulldogs are out for a bit of redemption in 2016-17, after coming oh-so-close to an NCAA Tournament appearance a year prior. They return their top two scorers in senior guard Eric Eaves (17.6 ppg) and Ed Stephens (13.1 ppg). In total, four of their top six scorers from the 2015-16 are back for another kick at the can.

South Carolina State knows what it takes to make it to the finals of the MEAC Tournament, and despite their loss last season, the experience of knowing what it takes to reach the finals will set them apart from the rest. The Bulldogs can build off last year’s loss, and they know what they need to do to win the title.

As for Howard, they return the top scorer in the entire country from a season ago. James Daniel III put up a national best 27.1 points per game in 2015-16, and will look to replicate that number in his senior year. The Bison have all five of their starters back, giving them a level of familiarity and comfort with each other that you won’t find elsewhere in the MEAC. Senior forward Marcel Boyd will play a big role in the Bison’s success this season, as he’s one of the top up-and-coming forwards in the NCAA.

Howard finished 9th in the conference last year with a 6-10 record against MEAC opponents. A jump to the 2nd spot in the standings will be considered a success, and a berth in a post-season tournament will be waiting.

Two teams who could contend for the conference title are the North Carolina Central Eagles and the North Carolina A&T Aggies.

Before Hampton’s back-to-back titles, the team to beat in the MEAC was North Carolina Central. After a bit of a down year in 2015-16, head coach LeVelle Moton will have four transfers eligible in 2016-17, all of whom will provide depth and experience up and down the roster. Plus, having guard Patrick Cole back for his senior season will provide veteran leadership and an offensive spark.

For the Aggies, the memories of two lengthy losing streaks in 2015-16 will be in the back of everyone’s mind heading into 2016-17. The Aggies lost their first seven games a year ago, and are hoping to get on the right track from the outset of this season. Junior guard Sam Hunt is a rising star in the conference, and will only get better as he gains more experience at the Division I level.

In Bobby Collins’ first year as head coach, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks went on to win 18 games, and accepted an invitation into the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Last season was a step backwards, as the Hawks went just 10-22 and lost to the Morgan State Bears in the opening round of the MEAC Tournament.

Both Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott have graduated, which means the likes of Bakari Copeland and Ryan Andino will be looked upon to lead the Hawks back into contention. A slew of junior college transfers will bolster the roster for Collins, and Eastern Shore will rise in the standings.

As for the Pirates, the two-time defending champions won’t make it three titles in a row. Losing Quinton Chievous, Reginald Johnson, Jr., and Brian Darden hurts, especially since they were the Pirates’ top three scorers last year. Finding suitable replacements for all three will pose its challenges, and the Pirates will experience some growing pains. Hampton will still be a thorn in the side of everyone in the conference, but they lack the firepower of the past two seasons.

Towards the bottom of the standings are teams who can make more positive strides as their young players gain more experience and continue their development.

Devin Morgan, Jr., the reigning MEAC Freshman of the Year, will look to lead the Delaware State Hornets back into contention, and build off a strong debut season on an individual level.

With LaRon Smith transferring to the Auburn Tigers, All-MEAC 2nd Team guard Jordan Potts is left to lead a Bethune-Cookman Wildcats team that finished last season with a 10-6 record in conference play. The Wildcats will slide down a bit in the standings, but they are capable of pulling off an upset or two as the season rolls along.

The Savannah State Tigers have themselves a star in guard Troyce Manassa. He has all-conference talent, but a lack of a supporting cast will keep the Tigers in he bottom half of the conference standings.

Last but not least, the Florida A&M Rattlers will be one of the youngest teams in the entire country this season, as they have 11 freshmen listed on their official roster. The lack of experience doesn’t bode well moving forwards in 2016-17.

Pre-Season Rankings

  1. South Carolina State Bulldogs
  2. Howard Bison
  3. North Carolina Central Eagles
  4. North Carolina A&T Bulldogs
  5. Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
  6. Hampton Pirates
  7. Norfolk State Spartans
  8. Morgan State Bears
  9. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
  10. Coppin State Eagles
  11. Delaware State Hornets
  12. Savannah State Tigers
  13. Florida A&M Rattlers

Pre-Season Awards and Accolades

MEAC Player of the Year

James Daniel III – Howard Bison

All-MEAC First Team

James Daniel III (G) – Howard Bison

Eric Eaves (G) – South Carolina State Bulldogs

Patrick Cole (G) – North Carolina Central Eagles

Sam Hunt (G) – North Carolina A&T Aggies

Marcel Boyd (F) – Howard Bison

All-MEAC Second Team

Ed Stephens (G) – South Carolina State Bulldogs

Jordan Potts (G) – Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

Devin Morgan, Jr. (G) – Delaware State Hornets

Troyce Manassa (G) – Savannah State Tigers

Bakari Copeland (F) – Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

Coach of the Year

Murray Garvin – South Carolina State Bulldogs

– T. Bennett