Sunday, October 1, 2006

MEAC Preview


The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference had a very solid and balanced conference season. Even though they were next-to-last in the conference RPI, six teams finished between 10-8 and 12-6 and Delaware State won the league at 16-2. Only four teams were below .500 in the conference. However, there was only two teams that were above .500 overall, but they had 3 teams in the top 15 in non-conference RPI. The conference tournament demonstrated that balance, as #6 seed Hampton pulled off several upsets, including beating #1 Delaware State in the title game, to reach the NCAA Tournament. However, the Pirates were blown out in the opening round game of the NCAA Tournament. Is this the year the MEAC finally gets a team into the NCAA Tournament and not the play-in game?

Favorite: Delaware State, like last year, should be the class of the league. Prior to losing in the conference tournament title game, the Hornets won 18 of their final 20 games and also had an RPI over 100 spots better than the next best team. DSU owned the league's best scoring defense, but also the worst scoring offense in the MEAC. However, they take care of the ball and are efficient shooting it. Wing Jahsha Bluntt is the returning conference player of the year, and has the ability to carry the Hornets on the offensive end of the floor. Point guard Darrin Shine is an excellent distributor, while Joe Dickens is a solid scorer from the perimeter. Aaron Fleetwood returns down low. JC transfer Roy Bright, a former Cincinnati recruit, should have an immediate impact in the frontcourt.

Contenders: The stiffest competition for Delaware State in the conference could come from Norfolk State. They had a decent regular season, and also played well in the MEAC Tournament, reaching the semi-finals. Guard Tony Murphy is one of the best players in the conference and is a big-time scorer. Al'Davon Thomas also contributes on the perimeter. The balance on the inside comes from 6-9 Calvin Brown, who could be ready for a breakout season. Tynell Dunkley and Jakeel Gray help out up front. Another team that will give the Hornets a run for their money is Coppin State. The Eagles finished in second place last season, a distant six games behind Delaware State. They will hope to close that gap this year. Tywain McKee leads the way. He is an excellent guard who can take over a game on the offensive end. His backcourt partner, Darryl Roberts, is another solid all-around player. They form one of the top guard duos in the league. Antwan Harrison and Talmadge Bell also return as contributors on the perimeter. If Coppin State is going to make a run at the league, though, they will need someone in the frontcourt to step up. A darkhorse title contender is North Carolina A&T. They only won 6 games overall and went 0-11 in the non-conference portion of the season, but the Aggies have a lot of scoring ability. All-conference forward Jason Wills is the league's leading returning scorer and could post even better numbers this season. Also up front are Demetrius Guions and Greg Roberts. They both averaged at least 9 points per game and are versatile, athletic forwards. In the backcourt, scorer Sean Booker returns from suspension. He put up 16.1 points per game two seasons ago and could return to form now that he is eligible. Austin Ewing, another double-figure scorer, also returns on the perimeter. Several quality bench performers also return. While the Aggies are going to be very good on the offensive end, their lack of size and defense could hurt them. They will be a team to watch.

Sleepers: Howard looked terrible for much of last season, but they won their all five of their conference games in the last seven contests of the regular season and managed to stay out of the cellar. They should be much improved this season. They return an excellent duo in wings Darryl Hudson and Will Gant. Both are all-conference-type players for the Bison. Eugene Myatt and Skip Mitchell are also solid players in the backcourt. Up front, Jason Trotter provides decent scoring and rebounding. Moreover, they bring in a very good recruiting class. Hampton, the returning conference tournament champion, has enough talent to make another run. While the Pirates lose four starters, returning point guard Rashad West provides stability and leadership in the backcourt. Junior Pehoua and Adrian Woodard need to improve their numbers from a season ago. Perennial contender South Carolina State returns several key contributors from last season's third-place finisher, but loses all-conference big man Thurman Zimmerman. However, wing Brian Mason will pick up the slack. He is poised for a huge season. Derrick Davis and Travis Jones also return in the backcourt. Julius Carter will need to improve his production down low after the loss of Zimmerman. Robert Baker and Chris Williams are two more contributors. Florida A&M loses one of the best players in the MEAC in Tony Tate, but the conference's highest-scoring team could make a run. They have one of the best duos in the league in guard Brian Greene and forward Rome Sanders. Greene is a very good shooter who is also a solid rebounder for his size, while Sanders is a top-notch inside scorer. Joe Ballard is a good playmaker at the point. 6-10 Akini Adkins adds size in the frontcourt, while Allen Jenkins could be a big-time player on the wing.

Rounding Out the Pack: Last season, Bethune-Cookman owned the league's best offense but will now have to move on without first-team All-MEAC players Antonio Webb and Michael Williams. The Wildcats are an uptempo team that likes to force turnovers and get points in transition. The lone returning starter, forward Sam Barber, will need to step up and have a big year in order for the Eagles to equal last season's .500 record. Big man Ronald Mitchell is expected to contribute right away, while guard Walter Murray is the lead player in the backcourt. Maryland-Eastern Shore finished in a tie for tenth place last season, and things don't look much better this year with the loss of double-double machine Tim Parham and All-Freshman performer Troy Jackson. However, two other all-freshman players return in guards Ed Tyson and Jesse Brooks, who could improve their numbers this season. Antonio McMillion is the lone returning double-figure scorer and he is expected to anchor the frontcourt. Morgan State looks to finish in the cellar once again. They don't have many bright spots outside of all-conference guard Joseph McLean. He is going to have to carry the offense most nights. Big man Timothy Berkler and guard Christopher Warfield are also solid performers. Watch this team to see how new coach Todd Bozeman does after being out of basketball for eight years due to an NCAA ban.

Prediction: This season looks to be a lot like last year was within the conference. Delaware State has the clear-cut best team in the MEAC, on paper. Jahsha Bluntt and Roy Bright are going to form a top-notch forward combo that will keep them competitive every night out, while three other starters also return. The Eagles could run away with the league once again. After them, though, it is wide-open. Spots two through eight will be up for grabs once the conference season gets underway. North Carolina A&T could make a serious run if all the scorers mesh on offense, though.

Player of the Year: Jahsha Bluntt, SF, Delaware State

All-Conference Team:
G- Tywain McKee, Coppin State
G- Tony Murphy, Norfolk State
G- Brian Mason, South Carolina State
F- Jahsha Bluntt, Delaware State
F- Jason Wills, North Carolina A&T

Second Team:
G- Joseph McLean, Morgan State
G- Darryl Hudson, Howard

G- Brian Greene, Florida A&M
F- Rome Sanders, Florida A&M
F- Sam Barber, Bethune-Cookman

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