Monday, March 10, 2008

MEAC Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The MEAC was one of the worst conferences in the country this season, as it has been for the past several years, but it featured a competitive race at the top of the standings, with Morgan State eventually winning the regular-season title by 2.5 games over Hampton. Norfolk State looked like it was going to make a run late in the year, but it lost four of its last five to fall-back in the standings. Six teams finished above .500 in conference play.

Favorite: Heading into the year, most people knew that Morgan State had talent and would be a threat to win the league title. However, I’m not sure anyone really trusted them to win it all because of their inconsistency last year. This year was different. The Golden Bears had a solid non-conference campaign, and then dominated the MEAC. Jamar Smith is a big-time scorer on the perimeter, while Reggie Holmes is another solid performer in the backcourt. Up front, Boubacar Coly is a double-double lock every night out and Marquise Kately is a match-up nightmare for opponents.

Contenders: Hampton was the league favorite in the preseason and it did not disappoint in the non-conference, beating VCU and nearly knocking off Maryland, Kent State and George Mason on the road. Struggles in the middle part of the MEAC season knocked them out of the league race, though. Rashad West might be the best player in the league, while Vincent Simpson is an excellent second option. The only other team to finish above .500 overall was Norfolk State. Due to an awkward league schedule, the Spartans played their final five games on the road, which is part of the reason they struggled. They have a terrific perimeter trio to carry the load, led by Tony Murphy, an outstanding all-around guard. Michael Deloach is very efficient from the field, while Corey Lyons is another guy that can score.

Sleeper: Only in the MEAC. Coppin State started the season 4-19 overall, including 0-8 in conference play. However, they won eight of their last nine games, with the lone loss coming by four points at Morgan State in the season finale. They have the No. 7 seed in the conference tourney, but have the players and momentum to make a run. Tywain McKee is one of the better all-around players in the conference, while Antwan Harrison leads the way up front.

Prediction: In my preseason preview for the MEAC, I wrote: “In the end, expect Hampton to win the regular season title, but don’t be surprised to see Morgan State in the NCAA Tournament after winning the league tourney.” Well, I didn’t get the first part right, but the second part should hold true. I knew the Bears had the most talent in the league, and I felt that would be the difference in the conference tournament. Their combination of production inside and outside, and their plethora of weapons, will get them the automatic bid and a berth to the Big Dance.

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