Monday, March 8, 2010

MEAC Tournament Preview

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The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was Morgan State’s conference to lose from opening day, and the Bears got off to a great start and never looked back. They went 15-1, losing at home to South Carolina State on Feb. 15. Delaware State came in second, four games back, at 11-5, with SC State going 10-6 and finishing third. Norfolk State was the only other team in the league to finish above .500 in MEAC play. Furthermore, only four teams went above .500 overall. Can anyone knock off Morgan State?

Favorite: It’s not even close: Morgan State is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition at this point. However, seven of its 15 MEAC wins were by single-digits, demonstrating that the Bears are vulnerable and can be taken down in the conference tournament. Morgan State is an up-tempo team that crashes the offensive glass and loves driving to the basket and drawing fouls. Defensively, the Bears force difficult shots, inside and outside the arc. The inside-outside tandem of scorer Reggie Holmes and double-double extraordinaire Kevin Thompson is the best in the league.

Contenders: Delaware State lost twice to Morgan State by a combined 13 points and will be ready for a rematch in the title game if they get there. The Hornets are very much a half-court team, but they still force turnovers and rack up steals. Offensively, they get second chances and don’t turn it over often. Delaware State is led by guard Marcus Neal and forward Frisco Sandidge, while Jay Threatt is a solid distributor. The only team to beat Morgan State in MEAC play, South Carolina State, is struggling lately, losing five of its final eight games. Still, the Bulldogs and their up-tempo style could be a threat. They force turnovers and are very effective from two-point range. Wing Jason Flagler is a versatile scoring option, and guard Darnell Porter can shoot the three and get to the rim. They will need to rebound the ball well and guard the paint better in order to get to the title game.

Sleeper: Look out for Hampton. The Pirates struggled mightily at the outset of the season, going 2-10 in their first 12 games and also getting off to a 4-8 start in MEAC play. However, they have won five in a row entering the conference tournament and could make a run. They play excellent defense, forcing turnovers and not allowing clean looks. Offensively, they like to crash the glass and attack the basket. Vincent Simpson is a high-volume shooter, while Michael Freeman can score and rebound. Darrion Pellum is a double-figure scorer.

Prediction: Although all signs point to Morgan State taking home the conference title, the Bears won’t have a cakewalk to the automatic bid. Delaware State has proven it can hang with them, while South Carolina State already knocked them off. Moreover, Hampton and Norfolk State are playing excellent basketball at the right time. Despite that, Morgan State is the best team in the conference by far, and should be able to get the automatic bid. Holmes and Thompson will be too much for the rest of the MEAC to overcome. The Bears will be a competitive No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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