By Steven J. Gaither

Much like the other conference made up entirely of HBCUs, the SWAC, the MEAC is generally viewed as one of the weaker conferences in Division I. As such, the winner of its conference tournament is usually rewarded with a low seed in the NCAA Tournament. Part of this perception is based off on the fact that often the winner of the conference tournament is often not the best team in the conference, usually resulting in a weak showing and a quick exit out of the Big Dance.

Last season, Norfolk State entered the MEAC Tournament as a Nno. 2 seed, earning its first NCAA Tournament appearance since joining Division I in 1996. They came up big in the Big Dance, with a historic upset of No. 2 seed Missouri, led by current Orlando Magic center, Kyle O’Quinn’s 26 points and 12 rebounds. It was just the fifth time a 2 seed had been upset by a 15 seed, three of which were MEAC teams. Despite that fact, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has Norfolk State projected as a no. 16 seed in his rankings. If the Spartans win the MEAC Tournament, will they finally get some respect?

No. 1 Norfolk State (21-10, 16-0 MEAC)

Despite last season’s big upset, not much was expected of Norfolk State. It The team was predicted to finish fourth in the MEAC after losing four starters, including O’Quinn. Things weren’t easy early on, as NSU played 14 of its first 16 games away from home, visiting Top- 25 teams, Illinois and North Carolina State during that stretch.

By the time the Spartans got to the meat of their MEAC schedule in early January, they were battle-tested and ready to wreack havoc on their conference foes. They finished the season on a 15-game winning streak, going undefeated in conference play, and claiming their first-ever regular season MEAC championship and clinching the tournament’s top-seed.

Adding up all the factors—last year’s postseason run, this season’s winning streak and the fact that the conference tournament will be played within walking distance of campus—NSU has to be cautiously optimistic about their return to the Big Dance.

Coach: Anthony Evans

Starters: Rob Johnson, Brandon Goode, Malcolm Hawkins, Pendarvis Williams, Jamel Fuentes

Best Player: Williams , the lone returning starter from last year’s team, led the team in scoring at 14 ppg and is also a threat from three-point range, shooting 40 percent from downtown.

 

No. 2 North Carolina Central (22-8, 15-1)

The speedy rise of North Carolina Central is one of the unsung stories of the college basketball season . In only its second full season as a MEAC member, and fifth season since moving up from Division II, NCCU is a legitimate threat to claim the tournament title. NCCU went on an 11-game winning streak before suffering their first MEAC loss to Savannah State on Feb. 16. That would be the last loss NCCU would suffer in regular season, as they finished 15-1 in the conference, good for second behind Norfolk State.

Coach: LeVelle Moton

Starters: Jeremy Ingram, Stanton Kidd, Ray Willis, Jay Copeland, Jr., Emmanuel Chapman

Best Player: Both Jeremy Ingram (15.9 ppg) and Stanton Kidd (14.5 ppg) would be the top option for most MEAC teams. And Oklahoma transfer Ray Willis (12.2 ppg) isn’t a bad third option.

 

No. 3 Hampton (14-16, 11-5)

Hampton had a forgettable non-conference season, finishing just 3-11 against opponents outside the MEAC. The good news is, they only have to play MEAC teams in this tournament, and they’ve been pretty successful at that. Three of their five losses in conference play have come against Norfolk State and North Carolina Central, and those losses were by a combined fourteen 14 points.

If there is a sleeper in this year’s tournament, it’s the Pirates. Two years ago, Hampton went down to Winston-Salem and defeated Morgan State, a two-time- defending MEAC champion, to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. This time, much like their rivals NSU, Hampton will be playing in its back yard. Should Hampton and NCCU win their quarterfinal matchups on Wednesday, HU will have a chance to avenge its four-point loss to NCCU in the season finale.

Coach: Edward Joyner, Jr.

Starters: Deron Powers, Du’Vaughn Maxwell, Emmanuel Okoroba, Dwight Meikle, Jasper Williams

Best Player: Freshman guard Deron Powers averages 12 points and about 5 assists per game to lead the Pirate attack.

 

No. 4 Savannah State (18-13, 11-5)

It’s been a disappointing regular season for the Tigers. The defending regular season MEAC champs were predicted to win the league again this season. While SSU had its moments, most notably ending NCCU’s 11- game winning streak, consistency was a problem. The Tigers stumble into Norfolk having lost three out of its last four games against conference opponents. Savannah State will open up against lowly Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday.

Coach: Horace Broadnax

Starters: Rashad Hassan, Preston Blackman, Arnold Louis, Cedric Smith, Christopher Spears

Best Player: Rashad Hassan led Savannah State in scoring (12.8 ppg) and finished second in rebounding (5.9 ppg).

 

No. 5 Morgan State (14-14, 10-6)

Morgan State got off to a slow start, winning just three of its first eight MEAC games. The Bears finished strong, going 7-1 in the second half of the conference season, and enter Monday’s matchup with South Carolina State on a five- game winning streak. Despite the inconsistency the Bears have shown, nobody wants to see a hot Todd Bozeman team in the MEAC Tournament.

Coach: Todd Bozeman

Starters: Justin Black, DeWayne Jackson, Anthony Hubbard, Ian Chiles, Blake Bozeman

Best Player: Senior DeWayne Jackson (13.6 ppg) is the last player left from Morgan’s championship years.

 

No. 6 Delaware State (13-17, 8-8)

After a non-conference season that included a win over Delaware and an overtime loss to Penn State, it seemed as if Delaware State would be a factor in the MEAC race, especially after the Hornets started 5-2 in conference play. But DSU went just 3-6 over the last nine games against MEAC opponents, falling down to the sixth spot. They will try to win their third game this season over Howard on Monday night.

Coach: Greg Jackson
Player: Tajh Tahj Tate, Marques Oliver, Casey Walker, Amere May, Kendall Gray,

Best Player: Marques Oliver provides shot- blocking (2 bpg) and rebounding (6.8) for the Hornets.

 

No. 7 North Carolina A&T (15-16, 8-8)

One of the conference’s flagship programs, NC A&T hasn’t won a MEAC tournament title since 1995. Should A&T win their opening round game against FAMU in the opening round, it will have to pull off a major upset to advance past NC Central. The Aggies are 0-2 against the Eagles, losing to their bitter rivals by four points each time.

Coach: Cy Alexander

Starters: Lamont Middleton, Adrian Powell, Jean Louisme, Bruce Beckford, Austin Witter

Best Player: Austin Witter is an intimidating prescence presence inside, swatting three shots a game and grabbing seven rebounds per contest.

 

No. 8 Bethune-Cookman (12-19, 7-9)

Bethune-Cookman heads to Norfolk on a three-game losing streak. They have struggled against MEAC competition at home, going just 1-7 against conference opponents outside of Daytona, including a loss to first- round opponent Coppin State to close the regular season.

Coach: Gravelle Craig

Starters: Adrien Coleman, Alex Smith, Kevin Dukes, Marc Mack, Ricky Johnson

Best Player: It’s scary to wonder where BCU would be without Adrien Coleman’s scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounding (7 rpg).

 

No. 9 Coppin State (8-23, 5-11)

Coppin State has been little more than an MEAC bottom- feeder this year, registering just one win over an opponent (Hampton) in the top half of the conference. Coppin did steal a win over BCU to close the season,season; so one tournament win isn’t totally out of the question.

Coach: Ron “Fang” Mitchell

Starters: Michael Murray, Andre Armstrong, Brandon St. Louis, Taariq Cephas, Collin Johnson

Best Player: Michael Murray paced Coppin in scoring (12.3 ppg) and rebounding (9 rpg).

 

No. 10 Florida A&M (8-22, 5-11)

Much like Coppin, FAMU has had trouble with everyone ranked above it in the conference. FAMU will face an A&T team that it lost to twice by a total of 34 points.

Coach: Clemmon Johnson

Starters: Markee Teal, Jaimie Adams, Reggie Lewis, D’Andre Bullard, Walter Davis

Best Player: Jamie Adams led FAMU in scoring (14 ppg), but shot just 34 percent.

 

No. 11 Howard (7-23, 4-12)

Howard started the season by losing to Division- II Lincoln in the season opener. Unfortunately for the Bison, things never got much better. They may not need an overnight bag in Norfolk.

Coach: Kevin Nickelleberry

Starters: Prince Okoroh, Mike Phillips, Alphonso Leary, Tree Lee, Simuel Frazier

Best Player: Senior Mike Phillips (11.8 ppg) is the lone Bison averaging double figures.

 

No. 12 South Carolina State (6-23, 2-14)

SC State is 2-5 since Murray Garvin took over as head coach after following the resignation of Tim Carter. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the highlight of the 2013 season for the South Carolina State Bulldogs.

Coach: Murray Garvin

Starters: Devin Joint, Khalif Toombs, Darryl Palmer, Matthew Hezekiah, Shaquilleell Mitchell

Best Player: Matthew Hezeikiah (12.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, .559 fg) has been solid down low for SC State.

 

No. 13 University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-25, 2-14)

Well, there’s always club football season .

Coach: Frankie Allen

Starters: Dominique Cowell, Louis Bell, Kevin Mays, Troy SynderSnyder, Olatunji Kosile

Best Player: Troy Snyder tied for the team, lead in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and was second in scoring at 12 ppg.