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Mid-Eastern Preview

December 21, 2001 Conference Notes No Comments



2001-02 Mid-Eastern Athletic Preview

by Adam Levinson


The sights and sounds of the 2001 NCAA tournament will of course be remembered by Duke fans for the Blue Devil’s national championship. But if you ask people, many will say the most prolific lasting image is that of Hampton coach Steve Merfield running across the court and getting lifted in the air in Boise after the Pirate’s victory over 2nd seeded Iowa St. in the first round of the tournament. A win by a 15 seed gave the MEAC its 15 minutes of fame around the country. This season Hampton looks to make it back to the NCAA tournament and put the conference in the national spotlight yet again, and break the mold of the MEAC being a stomping mat for Georgetown the first month of the season. Here’s a preview of all the teams in order of predicted finish.

1. South Carolina State: The Bulldogs have experience and depth despite losing two key players from last year’s squad. Those seem to be key ingredients to going far in a conference tournament recently. State boasts strong players up front including the son of an NBA Hall of Famer. 6-4 Moses Malone Jr., a transfer from Texas Tech, has led Cy Alexander’s team in scoring in the early season. Malone has both an inside and outside game and has averaged 25 points a game in the first month of the season.

Three other players have averaged double figures in the early going. This includes senior guards Laron Mapp(13.9 ppg) and Andre Riviera (11.8 ppg). And don’t think the Bulldogs are playing cupcakes. They’ve scheduled the likes of Kansas, Wake Forest and South Carolina as non-conference opponents this year. This is one of the reasons you may see South Carolina St. struggle, at least record-wise, in the early season. But, beware of the Bulldogs come March.

2. Hampton: The Pirates have made much of their competition walk the plank early this season including North Carolina in the season opener in Chapel Hill. While they might not be the team to watch in Virginia, they could be the team to watch in the MEAC.

For Hampton to repeat as MEAC champion it will need huge contributions from guard Tommy Adams, the team’s top returner. In the first month of the season, Adam’s has averaged over 20 points a game and has put in 20 points or more in five of the team’s first seven games.
Not a bad way to go into the heart of your conference schedule.

While Adams provides the shooting touch, the Pirates are led up front by Isaac Jefferson who averages a double-double every game. At just over 10 points and 10 rebounds a game, Jefferson will need to be an integral part of the team for it to succeed.

3. North Carolina A&T: After dominating the conference for much of the mid 1990’s, the Aggies have revenge on their mind after last season. A&T nearly pulled off a victory over Hampton in the MEAC championship game last season to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. One of NC A&T’s problems was the injury bug. If doesn’t come up and bite key players such as Bruce Jenkins like last season, the Aggies could prevail in the conference come the middle of March.

Third year coach Curtis Hunter has one returning starting forward that could surprise many people around the conference. Anthony Debro (11 ppg) teams up with Jenkins to provide the Aggies with a strong frontcourt, which will be tough to breakdown. Senior guard Marque Carrington provides a balanced attack as a leader in the backcourt. North Carolina A&T could overtake the powers that be and surprise everyone in the always wacky MEAC.

4. Norfolk State The early part of the season for the Spartans has included plane flights, hotel rooms and team meals. A bonding experience perhaps, but when a team plays eight straight road games to start the season, chances of great success are minimal, especially for a team from a smaller conference. Norfolk state players haven’t gone coast to coast on the court as much as the team has in the air so far.
The Spartans started the season in Hawaii for a pre-season tournament, then went straight to San Diego State and down south to New Orleans for two games. All of these games resulted in losses as well as a subsequent trip to Baltimore. Maybe home games are just what Norfolk State needs, as it won its first of the season over Maine in the team’s home opener.

Inexperience has permeated the basketball team especially in the frontcourt with people who didn’t get much playing time last year or who are making their collegiate debuts. Still senior center Derrick Neal provides power and scoring up front, but he’ll have to stay out of foul trouble. The guards are definitely the Spartans’ strong suit this season. Junior guard Terrence Winston, a pre-season first team all-MEAC selection by Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook, provides much needed shooting for the Spartans. He comes off a season where he averaged nearly 15 points per contest. The bottom line: If Norfolk State can overcome some growing pains early in the season and get into a rhythm, Wil Jones’ team could have a chance of being in the mix in post-season.

5. Coppin State: Fang Mitchell’s team enjoyed success in the conference as well as the NCAA tournament as recently as a few years ago. Then came a word every team hates to use, rebuilding. Coppin St. returns four starters this season and stands poised to make run at the league title for the first time this century.

For some reason the talent hasn’t seemed to come through so far this season. Two conference losses recently to Norfolk State and Hampton have the Eagles looking themselves in the mirror and asking “how good are we?” Nobody has quite been able to replace the lone starter lost from last year’s squad, Joe Brown (18 ppg). Larry Tucker leads the team in scoring, but at just 14 points per game. Coppin State will need more offensive production as it has averaged just 58 per contest this season. The Eagles need a third offensive producer in addition to Tucker and Sr. guard Rasheed Sims. All fingers point to Michael Poster, who was thought to be the “X-factor” heading into the season.

6. Howard: The big question mark surrounding the Bison heading into league play is how well their transfer from Colorodo will perform. Kyle Williams has answered those questions early on. The 6-6 junior forward put in a career high 37 points against American University in the beginning of November. Williams has averaged 21 points/game over the first month of the season. If this trend continues Howard could be the surprise team of the MEAC. Williams will need a supporting cast, though, to be that surprise team.

Ron Williamson has averaged nearly 15 points per game, nearly double what he averaged last season. However, there hasn’t been much scoring from the rest of the team. The Bison needs help from their other seniors who performed well last season. Point guard Ali Abdullah, who averaged nearly 15 points per game is putting in just 5 in the first month this season. Senior leadership needs to come through for Howard if they want to make a run at the league title.

7. Delaware State: Second year coach Greg Jackson is a great coach, but his team may be just a little bit too young and inexperienced to win the league title this year. However, the Hornets could create a lot of problems for other teams in the conference. Delaware State is a very disciplined team, takes smart shots, and doesn’t usually commit many turnovers. Junior Andre Matthews is coming off a great season where he averaged nearly 15 points per game. He’ll face increased attention as an upperclassman from opponents, so his scoring may be limited. That means other Hornets will have to sting the competition. But can that happen?

It seems possible so far. James Bowen has impressed many this season averaging nearly 19 points per game over the first seven contests, shooting nearly 58 percent from three point range. The question is, can he sustain that level of play the rest of the season? The Hornets have a couple of tough non-conference road games against Villanova and Fordham. Then the always-tough league schedule will take them up until the MEAC tournament in Richmond the first week of March. The Hornets should finish in the middle of the pack, but you’ll hear things from Greg Jackson and his players in the near future.

8. Morgan State: There is a significant drop-off when talking about the rest of the teams in the MEAC. There will be a dogfight between the bottom four teams to stay out of the cellar. It will take a while for first year Bears coach Butch Beard to build a winner in the MEAC.

A winner certainly won’t come immediately in Baltimore when Beard is looking to add depth with walk-on tryouts. Beard is no stranger to basketball, however, having coached at the NBA level. Aside from senior forward Curtis King (15.3ppg), Beard doesn’t have a lot to work with. It will be a fight for Morgan State to stay out of the cellar and the Bears won’t even be able to think about a league title for at least another season.

9. Florida A&M: An encouraging sign for the Rattlers is first year coach Mike Gillespie has recruited Terrence Woods. Woods is a great three-point shooter who played for Tennessee last year, before getting kicked off the team this summer. A&M has a brutal schedule in the early going having games with the likes of Georgia Tech, Mississippi St. and Northwestern.

One positive for the Rattlers is they have an early in-conference win over Bethune-Cookman. The problem is Bethune-Cookman may be the worst team in the conference and one of the worst in Division 1. Woods will compliment Demarcus Wilkins next year in the backcourt. For now, Wilkins will be on his own without much help from the rest of the team. It should be a long year in Tallahassee.

10. Bethune-Cookman: Without many expectations coming into the 2001-2002 campaign, the Wildcats have surprised many on Daytona Beach shocking MAAC member Iona in the team’s first game of the season. It’s been all-downhill from that point despite a win over MD-Eastern Shore.

Newcomer Richard Toussiant has clearly made the biggest impact on the team this season. The 6-3 guard is averaging 21 points per game. If he has many off nights when league play starts, it could be a long season for the Wildcats.

11. MD-Eastern Shore: The Hawks seem to be worst team in the MEAC. They haven’t won a game yet and the prospects don’t look good heading into the heart of league play. This should be a rebuilding year under second year coach Thomas Trotter.

Many questions remain in the frontcourt, and all around the team for that matter. MD-Eastern Shore could get bullied around in many games by the rest of conference and will struggle mightily to keep their heads above water. “Wait until next year” is definitely their motto.

Predictions:
Regular Season Champs: South Carolina State
Tournament Champion: Hampton
Player of the Year: Moses Malone Jr. (SC St.)
Coach of the Year: Cy Alexander (SC St.)

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