Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preview
by Jon Gonzalez
While the MEAC might not rank too high on conference power ranking charts, the league has sent teams into the NCAA tournament that have done significant damage. Back in 1997, Fang Mitchell’s Coppin State squad shocked second-seeded South Carolina and Hampton defeated second-seeded Iowa State in the 2001 edition of the big dance.
This season, another upstart from the small time MEAC will hope to duplicate the past successes of Coppin State and Hampton. Teams like Delaware State, Maryland Eastern Shore, Bethune Cookman, Norfolk State and Morgan State look to make the NCAA’s for the first time ever. Howard, Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T and Coppin State have all been before, but would love another crack at the country’s elite.
Meanwhile, defending champion Hampton doesn’t want to skip a beat and make it 3 straight visits to the NCAA tournament. But to do that, the Pirates have to overcome the loss of Steve Merfeld, who took over at Evansville, and MEAC MVP Tommy Adams.
Predictions (in order of finish):
1. Howard Bison
The Bison were a game from reaching the NCAA tournament, but could not handle the more experienced Hampton Pirates. Fast forward one year and it is the Bison who should stand on level ground with Hampton in terms of experience. The team is lead by senior forward Kyle Williams, who is among the best in the MEAC. Howard will trample, excuse the pun, over many a MEAC team with a high octane running game and skilled shooters such as the aforementioned Williams and Jonathan Stokes. Look for Howard to rip away MEAC crown from defending champion Hampton.
2. Hampton Pirates
Much of the success Hampton has seen over the past two seasons has to be directly attributed to fiery coach Steve Merfeld. Riding his success at Hampton, Merfeld jumped to the Missouri Valley Conference and the Evansville Aces. Essentially, Merfeld left a good small conference team to join a putrid mid-major program. But hey, its all about climbing the ladder, can’t blame a guy for that. Taking over for Merfeld is assistant Bobby Collins. Collins will implement the same system that Merfeld had in place so philosophical changes will be far and few between. But despite the fact the team looks to do many of the same things it has done in the past, the loss of Merfeld might be too much for the team to overcome. Add to that the loss of graduated Tommy Adams (2001-02 MEAC MVP) and the Pirates will come up short of a third straight NCAA bid. Regardless of where they finish, two things are certain: the Pirates will be a major player in the MEAC race and forward Isaac Jefferson will be a beast.
3. North Carolina A&T Aggies
This season in Greensboro, the A&T at the end of North Carolina could stand for aggressive and talented. While that attempt at an acronym might have been a little weak, don’t expect the Aggies to be. This team will try to turn every game into a track meet with the amount of speed A&T possesses. Running this up-tempo attack will be point guard Tyrone Green, who is back after sitting out a year. Joe Holmes is a rookie that could make an immediate impact. The Aggies might be cannon fodder for a two week stretch in December that includes back to back to back games against NC State, Duke and Wake Forest. But although all three of those games might be automatic L’s, a lot could be learned that could help the Aggies when conference play begins.
4. Delaware State Hornets
During many MEAC contests that include the Hornets, the smallest player in the gym might be the most dangerous. Pint sized point guard Miles Davis (5-11) looks to play a winning tune against MEAC foes. The smallish Davis can do it all; he passes, he slices, he dices and he’ll even make you look foolish off the dribble. Helping Davis will be junior Andre Matthews, who plays with tenacity and loves to take it to the hole hard. But what might have Dover abuzz with NCAA possibilities in the addition of major college transfers: 6-11 Marcus Grant (La Salle) and 6-7 Aaron Matthews (Villanova), who joins his brother Andre. Both newcomers will add a great amount of size to the Hornets’s frontcourt and could make DSU and factor in the MEAC.
5. South Carolina State Bulldogs
If Moses Malone is on your team, even if it is the junior version, you’re in pretty good shape. But it’s not all in a name for Malone, because the kid’s got more than his father’s game, he’s got his name, too. Malone could be the best player in the MEAC and could be the reason why the Bulldogs have a punchers change in the league. The 6-4 guard is very versatile and has a knack for making clutch shots. Joining Malone on coach Cy Alexander’s squad is Thurman Zimmerman and Chuckie Gilmore. Gilmore is a Clemson transfer who looks to bring the experience of playing major college ball to Orangeburg. Even though Malone has help, the team will only go as far as he goes.
6. Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks
While the Hawks may never achieve national prominence due largely in part to the school’s name (Eastern Shore? Seriously, who puts Eastern Shore in the title of a school’s name?), UMES still has a legitimate shot to be competitive in the MEAC. The Hawks are lead by Thomas Trotter Jr., son of coach Thomas Trotter Sr. Junior averaged 16.7 ppg last season and as the coaches son, should never have to worry about playing time.
7. Florida A&M Rattlers
The Rattlers are poised to make it back to the big dance and look to do so with Tennessee transfer guard Terrence Woods. Other newcomers include O.J. Sumter and Moses White. There’s no other way to improve upon a 9-19 season than by bringing in experienced talent. Add to that talent mainstay guard Michael Griffith, and the Rattlers might have enough to do some damage. Of course, the key to the Rattlers success will hinge on chemistry, how the incumbents jell with the new blood.
8. Coppin State Eagles
Talk about problems, the Eagles lost four returning players due to disciplinary reasons and the first quarter of their season is brutal with a capital B. What to do, what to do? At least CSU has a coach with a nifty nickname (does it get any better than Fang) and a stud star player. Senior forward Larry Tucker will light up a scoreboard and can also do a little boarding. Look for Tucker to light up a scoreboard or two and the defense to thrive. But it is in the scoring department that the team needs to step up. You cannot win to many games without putting the ball through the hoop.
9. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
Eastern Shore, Bethune-Cookman, what is it with this conference? Personally, I can’t wait until January 13, that’s when BC takes on UMES. I digress. The Wildcats are basically two guys: Richard Toussaint and Maurice Riddick. That’s it. These two guys can score in bunches and BC will need them too. The Wildcats will need a lot of help from their newcomers to stay within striking range of the top tier in the MEAC. If all else fails for Bethune-Cookman, at least the school is in Daytona Beach, that has to count for something.
10. Morgan State Bears
The team’s best player is Reggie Winkfield, but Winkfield is out until February with a hip injury. The Bears still have guard Randy Dukes who is excellent from downtown. It will take a lot more than three pointers to keep the Bears above water, however. To except anything from MSU would be ill advised, as the Bears are among the worst in the country. At least Winkfield has the chance to light up the scoreboard, when he gets healthy of course.
11. Norfolk State Spartans
Norfolk State might very well be that team. Which team you ask? The worst team in America, of course. NSU is under the leadership of new head coach Dwight Freeman, who coached at Miami last year. NSU is led by big man Thomas Aladi (6-10). Aladi is very big but needs to assert himself as a clutch player. Freeman must work to get all of his players on the same page or he will regret he ever took the job at NSU. No matter how bad the team gets, Freeman must show poise to keep the team together. The Eagles hope to play well and not get too buried early on.
Richard Toussaint, guard Bethune Cookman
Newcomer of the Year
Terrence Woods, guard FAMU
Coach of the Year
Cy Alexander, SCSU