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2015-16 MEAC Post-Mortem

August 22, 2016 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments
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After a couple years of North Carolina Central serving as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s meanest team on the block, the MEAC held considerably more suspense in 2015-16.

LaVelle Moton’s N.C. Central program won 46 of 48 regular season conference games over the past three years, including 31 of 32 while winning the last two titles. This time, though, three teams finished just one game apart at the top of the league, with Hampton (13-3) holding off Norfolk State and South Carolina State (12-4) by one game.

Balance was the name of the game as the MEAC was tightly bunched throughout the pack. Three teams finished tied for sixth at 7-9, with three more just one game behind at 6-10.

And while only five teams finished with winning records in league play, everyone was capable of springing an upset of the teams at the top. Norfolk State lost to Delaware State and Morgan State. Savannah State swept South Carolina State, but lost to Florida A&M and was swept by a combined 40 points by North Carolina Central.

Hampton also needed overtime to beat Coppin State, FAMU and Morgan State. In the end, though, the Pirates were the league’s most consistent team from the start of the season to the finish, and the result was a 21-win season and MEAC regular season and tournament crowns. Hampton built on its postseason run through the MEAC tourney the season before and made its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, while also being one of just 10 teams to win its league tourney as a No. 1 seed.

Besides Hampton, the year was defined by surprises. South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman were pleasant ones, leaping from the second division to the top four. Delaware State went the other way, as did Maryland-Eastern Shore to an extent, with both falling out of the top five and the Hornets dropping from fifth to 12th. And of course there was North Carolina Central, dropping from first to a tie for sixth as the Eagles had to reload after a terrific three-year run.

For as competitive as the MEAC was in conference, though, it struggled to find success out of it. The league finished last of 32 conferences in the RPI and had just four non-conference wins over teams in the top 200. Howard had the best win, beating the buzzer to top William & Mary, but injuries ravaged the Bison and a strong start skidded to a 12-20 finish, even as the Bison hosted the nation’s leading scorer in James Daniel.

Final Standings:

MEAC Overall
Hampton 13-3 20-11
South Carolina State 12-4 19-14
Norfolk State 12-4 17-17
Bethune-Cookman 10-6 14-18
Savannah State 9-7 16-15
North Carolina Central 7-9 13-19
Maryland-Eastern Shore 7-9 10-22
North Carolina A&T 7-9 10-22
Howard 6-10 12-20
Coppin State 6-10 9-22
Morgan State 6-10 9-22
Delaware State 5-11 7-25
Florida A&M 4-12 8-21

 

Conference Tournament
The MEAC again had a festival of hoops to conclude the basketball season, with both the men’s and women’s tournaments held at the same site March 7-12 in Norfolk, Va. The men’s event was light on major upsets, with the only serious surprise in the 12-team field coming in the first round when No. 11 Coppin State upended sixth-seeded North Carolina A&T 98-91 in two overtimes.

The tournament did feature plenty of competitive games, including all four first round games, with No. 5 Savannah State holding off 12 seed Delaware State 63-58, No. 7 North Carolina Central edging No. 10 Howard 68-66 and ninth-seeded Morgan State with a mild upset, 65-58 over No. 8 Maryland-Eastern Shore. Top seed Hampton then got a scare from Morgan State in the quarterfinals, finally winning 83-81, and Savannah State picked off No. 4 Bethune-Cookman 57-50. The other two quarters were decided by double-digit margins, with 2 seed Norfolk State rolling past N.C. Central 66-47 and No. 3 South Carolina State withstanding a late charge by Coppin State to win 90-80 in a game the Bulldogs led by 25 in the first half.

Any worries about Hampton’s play in its opener were quickly forgotten when the Pirates routed Savannah State 89-55 in the first semifinal. South Carolina State, though, very nearly let a huge lead get away again, leading Norfolk State by 21 in the second half before the Spartans rallied all the way back to take the lead with 19 seconds left. Ed Stephens hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to put S.C. State back ahead, though, and the Bulldogs withstood two final possessions to win 67-65.

South Carolina State finally ran out of gas in the final, unable to hold on to another second half lead. The Bulldogs got the jump in the second half against Hampton, breaking open a tie game at the half to take a nine-point lead. The Pirates drew back even, though, and then finished the game on a 14-2 run over the final four minutes for an 81-69 win and their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year:
 James Daniel, G, Jr., Howard
Defensive Player of the Year: LaRon Smith, F, Jr., Bethune-Cookman
Rookie of the Year: Devin Morgan, G, Delaware State
Coach of the Year: Murray Garvin, South Carolina State

All-Conference Team
Quinton Chievous, G, Sr., Hampton
James Daniel, G, Jr., Howard
Reginald Johnson, G, Sr., Hampton
Jeff Short, G, Sr., Norfolk State
Dominique Elliott, F, Sr., Maryland-Eastern Shore

Season Highlights

  • Hampton won its first MEAC regular season title since 2002 and made its second consecutive and sixth trip overall to the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament.
  • Three teams advanced to the postseason. Joining Hampton were Norfolk State and South Carolina State, both of who fell in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
  • Howard’s James Daniel led NCAA Division I in scoring, averaging 27.1 points per game. He is the first MEAC player ever to lead the nation in scoring, and he also paced the country in free throws made (280) and attempted (331).
  • Bethune-Cookman’s LaRon Smith tied for third nationally in blocked shots/game (3.0). North Carolina A&T’s Sam Hunt was fourth in free throw percentage (90.4%), and Daniel was fourth in point scored (812) and fifth in field goal attempts (582).
  • Norfolk State finished third in the nation in free throw percentage, making 77.5% of its foul shots, while Bethune-Cookman also was third in the country in blocks per game (6.0).

What we expected, and it happened: Despite finishing in the middle of the pack the year before, Hampton was last year’s favorite in some circles and was tabbed second behind North Carolina Central in the league’s preseason poll. The Pirates delivered, winning the regular season crown and the conference tournament.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Even though N.C. Central lost so much talent from teams that combined to go 46-2 in the MEAC over the past three years, most figured LaVelle Moton would find a way to keep the Eagles near the top of the league. Central never could get going, though, never winning more than two consecutive games all season, and finished below .500 in the MEAC.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: South Carolina State was an exceptionally pleasant surprise, rising from seventh in the MEAC to second, winning 19 games overall and receiving a deserved postseason bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, where the Bulldogs played well in a narrow loss at Grand Canyon.

Teams on the rise: South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman. The duo of Eric Eaves and Ed Stephens will be tough to top this year, and the Bulldogs’ growth under coach Murray Garvin can’t be ignored. The Wildcats also made a nice move up the standings a year ago, from 7-9 and a tie for seventh up to 10-6 and sole possession of fourth.

Team on the decline: Morgan State. The Bears were once regularly on the short list of top contenders in the MEAC but have slipped significantly the last couple years. With others like Bethune-Cookman, Maryland-Eastern Shore and South Carolina State improving, it’s not going to be an easy climb back up the standings.

2016-17 MEAC Outlook
Hampton and Norfolk State both sustain major player losses, and while history says neither team should go too far away, the target appears to be squarely on South Carolina State next year. The Bulldogs return two of the MEAC’s top scorers in Eaves and Stephens, which easily makes them more experienced than the other two top-three teams. The Bulldogs won’t sneak up on anybody but have the playmakers and the toughness to make a run at the top.

As for contenders, rivals Hampton and Norfolk State should still be competitive, and no one would be surprised if North Carolina Central is back in the thick of the race. Bethune-Cookman would’ve been among the favorites, but the Wildcats were another school victimized by players transferring up as MEAC Defensive Player of the Year LaRon Smith headed to Auburn.

Keep an eye on Howard, which certainly could finish in the top four if everyone can stay healthy in Daniel’s senior year. Maryland-Eastern Shore should be better than a year ago-even as they slipped in the standings, the Hawks were a solid rebounding club and have some outside shooters-and Savannah State is usually a tough out too. The bottom teams appear to have major work to do to move up, but many might’ve said the same a year ago. It shapes up as another competitive year, even as questions abound for many of the MEAC’s top teams.

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