Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference 2008-09 Preview
by Michael T. Lyle, Jr.
Few will argue that Coppin State’s unlikely run to the MEAC championship was the one of the biggest stories in the conference last season.
Perhaps playing a grueling out-of-conference schedule against powerhouse opponents like Ohio State and Missouri provided the Eagles a good tune-up to conference action, or maybe it was the clutch play of star point guard Tywain McKee that helped Coppin get over the hump. His runner in the lane in the closing seconds of the conference tournament championship helped the seventh-seeded Hawks to an upset of top seed Morgan State and a berth in the field of 65. The bucket capped off a stellar night for Tywain, as he finished with a career-high 33 points.
Coppin’s dream season would be short-lived, however, as they struggled to find their rhythm against Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary’s in the opening-round game of the NCAA’s. Their nine-point setback ended a run for a team no one picked would qualify for the Big Dance, particularly with the most losses – ever – of any tournament team.
But a new season is here, and for head coach Ron Mitchell, he’ll see most of the 2007-08 championship team returning, including McKee, who led the team in scoring and was sixth in the conference in that category. The early portion of their schedule will once again be brutal, as they face off against a sleuth of college basketball powers in Purdue, Kansas, Dayton, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Oklahoma.
With Coppin’s luck, maybe playing against such stiff competition will be yet another good tune-up to league play and perhaps a repeat of last season’s surprise run to the top of the conference.
Champions of the regular season and tournament runner-ups, Morgan State will be on a mission to get back to the championship game – and beyond. At a recent conference press luncheon in North Carolina, the Bears received 15 first place votes and racked up 443 points to take the league’s top spot. Clinching the regular-season title gave head coach Todd Bozeman’s squad their first-ever postseason appearance in NIT, where they fell to ACC power Virginia Tech in the first round. This season, Bozeman will get back All-MEAC forward Marquise Kately, as well as standout guard Reggie Holmes. Both will be surrounded with a bevy of junior college recruits who are expected to have an immediate impact.
Hampton, picked to finish second, loses top scorer Rashard West, but have junior guard Vincent Simpson returning to a Pirates team that boasts a ton of depth and size at both the forward and center positions. Delaware State, Norfolk State and South Carolina State complete the top five, with the Spartans being another team to watch because with Tony Murphy leading the way, Norfolk found themselves briefly in first place in the conference late last season. Even without him this season, head coach Anthony Evans’ Spartans will remain balanced, with seniors Michael Deloach and Kevin Worsley leading the way.
Rounding out the conference are defending champion Coppin State, followed by Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T, Howard, Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The season tips on Friday, November 14 with Morgan venturing to the City of Brotherly Love for a matinee at LaSalle. Coppin State begins their title defense the next day against UNC-Wilmington.
All-MEAC First Team (courtesy of MEACSports.com)
G Tywain McKee, Coppin State
G Jason Johnson, South Carolina State
F Marquise Kately, Morgan State
G Lamar Twitty, FAMU, North Carolina A&T
G Corey Lyons, Norfolk State
F John Holmes, Bethune-Cookman
All-MEAC Second Team (courtesy of MEACSports.com)
G Michael Deloach, Norfolk State
G Reggie Holmes, Morgan State
F Michael Freeman, Hampton
G Eugene Myatt, Howard
G Vincent Sampson, Hampton
Preseason Player of the Year: Tywain McKee, Coppin State
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (2007-08: 11-21 overall, 5-11 MEAC, 9th Place)
Projected Starting Five: John Holmes, F; Kevan Creppy, G/F; Tobias Mahone, F; Tyrel Adams, F/C; Dominique Whatley, G
11/23 – @ Dayton (Chicago Invitational, First-Round)
12/6 – @ Florida A&M
12/22 – @ Jacksonville
3/5 – Florida A&M
Even with four letterwinners returning, the Wildcats were picked to finish a spot below where they ended up last season. Senior and leading scorer John Holmes will carry most of the load, with contributions from fellow seniors Creppy, Mahone and Whatley. Early season tests against Dayton and Auburn should prepare them for league play in January.
Coppin State Eagles (2007-08: 16-21 overall, 7-9 MEAC, 7th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Tywain McKee, PG; Chuka lloegbu, SG; Rigoberto Sargeant, C; Vince Goldsberry, PG; Brian Chesnut, PF
11/22 – @ Purdue
11/28 – @ Kansas
12/20 – @ Wisconsin
1/3 – @ Oklahoma
3/5 – Morgan State
The defending champions will once again play a grueling non-conference schedule to start the season, and that should serve as some good experience once MEAC play begins in early 2009. McKee and Chesnut are the big two players returning. Sargeant should prove to be a force in the middle with good, solid defensive play.
Delaware State Hornets (2007-08: 14-16 overall, 10-6 MEAC, 4th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Trevor Welcher, G; Donald Johnson, G; Arturo Dubois, F; Jerel Chavis, G; Kris Douse, F.
11/20 – @ Ohio State
11/22 – vs. Kentucky (Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Invitational)
12/1 – @ UConn
1/19 – @ NCAT
Riding the play of leading scorer and rebounder Roy Bright, the Hornets started last season strong, but struggled down the stretch. Without Bright’s services this season, head coach Greg Jackson looks to his veterans Johnson and Dubois to pick up the pieces. Welcher and Chavis gives Delaware State some good offensive production up front. An early matchup against second-ranked Connecticut highlights the Hornets’ out-of-conference schedule.
Florida A&M Rattlers (2007-08: 15-17 overall, 9-7 MEAC, Tied 5th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Joe Ballard, G; Byron Taylor, G; Lamar Twitty, F; Brandon Bryant, G; Larry Jackson, F.
12/2 – @ Florida
12/6 – Bethune-Cookman
1/5 – @ Nebraska
2/9 – @ Norfolk State
With the loss of leading scorer Leslie Robinson, second-year coach Eugene Harris gets four letter winners back this season, with Twitty and Ballard expected to lead the Rattler offense. Last season’s improvement also gives FAMU some national TV exposure. They’ll get 2 TV games on ESPNU this year against Hampton and at Norfolk State.
Hampton Pirates (2007-08: 18-12 overall, 11-5 MEAC, Tie 2nd Place)
Projected Starting Five: John Ntoko, G; Michael Freeman, F; Chad Easterling, F; Donte Harrison, F; Vincent Sampson, G
11/26 – @ Alaska-Anchorage (Great Alaska Shootout)
12/6 – vs. Howard (Big Apple Classic in New York)
2/23 – vs. Morgan State
The loss of leading scorer Rashard West means that Simpson is expected to get the ball more often this season. Mix it up with Freeman and Harrison in the middle, and head coach Kevin Nickelberry’s squad could find themselves near the top of the conference once again. Their out-of-conference schedule doesn’t seem to be difficult to cope with, but their late-season showdown with Morgan State could have tournament seeding implications.
Howard Bison (2007-08: 6-26 overall, 3-13 MEAC, 10th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Eugene Myatt, G; Randy Hampton, F; Calvin Thompson, F; Kandi Mukole, F; Curtis White, G
11/16 – @ Navy
12/6 – vs. Hampton (Big Apple Classic in New York)
1/26 – vs. Morgan State
The Bison started last season strong, but got bit by the injury bug. However, coach Gil Jackson will see the return of veteran standouts Myatt and Hampton, while a pair of freshmen in Thompson and Chris McHenry should give Howard some solid play at the guard position – and some extra depth. An improvement on last season’s record is possible, that is, if the Bison can simply stay healthy.
Morgan State Bears (2007-08: 22-11 overall, 14-2 MEAC, 1st Place)
Projected Starting Five: Marquise Kately, F; Reggie Holmes, G; Kevin Thompson, F; Jermaine Bolden, G; Troy Smith, G
11/15 – @ LaSalle
11/22 – vs. Utah (Glen Wilkes Classic)
12/6 – vs. Coppin State
1/24 – vs. Howard
The regular season champions seem determined for a return to the MEAC Tournament Championship game. With several talented JUCO and first-year players coming on-board, Todd Bozeman’s team may prove a force to be reckoned with this year. Virtually every key player from last year’s squad returns for the 08′-’09 campaign, with Kately and Holmes providing a spark. The early part of their schedule features a rematch of the title game against Coppin State. Barring any major collapse, the Bears should find themselves participating in postseason play for the second straight year.
North Carolina A&T Aggies (2007-08: 15-16 overall, 9-7 MEAC, Tie 5th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Ed Jones, F; James Porter, C; Nicholas Wilson, F; Dwane Joshua G; Tavarus Alston, G
11/24 – @ California
12/28 – @ Georgia
1/10 – @ Morgan State
1/12 – @ Coppin State
Leading scorer Steven Rush is gone, but the Aggies have four seniors returning this year. NCAT should build on their win total from last season, as the veteran leadership will be key for head coach Jerry Eaves’ squad.
Norfolk State Spartans (2007-08: 16-15 overall, 11-5 MEAC, Tie 2nd Place)
Projected Starting Five: Michael Deloach, G; Corey Lyons, G; Kevin Worsley,G/F; Antoine Perry, G; Brandon Monroe, F.
11/25 – @ Michigan
12/6 – @ North Carolina A&T
1/12 – @ Morgan State
Deloach, Lyons and Worsely are the key components for this year’s Spartans offensive attack. The loss of leading scorer Tony Murphy means that Deloach will have to pick up the load in that area. Worsely and Monroe give Norfolk State a good inside presence below. If all goes as head coach Anthony Evans envisions, the Spartans should find themselves, once again, among the top three in the league.
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (2007-08: 4-28 overall, 2-14 MEAC, 11th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Gary Lee, G/F; Aleksandar Popovich, F; Tim Burns, G; Marc Davis, G; Hillary Haley, G
11/25 – @ Navy
1/3 – @ Nebraska
1/5 – @ Oklahoma
2/7 – @ Howard
The Frankie Allen era begins in Princess Anne, and already the former Howard coach has made his presence felt. With star guard Ed Tyson not returning because he rendered himself academically ineligible, Allen brings in a bevy of JUCO transfers that should give UMES the depth and balance they were missing the last few seasons. Davis and Popovich are the only two returning from last season’s squad, and they’ll provide the leadership needed to give the Eagles some swagger. Allen makes his return to the Nation’s Capital in early February against the Bison in what should be an entertaining matchup and given the storyline involved.
South Carolina State Bulldogs (2007-08: 13-20 overall, 7-9 MEAC, Tie 7th Place)
Projected Starting Five: Jason Johnson G/F, Jessie Burton, G; Julius Carter, F/C; Brandon Smalls, G; Phillip Adams, G
12/13 – @ Clemson
1/10 – @ Delaware State
1/26 – vs. NCAT
Johnson, last season’s leading scorer, returns to a Bulldog squad that can mix it up on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Head coach Tim Carter’s squad should make strides as their non-conference portion of the season appears winnable and sets them up for a run at the top five in the MEAC standings.