The 2009 offseason was one of comings and goings in the MEAC. For a period of a day, the conference's membership stood at 13. On September 10, the conference invited North Carolina Central to become member number 13. NCCU was actually a founding member of the MEAC back in 1969, but the Eagles withdrew a decade later, as they dropped down to Division II and joined the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They left that conference after the 2006-07 season to start the classification process for Division I. NCCU will become an official member for the 2010-11 academic year.
The conference's membership dropped back down to 12 the very next day; however, as Winston-Salem State decided to drop back down to Division II. Their former conference, the CIAA, invited them back on October 2.
Meanwhile, Savannah State, a Division I independent, waits. The Tigers originally applied to the MEAC in 2005, but their application was placed on hold while they were on NCAA probation. However, their admission wasn't announced at the same time as NCCU's. SSU officials are hopeful about their prospects, especially as the MEAC plans to expand to "up to 14 schools." Yet, they still have no firm word about their fate.
On the court, it appears everyone will again be chasing defending champion Morgan State. More after the jump.
Let's first take a look at last season's MEAC standings.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Standings
(updated 3.20.2009 at 2:52 AM EDT)
|Morgan St. Bears||13||3||23||12|
|S. Carolina St. Bulldogs||10||6||17||14|
|N.C. A&T Aggies||9||7||16||16|
|Norfolk St. Spartans||9||7||13||18|
|Coppin St. Eagles||9||7||13||19|
|Florida A&M Rattlers||6||10||10||21|
|Delaware St. Hornets||6||10||8||24|
|Md.-Eastern Shore Hawks||3||13||7||23|
Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order, starting with Winston Salem State, who is ineligible for the conference title..
Winston-Salem State (last NCAA: None) Had the Rams remained in Division I, this would have been their final transitional year. Since they aren't, Bobby Collins' squad will try to improve on the 8 wins they earned last year. Guards Brian Fisher (13.9 ppg) and Diontae Gibson (6.9 ppg) and forward Paul Davis (6.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) will lead the way.
Maryland-Eastern Shore (last NCAA: None) The Hawks finished last among the teams that were eligible for the MEAC title last year, and that probably won't change this year. The biggest reason UMES will probably struggle is lack of backcourt experience, as starters Jaime Boyer (6.1 ppg) and Marc Davis (5.6 ppg) have moved on (and they didn't exactly light up the scoreboard themselves). Frankie Allen's squad will be frontcourt-oriented thanks to the return of 6-6 F Neal Pitts, who averaged 16 points and 8 boards a contest last year. The Hawks will also feature St. Bonaventure transfer Hillary Haley, another 6-6 forward, who averaged almost 6 points a game in his time with the Bonnies.
Howard (last NCAA: 1992) The Bison would have won more than 6 MEAC games last year if they had been better defensively, where they ranked as one of the worst outfits in the nation. Offensively, the team will miss the only starter they lost, 6-5 guard Eugene Myatt, who averaged almost 16 points a game. Junior guard Kyle Riley and 3-point specialist Curtis White (5.9 ppg, 34.5% from 3-point land) are capable of boosting their production to make up for Myatt's departure. In the frontcourt, center Paul Kirkpatrick (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and forwards Kandi Mukole (4.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Adam Walker (4.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) will have to step their games up. Howard will be challenged by four games at the Glenn Wilkes Classic in Florida, including contests at UCF and in Daytona Beach against Akron and Niagara.
Florida A&M (last NCAA: 2007) Like the Bison, the Rattlers struggled mightily on defense last season. They also struggled on the boards, where 6-8 F Yannick Crowder (5.2 rpg) and 6-6 Larry Jackson (4.4 rpg) are the only serious returning threats. So, Eugene Harris signed some bigger guys this year, led by 6-8 JC transfer Jeremy Lightfoot, 6-7 Diamon Alexander, and 6-6 Travis Wallace. Leading scorer Lamar Twitty (11 ppg) is also gone, and so are two-thirds of the starting backcourt, Joe Ballard (6.9 ppg) and Byron Taylor (2.6 ppg). Brandon Bryant is the leading returning scorer (10.1 ppg). and he'll be joined in a revamped guard unit by returnee Dale Hughes (9.5 ppg) and JC transfer Rasheem Jenkins.
Delaware State (last NCAA: 2005) The Hornets usually feature at the top of the league, so last season's 6-10 conference mark, their first losing MEAC campaign since '99-'00, was a major disappointment. Del State's big issue last season was offensive production, which may not improve thanks to the graduation of two of the team's three leading scorers from a year ago--G Donald Johnson (12.3 ppg) and F Arturo Dubois (9 ppg). 6-6 F Frisco Sandidge is back (10.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) though, but he'll need help from guards Marcus Neal (8.4 ppg) and Trevor Welcher (5.4 ppg), along with frontcourt-mate Kris Douse, who only averaged around 4 points a contest last year. Among the newcomers, watch for 6-3 Shannon Newman, son of NBA veteran Johnny Newman, and 5-11 G Jay Threatt, a transfer from George Mason.
Hampton (last NCAA: 2006) The Pirates have a new coach, as Ed Joyner, Jr. replaced Kevin Nickleberry after a .500 campaign, both overall and in the league, in 2008-'09. Like the Hornets, the Pirates couldn't score last year, and were the worst three-point shooting team in the country. However, Hampton returns more starters than DSU, as only 6 point/5 board performer Donte Harrison is gone. Vinny Simpson, the team's leading scorer (11.7 ppg), is a legitimate threat for all-MEAC honors this time around. Joyner's team will feature five other performers who averaged at least 5 points per contest. If he can get them to shoot better, the Pirates should shoot up the standings.
Coppin State (last NCAA: 2008) The Eagles must now begin life without the school's all-time leading scorer Tywain McKee (18.4 ppg), While Coppin lost two other starters, McKee was the impact player for the program. However, head coach Fang Mitchell has plenty of players who can contribute. Four players, led by 6-4 guard Michael Harper, averaged more than 7 points a contest this year. Their averages could very well go up now that McKee has graduated. Center Sam Coleman, a 6-10 senior, should be a player to watch, as he averaged more than 8 points and nearly 5 boards a game last season in a reserve role. Mitchell dialed down the team's always rough non-league schedule a bit this year. The Eagles will play Loyola (MD) at home and travel to local schools Navy and UMBC. Their longer road trips include visits to rebuilding Colorado and USC and NCAA tourney squads Michigan, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia.
Bethune-Cookman (last NCAA: None) A 17-16 record wouldn't be considered impressive at most D-I schools, but for the Wildcats, the mark represented their first ever winning season at this level. The key player for head coach Cliff Reed is his son, C.J., who was the MEAC Newcomer of the Year last time around. C.J. Reed averaged 15 points and nearly 4 assists per contest last time around. However, he'll have to take better care of the ball as a sophomore. Cliff Reed has his other four starters back too, but he'll need more points out of them, as 6-6 forward Alexander Starling was the team's second leading scorer, only averaging 7.5 ppg. Starling can rebound though, as he averaged more than 7 boards a contest. Depth could also be an issue, and the newcomers, led by 6-9, 320 pound center Albert Abrahams and 6-3 guard Aric Williams, will have to contribute immediately for B-CU to seriously challenge.
South Carolina State (last NCAA: 2003) Tim Carter's team won 17 games overall and 10 in the MEAC in his inaugural season in Orangeburg, but he'll have a hard time matching that total thanks to two key departures. Leading scorer and rebounder Jason Johnson (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) graduated and freshman guard (8.6 ppg. 4.6 rpg) transferred, meaning returning starters Jason Flagler (12.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Carrio Bennett (7.6 ppg) will have more work to do this season. Johnson's graduation also means that the Bulldogs' backcourt is their strength, as Carter will have to rely on a mostly new crop of forwards, led by 6-7 Stony Brook transfer Rio Pitt and 6-7 JC transfer Joe Wright.
North Carolina A&T (last NCAA: 1995) Despite the loss of two starters, including leading scorer Ed Jones (12.8 ppg), the Aggies should remain a serious threat in this league, thanks to the presence of 6-foot guard Tavarus Alston (11 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg). He'll get the ball to A&T's two returning frontcourt starters, 6-6 Robert Johnson (9.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and 6-9 C Thomas Coleman (7.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who could turn into the best unit in the league. Alston will be joined in the backcourt by 6-2 Dwane Joshua (6.9 ppg) who will see more time this season, as Jerry Eaves' squad becomes less frontcourt-oriented.
Norfolk State (last NCAA: None) The Spartans got great news in the offseason when the MEAC's leading scorer, Michael DeLoach (21.4 ppg, 2.7 apg) was granted an extra year of eligibility for academic progress. Aleek Pauline (6.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) joins DeLoach in the backcourt, and while he'll continue to feed DeLoach, he'll be looking for new targets in the frontcourt. That's because NSU's second leading scorer, 6-4 forward Corey Lyons (15.3 ppg), graduated. 6-9 forward Kyle O'Quinn (5.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and 6-11 center Joseph Dorsett-Jeffreys (4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg) make up the rest of the frontcourt crew for the Spartans. NSU's ultimate success may depend on how Anthony Evans' transfers--G Rob Hampton (Drexel), F Marcos Tamares (UMBC), and C Christian Morris (Rutgers)--fit in with the team.
Morgan State (last NCAA: 2009) Todd Bozeman has built the Bears into the MEAC powerhouse at the moment, as they've won the last two regular season crowns and last year's tournament title. To repeat last year's double, Bozeman will have to replace three key starters, led by 6-5 forward Marquise Kately (11 ppg). The frontcourt should remain solid without him, however, as 6-8 sophomore Kevin Thompson averaged almost 9 points and more than 7 boards a game off the bench. 6-10 C Rodney Stokes (4.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is one of the two returning starters for Morgan, but the other is their key player, 6-4 guard Reggie Stokes, who averaged almost 17 points and 5.5 boards a game. However, Bozeman will have to replace his other two backcourt starters, Jermaine Bolden and Roger Barnes, who both averaged around 9 points a game. Cleveland State transfer Joe Davis will fit a shooting guard role alongside Stokes, while JC transfer Danny Smith will replace Bolden at the point.
The Bears are my pick to repeat, so they'll hold the MEAC's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9. To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-MEAC team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-MEAC Team
Player of the Year: Michael Deloach, 6-0 G, Sr. (Norfolk State)
Remainder of the Team
Tavarus Alston, 6-0 G, Sr. (North Carolina A&T)
Jason Flagler, 6-4 F, Sr. (South Carolina State)
Reggie Holmes, 6-4 F, Sr. (Morgan State)
Frisco Sandidge, 6-6 F, Sr. (Delaware State)