MEAC Preview: Hampton trying to go back to tournament
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the MEAC.
Not much is expected of the MEAC from casual college hoops fans. The league is as one-bid as it gets and MEAC teams don’t get seeded outside the teens very frequently.
But Hampton made a solid impression in the big dance last season, as they made a surprising conference tournament run and followed that up by beating Manhattan in one of the play-in games. The Pirates return four starters from that team, led by talented redshirt senior forward Quinton Chievous, and the experienced backcourt of Reginald Johnson and Jervon Pressley is also back. Hampton is hoping they aren’t as inconsistent in the regular season as last year, but they have the returning talent to compete for another NCAA tournament bid.
Following behind Hampton is a talented roster at North Carolina Central that will feature a number of new faces. The Eagles were unbeaten regular season champions of the MEAC a year ago, but only senior guard Dante Holmes returns from that group. Redshirt forward Jay Copeland is a former starter who should contribute and head coach LeVelle Moton is hoping some newcomers and transfers step in and produce.
Norfolk State has the league’s most gifted player in senior guard Jeff Short, but the Spartans need more help for Short besides perimeter running mate D’Shon Taylor. Replacing forward Rashid Gaston will be the most challenging task for Norfolk State this season. Howard packs some of the league’s best scoring punch with guards James Daniel and James Miller returning. Head coach Kevin Nickelberry is hoping senior Prince Okoroh is healthy and productive after missing the 2014-15 season with a broken foot. If the Bison can find more around that dangerous trio, they could be dangerous.
One team that should rise in the MEAC standings this season is North Carolina A&T, who returns all five starters and eight key rotation players from last season. Senior forward Bruce Beckford is a potential all-MEAC talent and he’s surrounded by an experienced team that starts all upperclassmen. Maryland-Eastern Shore is hoping to ride the momentum of a solid first season under second-year head coach Bobby Collins as they return talented senior guard Devin Martin and starting forward Dominique Elliot. The Hawks also hope that MEAC Rookie of the Year Ryan Andino has a solid sophomore campaign.
Last season, South Carolina State had one of the worst offenses in the nation, but they’re hoping that improves as four starters return. Sophomore guard Edward Stephens returns after averaging 12 points per game and the Bulldogs want junior point guard Jalen White to take an additional leap after taking over the reigns last season. Looking for additional help this season will be Morgan State, who needs more around star senior forward Cedric Blossom. The 6-foot-6 Blossom played nearly 35 minutes a game last season and is the only returning player who averaged more than 6.6 points per game.
It was no issue for Coppin State to put up big points last season, but the team’s defense consistently let it down. After losing three starters who averaged double-figures in points, head coach Michael Grant is hoping that a reshaped roster with six new recruits can get some more stops. Junior guard Christian Kessee returns as the team’s most consistent producer. Delaware State has to replace MEAC leading scorer Amere May and MEAC Player of the Year Kendall Gray, so it will be a rebuilding year. Junior guard DeAndre Haywood is the team’s only returning starter.
A lot of question marks loom for Bethune-Cookman, as they rely heavily on three transfers and a big group of freshmen. Senior guard Ricky Johnson is back and he isn’t flanked by much experience. Savannah State was one of the worst in perimeter shooting in the country last season and the Tigers are hoping eight newcomers help space the floor. Florida A&M was 2-27 last season and the program is still dealing with NCAA sanctions from a low APR score.
MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule
- Favorite: “Hampton returns four starters from a team that won a game in the NCAA tournament. They’re the team to beat until proven otherwise.”
- Sleeper: “North Carolina A&T has a chance to make an impact. They are going to have talent and Cy [Alexander] tends to win when he has upperclassmen.”
- Star to watch: “Jeff Short is the best scorer in the league, a big wing who can score in multiple ways. He can take over a game by himself offensively.”
PRESEASON MEAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeff Short, Norfolk State
A tremendous two-way perimeter player, Short is the runaway preseason favorite in this category after a monster junior season. Short averaged 19.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while also putting up good shooting splits (49% FG, 39% 3PT, 82% FT). The 6-foot-4 Short can get going from the perimeter or get to the basket and can be unstoppable at times.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MEAC TEAM:
- Bruce Beckford, North Carolina A&T: One of the more underappreciated players in the MEAC, Beckford continues to improve over the course of his college career. Averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game on 44 percent shooting and 82 percent from the free-throw line.
- Dante Holmes, North Carolina Central: The Eagles lose four starters, but the 6-foot-3 senior guard returns after averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Holmes will be relied on to put up good numbers across the board now that he’s a senior leader.
- Quinton Chievous, Hampton: The 6-foot-6 senior put up some big games on good competition. Chievous had three double-doubles in his final four games including the NCAA tournament against Manhattan and Kentucky.
- James Daniel, Howard: Howard’s first 1,000-point scorer as an underclassman, Daniel averaged 16.7 points and 2.4 assists per game as a sophomore.
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2. North Carolina Central
3. Norfolk State
5. North Carolina A&T
6. Maryland-Eastern Shore
7. South Carolina State
8. Morgan State
9. Coppin State
10. Delaware State
12. Savannah State
13. Florida A&M