Howard University pulled off the rare double of winning both the regular season and conference titles last season.
This year may prove to be a huge challenge to holding on to that crown. Early returns suggest that the fight for supremacy in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is going to be as tough as ever.
There’s one program that’s head and shoulders above the fray going into the meat of the MEAC schedule, though.
Norfolk State enters league play with a record of 9-6, with a number of impressive non-conference wins against CAA, Atlantic 10, and Missouri Valley Conference competition being among the notable victories. Head coach Robert Jones has the Spartans poised for a potential regular season. championship run in the league.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the featured players, match-ups, and contenders going into MEAC conference play.
The transfer portal makes a HUGE impact
The ever evolving nature of the transfer portal has changed the way programs go about the entire roster-building and recruiting process. It’s also really changed the talent landscape of every mid-major conference.
The MEAC is among those leagues that saw a huge infusion of talent and potential star power. That list starts with arguably the best lead guard in the conference to this point in the season, Norfolk State point guard Jamarii Thomas. The UNC-Wilmington transfer and Greensboro, North Carolina native is averaging 18 points a game for the Spartans, leading an extremely potent guard rotation along with Christian Ings and fellow Rider transfer Allen Bertrand.
The Spartans aren’t the only program in the MEAC that has transfers heavily impacting the fortunes of their program. Defending MEAC champ Howard was also heavily active in the transfer portal.
They lost All-MEAC talents Elijah Hawkins (Minnesota) and Steve Settle III (Temple) to the transfer portal but landed a number of talented players that could figure in the Bison quest to repeat.
Who were the most notable of those transfers?
Former Ivy League player of the year Seth Towns has become an immediate scoring option in the post for the Bison, adding another player who can both play with their back to the basket or face up offensively and score at all three levels.
Former four-star recruit and Notre Dame transfer Dom Campbell also has the chance to make an impact on that deep Howard front-court rotation. Wynston Tabbs (East Carolina) and Myles Thompson (St. Francis- PA) of Morgan State are two other notable names that look to give their respective squad a jump start.
Players to watch
The aforementioned Thomas has been arguably the most impressive player coming into league play. His ability to get to the rim and finish has made the Norfolk State backcourt a formidable foe to plan for.
As good as the Spartans have been on the perimeter, Howard may have the best platoon of forwards and post-players in the league. The transfers have gotten a lot of attention, but there are two potential All-MEAC selections in junior swingman Bryce Harris and last year’s MEAC Freshman of the Year Shy Odom.
The X-factor for another Bison run to a title may rest with the long-range shooting stroke of junior guard Marcus Dockery. Since transferring from Maryland last year, he’s proven to be among the best perimeter scorers in the conference. His ability to hit the 3-point shot will figure big in the Bison push to repeat.
Delaware State has started to round into good form as the first portion of the basketball season comes to a close. The backcourt of Martaz Robinson and Jevin Muniz are among the best in the MEAC.
Speaking of potent guard tandems, North Carolina Central and coach LeVelle Moton have a prolific 1-2 punch of their own in guards Fred Cleveland Jr. and Ja’Darius Harris. Both are averaging 15 points a game and look to be a nightmare for opposing defenses to deal with.
Five MEAC games to watch
Here are some league games that could be pivotal in the race for the regular season MEAC crown and beyond:
Norfolk State vs. North Carolina Central (Jan. 8th, Durham, N.C.)
The Spartans go on the road to one of the hardest places in the league to play at McDougald-McClendon Arena in a match-up between two of the best backcourt rotations in the conference. The outcome will go a long way to setting the tone of the conference race.
Norfolk State vs. Howard (Jan. 20th, Washington, D.C.) The Bison and Spartans had three epic battles last season, culminating with one of the most exciting MEAC tourney finals in recent memory. The stakes look to be just as high this season as potentially the two most talented squads in the league renew hostilities in Burr Gymnasium to start 2024.
Morgan State vs. Howard (Jan. 27th, Baltimore, MD) Another rivalry game that could take on huge implications as the regular conference race progresses. Two really good front courts will go head-to-head.
Delaware State vs. Howard (Feb. 5th, Dover, DE) Memorial Hall has been a house of horrors for opponents over the past few seasons. Last year’s overtime classic between the Hornets and Bison was no different, with Howard escaping Dover with a win. This year’s match-up later in the conference slate looms to be just as big, with potential conference title ramifications for both contenders.
University of Maryland Eastern Shore vs. Norfolk State (Feb 5th, Princess Anne, MD)
Last year’s game with the Spartans was a tough, hard-nosed defensive affair where scoring was hard to come by. This year’s tilt at the Hytche Center looks to be the same way, which could have big implications for the latter part of the MEAC regular-season title race.
A final word …
This Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedule looks to be just as exciting as the year before. New casts. New characters. Same exciting basketball product. Look for the victor of the MEAC hoops wars to be around the 15-seed range when bids for the Big Dance go out.
Tennessee State Basketball legend Dick “Skull” Barnett has been selected as one of 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. https://twitter.com/tsutigersmbb/status/1760027281525711074?s=12&t=NPFjWlxAzW3wZ9iBa1Vfzw Barnett played at...