Non-conference play is wrapping up for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s women’s basketball teams, so now attention turns to the games that count.
All eight schools are facing off against each other on Saturday. While the non-conference slate is more about how a team stacks up against unfamiliar competition, you never know what to expect until league play begins.
With that said, let’s look at how each MEAC women’s team measures up heading into the start of the conference play.
Coppin’s women pushed through a gauntlet of a non-conference schedule which featured the homecoming of Baltimore’s own Angel Reese and defending national champion LSU. The Eagles finished that slate 3-11 but did defeat Atlantic Coast Conference member Pittsburgh and played well in spurts against the Tigers, so Jermaine Woods’ team could be a team to watch.
Juniors Laila Lawrence and Faith Blackstone are the Eagles’ leading scorers, while senior guard Mossi Staples has started every game this year and leads the team in assists.
If Coppin can make teams chase them up and down the floor, as Woods hinted at Media Day he’d like his team to do, they’ll win their fair share of MEAC games.
The Hornet women were 7-19 last year in the middle of a tumultuous coaching situation that seems to have settled down considerably with interim coach Jazmone Turner and are looking to move in the MEAC standings.
The Hornets are led by senior forward Tyshonne Tollie and sophomore guard Savannah Brooks and also get substantial contributions from guards Denijsha Wilson, Ja-Naiah Perkins-Jackson and Kiarra McElrath.
Delaware State’s MEAC hopes rest solely on an improved defensive effort, as they’ve given up 100 points three times, in the interest of fairness, to Power 5 competition.
The Hornets can hang their hat on a 69-66 win over in-state rival Delaware, just the second instance in school history. That could give them confidence heading into MEAC play.
The Bison were dealt a significant blow when preseasonson player of the year Destiny Howell suffered an ACL injury that ended her season before it even started.
Howard has soldiered on through their non-conference schedule, and with recent wins at Florida Atlantic at home over D.C. rival American, they enter MEAC play on a high note.
Fifth-year guard Iyanna Warren is the team’s leading scorer while younger players, such as Tyana Walker and Nile Miller, are gaining valuable experience that should help head coach Ty Grace later on in the season.
Maryland-Eastern Shore surprisingly has one non-conference game left – they host Division III Lancaster Bible on Wednesday – but the Hawks have had a very impressive showing in the state of Maryland, defeating UMBC and Mount St. Mary’s, and George Washington.
Veteran head coach Fred Batchelor’s unconventional lineups have proven successful, with two of the team’s leading scorers – junior forward Ariana Seawell and senior guard Zamara Haynes – exclusively coming off the bench.
The Hawks allow just 63.5 points per game, an essential statistic in a league that has preached defense for a long time. If they can put pressure on MEAC opponents’ best offensive threats, they could be a sleeper.
The Bears, picked third in the pre-season polls, have had the same non-conference luck as most MEAC schools, but wins over UNC-Asheville and UMBC should help with their confidence heading into conference play.
Morgan State’s offense could be an issue, as no one is averaging double figures this season – Gabrielle Johnson and Joelle Johnson (no relation) are averaging 8.8 and 8.7 points per game, respectively, to lead the Bears.
Morgan State will need to find an extra scorer or two if they are to be a player in the MEAC race this season.
If there was ever a team to root for to become a mid-major surprise in the NCAA tournament, Larry Vickers’ Norfolk State squad is the sure-fire choice.
The Spartans are 10-4 going into MEAC play with wins over William & Mary, Drexel, and rival Hampton. Those came before N.C. State transfer Diamond Johnson was cleared to play, which is a scary thought.
Junior forward Kierra Wheeler is putting together a Player of the Year season, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 53% from the field and 75% from the free throw line. Johnson in her first four games with the Green and Gold is averaging 20.5 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and four steals per contest.
Norfolk State is not just a two-player team; Da’naijah Williams, Makoye Diawara, and Niya Fields all contribute offensively and defensively to the team’s success. If the Spartans stay the course, they’re the MEAC favorite without question and would be a terrifying 13-seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
North Carolina Central
The Eagles went through a coaching change just before the season began. Still, Terrance Baxter’s familiarity with the program has Central in a good spot, with non-conference wins over Western Carolina, UNC-Asheville, and UNC-Wilmington highlighting their season so far.
Central has a balanced offensive approach, with senior guard Kimiera Burks (14.2), first-year guard Kyla Bryant (13.8), and junior forward Morgan Callahan (10.9) all averaging double figures in points.
With that scoring punch, Central can hang around long enough to make an exciting battle for the second seed in the MEAC tournament.
South Carolina State
The Bulldogs are in the middle of a rebuild under head coach Tim Eatman and have had a rough go of it in non-conference play. They open up their MEAC schedule against Norfolk State at home on Saturday. When it rains, it pours.
The Bulldogs are averaging just 50 points per game as a team, with grad student Morgan Beachem leading with 8.3 points per game. South Carolina State has to find a way to put the ball in the basket, or it will be a long season in Orangeburg.