Thursday, September 12, 2013

32 In 32: Mideastern Athletic Conference

Kyle O'Quinn is gone, but Norfolk State is hoping for similar result from his senior season, which was highlighted by NCAA Tournament upset of Missouri. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Following a one-day hiatus, our "32 In 32" series resumes tonight, with a look at the 13-team Mideastern Athletic Conference, which still rides high off Norfolk State's dramatic upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament:

1) Norfolk State - The Spartans' attempt at an NCAA Tournament encore ended with a shocking loss to Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC quarterfinals after Norfolk State completed an undefeated regular season in conference play. New head coach Robert Jones, once the top assistant to Anthony Evans until he was hired at Florida International, takes over at the helm, and retains the mounds of New York flavor that Evans built the program on as a supporting cast for senior guards Pendarvis Williams and Malcolm Hawkins. Sophomore RaShid Gaston, the Spartans' leading rebounder last season, will team with seven-footer Brandon Goode to form an imposing interior duo.

2) North Carolina Central - The Eagles, whose loss to eventual league champion North Carolina A&T precluded them from the NCAA Tournament, return four starters from a team who won all but one game in the MEAC regular season. Senior guard Jeremy Ingram could very well be the most dynamic scorer in the conference, and enters this season on the heels of a campaign in which he shot 39 percent from three-point range a year ago. Forwards Stanton Kidd and Jay Copeland will be aided by the return of senior point guard Emanuel Chapman, who makes the motor run for the Eagles, and averaged nearly six assists per contest last year.

3) Morgan State - Todd Bozeman has made the most of his second chance since taking the reins of the Bears program, winning the MEAC in 2010 and keeping the Baltimore school in contention ever since. This season, guards Justin Black and Anthony Hubbard return to the Charm City for their senior campaigns, anchoring the backcourt and demonstrating their rebounding prowess while 7-2 center Ian Chiles and 6-9 junior forward Shaquille Duncan exploit their opponents in the paint.

4) Hampton - The Pirates, best known for winning an NCAA Tournament game as a No. 15 seed in 2001, have a deceptively strong team that can contend if given the right scenarios. Deron Powers, who led the team in scoring and assists as a freshman point guard, returns for his sophomore year, and has the services of junior wing Du'Vaughn Maxwell to form the second half of an inside/outside scoring duo that will ease the pressure on sophomore big man Emmanuel Okoroba. Die-hard St. John's fans will recognize Dwight Meikle's name on the Hampton roster, as the sophomore from Baltimore was a one-time verbal commit for Steve Lavin before having a change of heart.

5) Florida A&M - The Rattlers, who went 8-23 last season, have the pieces in place to be a sleeper team in the MEAC this season, and senior guard Jamie Adams will be the catalyst of the rise up the ladder if he can hold on to the ball. Senior guards Muhammad Abdul-Aleem and Reggie Lewis will be keys this season, given the lack of size and experience on the Florida A&M front line.

6) Savannah State - The Tigers lose point guard Preston Blackman and swingman Rashad Hassan, arguably the two best players on their 19-15 team a year ago, placing the pressure on senior guard Deven Williams to not just step into the starting lineup, but also to lead this year's Savannah State roster as well. Senior forward Jyles Smith, the Tigers' top returning rebounder with five boards per game last year, will be the biggest concern going into the season.

7) North Carolina A&T - The reigning conference champions retain the biggest piece of their NCAA Tournament run in Bronx guard Lamont Middleton, but lose his two biggest running mates in Adrian Powell and Jean Louisme. Sophomore Bruce Beckford will have a bigger role inside the paint for the Aggies this season while senior guard Jeremy Underwood will be Middleton's new backcourt partner after serving as the sixth man last season.

8) Delaware State - Senior guard Casey Walker will guide the Hornets in the absence of both Tahj Tate and Marques Oliver, with junior swingman Tyshawn Bell primed for a breakout season on the wing after the homegrown talent shot 42 percent from three-point range last year. Junior center Kendall Gray will need to improve his offensive productivity as well as his rebounding after Delaware State managed just 32 boards per game on average last season.

9) Coppin State - Senior swingman Michael Murray could be one of the best players most fans have never heard of, and the Brooklyn native may end up averaging a double-double on the year after twelve points and nearly nine rebounds per game last season. Shooting guard Andre Armstrong, also a senior, will need to maintain his consistency from long range along with 5-10 junior Taariq Cephas in a deep guard stable that will need to stabilize the frontcourt, which takes a slight hit with swingman Patrick Cole having transferred to Siena.

10) Bethune-Cookman - The Wildcats, responsible for ending Norfolk State's dream of a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, lose each of their four leading scorers as junior point guard Ricky Johnson becomes the face of the team, with senior swingman Malik Jackson to lead the supporting cast. Daquan Brown will make an immediate impact by being able to play right away, as the 6-10 senior arrives as a graduate transfer after spending the 2012-13 season with Mo Cassara at Hofstra.

11) South Carolina State - The Bulldogs get a huge boost with the return of 6-11 senior center Matthew Hezekiah, who will attempt to make life easier for Senegalese guard Adama Adams, whose role in the backcourt becomes more vital with the graduation of point guard Khalif Toombs. Sophomore forward Darryl Palmer may average a double-double if he can increase his rebounding capability.

12) Maryland-Eastern Shore - The Hawks struggled through a 2-26 campaign last year, but have much more experience under their young belts that will serve them well this season. Forwards Kevin Mays and Troy Snyder, both of whom were double-figure scorers for UMES last year, return along with junior guard Kyree Jones, who averaged over thirteen points per contest despite being limited to eleven contests last season.

13) Howard - Kevin Nickelberry has not had anything easy at the helm of the Bison, and this season will be no different, with nine freshmen on the roster in our nation's capital. Junior swingman Prince Okoroh is the only player among Howard's top seven scorers last season to return, leaving guard Brandon Ford and forward Theodore Boyomo to become the second and third options after combining to average four points per game in 26 minutes.

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