Heading into the new year (2022) and conference play for men in MEAC basketball, one thing is certain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised its ugly head again. How and whether the teams will get through this most recent spike is anyone’s guess. That’s all it would be.
MEAC basketball: A troubling sign
Over the past week, all seven scheduled games involving MEAC teams have either been postponed or canceled. Half of the teams in the league have either had games canceled or have suspended all activities. In some cases it involves both men’s and women’s teams. Following CDC and institution protocols, these teams and accompanying personnel are in quarantine. Activities will resume only when they are cleared.
Two of five games involving MEAC teams scheduled for this Wednesday, Jan. 29 will not be played (Coppin State at Indiana State – canceled, Morgan State at Kansas State – postponed). Howard’s date at Hampton on Thursday (Dec. 30) has also been canceled.
MEAC basketball not the only sport being hit
The same realities are being faced by other college and professional teams and leagues. Brace yourself for what comes next. It could be a return to gyms without fans if or when play resumes at all.
While we wait, let’s at least see how the eight MEAC men’s teams have done so far. We’ll preview and review them based on their standings. Conference play is scheduled to begin in earnest in the second week of January (1/8/22).
Norfolk State (9-4)
Having a winning record (9-4) headed into the new year is a rarity in the MEAC. Robert Jones’s defending MEAC basketball champion Spartans have done it. Three wins have been over non-NCAA Div. I programs but the Spartans have also been an impressive 6-4 vs. Div. I competition, 3-1 against HBCU Div. I comp.
The Spartans’ leader has been 6-1 senior guard Joe Bryant Jr. The Norfolk, Va. native is perhaps the best returning player in the league. Bryant is averaging a team-leading 14.2 points per game while shooting a deadeye .944 (51 of 54) from the line. The aggressive 220-pounder gets to the line often.
Transfers Kris Bankston (6-9, F, Ark.-Little Rock) and Christian Ings (6-2, G, Rider) have stepped into key spots. Ings (10.5 ppg.) has joined Bryant to form a lethal combo guard tandem in the backcourt. Bankston (11.2 ppg., team-best 6.8 rebounds per game) leads the league in field goal percentage (.753). He has provided a presence in the frontcourt with ten blocks. Key contributors off the bench are 6-7 transfer (Siena) forward Dana Tate Jr., (9.7 ppg.) and last year’s postseason hero Jalen Hawkins (8.9 ppg.).
The Spartans lead the MEAC giving up just 63.5 points per game.
Head coach Kenny Blakeney has deftly assembled a talented squad at Howard. Howard appears primed to challenge for league honors in just his second full-season on the job. It leads the league in scoring (79.6 ppg.). Howard is also the top shooting team from the field (.477), the line (.728) and behind the arc (.391).
Six-four, senior sharpshooting swingman Kyle Foster plays off the bench but leads the Bison in scoring (14.7 ppg.). He also tops the league in 3-point shooting (.512) and threes made (2.9 pg.) while canning over 50% of his shots from the field (.504). Four of the starters have also excelled. Six-ten redshirt sophomore Steve Settle is also a sniper, scoring 13.6 points per game on .549 shooting from the floor and .462 from behind the arc. Talented, versatile 5-11 freshman point guard Elijah Hawkins scores 12.6 points and leads the league handing out 6.7 assists per game.
Tai Bibbs (10.6 ppg.) and Randy Brumant (9.1 ppg., team bests 6.2 rpg., .667 FG%) have been solid contributors on both ends.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (7-8)
First-year head coach Tony Madlock is authoring a turnaround at South Carolina State. After losing five straight games to open the season and seven of their first eight, the Bulldogs have stormed back to win six of their last seven. He has assembled a deep and talented team.
Freshman off-guard TJ Madlock, the coach’s son, and soph Cameron Jones have been at the center of the turnaround. The 6-3 Madlock (11.3 ppg., 3.4 apg.) and the 6-6 Jones (11.7 ppg., 2.6 apg.) are the primary scorers and playmakers. Six-nine freshman Jemal Davis (7.7 ppg., 4.7 rpg.) and 6-8 graduates Dequan Williams (7.6 ppg., 6.0 rpg.) and Edward Oliver-Hampton 8.1 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) provide toughness and length down low.
Sub 6-foot guards Rahsaan Edwards (6.1 ppg.) and Rakeim Gary (8.1 ppg.) and 6-6 soph Omar Crosskey (7.3 ppg.), all sophomores, are key parts of a rotation that goes ten-deep and includes Latavian Lawrence and Rashamel Bulter.
MARYLAND-EASTERN SHORE (5-6)
The Hawks of Maryland-Eastern Shore have been another surprising team under second-year head coach Jason Crafton. They have big wins over Fordham (75-73, 2 OT) and Lehigh (81-75). What the Hawks lack in size they make up in hustle and tenacity.
Six-three senior Zion Styles (11.5 ppg.) and 6-1 sophomore Dom London (11.0 ppg.) join 2020-21 all freshman selection (6-5) De’Shawn Phillips (9.3 ppg.) as the scoring leaders. Six-five senior Nathaniel Pollard Jr. is the most versatile, scoring 8.4 points per game while leading Hawk rebounders (6.7 rpg.) and shooting .556 from the field. Six-three junior Kevon Voyles (7.4 ppg.) is the other starter. Six-three freshman guard Chase Davis (7.5 ppg.) is the first player off the bench.
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (6-9)
Head coach LeVelle Moton has the tough task of blending a new array of players into a cohesive, winning unit. One familiar face is Randy Miller Jr., who left for Indiana State and returns to NCCU where he was an all-MEAC guard and double-figure scorer in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He’s back and leading the Eagles at 12.5 ppg.
Six-eight senior Kris Monroe (9.7 ppg.) transferred in from Providence, 6-7 forward Dontavius King (9.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) toiled for College of Charleston, Marquee Maultsby was a key contributor at New Hampshire (6.1 ppg.). Eric Boone started 21 games for Georgia Southern (11 ppg.) and is getting 7.8 points per game for the Eagles early in the season.
Give them time, the Eagles will be ready to contend once conference play begins.
MORGAN STATE (4-7)
After a run to the MEAC finals in March, the Bears under Kevin Broadus have struggled to regain that footing. De’Torrian Ware, who averaged 26.6 points per game in three games during the tournament run, is off to a slow start averaging just 8.4 points per game. Heralded grad transfer Seventh Woods (7.6 ppg.), who had stints at UNC and South Carolina, has shown some flashes of his talent but has played in just five games.
Six-four senior Malik Miller (10.8 ppg., team-leading 8.3 rpg.), a 2020-21 starter, and 6-3 New Mexico transfer Keith McGee (11.1 ppg.) have been the most consistent players. Six-eight senior Lagio Grantsaan (9.1 ppg., 4.3 rpg.) and Isaiah Burke (8.4 ppg.), two other starters from a season ago, are contributing as is starting point guard Sherwyn Devonish (6.6 ppg., 3.8 apg.).
DELAWARE STATE (2-11)
It has been tough sledding for new Hornets’ coach Stan Waterman who is leading DSU after a storied career in the high school ranks in the state.
Six-three graduate Myles Carter (14.7 ppg., 3rd) and 6-foot senior guard Dominik Fragala (13.9 ppg., 5th) are among the league’s scoring leaders. Six-seven senior forward Fahim Jenneto is contributing 9.5 ppg. Six-eight sophomore Christoper Smith scores just 3.8 points per game but tops the league in blocks (22, 2.2 bpg.) while pulling down 6.4 rebounds per game.
Shooting and scoring (61.7 ppg., 8th) are the Hornets greatest challenges. They are seventh of the eight conference teams in field goal (.390) and 3-point percentage (.282).
COPPIN STATE (1-14)
Juan Dixon’s Eagles were a contender in the 2020-21 season but have also struggled. Despite their record, Dixon says he’s not worried and the team is on track to challenge again. We’ll see as conference play begins.
The record doesn’t indicate that Coppin has been in many of the games it has lost. CSU has four single-digit losses and another eight by less than 20 points. They have played 13 of their 15 games on the road.
Six-three redshirt sophomore Jesse Zarzuela is leading the league in scoring at 15.7 points per game and has handed out 43 assists (3.3 apg.). Athletic 6-7 forward Tyree Corbett is contributing 13.6 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game. Hard-nosed 6-4 sophomore guard Nendah Tarke is the third double-digit scorer at 11.5 points who pulls down 6.1 boards per game and leads the league in steals (2.9 spg.).
Kyle Cardaci (4.9 ppg.) and Daniel Titus (3.3 ppg.) are solid complimentary players.