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2020-21 MEAC Basketball Preview

LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 MEAC Basketball Preview. North Carolina Central kept its stranglehold on the league with another regular-season title. The Eagles were looking to make their fourth-straight NCAA appearance before the pandemic. However, they were pushed by rival North Carolina A&T as well as Norfolk State. Those three all have teams that are more than ready to compete once again. The MEAC race will be fun to watch this season.

2020-21 MEAC Basketball Preview

11. South Carolina State Bulldogs

Key Returners: Tariq Simmons

Key Losses: Damani Applewhite, Tashombe Riley, Ian Kinard

Key Newcomers: Brandynn Manning (JUCO), Majok Madol (JUCO), Sebastian Guitian (JUCO)

South Carolina State arguably lost the most of any MEAC team from last season. The biggest loss is Applewhite, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game on his way to a second-team recognition. The Bulldogs are excited about their incoming recruiting class, but there is not much else to hang their hat on for 2020-21. This season will be all about finding a new identity and powering through the growing pains. Anything other than a last-place finish would be a success this season.

10. UMES Hawks

Key Returners: Da’Shawn Phillip, Walter Prevost, Glen Anderson

Key Losses: A.J. Cheeseman, Ty Gibson

Key Newcomers: Donchevell Nugent (JUCO), Mayowa Akinsanya (JUCO), Nathaniel Pollard Jr. (JUCO)

UMES was about as bad is it gets last season from an offensive standpoint. The Hawks were sub-350 in most categories. However, the team was also young and had a lot of new pieces as well as a new head coach. A new wave of transfers will be expected to come in and help fix things in Jason Crafton’s second year, but there is a young core to build around as well. UMES will still finish close to the bottom of the league, but they should also show some signs of improvement.

9. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

Key Returners: Joe French

Key Losses: Cletrell Pope, Isaiah Bailey, Malik Maitland

Key Newcomers: Collins Joseph (JUCO), Matthew Mondesir (Central Arkansas), Calvin Poulina (JUCO)

Bethune-Cookman was a senior-laden team last season, which helped them ascend to a fourth-place finish. Pope was the biggest piece of that group, averaging a double-double while also taking home the defensive player of the year award. However, all of those guys have moved on, leaving the Wildcats with a cupboard that needs a bit of restocking for 2020-21. Younger players will have to step up and will gain more experience, while the transfers will be expected to be veteran leaders. Unfortunately, it seems Bethune-Cookman will be spending their final season in the MEAC rebuilding rather than competing.

8. Delaware State Hornets

Key Returners: Johquin Wiley, Lance Singh III, Ameer Bennett

Key Losses: John Crosby

Key Newcomers: Zach Kent (Tennessee), Chris Sodom (Georgetown), Dominik Fragala (JUCO)

Delaware State returns most of its key pieces from last season. However, Crosby was the leader of the 2019-20 squad, averaging 19.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. The Hornets will have to find a way to replace his ability to score at will at times. Luckily, they possess one of the more experienced backcourts in the league. The waiver approval for Kent will boost them inside as well. Delaware State will distance itself from the bottom of the league and could finish higher than this if things come together quicker than expected.

7. Florida A&M Rattlers

Key Returners: M.J. Randolph, Evins Desir, D.J. Jones

Key Losses: Rod Melton Jr., Nasir Core

Key Newcomers: Jai Clark (JUCO), Johnny Brown (JUCO), Wylie Howard III (JUCO)

Florida A&M had a respectable season last year behind the leadership of Melton. He averaged 13.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. good enough for a spot on the league’s second-team. He is gone, but the supporting cast returns, leaving the Rattlers in decent shape. The incoming junior college transfers will be expected to provide depth behind the starters. Florida A&M has what it takes to try and climb into the top of the league before leaving for the SWAC next season.

6. Coppin State Eagles

Key Returners: Koby Thomas, Dejuan Clayton

Key Losses: Kamar McKnight, Andrew Robinson, Brendan Medley-Bacon

Key Newcomers: Anthony Tarke (UTEP), Bryce Hunt (JUCO), Chereef Knox (St. Joseph’s)

Coppin State showed vast improvement last season and is primed to take yet another step forward this season. Thomas and Clayton will be at the forefront of that movement. Otherwise, there are new faces around, including graduate transfer Tarke from UTEP. The Eagles are hoping he will perform as he did at NJIT rather than he did in his limited role with the Miners. Coppin State should have enough to finish in the top half of the league again but is still a step behind the next tier.

5. Howard Bison

Key Returners: Wayne Bristol Jr., Nate Garvey, Zion Cousins

Key Losses: Charles Williams

Key Newcomers: Makur Maker, Sam Green (Drexel), Deven Richmond (JUCO)

It is amazing how much of an impact one recruit can make. That is exactly what Howard is hoping for with the commitment of Makur Maker. The five-star is obviously the highest recruit in program history, and Maker is hoping he will open the door for other high-profile recruits to commit to HBCUs. However, while he will improve this team, they still have to mesh together as a unit. The backcourt is experienced, while the frontcourt will rely on Maker’s raw ability. The Bison could certainly push for a title, but they could also be a big disappointment.

4. Morgan State Bears

Key Returners: Sheryn Devonish-Prince Jr., Troy Baxter, Malik Miller

Key Losses: Stanley Davis, David Syfax

Key Newcomers: Naseem Khaalid, Eli Wright (Western Kentucky), Will Thomas

Morgan State returns most of its key pieces on a team that competed last season but ultimately finished in sixth place. However, they were only a few wins away from shifting their place in the standings drastically. The program is hoping that highly-touted recruit Khaalid will come in and provide a spark immediately. If things come together quickly, Morgan State is a sleeper pick to ascend to the top of the MEAC.

3. North Carolina Central Eagles

Key Returners: C.J. Keyser, Jordan Perkins, Nicolas Fennell

Key Losses: Jibri Blount, Randy Miller Jr.

Key Newcomers: Jamir Moultrie (La Salle), Cameron Bowles (Chicago State), Nehemie Kabeya (JUCO)

North Carolina Central will look to defend its title without Player of the Year, Blount. That includes replacing his production of 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Keyser seems like the most likely candidate to do so, finishing as a third-team selection last season. Furthermore, head coach LeVelle Moton finds a way to make his team competitive. The Eagles still have plenty left to defend their title and make it back to the NCAA Tournament. However, the gap has shrunk between them and the rest of the league. Do not be surprised if they are supplanted from the league’s top spot.

2. North Carolina A&T Aggies

Key Returners: Kameron Langley, Fred Cleveland Jr., Tyrone Lyons

Key Losses: Ronald Jackson, Andre Jackson, Devin Haygood

Key Newcomers: Blake Harris (NC State), Tyler Jones (UMES), Quentin Jones (JUCO)

North Carolina A&T is blessed in its backcourt, returning lots of experience and arguably the league’s best returning player in Langley. He can do it all for the Aggies and is the type of player that can win games on his own at times. Cleveland will also take on a bigger role after being named to the all-rookie team. The biggest question is how well the frontcourt will play, with only Lyons returning with experience. Still, guards win games at the mid-major level, and NCAT appears to have the best backcourt in the MEAC.

1. Norfolk State Spartans

Key Returners: Joe Bryant Jr., DeVante Carter

Key Losses: Jermaine Bishop, Steven Whitley

Key Newcomers: Mustafa Lawrence (Fresno State), J.J. Matthews (Arkansas State), Nate Tabor

Norfolk State seemed to spend most of the season sitting in first place in the standings before being overcome in the season’s final few weeks. The losses of all-league players Bishop and Whitley will hurt, but that blow will be softened with the arrivals of Lawrence and Matthews. Combine them with the rest of the team returning, and the Spartans have what it takes to win the league title this season. Freshman Tabor will add depth to a talented roster that is the favorite here.

2020-21 MEAC Basketball Preview Award Projections

Player of the Year: Kameron Langley, North Carolina A&T

Langley is the kind of playmaker that coaches would love to have. Last season he averaged 9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game. However, the best part of his game is his passing ability, as he averaged a ridiculous eight assists per game. Langley was a no-brainer first-team selection in 2019-20. This season, he should be the no-brainer choice for the player of the year award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Bryant Jr., Norfolk State

Bryant became a full-time starter for Norfolk State last season and improved greatly. He averaged 1.8 steals per game, disrupting opposing offenses and kickstarting opportunities for the Spartans. He also finished in the top six in defensive rating and defensive win shares. All of those numbers should increase as he enters his second year as a starter.

Rookie of the Year: Makur Maker, Howard

This may be the easiest award to project across any league in the preseason. Maker is a one-of-a-kind talent that is looking to boost the profile of both his school and the league. The raw talent is there, but Maker needs to work on refining his skills as his ultimate prize is playing in the NBA. He should be able to win this honor, but he should be careful not to put too much pressure on himself as he looks to help Howard achieve a massive turnaround.

Coach of the Year: Kenny Blakeney, Howard

Being able to nab Maker on the recruiting trail already helps Blakeney’s chances here. However, he will really earn this if he can get this group to live up to their preseason expectations. There is a real possibility of a turnaround of at least ten wins this season, as well as a vault up the MEAC standings. If that happens, this honor will be coming to Washington D.C.

All-Conference First-Team: Kameron Langley (North Carolina A&T), C.J. Keyser (North Carolina Central), Joe Bryant Jr. (Norfolk State), Troy Baxter (Morgan State), Makur Maker (Howard)

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