2006 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament Preview
*** 2006 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament Preview ***
The Sports Network
By John Agovino, College Basketball Staff Writer
FACTS & STATS: Site: RBC Center (20,000) -- Raleigh, North Carolina. Dates: March 7-11. Television: ESPN Classic (Championship game). Annual: 35th. Defending Champion: Delaware State
OUTLOOK: The Delaware State Hornets go in search of their second straight Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament title, although doing so may prove difficult with some pesky squads awaiting their chance to knock off the defending champs. Last season, the Hornets posted a thrilling 55-53 victory over Howard in the championship game for their first-ever MEAC title. Delaware State made a profound statement this season, showing the rest of the conference they are the team to beat coming into the tourney, as the Hornets recorded a sensational 16-2 mark versus MEAC foes.
After Delaware State there is a far drop off in production, but claiming the second seed in the tournament is Coppin State, which finished the season with a 12-6 ledger in the MEAC. Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State both finished with identical 11-7 league marks, but due to tiebreakers, the Wildcats head into the tourney with the third seed while the Bulldogs wind up seeded fourth. A three-way tie between Florida A&M, Hampton and Norfolk State, all of which finished with a mediocre 10-8 record, forced another tiebreaker scenario, with the Rattlers earning the fifth seed, Hampton picking up the sixth seed and Norfolk State coming in seventh. North Carolina A&T, Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Morgan State round out the bottom portion of the tournament. The Aggies finished the year with a terrible 6-12 mark in the MEAC, but the team was still able to capture the eighth seed, while Howard was awarded the ninth seed following its 5-13 mark in conference. The Hawks and Golden Bears both ended the year with 4-14 league ledgers and come into the postseason seeded 10th and 11th, respectively.
Delaware State will try to be the first school in the MEAC to win back-to-back titles since 2001-02 when Hampton turned the trick. Last season, the Hornets captured the top seed with a 14-4 mark, but this time around Delaware State was even better, finishing the year with an 18-12 overall record which included an outstanding 16-2 mark in league action. The Hornets closed out the regular season with victories in seven of their last eight games, and because of their solid play the team earned a bye into the quarterfinals.
The second seed belongs to Coppin State, which closed out the season with a 12-6 ledger in conference. Overall, the Eagles struggled in posting a 12-17 mark, and they come into the postseason with three losses in their last four games. Coppin State owns a solid 23-14 record in the postseason gathering and has won three tourney titles, the last coming back in 1993.
The Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman posted a mediocre 11-7 mark in the MEAC and finished the year tied for third place in the standings with South Carolina State, but because the Wildcats defeated SCSU twice, they earned the third seed in the tournament. Bethune-Cookman is one of only two teams currently in the MEAC without a tournament title. In fact, the Wildcats have never made it to the final game and are just 14-25 in the event.
The fourth and fifth seeds belong to South Carolina State and Florida A&M, respectively. Both schools earned a pass into the quarterfinal round, but are set to square off against each other on March 9th, while the other three schools with a bye into the quarters have to wait to see who they will play. As mentioned before, the Bulldogs finished the season tied for third place with Bethune-Cookman, but because of two setbacks to the Wildcats, South Carolina State took the fourth seed. The Bulldogs closed out the regular season with a solid run, winning five of their last six contests, including three straight. As for the Rattlers, they ended the year with a 10-8 mark in the MEAC, but they struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games. Florida A&M is 26-20 in postseason action and is one of three current MEAC members with three tourney titles -- the latest coming in 2004.
As for the first round, action begins with the seventh-seeded Norfolk State Spartans taking on the 10th-seeded Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks. The Spartans were only 11-17 overall this season, but the team was able to post a mediocre 10-8 ledger in MEAC play. Norfolk State comes into the tournament as one of the best defensive teams in the conference, surrendering just 64.5 ppg. The Spartans have only played nine postseason games in the MEAC, and are 3-6 in those contests. As for the Hawks, they ended the year with an woeful 7-21 overall mark, which included just four wins in 18 MEAC bouts. UMES has been dreadful at the defensive end this season, surrendering a league-worst 74.8 ppg. The team really suffered down the stretch, losing eight of its last 10 games.
The other opening-day first-round matchup pits the ninth-seeded Howard Bison against the eighth-seeded North Carolina A&T Aggies. Not much went right for either team this season, as the two finished the year with a combined 12-43 record. Howard was atrocious all season, but comes into the tournament as one of the hotter teams in the conference, winning four of its last five games. The Bison are one of three teams in the MEAC with three conference titles, but since winning their last postseason tournament back in 1992, the squad has been only made it to the final game once, falling to Hampton in 2002. As for the Aggies, they were not much better this year, going just 6-22 overall, and 6-12 in league play. Unfortunately, the Aggies were terrible from start to finish and closed out the year with nine losses in their last 12 games. NCAT has not won a title since 1995, but the team has been a staple in the MEAC over the years, winning 15 titles, which is three times more than its closest opponent. Compared to any of the current teams in the MEAC, the Aggies have the best record in the postseason, as the team is currently 46-20.
The final first-round game will be played on Wednesday, March 8th when the 11th-seeded Morgan State Golden Bears clash with the sixth-seeded Hampton Pirates. While a few teams had problems in the MEAC this season, none were worse then Morgan State, which finished the season with a terrible 4-14 mark against league opponents. The team was only 4-25 overall and closed out the regular season ranking last in the MEAC in both scoring offense (55.0 ppg) and scoring defense (74.8 ppg). The Golden Bears have only one conference tournament title to their credit, defeating Howard back in 1997, and since then the team has only made it to the final contest once. As for the Pirates, they were one of three teams to close out the year with a 10-8 mark in league action. The team was only 12-15 overall and finished as one of the best defensive teams in the MEAC, surrendering just 65.2 ppg. While the Pirates are the No. 6 in the tournament, there is no guarantee that they will move on to the next round, especially since the team closed out the regular slate with losses in six of its last seven games. Since 2001, Hampton has been in the final game four times, winning twice. Last season, the Pirates suffered a heartbreaking loss to Delaware State in the championship game.
Throughout the years, North Carolina A&T has been the most dominant team in the MEAC, winning 15 tourney titles, but the last time the team won was back in 1995. Next in line is South Carolina State, which has claimed five tournament crowns, including its most recent back in 2003. Howard, Florida A&M and Coppin State have all won three titles apiece, but Howard's last one came way back in 1992, and Coppin State's back in 1993. Hampton has just two championships, but has been in the final match four of the past five years. Morgan State, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State all have one title, but Morgan State has not won since 1977 and UMES has not raised the trophy since 1974. As for the Hornets, they took the title last season and have the best chance at winning this year's championship. Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State are the only two schools without a MEAC Tournament title.
Delaware State was the most dominant team in the MEAC this season, and not many teams have the ability to defeat the Hornets in this tournament. But if another team other than DSU is to move on to the NCAA Tournament, it could be the Coppin State Eagles or the South Carolina State Bulldogs. A team with an outside shot and a squad which could be considered a dark horse is the Hampton Pirates. As mentioned previously, the Pirates have been in the title game in four of the last five years and they have been extremely successful since joining the MEAC.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Delaware State