Quietly, Norfolk State has picked up where it left off last year.
The Spartans shocked Missouri with a second-round (ahem, first round) victory in the NCAA Tournament as a two seed last season. This year, they’re 21-10 with perfect 16-0 conference record.
Now it’s time for someone to earn the automatic bid. Norfolk State has a full roster of players who know how to do it, with eleven returnees on the roster from last year’s MEAC tournament championship team. And when you look at the number of teams that came close to handing the Spartans their first conference loss earlier this season, it’s easy to see that it won’t be easy.
North Carolina Central only suffered one conference loss. Three other teams have double-digit conference wins and the top three teams will finish the season with winning records, overall. There isn’t a shortage of talent in the MEAC Tournament, and it could prove to be one of the most parody-filled tournaments of the second week.
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Where: Norfolk, Va. (Norfolk Scope Arena)
When: March 11-16
Final: March 16, 5:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Favorite: Norfolk State
It’s tough to argue…actually, no, it’s impossible to argue that a team that has a flawless record in-conference isn’t the favorite. Not to mention they’re the defending league tournament champions. Oh, and then there’s that whole “hometown advantage” thing.
And if they lose?: It’s going to be because they can’t stop conference foes from scoring. The Spartans are seventh in the MEAC, giving up 65.3 points per game. North Carolina Central, who finished second in the league at 15-1 and 22-8 overall, leads the conference in offense (67.9 points per game) and is second that category, defensively (56.8). The Eagles and Spartans never played this season (that’s a big #cmonman to the MEAC for that one) so we’re not sure how these two teams match up. They have the best shot at taking the title from Norfolk State.
Sleepers: Savannah State (11-5), Hampton (11-5) and Morgan State (10-6) all finished with 10+ conference wins. The Bears and Pirates have one-possession losses to Norfolk State. The Tigers were North Carolina Central’s lone conference loss.
Adrien Coleman, Bethune-Cookman – He’s the MEAC’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game and fifth-leading rebounder at 7.1 per game.
Michael Murray, Coppin State – The Eagles’ best player leads the conference pulling down nine rebounds per game and tops it off with 12.3 points per game.
Stanton Kidd, North Carolina Central – He’s third in scoring (14.5), eighth in rebounds (6.9), fifth in field goal percentage (56 percent) and 15th in free throw percentage (69.9 percent) in the MEAC.
CBT Prediction: Norfolk State, because experience matters in these one-bid league tournaments, and the Spartans have an undefeated conference record, the afforementioned 11 returnees, and the recent memories of last year’s NCAA tournament. Also, the last four winners of the MEAC tournament have had at least 20 wins.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten