Levelle Moton’s North Carolina Central Eagles put together an outstanding season, winning 25 games overall and going 16-1 in MEAC play. But if anyone’s assuming that NCCU will simply roll to the league’s automatic bid, consider what happened in last year’s tournament. The top three seeds were all bounced in the quarterfinals, with seven-seed North Carolina A&T winning the title. Hampton and Morgan State are the two and three-seeds, respectively, in this season’s event and four-seed Norfolk State should be considered a threat to win the automatic bid as well.
After losing their conference opener the Eagles have won 16 straight games, and there’s even been talk about this team possibly being the best in the history of the MEAC. NCCU also has a non-conference win at N.C. State to its credit, and Jeremy Ingram’s led the way all season long. The Eagles aren’t a running team but they’ve been dominant on both ends of the floor in conference play, leading the MEAC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And you can’t overlook Jordan Parks either, as he’s averaging 10.2 points per game off the bench.
And if they lose?: Hampton
The Pirates may be able to rely on proximity during the tournament, with the trek from Hampton to Norfolk being a more than manageable one for their fans. But they’ve also got quality players, with forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell and guard Deron Powers being the headlines. Hampton’s won ten of its last 11 games, with the lone defeat being a 94-92 loss at Morgan State. The Bears may be the one concern for Hampton in their quest to reach the final, as Morgan State won both regular season meetings.
Norfolk State: Robert Jones may be in his first season as a head coach but he was on the staff that led the Spartans to the NCAA tournament in 2012, and
Morgan State: Todd Bozeman’s Bears won 11 conference games, with Justin Black being one of the MEAC’s best scorers.
Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central: Ingram’s averaging 20.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the MEAC’s best team.
Pendarvis Williams, Norfolk State: Williams (15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) is second on the team in scoring, third in rebounds and second in assists.
Du’Vaughn Maxwell, Hampton: Maxwell lead the Pirates in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
CBT Prediction: North Carolina Central finishes the job this time around, beating Hampton in the title game.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.