MEAC Preview: Learn the name James Daniel

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MEAC.

Believe it or not, the MEAC actually sent four teams to postseason tournaments in 2016, as Hampton won the league’s automatic bid while Norfolk State, Savannah State and South Carolina State all earned themselves a trip to the CIT.

The name to know in the MEAC this season is Howard‘s James Daniel, the reigning MEAC Player of the Year and the nation’s leading scorer last year at 27.1 points. The Bison finished just 6-10 in league play a year ago, but much of that was the result of injuries depleting the team’s ranks. Marcel Boyd, who is one of the best bigs in the conference, returns, as does James Miller, a 6-foot-4 redshirt junior who played just five games last year. With all that talent and experience returning, don’t be surprised to see Kevin Nickelberry’s club compete for a league title this year.

They likely won’t be the favorite entering the season, however, not as long as South Carolina State is still in the conference. The Bulldogs were a program in disarray earlier this decade, but with three of their top four scorers returning – including a sleeper for MEAC Player of the Year in E.J. Eaves – Murray Garvin has a team with the talent to make a return run to the NCAA tournament.

Hampton is the two-time reigning MEAC tournament champ and, given marquee matchups against Kentucky and Virginia, a win in the 2015 First Four and given head coach Ed Joyner’s penchant for holding headline-worthy press conferences, it’s probably fair to say that the Pirates are the marquee program in the league right now. But that doesn’t guarantee a three-peat, not when Hampton is losing four starters off of last year’s team.

Norfolk State made their fifth consecutive trip to a postseason tournament last season by accepting a bid to the CIT, but the Spartans will have their work cut out for them to get back this season. The program’s three top scorers all graduated, and Jordan Butler, who averaged 7.5 points last season, will be asked to be the leader of this unit. They might be able to compete if transfers Kerwin Okoro (Iowa State and Rutgers) and Carrington Ward (North Texas) pan out.

LeVelle Moton led N.C. Central to a stellar, 46-2 three-year run through the MEAC prior to the start of last season, but their roster turnover cause a drop-off last season. The Eagles finished 7-9 in league play and lose three starters. Bethune-Cookman had a chance to make a real push at a league title before Laron Smith opted to take advantage of the chance to be a grad transfer. He’ll be playing his final season at Auburn while the Wildcats will be looking to replace three starters.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 

PRESEASON MEAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: James Daniel, Howard

He was the Player of the Year last season when he was the nation’s leading scorer on a bad Howard team. This year, Daniel should score just as much, but the Bison should be much better. This is an easy pick.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MEAC TEAM:

  • Marcel Boyd, Howard: The Bison should have the best guard and the best big man in the league.
  • E.J. Eaves, South Carolina State: Eaves probably has the best chance to unseat Daniel as MEAC POY, but that would probably require SCSU to run away with the league title.
  • Jordan Potts, Bethune-Cookman: A second-team all-MEAC player last season, Potts averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 assists.
  • Sam Hunt, North Carolina A&T: Hunt is one of just four returning players to be named to one of the league’s three all-MEAC teams last year. There’s no word on if he broke up with anyone in a small town.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. South Carolina State
2. Howard
3. Norfolk State
4. Bethune-Cookman
5. N.C. Central
6. Hampton
7. Maryland-Eastern Shore
8. Coppin State
9. N.C. A&T
10. Delaware State
11. Morgan State
12. Savannah State
13. Florida A&M