The race for the Mid-Eastern Conference Men’s Basketball Regular Season Championship is rounding the bend and heading into the home stretch as five teams have a chance to win the regular season crown and head into the tournament as the overall No.1 seed.
All these teams have two or three games remaining, and with the exception of one team, are currently on a two or three game winning streak.
(conference wins and losses; games behind listed; current win-loss streak)
North Carolina A&T 11-3 — ; Won 3 straight
North Carolina Central 10-3 (.5) ; Won 2 straight
Norfolk State 9-4 (1.5) ; Lost 2 straight
Bethune-Cookman 9-5 (2) ; Won 3 straight
Morgan State 9-5 (2) ; Won 2 straight
The teams controlling their destiny
North Carolina A&T (15-14, 11-3) – Remaining Games: @ South Carolina St (3/2), @ North Carolina Central (3/5)
Regardless of the outcome over the next week, Coach Will Jones has earned the MEAC Coach of the Year, and maybe a permanent job as the Aggie’s men’s basketball coach moving forward. Jones, who took over the program in late-December when Jay Joyner was indefinitely suspended, has the Aggies on the doorstep of winning their first regular season title since the 1991-92 season when they shared with Howard. He has them playing at a better pace in conference than during the non-conference schedule. NC A&T was averaging 62.4 ppg during the first 15 games of the season to leading the conference in scoring offense at an 80.9 ppg average in 14 conference games. And let’s not forget another perfect home conference record. That’s 25-consecutive wins and three straight unbeaten home conference seasons. “Club Corbett” as it has become known is without a doubt the toughest place to play in the MEAC.
NC A&T is led by senior Ron Jackson is a Player of the Year Candidate averaging 16.8 ppg (6th overall) and 12.4 rpg (tied-first) with six double-doubles in conference games. He’s been named the Defensive Player of the Week twice during the conference season.
The Aggies defeated SC State 78-63 back on February 3rd in Greensboro, so they’ll be favored even on the road. But the rematch with North Carolina Central, currently 0.5 games behind, will probably not be as easy for the Aggies as the first meeting back on February 17th which A&T won 77-60. Seems only fitting that this Aggie-Eagle matchup will determine a championship, seeding and possibly conference player of the year.
North Carolina Central (14-13, 10-3) – Remaining Games: @ South Carolina St (Feb 29), vs Bethune-Cookman (March 2), vs NC A&T (March 5)
The Eagles have a slight advantage down the stretch with 2 of their 3 remaining games at home, where they are unbeaten this year (conference and non-conf). Additionally, they have one of the toughest scoring defenses in the MEAC. NCCU has allowed a league-best 60.2 ppg and have the second-best scoring margin (+8.5) right behind NC A&T’s +8.9.
According to ESPN, Senior Jibri Blount is the favorite to win MEAC Player of the Year and it’s hard to argue against that given he has been named Player of the Week four times during the conference season. In conference play, he’s averaging league highs in minutes per game (37.0), points per game (19.9) and 2pt FGs made (95).
With a second win against SC State whom they beat 73-56 back on February 1, the Eagles will be in a first-place tie with 2 games to play. BCU did not fare well against NCCU at home back on January 18. NCCU won 86-59. Sweeps over SC State and BCU will allow the Eagles to defend their loss to NC A&T, the only team to score more than 70 points against them in 2020.
The teams needing help
Norfolk State (13-15, 9-4) – Remaining Games: vs Howard (February 29), @ Delaware St (March 2), @ Morgan St (March 5)
Road trips to North Carolina and Florida have been unpleasant road trips for the Spartans at the beginning of the month and last week. NSU had a pair of 6-point losses to NC A&T and NCCU in less than a 45-hour time span. But, they found their comfort spot at home over a 3-game stretch where the Spartans have not lost a conference game. They eventually found themselves in first place prior to taking a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida A&M, a team they had beaten 17 straight times dating back to 2006-07. NSU lost 66-63. Then they traveled to Daytona Beach, FL to play BCU and lost by 23.
They uneven schedule has not played out to NSU’s advantage this year as they don’t get a chance to defend those road losses to A&T and NCCU. But, they will get to play 0-13 Howard and 2-11 Delaware State, who they defeated by 28 back on February 8. If NC A&T or NCCU stumble prior to the final regular season games on March 5, their game at Morgan State (won 62-57) could be worth a 2-seed in the tournament or regular season champions in the best case scenario.
Bethune-Cookman (15-13, 9-5) – Remaining Games: @ NCCU (March 2), vs FAMU (March 5)
The Wildcats might be the Jekyl and Hyde of this mix of teams racing down the stretch. Sitting 2 games out of first-place, it’s going to be hard to predict which BCU team you will get. Will it be the team that beat Norfolk State by 23 after a 4-point overtime win at home against South Carolina State and 1-point road win at Delaware State? Will it be the team that lost by 8 at Maryland Eastern Shore after 2 home wins? The Wildcats have split their two games against first-place NC A&T, losing on the road 98-95 and wining at home 78-73.
The positive for BCU in their remaining last games is they have extra motivation to beat NCCU and their rival FAMU as both teams defeated BCU in earlier games. The Eagles beat them 86-59 at home and they lost 73-67 to FAMU on road. The Wildcats have the 2nd best scoring offense in conference (77.4 ppg), but they allow 74.6 ppg, which is only less than Howard and Delaware State. A loss to NCCU would leave BCU fighting for favorable seeding in the conference tournament against FAMU, who is not eligible for the tournament.
Morgan State (15-14, 9-5) – Remaining Games: vs Coppin State (February 29), vs Norfolk State (March 5)
The Bears only had one shot at conference leaders NC A&T and NCCU, but both games were at home. They lost by 6 to NC A&T on January 20 and by 1 on February 10 to NCCU. That lost to NCCU came after a 4-game winning streak and could have changed their fortunes at this point in the season.
Morgan has not lost by double-digits to any conference foe this season. The Bears overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Coppin State back on January 25th by 2 with a 3-pointer with two seconds to play in their previous meeting that was nearly trumped by a three-quarters shot by Coppin that was called off by the referees.
If they beat their crosstown rival, and a few other games play out in their favor, the Bears may find themselves in an interesting spot when they host Norfolk State on March 5. The Spartans lost by 5 when they traveled to Norfolk State on February 15, so the rematch will be equally close.
Tell us how you see the MEAC regular season shaking out over the next week. Who will be the regular season champ?