November 2, 2023
2023-24 MEAC preview
Norfolk State has the pieces to repeat in a tough conference
The last two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament championship games have featured Howard against Norfolk State with each team winning.
Howard won in 2022 and Norfolk State won last season.
If the MEAC preseason coaches’ poll remains true to form, Norfolk State and Howard will meet in the tournament championship game for a third straight season. Reigning MEAC Tournament champion Norfolk State edged Howard by one point to enter the season as the preseason conference favorite.
Morgan State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Coppin State, North Carolina Central, Delaware State, and South Carolina State round out the preseason coaches’ poll. UMES and Coppin State have the experience, talent, and depth to pose a serious threat to Norfolk State’s quest to repeat.
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The Spartans, who received 12 first place votes, return many key pieces from their championship team. Norfolk State is trying to become the first team to repeat as MEAC Tournament champions since Hampton won five straight from 2010-14.
Under head coach Larry Vickers, who is entering his eighth year, Norfolk State has been a beacon of excellence. Not counting the 2020-21 COVID campaign, in which Norfolk State played 14 contests, Vickers has enjoyed six winning seasons, including last year when he guided the Spartans to a Division I-era record 26 victories. He has compiled an outstanding overall record of 133-96, building quietly, efficiently, and passionately.
Norfolk State has made consecutive postseason appearances. It lost to Drexel in WNIT in 2022 and last season on the national stage in the NCAA Tournament, it battled South Carolina in the first round.
The Spartans led the nation in scoring defense (50.7) and field goal percentage defense (31.5) last season.
Kierra Wheeler was named to the Preseason All-MEAC First Team. Niya Fields was a Preseason All-MEAC Second Team selection. Meanwhile, Makoye Diawara and Da’naijah Williams earned Preseason All-MEAC Third Team honors.
A 6’1 junior forward, Wheeler averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, which led the MEAC. Wheeler was the MEAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Fields, a 5’8 junior guard, averaged 6.7 points, 2.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds.
Diawara, a 6’ junior forward, averaged 6.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 45.9 percent from the field. Williams, a 5’9 junior guard, fueled the Spartan defense. She averaged 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game last season.
Even though Norfolk State lost two of its top three scorers from last year, it received a boost when 5’5 junior guard Diamond Johnson transferred into the program from North Carolina State. Johnson averaged 17.6 points per game to lead N.C. State in scoring.
Johnson comes to Norfolk State with plenty of accolades as she was named to the 2023 Naismith Player of the Year and 2023 Dawn Staley Award watch lists and was a finalist on the 2023 WBCA All-America team. In 2022 she was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Top 10 Finalist. While at Rutgers, Johnson was named to the 2021 Second Team All-Big Ten and the 2021 Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Another key addition for Norfolk State is 6’2 graduate senior Paris Mullins, who transferred from McNeese State and also played at Auburn during her collegiate career.
Here’s a look at the rest of the MEAC programs in their predicted order of finish.
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2022-23 Record: 16-14, 10-4
Head Coach: Ty Grace, 8th season
Outlook: The Bison received bad news as it learned Destiny Howell, the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year, will miss the 2023-24 campaign following a season-ending injury during a recent practice. It’s a major setback for Howard as she was one of the best mid-major guards in the country. Howell was named 2022-23 MEAC Player of the Year and BoxtoRow HBCU Co-Player of the Year. She led the conference in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game. Howell also led the MEAC in 3-point percentage (.358) and 3-pointers made per game (2.8). Howard will now turn to 5’10 senior guard Kaniyah Harris and 5’5 senior guard Iyanna Warren, who were both named to Preseason All-MEAC Second Team, to lead the Bison. Harris led Howard in assists, steals, and assist/turnover ratio. Howard should also get a boost from Warren, who returns to the court after a shortened 22-23 season. Nile Miller, a 6’1 sophomore forward, returns after being selected to the All-MEAC Rookie Team.
2022-23 Record: 17-12, 10-4
Head Coach: Ed Davis, Jr. 7th season
Outlook: Morgan State competed in the WNIT last season, and it will have a virtually new roster this season as it looks to enjoy a second consecutive postseason appearance. Gabrielle Johnson, a 5’8 sophomore guard, was named to the Preseason All-MEAC Second Team. Johnson also earned All-MEAC Rookie Team honors following a campaign in which she averaged 5.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. Johnson is one of four Morgan State returnees from last season. Also returning for the Bears are 6’2 sophomore center, Jael Butler, 5’8 junior guard Sedayjha Payne, and 5’10 junior guard Emily Jones. Butler and Payne averaged 3.3 points each while Jones added 3.0 points per game. They will be expected to play bigger roles this season.
2022-23 Record: 10-20, 5-9
Head Coach: Fred Batchelor, 18th season
Outlook: The Hawks return 12 players, including all five starters, from a squad that came within 10.4 seconds of upsetting No. 3 seed Howard in the MEAC semifinals. The Hawks have 87.3 percent of their scoring returning from last season, including their top seven scorers. Zamara Hayes, a 5’7 senior guard, was UMES’ only double-digit scorer after averaging 11.5 points per game and 2.9 assists per game, which was fourth in the MEAC. Mya Thomas, a 5’5 graduate guard, averaged 9.2 points per contest last season while 5’6 sophomore guard Jala Bannerman contributed 8.5 points per contest and 6’2 junior center Ariana Sewell scored at an 8.1 points per game clip. UMES also welcomes back its leading rebounder in Mahogany Lester, who grabbed 5.2 boards per game. The Hawks were third in the MEAC in scoring offense as they averaged 61.3 points per outing.
2022-23 Record: 8-22, 5-9
Head Coach: Jermaine Woods, 2nd year
Outlook: Mossi Staples is the anchor for the Eagles, who are healthy this season. Woods lost three key contributors to injury last season. Staples is special and the 5’7 graduate guard earned Preseason All-MEAC First Team honors after averaging 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. Staples finished fifth in the league in scoring, assists and steals while ranking second in free throws made (107) and fourth in free throw percentage (76.4). Newcomer Faith Blackstone, a 6’1 redshirt junior, was selected to the All-MEAC Preseason Third Team. She earned NJCAA National Player of the Year honors while leading CCBC Essex to a National Title last season. Blackstone averaged 19.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.4 steals for the Knights after playing at Syracuse and North Carolina A&T in previous years. Woods is also excited to welcome back 5’11 junior Colleen Bucknor, who averaged 6.1 points and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds, which was third in the MEAC. Coppin State, which has eight newcomers on its roster this season, will also host No. 1 LSU on Dec. 20.
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North Carolina Central
2022-23 Record: 15-16, 8-6
Interim Head Coach: Terrence Baxter, 1st year
North Carolina Central has the pieces to be a solid contender in the MEAC this season led by redshirt senior Kimeira Burks, who was selected to the Preseason All-MEAC First Team. A three-time MEAC Player of the Week last season, the 5’8 guard is the Eagles returning leading scorer at 11.6 points per game. Burks tied for the MEAC-lead with 78 3-pointers made. Burks was eighth in the MEAC in scoring and 11th in steals per game (1.4). Redshirt junior teammates Morgan Callahan, a 6’1 forward, and Aniya Finger, a 6’1 forward, were both voted to Preseason All-MEAC Third Team. Callahan, who averaged 8.7 points per game, was 10th in the MEAC in rebounding (6.0 per game). Finger led NCCU with averages of 7.2 rebounds (she did not qualify for league rankings with less than 75 percent of team games played, but would have been among the leaders if she had played two more games).
2022-23 Record: 7-19, 5-9
Interim Head Coach: Jazmone Turner, 1st year
Delaware State is looking to build off its strong conference finish last season where it won three of its last four regular season MEAC contests. Sophomore Savannah Brooks was selected to the Preseason All-MEAC Second Team. The 6’1 junior guard averaged 32.4 minutes, 10.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season. In addition to scoring in double figures in 14 games, Brooks also received multiple weekly MEAC honors last season. Turner is also excited to welcome 5’3 graduate guard Denijsha Wilson and 6’0 junior forward Tyshonne Tollie back. Wilson, who was the Hornets’ second leading scorer, averaged 8.8 points per game. Tollie was a force, averaging 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
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South Carolina State
2022-23 Record: 3-27, 2-12
Head Coach: Tim Eatman, 2nd year
Outlook: The Bulldogs will look for leadership this season from 5’3 junior guard Mekaya Lumpkin, 6’ junior guard Rakyha Reid and 5’8 guard Haniah Hinton. Even though none of the players averaged more than five points per game, they will be expected to shoulder the burden of scoring. They combined to score a little over 12 points per contest. Reid averaged 3.2 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will be bolstered by Jordan Releford, a 5’5 graduate transfer from UNC Greensboro and Morgan Beacham, a 5’8 graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman. One of SC State’s victories last season was a 64-53 victory over Releford and UNCG. Defensively, S.C. State held six teams under 60 points. Both of its MEAC wins last season were against Coppin State.
Written by Rob Knox
Rob Knox is an award-winning professional. A member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame, Knox currently serves as the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.