By: Ben Burke
366 days ago (thank you leap year), the Hampton Pirates were still recovering from their second straight loss, dropping their regular season record to 12-17 right before the conference tournament. Boy how things can change in a year.
The Pirates would go on to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, as well as their First Four game, before being properly dispatched by Kentucky in the round of 64.
Hampton (18-10, 13-3 MEAC) heads into this year’s MEAC tournament as the number one seed after winning more games in conference play this year than it did in the entire regular season last year.
The Pirates boast two of the top three scorers in the conference in guards Reginald Johnson Jr. and Quinton Chievous. Johnson Jr. is averaging 18.2 points per game, with Chievous adding 17.3 points per game.
Although the Pirates hold the top spot in the conference heading into the tournament, there are several teams right on their heels. The biggest threat to Hampton just might be the team that handed the Pirates a 20-point loss Thursday night to conclude the regular season: The Norfolk State Spartans.
Norfolk State (16-15, 12-4 MEAC) enters the MEAC tournament as the two seed after holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over South Carolina State (17-13, 12-4 MEAC).
The Spartans have the highest scoring offense in the conference, and are led by two-time All-MEAC First Team selection Jeff Short. The senior transfer student saw an overall decrease in production from last season, but cut down on turnovers and increased his assist numbers.
South Carolina State also picked up a victory over Hampton, defeating the Pirates 67-62 on the road in January. The Bulldogs are a very efficient team from the field, leading the conference with a .474 shooting percentage as a team. South Carolina State’s success shooting the ball is in no small part to junior guard Eric Eaves. The guard leads the team with 17.1 points per game on just over 51 percent shooting.
Bethune-Cookman (14-17, 10-6 MEAC) and Savannah State (14-14, 9-7 MEAC) also had solid conference seasons. The Wildcats enter the tournament winners of eight of their last 10, and have wins over Norfolk State, South Carolina State, and Savannah Sate to their name.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have built a wining streak of their own, winning six of their last seven. Savannah State also boasts a season sweep of South Carolina State, should the two teams meet in the championship game.
In the 2015 MEAC tournament semifinals, Hampton came away with a 75-64 win over Norfolk State. This year, “The Battle of the Bay”, as it’s known in football, won’t happen until the championship game. Just like last year, the Pirates will take down the Spartans; and just like last year, Hampton will represent the MEAC in the NCAA tournament.