By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO

Howard features the MEAC’s Preseason Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and is expected to be the best of the DMV teams in the conference according to the head coaches and sports information directors. Bison guard R.J. Cole should be the league’s most outstanding player for a team projected to finish in fourth place.

Guard play will be the key to Howard’s season. If healthy, they should also feature the top backcourt in the MEAC. Junior Charles Williams joins Cole on the preseason all-MEAC first team.  The duo combined to average 44 points per game last season helping them to a respectable 7-9 record in the conference.

Howard University’s R.J. Cole who was MEAC’s Rookie of the Year (2017-2018).

Cole’s 23.7 points per game average made him one of only four freshmen nationwide who averaged over 20 points per game last season- putting him in elite company. His counterparts: Trae Young (Oklahoma), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), and Marvin Bagley III (Duke) were first round draft picks who are now in the playing in the NBA.

Cole is a special talent who is an undersized guard that finished seventh nationally in scoring with Howard.  His neophyte season was highlighted by a 42 point game against UNC-Wilmington and five others where he scored over 30.  He scored more than 20 in 25 games for the Bison and set a record with 13 MEAC Rookie of the Week awards.

Cole also led the team in assists at six per game and his durability was key as the Bison were finally able to count on their best player to remain competitive for an entire season.  He played in all 33 games averaging just under 39 minutes.

Coppin State is expected to finish ninth with Juan Dixon’s second year as head coach.  However, the Eagles are projected to have two of the MEAC’s best wing players. Lamar Morgan and Dejuan Clayton were picked for the conference’s preseason second and third team respectively.

Morgan, a senior wing player from Willingboro, New Jersey was a third team all-MEAC player last season averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in conference action.  He scored 30 points twice including at UConn where he hit seven three pointers and versus Hampton where he made eight from beyond the arc.  For the season, Morgan made 88 three pointers on 37 percent shooting from long range.

Clayton, a Bowie, Maryland native, led Coppin in scoring last year before a season ending injury.  He returned from all-Rookie honors in 2016 to score 20 points against Cleveland State and was poised to become one of the elite players MEAC’s elite players prior to the injury.

Dixon hopes for an immediate impact from two WCAC players he signed in his first recruiting class. Bishop McNamara’s Nigel Williams and Ibn Williams could be difference makers when the step on the floor.

With two players on NBA G-League rosters Morgan State is retooling and is projected to finish in sixth.  Seven players are returning for coach Todd Bozeman’s 13th season led by their guard duo of Martez Cameron and Antonio Gillespie.

The Bears don’t have any players who are projected to earn all-MEAC honors.  However, Morgan’s returning veterans are familiar with playing deep into the conference tournament.  They were eliminated in the semifinals by eventual champion North Carolina Central after upsetting number two seed Bethune Cookman last year.

Those Wildcats are picked to finish number one in the MEAC followed by N.C. Central, Norfolk State, Howard, N.C. A&T, Morgan, Florida A&M, Savannah State, Coppin, S.C. State, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State. Seven teams will tip off the conference schedule on November 6 and the 2019 MEAC Tournament will be played March 11-16 in Norfolk, Va.