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Villanova Basketball: Get to know the Morgan State Bears

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Stephen from Mid-Major Madness gives us the lowdown on Villanova’s opening night opponent.

Mark W. Sutton

Editor’s Note: Stephen joins us on loan from Mid-Major Madness. As a noted current student at Morgan State, he’s the go-to-guy for all things Bears.

Fresh off a National Title, Villanova will open their new season in the refurbished Finneran Pavilion. As the Wildcats marvel at the $65 million worth of renovations, they will compete against Morgan State from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

But you’re asking, what is Morgan State? Which schools are in the MEAC? Even for some hardcore fans, “when do we face real competition?”. Now calm down, Michigan is waiting for you all next week. Let’s start by breaking down Villanova’s first opponent: the Morgan State Bears.

The MEAC is home to major HBCUs like Howard, where Cam Newton’s brother plays football. In terms of basketball, the MEAC last really got national attention when 15-Seed Norfolk State defeated number two seed Missouri back in 2012. The upset was so huge, it busted President Obama’s bracket. Coppin State achieved the same 15-seed upset in 1997 and former MEAC member Hampton in 2001 as well.

In terms of Morgan State, the Baltimore Mid Major last reached the NCAA tournament in 2010. The Bears were close to another automatic bid in 2013 and 2014.

Villanova last faced a MEAC school in 2014, with an 81-44 defeat of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The Bears are coached by Todd Bozeman. He coached the California Golden Bears to an upset over Duke in 1993. He took Cal to three NCAA tournaments. Now, he did get in some trouble with the NCAA but who doesn’t at this point? Anyways, he was hired by Morgan State in 2006 and has become a fan favorite in Hill Field House, and maybe a heel to MEAC refs.

Coach Bozeman is set for a slight rebuilding year in terms of his roster. The Bears lost Tiwian Kendley and Phillip Carr. Now if you haven’t heard of these two, just know that they are good. So good that they pretty much accounted for 45% of Morgan’s scoring as a unit last season. So good, both players signed NBA G-League deals within the last few months. Now it’s G-League but for a Mid-Major, it matters.

What also matters is the departures and additions.

Tyjhai Byers, Alex Ennis, Khalil Gracey, Jalen Robinson, Azariah Sykes all transferred out the program due to low play time and just inconsistent play. For true MSU fans, the writing was across the wall for some of these players.

Coach Bozeman went straight to work and retailored this whole roster. He added JUCO transfers Victor Curry (6’3 Forward), Ranell Bell (6’3 Guard) , Jordan Little (6’8 Forward), and Taron Oliver Jr (6’9 Forward).

And since the Washington, DC Metro area or “DMV” is filled with some of the top talents in the nation, he added Malik Miller (6’4 Guard), Sherwyn Devonish-Prince Jr (6’1 Guard), and Isaiah Burke (6’1 Guard) who are all Freshmen.

Overall, MSU has a pretty new roster and vets Dave Syfax and Martez Cameron will be the leaders of this team. PA natives Stanley Davis and Lapri Mccray-Pace will be stepping up as well. So expect a few MSU fans in the crowd on Tuesday night.

It’s going to be hard to truly see what to expect from the Bears. Their top two scorers are gone and the team gameplan will mostly be more team oriented. Tiwian Kendley had the ability to take more games and cross up anyone, which was great to see. But without Kendley, the Bears offense stalled last season sometimes due to this lack of options.

This year, MSU has more options and will play a better well-organized game on offense due to the veteran additions and the players who remained. But that will take time for a team who’s looking to replace 50% of it’s scoring from last season. Most players mentioned above will probably see play time and the Bears will show some effort in the contest. Expect major play in the post and even a few threes if the time is right.

On defense, the Bears will be looking to cause turnovers; something that helped their offense heavily in transition last season.

Villanova will win but the exposure will be great for Morgan State.