#15- The North Carolina A&T Aggies-
North Carolina A&T is entering the 2014-2015 campaign looking to improve upon last year’s season, in which the Aggies finished 9-23 overall with a 5-11 record in conference play, before making an early first round exit in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament. Overall the schedule last year for NC A&T was not too challenging, but they did see their fair share of tough games, in which they were clearly overmatched. In the midst of a rough season, the Aggies had three separate losing streaks of 4 games or more, including one 6 game losing streak in the early on. Entering conference play, North Carolina A&T was 3-11, and desperately needed to turn it around. They failed to do this, but did play much better over the second half of the season, losing many conference games by very narrow margins. Hopefully this year, A&T can turn some of these close losses into wins and improve their conference record from last year, as well as the overall record. While the conference schedule will not change much, the nonconference looks a little easier this time around, with some opportunities for upsets over St. Louis, South Carolina, and then a road matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Many of these nonconference games are on the road, however, where they were a dismal 1-17 last season. Obviously, the Aggies will need to learn to play away from home for any chance of contending this year. Building on to the obstacles in the Aggies’ way is the loss a few starters from last year’s team, including their two leading scorers, Lamont Middleton and Richaud Pack, the latter of which transferred to Maryland this year. While the loss of these key contributors will open up opportunities for new players to step up, it will likely put yet another limit on the success of Coach Cy Alexander’s team this year.
Bruce Beckford, Junior F – Beckford will likely be the Aggies’ best player this season. He was one of four players on last year’s team that averaged over 25 minutes per game, and the only one of those remaining this year. Beckford averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game over the course of last year, and should get those numbers even higher as the focus of the offense this year. He will be a leader on the court, and is one of the older players on the team. He will certainly be the key to coach Alexander’s team.
Bryan Akinkugbe, Senior C – Akinkugbe will be placed in a larger role for the Aggies this year, something that he is not used to at this point in his career. He averaged 13.5 minutes per game last year, as did about 4 other guys last year. Akinkugbe is the only center out of this group, as he checks in at 6’9”, 225. This size should be a large factor in his play, and he is going to need to step up offensively and defensively for North Carolina A&T.
All together, the forecast looks grim for the Aggies in 2014-2015. They lost 3 starters and key players, and are coming off a difficult season. With plenty of road matchups that it is unlikely that NC A&T will win, and with some tough conference games, as well as some nonconference games that are a little bit of a stretch to win, my prediction for the Aggies is an 11-19 finish, and another early exit in the conference tourney. A trip to the big dance is almost completely out of reach.