Tuesday, September 10, 2013

32 In 32: Colonial Athletic Association

After APR issues kept Towson from CAA Tournament last year, Pat Skerry and Tigers are in position to enjoy homecourt advantage with Baltimore playing host next March. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

We go from one mid-major to another in our latest "32 In 32" conference preview this morning, visiting the reorganized Colonial Athletic Association, which will now play its tournament in Baltimore, ending the league's longtime affiliation with the Richmond Coliseum. After three defections and the arrival of College of Charleston, the CAA now stands as a nine-team league, one that may ultimately play out like this:

1) Towson - When Pat Skerry took over the Tigers, he inherited a one-win team with no immediate prospects for success. Today, he has the prohibitive CAA favorites in a group whose postseason dreams were killed by APR issues last season. Senior power forward Jerrelle Benimon, once mired on the bench at Georgetown before transferring, averaged over a double-double per night last year, and should be among the nation's scoring and rebounding leaders this season. He gets help from fellow senior Marcus Damas up front, while the incumbent Towson backcourt of sophomore Jerome Hairston and a pair of seniors in USF castoff Mike Burwell and Rafriel Guthrie gets a new running mate, as Four McGlynn is once again eligible after transferring from Vermont.

2) Delaware - The Blue Hens lose walking double-double Jamelle Hagins and four-year veteran Josh Brinkley to graduation, but head coach Monté Ross brings nearly everyone else back for another shot at a CAA crown, led by senior shooting guard Devon Saddler, who may have posted the quietest 20 point per game average of anyone in the nation. Delaware returns both of their other guards in dual threat Jarvis Threatt, who averaged nearly six rebounds per game to complement his thirteen points; and outside shooter extraordinaire Kyle Anderson, who connected at a 34 percent clip beyond the arc last season. If senior forward Carl Baptiste, a one-time Saint Joseph's transfer, can approach a double-double average as he takes on the daunting task of replacing Hagins, Delaware will be much closer to the top spot.

3) Northeastern - When a team loses both of its leading scorers, the outlook going into the following season isn't generally good, but Bill Coen has built the Huskies up well enough to the point where the losses of Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee will not be devastating to Boston's CAA representative. Northeastern retains the services of Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer, both of whom had productive seasons in the Huskies' run to the NIT, and who will now be counted upon to lead the charge toward a second straight regular season league championship. Look for forward Scott Eatherton to make an immediate impact with his high efficiency around the rim, as he arrives following his year in residence after transferring from Saint Francis University.

4) Drexel - A year ago, Bruiser Flint's Dragons were projected to be among the class of the CAA until it all fell apart when Chris Fouch was shelved for the season. The Bronx native gets a sixth year of eligibility this year, and will be the biggest key to Drexel's success as the "DAC Pack" drives down their road to redemption. Senior guard Frantz Massenat, last year's preseason choice for CAA Player of the Year honors, will be the backcourt catalyst, but remember this name: Damion Lee. The junior, hailed by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein as a Danny Green clone, made several big shots for the Dragons last season, and will have a breakout third campaign in Philadelphia. In addition, senior forward Dartaye Ruffin should approach a double-double average while Tavon Allen becomes a lethal perimeter weapon from the wing. Drexel also adds depth in the backcourt with the arrival of Seton Hall expatriate Freddie Wilson.

5) College of Charleston - The Cougars and Doug Wojcik come to the CAA after a longtime marriage with the Southern Conference, and arrive in their new home with the requisite pieces needed to be a contender. Leading scorer Andrew Lawrence has graduated, but Charleston retains the marksmanship of junior shooting guard Anthony Stitt, who connected at a 40 percent three-point clip a year ago. Leading rebounders Adjehi Baru and Willis Hall also return for the Cougars, who have one of the conference's more explosive players on the wing in senior swingman Anthony Thomas.

6) William & Mary - The Tribe could actually break into the top half of the CAA, thanks to one of the best inside/outside scoring duos in senior forward Tim Rusthoven, a dark horse first team all-CAA candidate who could average a double-double per game; and junior shooting guard Marcus Thornton, who shot 44 percent from three-point range en route to finishing as the team's leading scorer last season. Tony Shaver also welcomes back his third and fourth-leading scorers, a pair of seniors in guard Brandon Britt and forward Kyle Gaillard. If sixth man Julian Boatner can make an effective transition to his likely increased role, the Tribe have a legitimate shot to reach the postseason.

7) James Madison The reigning CAA champions will not have it easy this year, as both halves of their core have graduated in the form of A.J. Davis and Rayshawn Goins. However, sophomore Andre Nation, who played some of his best basketball down the stretch for the Dukes last season, will lead the charge from the backcourt for Matt Brady this time around. Sophomores Ron Curry and Charles Cooke will join Nation in trying to pick up the slack for Davis and point guard Devon Moore, who averaged nearly five assists per game last season. Russian import Andrey Semenov will have a major role up front as he returns for the full season after being limited to seven games last year.

8) Hofstra - The Pride enter the season with the hope and promise of a new era, as Joe Mihalich takes over for Mo Cassara. Hofstra returns only four scholarship players from a 7-24 campaign, but senior forward Stephen Nwaukoni is a double-double threat whenever he takes the court, and Moussa Kone had some of his best games down the stretch last year. With Jordan Allen on the wing, Hofstra will be able to play an athletic backcourt with Monmouth transfer Dion Nesmith anchoring a guard stable that includes promising freshmen Chris Jenkins and Puerto Rican import Eliel Gonzalez, not to mention swingman Jamall Robinson. Zeke Upshaw also arrives from Illinois State with immediate eligibility, and should see instant minutes at the power forward position.

9) UNC Wilmington The Seahawks return five of their six leading scorers from last season, but Buzz Peterson has a monumental task at hand in replacing the heart and soul of the program in Keith Rendleman. Guards Chris Dixon and Craig Ponder, who averaged over eighteen points per game combined, are the prime candidates to shoulder most of the offensive load, with Tanner Milson and Freddie Jackson there to support them in the backcourt. At 6-9, junior forward Cedrick Williams is not only a big body and the team's leading rebounder, but also one who will create several size mismatches in his favor.

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