Due to realignment the CAA might be one of the toughest conferences in the nation to decipher. I worked with City of Basketball Love’s Josh Verlin on trying to figure out just how the conference might shake out. Here’s what we think. For more on the CAA standings predictions check out COBL.
1) Towson (18-13, 13-5 CAA) — The Tigers have the best player in the conference in former Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon, which is why Pat Skerry’s team is the favorite heading into the season. Benimon has made almost every “Top 100” list this season and should be the conference’s player of the year. There’s more than just him though on this roster. Four McGlynn, a transfer from Vermont, should add excellent outside shooting. Towson’s Achilles heel in conference play was turnovers. The Tigers coughed the ball up on 22% of their offensive possession last season, the the second highest rate in the CAA. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers can find a steady hand to run their offense this season because that’s the only thing holding Towson back from being the CAA’s best.
2) Drexel (13-18, 9-9 CAA) — The advanced analytics love Drexel, but something weird happened last season. Even with two talented pieces in Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee the offense heavily regressed with Chris Fouch out of the lineup for all but three games last season. Now Fouch is back with a sixth year of eligibility and Bruiser Flint’s team is ready to challenge the top of the CAA again. Defense is never a question for Flint, but can Drexel get the offense humming again? In order to do so the Dragons must find some easier shots. Drexel finished eighth in the CAA in effective field goal percentage last season, but it was a combination of poor shooting outside and inside. Fouch shot 37% from three two seasons ago and Massenat is too good a shooter to knock down just 32% of his three-point attempts again this season.If those two can knock down some jumpers space will clear for Lee near the rim and the Dragons will be off and running again.
3) Charleston (24-11, 14-4 Southern) — While a bunch of teams departed from the CAA during the offseason the Cougars reversed the trend and come over after perennially ranking amongst the best teams in the Southern Conference. Adjehi Baru is an elite talent and could be Benimon’s top challenger for Player of the Year honors in the conference. The Cougars have to replace Andrew Lawrence, who was the go-to guy offensively last season, but head coach Doug Wojcik built a consistent winner at Tulsa and should be able to do the same at Charleston. Expect the offense and defense to improve slightly in year two and for the Cougars to make life difficult for the new conference foes.
4) William & Mary (13-17, 7-11 CAA) — The longer you look at W&M the more there is to like. First of all the offense is one of the most efficient in the CAA. Led by Marcus Thornton the Tribe can score against anyone in the conference. The problem is on the other end of the court. W&M finished 314th nationally in defensive efficiency last season and allowed CAA teams to score 1.1 points per possession last season, more than a full tenth worse than 10th place UNC-Wilmington. The defense has regressed each of the past three seasons under Shaver, but there isn’t any consistent culprit though last season’s problems hinged upon teams shooting 51% on two-point attempts during conference play. Considering some of the talented frontcourt players in the CAA, it’s imperative that the Tribe improve upon that mark or once again waste some of the best offensive talent in the conference.
5) Delaware (19-14, 13-5 CAA) — Even though the Blue Hens finished third in the CAA last season it was built upon a house of paper cards. UDel had the sixth best offense and sixth best defense during conference play, but squeaked out seven wins by three points or fewer during the regular season. The magic ran out in the CAA tournament, when Delaware lost by a single point to eventual conference champion James Madison. Monte Ross does have some talent though. Devon Saddler is one of the best scoring guards in the country, let alone the CAA. But if teams are able to limit Saddler’s efficiency on offense they can take down the Blue Hens. Delaware was just 1-5 in CAA games last season in which Saddler had an offensive rating under 100. That includes the tournament game against JMU where he went just 3-14 from the field and scored seven points. It’s up to junior guard Jarvis Threatt to step up his efficiency and give Ross a second go-to option when teams are keying on Saddler.
6) Northeastern (20-13, 14-4 CAA) — After a regular season championship the Huskies appeared primed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. Unfortunately they fell in the championship game to James Madison and were relegated to the NIT. Bill Coen’s team loses some talent in leading scorer Joel Smith (16.1 ppg) and Jonathan Lee (13.8 ppg), but the pieces are there for a quick rebuild. The offense should once again be one of the CAA’s best behind 6’8” junior Quincy Ford. Combining Ford with 6’7” junior Reggie Spencer, 6’6” sophomore David Walker and 6’8” St. Francis (PA) transfer Scott Eatherton should give NU one of the more formidable frontcourts in the conference. This is especially important because last season the Huskies were the worst rebounding team in the CAA on both offense and defense during conference play. It’ll be up to Coen to find a suitable replacement for Lee in the backcourt, but the talent at forward should keep NU in the mix this season.
7) James Madison (21-15, 11-7 CAA) — Matt Brady’s team finished fourth during the CAA regular season, but then managed to snag the conference’s automatic berth thanks to a dramatic run in Richmond. The graduation of four key seniors from the Dukes’ rotation leaves JMU rebuilding again. There are some pieces, but there’s also been some turmoil. James Madison’s presumed go-to guy Andre Nation has been suspended for the first 15 games of the season. The most surprising thing about last season was JMU’s amazing defensive turnaround. The Dukes improved their adjusted defensive efficiency by 159 places in the national rankings. There’s bound to be some regression this season, especially after losing those four seniors. That could be enough to push Brady’s team back behind some of the other middle of the pack squads in the CAA.
8) UNC-Wilmington (10-20, 5-13 CAA) — Neither the offense nor the defense was particularly impressive last season and now the loss of one player has caused both of them to become even bigger questions marks. Keith Rendleman averaged a double-double last season and anchored both sides of the court for the Seahawks. The departure of the all-conference leader leaves a gaping hole on the offensive end of the court where no other player has shown a consistent ability to put the ball in the basket. One player that might be able to help is Chris Dixon. The senior point guard struggled with turnovers last season after transferring from Redlands Community College. There were some bright spots though. He shot 35% from three and averaged 3.3 rpg and 3.3 apg. His development could help the offense be passable at least this season. Even with Rendleman patrolling the paint the Seahawks still allowed opponents to shoot better than 50% on two-point attempts during conference play. The development of 6’9” junior forward Cedrick Williams will be a key for protecting the paint this season.
9) Hofstra (7-25, 4-14 CAA) — It’s hard to think of how things could’ve gone worse for the Pride last season. Off the court turmoil doomed Mo Cassara’s final season in Hempstead, NY. Now former Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich has moved down state to take over the program. He brought some reinforcements with him. The addition of graduate transfers Dion Nesmith (from Monmouth) and Zeke Upshaw (from Illinois State) should give the Pride a veteran presence while Mihalich waits for his two former Purple Eagles charges Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tankersley and Brian Bernardini (from SMU) to gain eligibility next season. One bright spot last season was Jordan Allen and the 6’6” sophomore could make an impact in the paint as an undersized power forward. He shot 54% on two-point attempts last season, but tried just one three. According to Hoop-Math, only junior big man Moussa Kone took a higher percentage of his shots at the rim amongst Pride players last season.