It’s time for the second installment of my CAA 2014-15 season preview. Part two is a look at key players for each team and their season outlook, as well as predicted final standings of the conference.
Last season Delaware and Towson – and to a lesser degree William & Mary – dominated the conference. They were the only three teams with a winning record in conference and all three had 20 or more wins overall. It is unlikely that type of success will be replicated for Delaware and Towson, as both lost most of the key players that led them to that success. William & Mary did not suffer such significant losses and will be looking to improve on the positives of last season.
The CAA is wide open this season and it should make for a very entertaining conference tournament in March. Time to jump into the standings predictions:
Key Players: Tanner Sampson, G, Jr.; Austin Hamilton, G, Sr.; Kevin Blake, G, Sr.
Elon had a very solid season in 2013-14 in the Southern Conference, so maybe it is unfair to instantly put them in the cellar. The Southern conference had an RPI of 30 last season, while the Colonial had an RPI of 15. [Ed Note: Kenpom says 17 and 30, so this is obviously a step up in competition.] In-conference play will be twice as difficult for Elon this season; however, they are bringing in freshman Jack George from Carmel Catholic High School in Illinois. He averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds last season, team bests, and led the team to a school record 25 wins. He was also an iron-man for them, barely ever sitting on the bench.
Key Players: Timajh Parker-Rivera, F, Jr.; Four McGlynn, G, Jr.
Aside from having a phenomenal home court, the Tigers don’t have much going for them this season. Losing Jerrelle Benimon is a crushing blow for a Towson team coming off of one of the best seasons in school history. Benimon is an irreplaceable player; however, head coach Pat Skerry has proven he can recruit and build a powerful team at Towson. He has his work cut out for him this season after losing his top four scorers. Skerry will now have A.J. Astroth available after he sat out a year following his transfer from Vanderbilt, but he is not the kind of player that will change the team’s fortunes. I don’t think anyone at Towson will blame Skerry for a tough season.
Key Players: Adjehi Baru, F, Sr.; Anthony Stitt, G, Sr.; Canyon Barry, G, Soph.
The College of Charleston is led by its senior duo of Baru and Stitt, both of whom are looking to improve on great 2013-14 seasons. Charleston was originally picked to finish 7th, but after news of head coach Doug Wojcik being fired, they were dropped down the standings. Newly hired assistant coach Antonio Reynolds Dean is the interim coach. It will be intriguing to see how the squad rallies around Dean at the beginning of the season.
Key Players: Kyle Anderson, G, Sr.; Marvin King- Davis, F, Jr.
This may seem a little low for the defending CAA champions, but like in any small conference, no school ever stays on top for too long. Delaware had three 18-plus points per game players in Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt, but all three players have departed the university. In addition to those three, Delaware’s fourth leading scorer, Carl Baptiste, also graduated. These four players led the team in almost every significant statistical category last season. Kyle Anderson led the team in free throw percentage and three-point percentage, and is the major returning bright spot for Delaware. Coach Monte Ross’ squad will have a rough start to the season, as they begin with five consecutive road games, including three in California and contests against 2014 NCAA tournament teams Stanford and Villanova before their first home game against Army on Dec. 3.
Key Players: Cedrick Williams, F, Sr.; Addison Spruill, G, Sr.; Freddie Jackson, G, Sr.
New coach Kevin Keatts has been working hard since he was hired away from Louisville earlier this year. He signed freshmen Malik Pugh and Jordan Talley and secured the transfers of Denzel Ingram from Charlotte and Jarvis Haywood from Jacksonville. Ingram and Haywood will have to sit out this season, but they will make a big impact next year. This season is about Keatts implementing his system and getting his freshmen and transfers familiar and comfortable with his coaching style.
Key Players: Damion Lee, G, Sr.; Tavon Allen, G, Jr.; Kazembe Abif, F, Sr.; Rodney Williams, F, Soph.
The graduation of Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat leave a big hole in Drexel’s offensive arsenal. Fouch and Massenat averaged 35.8 points per game combined last season, which is more than half of Drexel’s total points per game output (68.8). Bruiser Flint has proven to be quite entertaining on the sideline, but he also has been great at developing talent at Drexel. A healthy Damion Lee could score over 20 points per game for the Dragons and that will go a long way in filling the void left by Fouch and Massenat. As Benimon and others have shown in this conference, a single high-scoring player can put you in a position to win a lot of games.
Key Players: Moussa Kone, F-C, Sr.; Jamall Robinson, G-F, Soph.; Ameen Tanksley, F, Jr.; Juan’ya Green, G, Jr.
Hofstra senses that a renaissance is just around the corner. In honor of that perceived greatness, the Pride held a contest to design a new court. Numerous designs were submitted and the court will be a composite of multiple designs. Head coach Joe Mihalich brought along arguably his two best players in Green and Tanksley when he left Niagara for Hofstra a year ago. After sitting out a season, these two players are itching to win more games. Hofstra lost top scorer Zeke Upshaw. Green, Tanksley and Robinson can easily score 45 points per game for Hofstra and if they are able to do that, the Pride will be a tough out during CAA play. Hofstra and Mihalich got some great news recently, as 6-foot-10 Clemson forward Ibrahim Djambo transferred into the program. He will sit out this season, but in 2015-16 with Green, Tanksley and Djambo, Hofstra may find its way back to the Big Dance for the first time since Speedy Claxton and Jay Wright graced the Hempstead court.
3. James Madison
Key Players: Andre Nation, G, Jr.; Ron Curry, G, Jr.
It’s safe to say that I am putting a lot of stock into Andre Nation and Ron Curry’s abilities. Losing Charles Cooke in a transfer to Charlotte was a major blow to JMU’s title chances. After an 11-20 season, ranking the Dukes at No. 3 may sound a little high, but you must remember that Nation didn’t play a game until Jan. 7. After joining the team Nation didn’t make much of a difference, but having him in training for the start of the season will help him make a bigger difference on the court. Coach Matt Brady will try to rekindle the magic of two seasons ago when the Dukes made it to the NCAA Tournament and won a “first round” game. If Nation can keep his head on straight, this is a legitimate title contender; if not, JMU could be close to the bottom.
Key Players: David Walker, G, Jr.; Quincy Ford, G-F, Sr.; Scott Eatherton, F, Sr.
Northeastern is in great position to return to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies will be returning all five starters from last season. Bill Coen will no doubt be under the microscope this season after the paltry 11-21 effort in 2013-14. Eatherton was Defensive Player of the Year in the CAA last year as well as an All-CAA Second Team selection. Walker was on the CAA All-Defense Team and T.J. Williams was All-Rookie. Those three, with the returning Quincy Ford — a 6’8″ swing man who can dominate the game — and freshman Devon Begley will round out the starting five this season. It would have been easy to agree with Joe Lunardi and say that Northeastern is going to win the conference, but I need to see a healthy Ford before I coronate them.
1. William & Mary
Key Players: Marcus Thornton, G, Sr.; Omar Prewitt, G-F, Soph.; Terry Tarpey, G, Jr.
One point. One shot. Ten seconds. That’s all that stood between the Tribe and a CAA Tournament championship and an NCAA tournament berth. Marcus Thornton had a chance to win the game as the buzzer sounded, something he’s undoubtedly thought about the entire off-season. William & Mary lost three starters to graduation and will need Prewitt, Sean Sheldon and Daniel Dixon to be major contributors if they want to replicate last season’s success. Freshman Oliver Tot could be a break out player for the Tribe. Tot is a 6-foot-6 guard from Slovakia who played for the country’s Senior National team. He has great court vision and is a great ball handler. Coach Tony Shaver has put in some rough years for William & Mary, but persistence pays off and I’m sure the school is happy with their decision to keep him on board. Thornton will not be denied this year.
Disagree with my rankings? Notice something inaccurate? Please let me know about it in the comments below!