CAA Basketball: Preseason Primer and Rankings

Joe CampioneContributor IIIOctober 9, 2012

CAA Basketball: Preseason Primer and Rankings

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    After a long, tumultuous offseason, CAA basketball is finally upon us.

    This has definitely been a trying few months for the CAA. VCU bolted for the A-10, effective immediately. ODU agreed to head to the C-USA as of the 2013-14 season. Georgia State will leave with them, their destination the Sun Belt. Just to top it all off, UNCW and Towson have been deemed academically ineligible for the 2012-13 postseason.

    All of this begs the question: What now for the CAA?

    Many people are calling the Colonial, which had been making major strides the past few seasons, featuring three NCAA Tournament teams just two seasons ago, a conference that is due to take a major downturn over the next few seasons and become a perennial 1-bid league.

    I respectfully disagree with this opinion.

    While the departures, particularly of VCU and ODU, will hurt, there is still a ton of talent in the CAA, with potentially more on the way as realignment shakes out. This isn't the first time there's been a mass exodus of major CAA teams and realistically, it probably won't be the last time either. 

    So let's stop looking back at the madness of the offseason and look forward to what is surely going to be another exciting CAA season.

    Bear in mind, these preseason rankings are just my opinions and are certainly up for debate. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get this thing going.

No. 11: UNCW Seahawks

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    2011-12 Record: 10-21

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Adam Smith, Donte Morales, K.K. Simmons

    Key Returnees: Keith Rendleman

    Overview: In what was a rough offseason for the CAA in general, UNCW may have gotten the worst of it.

    The downward spiral started during the season, when K.K. Simmons was suspended indefinitely by head coach Buzz Peterson for "conduct detrimental to the team." Simmons transferred to Kent State in the offseason.

    Then the Seahawks received news that they would be ineligible for the 2012-13 postseason due to low APR scores, prompting their second and third leading scorers, Adam Smith and Donte Morales, to transfer as well.

    So where does this leave UNCW? 

    They hope that Rutgers transfer Tyree Graham can provide an immediate spark, but his history of injuries is definitely a concern for Seahawks fans.

    The real story of the 2012-13 season for UNCW will be senior Keith Rendleman. Rendleman chose not to redshirt this season or transfer despite the guaranteed lack of postseason, and will look to compete for CAA Player of the Year.

    In terms of a nonconference schedule, UNCW has a decent draw, with games at Purdue and Georgia Tech being the big matchups.

    Overall, even with someone as talented as Rendleman, I think that the Seahawks just lost too much to compete this year. On the bright side, you can only go up from rock bottom.

No. 10: Towson Tigers

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    2011-12 Record: 1-31

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Robert Nwankwo

    Key Returns: Marcus Damas

    Overview: Last season was definitely a memorable one for the Tigers, but for all the wrong reasons.

    Coming off an 0-18 conference record in 2010-11, Towson posted an abysmal 1-31 record during head coach Pat Skerry's inaugural season, often being far overmatched by their opponents.

    The good news for Tigers fans is that the program appears to be headed in the right direction.

    In addition to returning co-leading scorer Marcus Damas, the Tigers add Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon and USF transfer Mike Burwell. Towson also managed to bring in the 2011-12 America East Rookie of the Year, Four McGlynn from Vermont, though he will not be eligible until the 2013-14 season.

    Towson is also playing arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the CAA this season. They only have four home games, in part because their new arena opens in 2013, and have road games against Charleston, Georgetown, Temple, and Oregon State.

    This team will be well tested by the time CAA play rolls around.

    Unfortunately, it's not all good news for the Tigers, as they too are ineligible for the 2012-13 postseason due to low APR scores.

    Though I'm still not convinced Towson has enough parts to truly compete this season, this is definitely a program on the rise, and don't be shocked if they surprise a few teams this season.

No. 9: William and Mary Tribe

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    2011-12 Record: 6-26

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Quinn McDowell

    Key Returns: Marcus Thornton, Tim Rusthoven, Brandon Britt

    Overview: 2011-12 was a disappointing season for the Tribe, who hoped for some big things, but instead fell flat on their faces.

    The good news for William and Mary is that they only lost one player from last year's team; the bad news is that the player in question was Quinn McDowel, last season's leading scorer and unquestioned leader for the Tribe.

    William and Mary does bring back a solid core, however, including sophomore Marcus Thornton and junior Tim Rusthoven, but the real key to this team's success may be junior Brandon Britt.

    In 2010-11, Britt burst onto the scene, averaging double digits a game. Last season, however, saw Britt's sophomore slump, where his numbers dropped in every category except turnovers.

    It's clear that as Britt goes, the Tribe goes.

    William and Mary also boasts a strong nonconference schedule, highlighted with road games at Wake Forest, Richmond, Purdue, and Vanderbilt. 

    William and Mary's returning players should help make them competitive all season but unless someone really steps up and plays above themselves, it could be another long season for the Tribe.

No. 8: Georgia State Panthers

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    2011-12 Record: 22-12

    Postseason: CIT 2nd Round

    Key Losses: Eric Buckner, Jihad Ali, James Fields

    Key Returns: Devonta White

    Overview: Last season was a magical one for Georgia State, watching them with 20+ games for the first time since 2003-04.

    Their offseason, however, was marked by change. The Panthers lost six seniors from their 22-win squad, including four starters. Georgia State also agreed to leave for the Sun Belt Conference as of 2013-14.

    In order to have any chance of repeating last season's success, the Panthers need to have another big season from their lone returning starter, Devonta White. Contributions from exciting freshmen Markus Crider and RJ Hunter would also be huge if GSU wants to make noise this season.

    Unfortunately for the Panthers, CAA bylaws forbid them from competing in the CAA Tournament due to their impending departure, but on't think for one second that this will make Georgia State any less motivated.

    Energetic head coach Ron Hunter is sure to have his guys fired up for every game, and the Panthers have a chance to impress on a national stage early with games at Duke and BYU to start the season.

    In the end though, it's tough to replace six players, and although I see NCAA Tournament berths in this program's near future, I believe their inexperience will lead to some struggled this season.

No. 7: James Madison Dukes

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    2011-12 Record: 12-20

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Humpty Hitchens, Julius Wells

    Key Returns: AJ Davis, Andrey Semenov, Rayshawn Goins

    Overview: James Madison had one of the CAA's most unluckiest seasons last year, as they were plagued by injuries, most notably to Julius Wells and Rayshawn Goins.

    Wells, along with second leading scorer Humpty Hitchens are gone this year, but Rayshawn Goins will return after receiving a medical redshirt. Goins may be the most interesting player to keep track of on this team, as his size down low is always a tough matchup, but there may be some rust from missing an entire season.

    Also returning is three-point specialist Andrey Semenov and last year's leading scorer AJ Davis, who will need to have another huge season in order for the Dukes to be successful.

    James Madison has two big out-of-conference games to look forward to, with Richmond visiting Harrisonburg December 8th, and a trip out west to face UCLA to start the season on November 15. 

    The Dukes definitely have the potential to do some damage in the CAA, but we'll have to wait and see if this is the year head coach Matt 

No. 6: Old Dominion Monarchs

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    2011-12 Record: 22-14

    Postseason: CIT Quarterfinals

    Key Losses: Kent Bazemore, Chris Cooper, Trian Illiadis

    Key Returns: Nick Wright, Dimitri Batten, Donte Hill

    Overview: Some people may find my ranking of the Monarchs a bit low, but it's my list and I'm sticking to it.

    ODU is another team that was surrounded by change this offseason. They announced their move to the C-USA in 2013-14 and lost three key seniors from last year's team; Kent Bazemore, Chris Cooper, and Trian Illiadis.

    Thanks to their losses, ODU is going to run out a very young team this year, featuring six freshmen. The hope for the Monarchs is that freshmen Kennan Palmore and Aaron Bacote can make an immediate impact alongside returning playmakers Nick Wright, Dimitri Batten, and Donte Hill.

    ODU's nonconference schedule features some fun matchups, with road games at Cleveland State and Charleston, as well as home games against Virginia and ex-CAA rival VCU.

    Like Georgi State, however ODU will not be participating in this year's CAA Tournament thanks to the CAA bylaws. 

    My reasoning for ODU's relatively low ranking is that I think ODU will struggle mightily without last year's seniors, particularly Bazemore and Cooper. It's also extremely tough to succeed with six freshmen, and if the Monarchs start off conference play slowly, the lack of a CAA Tournament as incentive may make it hard for the young team to remain motivated.

    All that being said, you can never really count ODU out and it wouldn't shock me if head coach Blaine Taylor had his team in the top four again come March.

#5: Hofstra Pride

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    2011-12 Record: 10-22

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Mike Moore, Nathaniel Lester

    Key Returns: David Imes, Stevie Mejia

    Overview: It may see strange ranking a team who won three conference games last year this high, but hear me out.

    Last season, much of Hofstra's struggles could be attributed to adjusting to life after superstar Charles Jenkins. The Pride will have to adjust again this year after losing last season's top two leading scorers Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester, but this year, Hofstra is much more well equipped to cope with their losses.

    Seniors David Imes and Stevie Mejia return this season, but the real story for Hofstra is going to be their host of transfers. From Penn State comes sophomore Taran Buie and from Connecticut comes junior Jamal Coombs-McDaniels. Both should provide the Pride with some explosive play thanks to their high-level experience.

    Other transfers include Shaquille Stokes from Hawaii and Daquan Brown from Fresno State. Both are seeing waivers enabling them to play immediately, though Brown will play this season starting in December even if his request is denied. If both of them are made eligible in November, Hofstra will be a tough matchup for anyone.

    It's not all sunshine and roses for Hostra, however. Already Buie and Coombs-McDaniels have run across discipline problems, and if this continues to be an issue, it can ruin the entire season.

    Hofstra's out of conference schedule also leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to other CAA teams. This could lead to the team not being quite battle tested enough once CAA play starts.

    On the whole, this has a chance to be either an extremely dangerous team, or an absolute disaster if the players don't gel right or can't stay out of trouble. I feel that the beginning of the season may be rough for them, but they'll start to pull it together around the midway point.

No. 4: Northeastern Huskies

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    2011-12 Record: 14-17

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Alwayne Bigby, Kauri Black

    Key Returns: Jonathan Lee, Joel Smith, Quincy Ford

    Overview: Northeastern is one of those teams that never gets a ton of headlines yet is sneak good every season and seems to be around the top half of the league consistently.

    Northeastern was another victim of transfers, only their losses were academic based as opposed to athletics. Alwayne Bigby and Kauri Black both left Northeastern with degrees and have gone on to play for Rhode Island and Tule, respectively.

    Despite their losses though, Northeastern does return each of their top three scorers from last year in the form of Jonathan Lee, Joel Smith, and Quincy Ford. Having their core still intact will be a huge advantage, especially as the season rolls along. After a huge junior season, Jonathan Lee looks like he may compete for CAA Player of the Year if he can keep it up.

    Like Hofstra, Northeastern's big shortcoming may be the lack of toughness in their out of conference schedule. Their toughest games are all at home against relatively local Boston University, Vermont, and UMass. Once again, we'll see how the Huskies respond to the grind of the CAA schedule without any major tests, particularly when two of their opening three games are at George Mason and Drexel.

    At the end of the day, all you can say about Northeastern is that they're a solid team. The way I look at it, they went .500 in conference last season and they're bringing back their top three scorers, so odds are good for a successful season.

No. 3: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens

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    2011-12 Record: 18-14

    Postseason: CBI 1st Round

    Key Losses: None

    Key Returns: Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins, Jarvis Threatt

    Overview: Very quietly, Delaware became one of the hottest teams in college basketball late last year, and they're hoping to take that momentum into 2012-13.

    After sitting on the verge of a breakout for a few years, Delaware finally showed us what we were all waiting for at the end of last season, rattling off nine out of ten wins to end their CAA play.

    Even better for Delaware, they lost virtually no one from that team that clicked so well at the end of last season, and actually added a solid recruit in Maurice Jeffers. Along with Jeffers, Delaware will have a blend of size from senior Jamelle Hagins, speed from Jarvis Threatt, and pure scoring ability from Devon Saddler.

    Saddler, who was CAA Rookie of the Year back in 2010, had no sophomore slump last year, and if he continues to improve, has a chance to take the CAA and the country by storm this season.

    The Blue Hens are also playing a loaded schedule, traveling to Temple, Duke, Penn State, and Villanova. Don't be surprised to see Delaware steal a game or two out of that lineup either. The Blue Hens are also competing in the NIT Tip Off, and a trip to MSG would be huge for this team.

    With VCU gone and ODU soon on their way, the CAA needs teams to step up and take their places, and Delaware seems like a prime candidate to do that this year. Monte Ross is going to have a very confident, scary team that can legitimately compete for the CAA title this season. 

No. 2: George Mason Patriots

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    2011-12 Record: 24-9

    Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison, Andre Cornelius

    Key Returns: Sherrod Wright, Erik Copes, Bryon Allen

    Overview: Paul Hewitt's first season with the Patriots was a bittersweet one; one the one hand, Mason won 24 games, but on the other, they fell short of the postseason.

    Making life a little bit tougher on George Mason, they lost the winningest class in school history this offseason of Andre Cornelius, Mike Morrison, and the reigning CAA Player of the Year, Ryan Pearson.

    Despite the loss of a talented class and having no seniors on their roster at all this season, George Mason is still a very deep and very experienced team.

    Sophmore Erik Copes and the returning Johnny Williams will try to sure up the holes in the paint left by Morrison and Pearson, and Seton Hall transfer Anali Okoloji as well as freshman Marko Gujanicic will gave Mason much more size in the forward position.

    The big name to watch for the Patriots this year, however, will be junior Sherrod Wright. He made a name for himself being a clutch performer last season, and with Pearson gone, Mason is going to look to Wright to be the man this season.

    Mason boasts one of its tougher schedules in years, including opening at home against Virginia, a trip to the Paradise Jam, neutral site games against Richmond and Maryland, and a trip down south the USF.

    At the very least, this stretch of games will have the Patriots prepared for CAA play, but if Mason can steal a few wins, they may start getting some national attention early.

    This is a strong team, and if they can find a way to live a life after their most recent senior class, we could see George Mason dancing again come March.

No. 1: Drexel Dragons

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    2011-12 Record: 29-7

    Postseason: NIT Quarterfinals

    Key Losses: Samme Givens

    Key Returns: Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee, Chris Fouch

    Overview: Drexel went 29-7, had a 16 game winning streak, dominated the CAA, yet it still wasn't enough to get into the NCAA Tournament last year.

    This team was downright good last season and many say they were robbed of their rightful spot in the Big Dance last season. Surely the players on Drexel's team remember this, and that is what makes them that much more dangerous this season.

    Despite losing senior and rebound leader Samme Givens, the Dragons are still in great shape with their roster. Between senior Chris Fouch, reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Damion Lee, and potential CAA Player of the Year Frantz Massenat, Drexel boasts what should easily be the best backcourt in the conference.

    Senior Daryl McCoy will be expected to make up for the loss of Givens, both on the glass and on the scoreboard. What makes this team so good is that they have so many weapons that can beat you in a variety of different ways.

    The big factor that kept Drexel out of the dance last year was a low RPI. The Dragons hope to have solved that problem this year, participating in the Anaheim Classic, where they will open against St. Mary's, as well as hosting Davidson and St. Joe's.

    This team has a bright coach in Bruiser Flint. They have an incredible home court advantage in the DAC. They have size. They have shooters. They have a hunger to finish what last year started.

    All in all, the Drexel Dragons are clearly the team to beat in the CAA