Former VCU point guard Eric Maynor has been the face for his team and the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) over the past couple of years. The successful college prospect has moved onto the NBA, but don’t be fooled. There is still plenty of talent among the 12 programs that make up the CAA Conference.
The CAA has been best known for its Cinderella stories in recent years. From George Mason’s Final Four run to VCU shocking Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the recent memories have given the CAA much credibility.
Heading into the 2009-2010 season, all 12 teams will be looking for that shot to make it to the Big Dance. But they’ll need to perform on the court if they hope to do so.
Virginia Commonwealth: The Eric Maynor era is over at Virginia Commonwealth and the Rams also lost head coach Anthony Grant. With a new coach in and over 22 points per game lost, VCU’s reign in the CAA may finally come to an end this season. However, not all is lost for the Rams; they return conference Player of the Year candidate and potential NBA prospect Larry Sanders along with some of their other top contributors from a team that won 24 games a season ago. Despite the loss of Maynor, the talent may be there again for VCU. And while they cannot replace Maynor's impact, the Rams should finish among the top three in the CAA this season.
George Mason: They have become a household name after their success in recent years. However, with the CAA going through a bit of a shakeup with teams like Old Dominion, Northeastern and Georgia State improving, the Patriots may not pose as big of a threat has they have in the past. Don’t get me wrong, George Mason will win a fair share of games and welcome back Cam Long, but they also enter the season losing their second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers from a team that finished second in the CAA last season. If the Patriots can find a way to replace these numbers, they might be better than thought of. It won’t be an easy task to do so.
Old Dominion: The Monarchs had the most wins overall among CAA teams last season with 25. The team returns nearly their entire roster from a season ago, which should make them the favorite to win the CAA. Senior forward Gerald Lee is the leader among the returning players this season and will look to build on his 15.5 points per game from last year. Others returning include Ben Finney, Keyon Carter and Darius James. This group is good; they had success last year and should have no problem finding it again in 2009-2010.
Northeastern: The Huskies started off well last season, winning 15 of their first 21 games overall, including victories over Providence and Indiana. But they faltered down the stretch, winning just four of their last 11 games, including a first-round loss in the CAA Tournament. Northeastern returns many key players from that team, including potential All-Conference talents Matt Janning and Manny Adako. The Huskies open up the season on the road at Siena. It will be interesting to see early on how they matchup with one of the best mid-major teams in the country.
Hofstra: The Pride have been pretty good in recent years, including a 21-win 2008-2009 season. However, they never seem to be able to get over the hump in the CAA. There is a good chance they may fall victim to a similar situation again this season. But with conference Player of the Year candidate Charles Jenkins leading the way, Hofstra has an opportunity to pose a threat to some of the conference’s top teams. After finishing fifth in the CAA last year, the offensive threat is back for the Pride, who will look to build on the return of three double-digit scorers from 2008-2009. Hofstra will pick up wins in conference, but whether or not those wins come against the stronger members of the Colonial is hard to predict.
Drexel: After a 10-win season in the CAA last year, I’m not too sure the Dragons can get back to that point in 2009-2010. Gerald Colds is the top returning scorer and will have to build on his nine-point average from a year ago if Drexel is going to have any success. The Dragons will probably struggle this season and should finish somewhere near the bottom of the league.
James Madison: Believe it or not, James Madison won 21 games last season. While it might be hard to get back to that point this season, the Dukes remain confident. Their top two scorers from last year are gone and filling in those gaps offensively will be difficult. But James Madison should be able to finish somewhere around .500 within the conference. Of the 21 wins in 2008-2009, only nine came in the CAA. It’s hard to imagine them getting any more than that this year.
Georgia State: The Panthers did not pose much of a threat last season and finished at 12-20 overall. However, their two top scorers return and the addition of the CAA’s most highly touted freshmen might make Georgia State the surprise in the conference. Rashanti Harris might be the best recruit to come to Georgia State and he plans on living up to it. Ranked as the No. 54 prospect in the class of 2009 by Rivals.com, the Panthers will look at Harris to contribute immediately. After an eighth-place finish in the CAA last season, Georgia State should rise in the standings and have an opportunity to vastly improve very quickly.
Delaware: The Blue Hens return three of their top four scorers this season, but will probably struggle yet again. They have an opportunity to build off a season that wrapped up with a 13-19 overall mark and just six conference wins. However, many teams in the CAA are also hoping to improve and for Delaware, there is still a very good chance they will finish among the bottom.
Towson: Pat Kennedy is probably on the hot seat at Towson as the Tigers continue to struggle. After a 10th-place finish in conference last year, it is likely yet again they will finish somewhere near the bottom. Josh Thornton and Jarrel Smith return, representing a lone bright spot. It will be another tough year for the Tigers and their fans.
William & Mary: After finishing in the bottom half of the Colonial last season and registering only 10 wins overall, the Tribe might have an opportunity to improve, but probably not by much. They return four of their five top scorers, but the threat that William & Mary will pose to some of the higher teams in the conference will be pretty much non-existent. The Tribe will most likely finish near the bottom again in 2009-2010.
UNC Wilmington: It could not have gone much worse for UNC Wilmington last season. A 3-15 finish in conference and 25 losses total on the season is something the Seahawks would like to quickly forget. And they might be able to do that. Much of the team’s top contributors are back, including Chad Tomko, who led the team in points, assists and steals in 2008-2009. There should be some improvement in Wilmington this season. Although it won’t be enough win the CAA, it could bring the Seahawks around the .500 mark in the Colonial.
1. Old Dominion
4. Georgia State
6. George Mason
7. James Madison
8. UNC Wilmington
11. William & Mary
First Team All-CAA:
F- Larry Sanders, Jr., VCU
F- Gerald Lee, Sr., Old Dominion.
G- Matt Janning, Sr., Northeastern
G- Cam Long, Jr., George Mason
F- Rashanti Harris, Fr., Georgia State
Second Team All-CAA:
G- Charles Jenkins, Jr., Hofstra
F- Manny Adako, Sr., Northeastern
G- Chad Tomko, Jr., UNC Wilmington
G- Jawan Carter, Jr., Delaware
G- Joe Dukes, Sr., Georgia State
CAA Player of the Year:
Forward- Larry Sanders, VCU