Colonial Athletic Association Conference Preview

Colonial Athletic Association Conference Preview
Nov 07, 2006, 03:13 am

This league sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament a season ago, and many thought they should have had a third. Once again, it is a very strong league and could get two teams into the dance again this year. Check out the predicted order of finish and read a little about each of the teams.

-1. HOFSTRA. Most people, including myself, were shocked on Selection Sunday last season when the Pride’s name wasn’t called. They finished with an RPI of 30, were very strong down the stretch, and had notable wins against both George Mason and UNC Wilmington. If it’s any consolation, the Pride have an excellent team this year and we’ll probably see them ranked in the top 25 before the season is over. They run a very impressive three guard offense. Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio both averaged more than 17ppg last year. Carlos Rivera also averaged in double figures, so they have a backcourt that can hang with just about anyone in the country. However, the one gap that this team must fill is their post play. They have no proven big men and if someone doesn’t step up they could have problems matching up with some of the other teams in the conference. They are in the Great Alaska Shootout this year and that is a chance for them to get some early quality wins that will look good on their resume this March. They also travel to Syracuse, who won the Big East last season.

-2. GEORGE MASON. I’m sure some of you probably remember George Mason from a season ago. They tied for first during the regular season, earned a bid to the NCAA, and made the most of it by doing what no “mid-major” had done since 1979 when they advanced to the Final Four. Only two starters are back from last year’s team in forward Will Thomas and guard Folarin Campbell, both of whom averaged double figures last season. It’s hard to say what kind of contribution the rest of the returning players will make since the Patriots rarely went to their bench last year. Guard Andre Smith, who is a JUCO transfer who can shoot the ball and should step right into a leadership role this year. Also new to the team is forward Darryl Monroe, another JUCO transfer who shot an amazing 58% from the floor last season. The Patriots aren’t likely to get back to the Final Four, but they could definitely be making some noise in March again this year.

-3. OLD DOMINION. The Monarchs were favored to win this league last year, but ended up with five conference losses and in fourth place overall. They did have a nice run in the NIT by advancing to the semifinals and with three starters back this year they once again have a good team. They did lose their two leading scorers and replacing them is vital to their success this season. Guard Drew Williamson is capable of scoring, but he also distributes the ball extremely well. Forward Arnaud Dahi averaged in double figures last season and returns to the starting lineup this year. Coach Blaine Taylor has done a tremendous job with this program that will likely continue this season.

-4. UNC WILMINGTON. The Seahawks had an amazing season last year where they won the regular season and tournament championships in the CAA. They went on to the NCAA Tournament to face George Washington, built an 18 point lead, but lost it and wound up losing the game. The departure of head coach Brad Brownell to Wright State could be a setback for them as well, but they do return two starters in guard T.J. Carter and forward Todd Henley, both of whom averaged in double figures last season. Center Vladimir Kuljanin saw significant minutes off the bench last year and should be a big contributor as well. This team definitely has some gaps to fill, but they will once again be very competitive.

-5. VCU. The Rams stumbled down the stretch last season and lost their leading scorer as well as their head coach, so it may be hard for them to compete for the league title this year. They still have a good deal of talent though. Guard B.A. Walker is a terrific outside shooter and he will be a major asset this year. Guard Jesse Pellot-Rosa adds to the experience of the backcourt. The frontcourt is unproven and the Rams may have to turn to some incoming freshman to step up and be a factor right away.

-6. DREXEL. This is lower than everyone else has the Dragons by a long shot. There is no denying that this is a very talented team. They certainly raised some eyebrows last year with early success in the preseason NIT. Head coach Bruiser Flint is very energetic, and four starters are back. However, this is a team that has been plagued by inconsistency for the past several seasons despite their talent. They finished extremely poorly last season, so although they have talent and experience, they don’t appear to have a lot of momentum. Dominick Mejia returns at guard and he was a major scoring contributor last year at 15.3ppg. Guard Bashir Mason also averaged in double figures. Center Frank Eleger was a major contributor in the post in both scoring and rebounding. The talent is there, but it was also there last year. The wins are what are missing. They certainly have the potential to finish much higher than this and even contend for the league title, but until they actually play like it it’s hard for me to project them any higher.

-7. NORTHEASTERN. Last year was the first year in the CAA for the Huskies, and they got off to a rough start, but really looked good down the stretch. However, guard Jose Juan Barea is gone from the team who was by far their all around best player. Three starters are back, including forward Shawn James who averaged in double figures and was a very good rebounder last season. Guards Bobby Kelly and Adrian Martinez, who came off the bench last year but was still a contributor, give them some experience in the backcourt as well.

-8. TOWSON. The Tigers have one of the best guards in the conference with Gary Neal (26.1ppg). They also have some other talented players in forward Dennard Abraham, who is a good scorer and rebounder, and guard Tim Crossin. Despite having this kind of talent Towson really struggled down the stretch last season and was just 12-16 overall. Head coach Ted Kennedy has been a lot of places and recruited a lot of talent. His teams haven’t always gelled though, and that could be the problem here. Towson has the potential to be much better than they were a season ago, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.

-9. GEORGIA STATE. The Panthers were sluggish all season last year, but showed signs of life at the end when they nearly beat Towson, hung in with UNC Wilmington, won a conference tournament game against Towson, and then took eventual Final Four participants George Mason to overtime in the quarterfinals. Just think. If Georgia State had won that George Mason wouldn’t have even been in the NCAA Tournament at all. Only two starters are back in center Deven Dickerson and forward Justin Billingslea. They do have experience in the frontcourt, but are unproven in the backcourt.

-10. WILLIAM & MARY. The Tribe return four starters, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing since they only won three conference games a year ago. Still, experience alone could result in a little more improvement. Forward Corey Cornfield is the leading returning scorer at 10.7ppg last year. They don’t have much in the way of a bench either and it could be another long season for the Tribe.

-11. DELAWARE. The Blue Hens won just nine games last year, none of which came against anyone who was all that good other than a conference win against Drexel. Because of that, they now have a new head coach in Monte Ross, who is a former assistant from Saint Joseph’s. Expect defense to be a focal point of this team. It better be since there isn’t much offense to speak of. They lost their two leading scorers from last year. Guards Calvin Cannon and Zaire Taylor return to give them an experienced backcourt, but they are lacking in talent in experience in all other areas.

-12. JAMES MADISON. Forward Terrance Carter, a JUCO transfer who averaged 15.8ppg and 7.8rpg, may be one of the few high points for the Dukes this year. They won just five games a season ago and don’t appear to be all that much better this year.

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