- Ky McKeon
- UNC Wilmington
- College of Charleston
- William & Mary
- James Madison
All Conference Awards
POY: Omar Prewitt, William & Mary
Coach of the Year: Earl Grant, College of Charleston
Newcomer of the Year: Deron Powers, Hofstra
1. UNC Wilmington
Key Returners: Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram, C.J. Bryce, Jordan Talley
Key Losses: Craig Ponder, C.J. Gettys
Key Newcomers: Ambrose Mosley, JaQuel Richmond, Jaylen Fornes
Postseason Projection: 12 - 14 Seed (Auto-bid)
UNC Wilmington comes into 2016-17 fresh off an NCAA Tourney berth which ended in a narrow first round (I don’t recognize the first four as the “first round”) defeat to perennial power Duke. Kevin Keatts, a Rick Pitino disciple, returns to lead the Seahawks; he is the reigning two-time CAA Coach of the Year and has already successfully turned UNCW from a perpetual bottom-feeder to a conference power. Keatts preaches a high-pressure, up-tempo system that keys around multiple interchangeable pieces. With only one major contributor (with semi-apologies to C.J. Gettys), Craig Ponder, departing and the influx of three potential-ridden guards, UNCW will look to pick up right where they left off last season and once again pace the Colonial.
The Seahawks feature a four-guard lineup spaced around the perimeter. When not in transition pushing the ball off opponent misses or turnovers, the half-court offense revolves around pick-and-roll with the one man in the middle and constant drive-and-kicks. While Keatts does throw out four guards onto the floor at any one time, there is a divide in duties – Jordon Talley and Denzel Ingram act as the primary ball handlers of the group (point guards if you will), while Chris Flemmings and C.J. Bryce play more of the wing / small-ball four role. Of the two “point guards”, Talley plays more of the traditional distributor role; he ranked 2nd in the CAA in assist rate last season. Talley’s offensive game consists mostly of attacking the basket and drawing fouls – he led the Seahawks in foul rate last year. Ingram is more of a shooter/scorer; he led UNCW with an excellent 37% three-point percentage last season on a team-high 200 attempts. On the other side of the ball, Talley and Ingram led the Seahawks in steal percentage, an area where UNCW ranked 85th in the country (2nd in the CAA).
Bryce and Flemmings represent perhaps the most versatile wing tandem in the conference. Despite UNCW’s relative lack of size, the Seahawks were a top 100 OR% team and top 200 DR% team (that last stat isn’t great, but much better than one would expect), much of which is due to the rebounding ability of Bryce and Flemmings. Both wings can guard three positions on defense and are key parts of the UNCW full-court press. Flemmings ranked in the top 20 in the conference in both Blk% and Stl% while Bryce ranked 9th in Stl%. On offense, Flemmings is one of the of the most efficient players in the conference. His 124.9 O-rating ranked 42nd in the country last season and he turned in a shooting slash of .622/.366/.807 while scoring 16 points per contest. Bryce works more inside and from the mid-range area; he converted on 55.3% of his two-point attempts last season.
The one man in the middle in Keatts’s offense will rotate between 6’7’’ redshirt junior Marcus Bryan, 6’9’’ senior Chuck Ogbodo, and 6’7’’ sophomore Devontae Cacok. All three big men are excellent rebounders and very good rim protectors, but all three struggle with fouling (in fact UNCW as a team has a major tendency to foul – the Seahawks ranked 350th in the country in FTA/FGA allowed). None of the three bigs offer much in the realm of scoring, but they are all solid complements to the four guard offense. Matt Elmore, a promising 6’8’’ freshman, could get an opportunity to join the big man rotation this season.
As if UNCW didn’t have enough fire power and options in the backcourt, Keatts brings in two high-level transfers and one talented freshman. Ambrose Mosley, a 6’2’’ three-point specialist, comes over from Old Dominion and JaQuel Richmond, a 6’0’’ point guard, joins the fold from Middle Tennessee State. Mosley will give the Seahawks another shooting option off the pine; he converted 33.9% of his 186 with ODU back in 2014-15. Richmond adds another primary ball handler option for Keatts and also doubles as a knock-down shooter; the guard shot 40% on limited attempts from downtown as a frosh for MTSU and posted a 27.3 assist rate. Jaylen Fornes is the talented freshman mentioned above; he has tremendous potential as a do-everything scorer and should play a key reserve role behind the incumbent guard platoon.
UNCW has too much talent returning not to be ranked preseason #1 in the CAA. They’re guard depth is unmatched by any team in the CAA and Kevin Keatts has already proven to be one of the best coaching minds in the conference. They should continue to pressure teams on a full-court basis, while chasing shooters off the three-point line. They’re relative lack of firepower in the interior and high-fouling tendency are really the only weaknesses of this squad, but those shouldn’t be overwhelming factors to cause the Seahawks to fall out of the top two or three of the conference standings.
2. College of Charleston
Key Returners: Cameron Johnson, Jarell Brantley, Marquise Pointer, Payton Hulsey, Joe Chealey
Key Losses: Canyon Barry
Key Newcomers: Brevin Galloway, Chevez Goodwin, Jaylen McManus
Postseason Projection: NIT
The C of C Cougars were dealt a big blow before last season started with the loss of two impact guards Joe Chealey and Grant Riller. To make matters worse, leading scorer Canyon Barry went down with a shoulder injury midway through the season. Despite all the injuries, Charleston persevered under the tutelage of second-year coach Earl Grant and finished within two points of making the CAA Conference Championship. The Cougars were easily the best defensive team in the conference, and 11th overall in the nation, but offensive woes held C of C back from greater achievements as they finished dead last in offensive efficiency in the CAA and 305th in the country. The stark contrast between the offensive and defensive end could start to blur a bit this year as the Cougars return the aforementioned Chealey and Riller to add to their already super-talented backcourt. Grant’s options are so numerous this season that the loss of Barry to transfer should hardly even register on the C of C Richter scale.
Let’s start with that bountiful backcourt. Chealey is the team’s point guard, ranking 4th in the CAA in assist rate two seasons ago. He’s also their top returning scorer with the loss of Barry. Chealey does everything a coach could want in a point guard – he distributes well, he protects the ball, and he can score the rock. His return causes an interesting dilemma for Grant – who does he move to the bench to start the game? The answer likely is Marquise Pointer, a rising sophomore who turned in an admirable rookie season, earning CAA All-Defensive Team honors while scoring 11 points per contest. With Chealey’s return, Pointer can assume duties at his more natural off-ball position – he’s one of the Cougars top three-point options on the offensive end. Joining Chealey in the starting lineup should be junior Cameron Johnson and senior Payton Hulsey. Johnson was described as “the team’s heart and soul” by Earl Grant. He was a 3rd Team All-Conference pick last season and led the Cougars in scoring last season when Barry went down. Johnson does nearly everything right on both sides of the floor, and represents C of C’s best outside threat, connecting on 37.6% of his 141 three-point attempts in 2015-16. Hulsey, another All-Defensive Team member, is a jack of all trades. He contributes in scoring, rebounding, and distributing while doubling as the team’s best all-around defender. Pointer is a better scorer, but Hulsey will get the nod in the starting lineup due to his size and unselfishness. Grant Riller should also add pop to the backcourt off the bench; he’s a dynamic point guard capable of putting points up in bunches.
Charleston’s depth doesn’t stop at their backcourt – the Cougars bring back some talented pieces up front and welcome two newcomers who should make an immediate impact. The leader in the frontcourt is sophomore Jarrell Brantley, the CAA Rookie of the Year last season and a 3rd Team All-Conference selection. Brantley is a versatile forward, able to play both the 3 and the 4 – he led C of C in rebounds last season and finished second in scoring. Brantley is devastating in the post, but he’s also athletic enough to put the ball on the floor and blow by slower defenders, or spot up for an open three. The forward is also effective on the defensive end, ranking 4th in DR%, 21st in Blk%, and 8th in Stl% in the CAA. Expect another solid year from the rising soph. Joining Brantley in the starting five is likely redshirt sophomore Nick Harris, a 6’10” bundle of athleticism. Harris is a great rim protector and rebounder, and serves as a plus “dunker” on offense. Supporting the two bigs off the pine will be spot-up shooter Evan Bailey (34.7% from trey) and senior rebounding machine Terrance O’Donahue. In addition, two frosh, Chevez Goodwin and Jaylen McManus should contribute right away. Both frosh offer a shooting option in the frontcourt with upside rebounding potential.
Charleston will once again be the fiercest defensive unit in the Colonial. They force turnovers, take away the three-ball, and limit transition opportunities at an elite national level. With their continuity from last year’s squad, Grant’s team should be just as good in those department, if not, better. If the offense improves, which it should dramatically with the return and maturation of a talented back and front court, C of C could wind up winning the CAA and competing in its first Dance since 1999.
Key Returners: Rokas Gustys, Brian Bernardi
Key Losses: Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley, Denton Koon
Key Newcomers: Eli Pemberton, Ty Greer, Stafford Trueheart, Hunter Sabety, Deron Powers
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI
Recently I found out that Hofstra has not made an NCAA Tournament since 2001, which was pretty surprising given the relatively strong teams the Pride have featured over the past 15 years. Such is the mid-major conundrum where good regular season teams oftentimes fail to win their conference tournament. Last season, Coach Joe Mihalich led Hofstra to one of their best finishes in school history, ending the year 24-10 and taking the regular season CAA crown. Despite this, the Pride were banished to the NIT where they were narrowly defeated by an underachieving George Washington team. Mihalich loses a substantial amount of production from prior year with the graduation of Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley, and Denton Koon – but don’t count the Pride out of contention for 2016-17. Mihalich brings in a vast array of talent this year and returns two cornerstones to what should be deep roster.
Now, yes this roster is deep, but Mihalich has never really cared to use much of his bench in his coaching career. The Pride ranked dead last (351st) in bench minutes a season ago and had four starters rank in the top 115 in the country in minutes played. This is somewhat of a Mihalich hallmark, as the coach has never cracked the top 250 in bench minutes since Kenpom started tracking the statistic in 2007 (this includes Mihalich’s years at the helm of Niagara). With so much time given to last year’s starters, it’s difficult to tell just how good Mihalich’s reserves will be as they step into more featured roles this season. Two players we won’t have to wonder about though are guard Brian Bernardi and center Rokas Gustys.
Bernardi played 89% of Hofstra’s available minutes last season and was used primarily as a deadly spot-up weapon. The guard attempted 222 threes last season, connecting on 39.2% of them. The Pride as a team relied heavily on the deep ball, but nobody returning outside of Bernardi shot more than 50 threes last year. Gustys is an absolute brute of a man, standing 6’9’’ and weighing 260 pounds. He kind of looks like the Mountain from Game of Thrones, only he’s about a foot shorter and has a slightly better temperament (other comparison I was going to make was Zangief from Street Fighter – either do fine). The big Lithuanian is the most efficient big man in the Colonial, leading the conference in effective FG% last season and ranking 1st in BOTH OR% and DR% (he ranked in the top 20 of both in the entire country). Gustys shot nearly 69% from the field in conference play and drew fouls at the 4th highest rate in the CAA. As if this wasn’t enough, Gustys also ranked 10th in the conference in block percentage. There is, quite simply, nobody like Gustys in the Colonial, and his presence gives Hofstra an edge inside every game.
Mihalich will turn to Desure Buie and Deron Powers to replace the production lost in the backcourt. Buie is a rising sophomore point guard that saw his minutes increase near the end of the season. He contributes as a solid ball-handler and potential playmaker, but likely won’t be able to shoot at the rates of Green and Tanksley. Powers is a terrific transfer from Hampton. He too, like Buie, is a point guard by trade, which will give Mihalich a nice dual-PG system to work with. Hofstra often played a Green/Buie/Bernardi combo last season, and with the Pride playing mostly a 2-3 zone, the small backcourt isn’t liable to hurt them too much on the defensive end. Powers was an All-MEAC selection in 2014-15; he is a steady guard with great vision and scores from all areas of the court effectively. He should be a real catalyst to Mihalich’s relatively up-tempo offense this season.
Other options in the backcourt include redshirt junior Jamall Robinson, who returns after sitting out a year, back-up PG Justin Wright-Foreman, and freshman stud Elijah a.k.a. “Eli” a.k.a. “Pemba” Pemberton. Robinson is a good two-way player who should definitely see time slotting into a wing position. Wright-Foreman may not see too many opportunities given the Powers/Buie duo and Mihalich’s penchant for a small rotation, but he’s a capable back-up. Pemba is a player that I, quite frankly, cannot see Mihalich keeping off the floor. This guy is an electric athlete (All-State long jump and triple jump) and has a pretty good outside jumper to boot. He’ll be a dynamic option off the pine and could even earn a few starts.
A committee of JUCO transfer Ty Greer, junior Andre Walker, and freshman Stafford Trueheart will man the 4-spot. Greer likely gets the first crack at the starting lineup; he’s an athletic forward capable of playing either the 3 or 4. He’s a good scorer and rebounder (averaged 12ppg and 7rpg in JUCO) and should complement the brute strength of Gustys nicely. Walker has tremendous potential as a rim protector; he’s super-long and athletic, but still a bit raw offensively. I’m not sure how much time Trueheart sees this season, but he’s a long forward with the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat his defender off the bounce. Like Greer, he can guard more than one position on the floor. One player who I’d like to see crack the rotation is Hunter Sabety. Sabety is a D3 transfer and looks like Mihalich cloned Rokas Gustys. The 6’9’’ forward tips the scale at 290 pounds, but there isn’t an ounce of fat on this guy’s frame. He was a fierce competitor and beast of a rebounder for his former squad, but it’ll be interesting to see if that translates well to the D1 level.
Despite losing three starters, Hofstra figures to be right back in the discussion of a conference championship this season with an influx of talent and the return of Bernardi and Gustys. Mihalich should feature a similar fast pace on offense, with a 2-3 zone look on the defensive end. The Pride were top three in both offense and defense in the CAA last season – nothing this year suggests any change to those two metrics.
4. William & Mary
Key Returners: Omar Prewitt, Daniel Dixon, David Cohn
Key Losses: Terry Tarpey, Sean Sheldon
Key Newcomers: Nathan Knight, Justin Pierce
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI/CIT
2015-16 was another year of heart break for Tony Shaver’s program as the Tribe, yet again, failed to win the Colonial conference tournament and earn its very first bid to the Big Dance. William & Mary is one of only five Division 1 basketball programs (not counting recent D1 entrants) to not have an NCAA Tourney appearance (the others: Army, Northwestern, The Citadel, St. Francis (NY)). Last season didn’t compare to the heartbreaking conference championship loss suffered in 2014-15, but the Tribe were good, and another year sitting out of the biggest party of the year was certainly a disappointment. Shaver brings back one of, if not the, best perimeter attack in the conference, but loses two major frontcourt contributors in Terry Tarpey and Sean Sheldon. A team that often struggled on the defensive end last season likely regresses even more with the loss of Tarpey (2x CAA Defensive Player of the Year) and Sheldon (not a great defender, but their starting center), but they’ll certainly have the firepower on offense to stay competitive in the league.
Of course the leader of the Tribe offensive attack is Omar Prewitt, a 6’7’’ senior wing, who ranks in the top 20 all-time in the following W&M categories: 3PM (10th), Blocks (12th), Scoring (13th), 3P% (14th), FTM (18th), FGM (19th), Assists (19th), and Steals (20th). Prewitt is a phenomenal scorer with his high-set, ground-bound release, and scores in a multitude of ways. Last season Prewitt ranked 7th in the conference in true shooting percentage, 11th in usage, and 9th in O-Rating. His 17.8ppg ranked third in the CAA. SUMMARY: kid can score the basketball. He’s really rather effortless-looking while making moves to the middle of the paint or spotting up from deep – so much so, a casual observer may not realize he’s in fact the caliber of player he is. Prewitt’s presence gives the Tribe a fighting chance every night in the CAA (he should win CPOY), but its his surrounding cast that will determine just how high up W&M finishes in the standings this year.
Shaver implements a four-out style of offense with constant motion and lots of screening (particularly from the one big guy inside as guards cut through the paint). That style won’t be changing this season, which is a good thing for W&M given their personnel (read: they have a lack of productive big men). Because of this four-out style, Shaver likely starts four guards (though Prewitt could be considered the four man in the lineup with his size and rebounding ability). Aside from Omar, Shaver’s lineup will feature returning point guard David Cohn, high-scoring off-guard Daniel Dixon, and (insert superlative) Greg Malinowski. All three of these players are highly experienced (all upper classmen) and Cohn and Dixon started every game alongside Prewitt a year ago. Cohn is one of the better point guards in the conference; he ranked 5th in the CAA in assist rate last season while turning the ball over at a menial rate. He also contributes highly to the Tribe’s three-point game, shooting 38.9% overall last season and a blazing 47.2% in conference play. Fun fact: Cohn also had the 2nd highest O-rating in the CAA last season. Dixon is primarily a spot-up shooter (60% of his shot attempts last season were from behind the arc) – he shot a team high 185 threes last year, connecting on a decent 34.6% of them. Dixon is also a fairly good perimeter defender – something that cannot be said about most Tribesmen. Malinowski was a productive spark-plug off the bench last season. He should see his minutes highly increase as he steps into a regular staring role. Connor Burchfield, an absolute CASH shooter, should also see a jump in playing time off the pine. He shot 57.4% from downtown on 68 attempts last season and connected on all nine of his free-throw attempts. His true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage didn’t qualify to rank nationally, but they were both around 81% (non-human). Shaver also adds Justin Pierce, a 6’6’’ frosh, who looks basically like Malinowski/Burchfield/Prewitt put together, and happens to also be a sharp shooter.
As stated earlier, Shaver’s frontcourt is in a bit of trouble, and while that might not matter too much on the offensive end, it’s going to hurt on defense. Jack Whitman, a 6’9” redshirt junior, Hunter Seacat, a 6’9’’ sophomore, and Nathan Knight, a 6’9’’ freshman, all should get cracks at regular minutes within the rotation this season. Paul Rowley, a seldom-used former ESPN 3-star recruit, could also see the floor. Defensively, Shaver will likely turn to his zone more than he did last year. When not in man, W&M primarily played a 3-2 zone last season that featured Tarpey at the top and Prewitt and Sheldon anchoring the post. While the Tribe did a good job closing out on three-point shooters, their middle of the zone was essentially a giant chasm for teams to ride donkeys down on the way to easy buckets at the rim. The freshman, Knight, projects as a decent defender and rim protector, and Whitman should also be able to hold his own (he’s actually probably an upgrade from Sheldon defensively). Seacat is skinny, but at least he’s tall.
This season, W&M once again likely have the best offense in the league. Unfortunately, they also likely (once again), have one of the three worst defenses. It’ll be hard for the Tribe to win the league with a weak D, but they’ll outscore enough opponents to remain a top four or five team.
5. James Madison
Key Returners: Shakir Brown, Dimitrije Cabarkapa, Yohanny Dalembert, Jackson Kent
Key Losses: Ron Curry
Key Newcomers: Ramone Snowden, Terrance Johnson, Vince Holmes
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT
The James Madison athletic department decided it was time to part ways with its coach of the past eight years, Matt Brady, despite Brady leading the Dukes to their first NCAA Tournament since 1994 (in 2013) and winning 19 games or more in five seasons. The JMU AD’s reasoning, according to ESPN.com:
“We hold our coaches high standards of success both on and off the court. Success is ultimately judged by postseason performance, and we have not advanced past the CAA quarterfinals in seven of eight years. Despite winning records on the court, home attendance has declined."
That’s a bit pretentious of the AD of James Madison – a school certainly NOT known for its basketball prowess. In Brady’s stead, the Dukes have hired Louis Rowe, a former JMU Duke and Bowling Green & JMU assistant. Rowe inherits an experienced team from Brady, as the Dukes lose only one starter from last year’s squad – unfortunately it was their best player in 2015-16, Ron Curry.
The biggest issue Rowe and the Dukes will need to address is the glaring hole at the point guard slot left by Curry. JMU was good at limiting turnovers last season, mostly due to Curry’s astronomically low TO rate. Rising junior Joey McLean likely steps into the starting role. He’s a smaller guard than Curry and didn’t have quite the success as the departed with turnover rate. But, McLean is a very good perimeter shooter (40%), and he has the potential to be a serviceable point guard for the Dukes this year. 6’6’’ wing Shakir Brown and 6’7’’ wing Jackson Kent will round out the backcourt with McLean. Kent is primarily a spot-up three-point shooter – though he only connected on 31.7% of his 126 deep looks last year. This percentage was a sharp decline from Kent’s 2014-15 season, in which Kent shot an outstanding 42% on 143 looks (130th nationally). The Dukes shot a lot of three-balls last season under Brady, and with high continuity in personnel, they likely shoot a similar rate (slight regression due to Curry leaving). Kent will need to be more like his ’14-15 version for JMU to truly compete in the CAA. Brown is far more versatile than Kent. He can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4 and is also one of the better Duke defenders. Brown is the likely benefactor of Curry’s shots which are now up for grabs. He turned in an excellent shooting slash of .451/.366/.811 in 2015-16 and will look to improve his 10.9ppg average to somewhere around the 15ppg mark in 2016-17.
Inside, the Dukes will once again be anchored by 6’8’’ forward Yohanny Dalembert, an efficient post scorer with excellent rebounding ability and shot blocking prowess. Dalembert has nifty footwork in the post, able to score in a multitude of ways on the block – but he is often a victim of his poor free throw shooting; Dalembert drew 5.4 fouls per 40 last season but shot a dreadful 49.5% from the stripe. His running mate up front will be Tom Vodanovich, a good finesse post scorer but one who leaves much to be desired in about every other facet of the game. Reserve 6’10’’ forward Dimitrije Cabarkapa will see plenty of run in Vodanovich’s stead. Cabarkapa is a stretch four on offense who shot 37.2% from downtown last year.
Three newbies figure to be a plentiful source of production and depth. Ramone Snowden, a 6’6’’ forward from Niagara, will see time on the wing and could end up starting at the four in smaller lineups. Snowden poured in over 10ppg for the Purple Eagles in 2014-15 and shot 34.1% from deep. He’s also a plus rebounder. Vince “V.J.” Holmes, 6’4’’ JUCO guard, will compete with McLean for the starting point guard spot. Holmes is an athletic combo guard with a good jumper and solid ball handling skills. He should contribute right away. Finally, Terrance Johnson is a high-scoring JUCO guard who earned 3rd Team All-American honors at South Mountain Community College last season. Johnson will provide depth on the wing behind Kent and Brown, and should also see his fair share of minutes with his outside shooting ability and athleticism.
While JMU brings in a new coach, we can safely assume their offense likely goes through the perimeter once again this season despite the loss of Curry. Brown will be the catalyst on the outside and Dalembert will play an enormous role on the inside. Defense was JMU’s strength last season, and while Curry was a good defender, the Dukes should till be solid in that regard. JMU played a sagging man last year (almost a pack-line variety). Help-side defenders often had one foot in the lane, and the team often collapsed on the paint. Because of this, the Dukes allowed a lot of three-point attempts last season (342nd in 3PA), but they’re high focus on tough close-outs resulted in their opponents missing on those attempts more often than not – in fact the Dukes were #1 in 3P% allowed (28.7%). If this year’s squad can repeat the defensive success of last season’s team (64th nationally; 2nd in the CAA), the Dukes can make a dark horse run at the regular season championship.
Key Returners: William Adala Moto, Mike Morsell, John Davis, Walter Foster
Key Losses: Byron Hawkins, Timajh Parker-Rivera
Key Newcomers: Deshaun Morman, J.J. Matthews, Justin Gorham, Brian Starr
Postseason Projection: None
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the job that Pat Skerry has done as a head coach at Towson. Skerry inherited the Towson job in 2011 from Pat Kennedy, who stumbled and bumbled his way to a 71-144 record over seven seasons. In Skerry’s first year at the helm, the Tigers went an ungodly 1-31 (1-17) as the Kennedy hangover had not quite lifted and Skerry struggled to implement his style. Since that year, Skerry has led the Tigers to a 65-57 record that includes a 25-11 (13-3) season back in 2013-14. Skerry’s style of play is unique in this day and age; his teams rely on pounding the ball into the paint and charging the offensive glass, as opposed to launching threes from the outside. In the five seasons Skerry has coached the Tigers, Towson has never cracked the top 200 in 3PA%. With the loss of only two major cogs (including top outside shooter, Byron Hawkins) from 2015-16, Towson’s style of play figures to be a carbon copy of the past five years.
Towson welcomes back with open arms its top dog from last year’s squad, Arnaud William Adala Moto. Adala Moto, a 6’8’’ senior forward, earned 2nd Team All-CAA honors last season thanks to his relentless rebounding ability and overall bully style of basketball. His efficiency numbers aren’t pretty to look at, and neither is his game on the court, but Adala Moto is one of the hardest workers in the CAA. Last year, he led the Colonial in usage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes, while ranking in the top ten in both OR% and DR%. His statistics kind of mask the level of skill he actually possesses. The 4-man can be an effective penetrator and ball-pusher in transition, and is even good for a three-pointer every now and then. Expect more of the same from Adala Moto this season – cleaning up his teammates’ messes on offense and giving people sternum contusions in the paint.
Other constants returning to the fold for Skerry are junior guard Mike Morsell, senior wing John Davis, and senior big man Walter Foster. Morsell should see an increase in his ball-handling responsibilities with the departure of Hawkins, but he’s a shoot-first focused guard. Like most Towson players, Morsell didn’t exactly light it up last season (.416/.317/.734), but he is an athletic presence in the backcourt and a good perimeter defender. He’ll fall into a similar role this season as second banana to Adala Moto (bananas remind me of Harambe – R.I.P. buddy). Davis also brings value as a perimeter defender, but despite his weird shooting form, the guy is pretty effective on the offensive end. Davis was one of only two Tigers to shoot above 50% from inside the arc last season (the other being Timajh Parker-Rivera), and led Towson with a 37.7% three-point shooting clip. Davis is not a three-point shooter by trade, but he’s liable to knock one down is left open. Foster is good for two things and two things only: O-boarding and shot-blocking (such is the Towson way). The center ranked 5th in the CAA last season in OR% and 3rd in Blk%. He should see an uptick in playing time with Parker-Rivera no longer around.
Skerry will have a slew of newcomers playing important roles this year, along with returning Eddie Keith and Jordan McNeil. To speak on the returners quickly: Keith is a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple spots and possesses a better than average outside jumper. He could challenge for a starting spot this year. McNeil projects as a good shooter, but his 28.6% 3P% last year doesn’t bode well. Perhaps a second year epiphany is on his horizon.
The potentially impactful newcomers alluded to above include Cincy transfer Deshaun Morman, freshmen Justin Gorham and J.J. Matthews, and JUCO transfer Brian Starr (Dennis Tunstall, a redshirt frosh, could also play a role as a reserve frontcourt piece). Morman wasn’t given too much of an opportunity in limited action as a frosh at Cincy, but the talent is clearly there. He is an athletic combo guard who could end up starting at the point guard position for Skerry when the season opens. Morman also, like so many other Tiger backcourt members, has great potential on the defensive end. Sticking with the backcourt, Starr comes over from Colby Community College in Kansas where he averaged 14ppg and 7apg last season. He’ll challenge Morman for that starting PG spot. Gorham and Matthews are each ESPN 3-Star recruits. They are also both frontcourt players, Matthews being more of a ground-bound bruiser (Skerry! surprise!) and Gorham being more of a lanky athlete. Both should see the court some this season, Matthews in particular could play a big role.
Towson was a good team last season. Their ability to rebound, defend, and get to the foul line, coupled with their knack for slowing down the pace of a game, allows them to stay competitive in every contest (particularly within the Colonial). While I like what this Tiger squad returns, I just don’t see how they get over the hump and challenge for the conference title without a better offense. They can outwork anyone, but at the end of the day, a conference championship team needs more than just grit and determination.
Key Returners: Luke Eddy, Dmitri Thompson, Tyler Seibring, Dainan Swoope, Christian Hairston, Steve Santa Ana
Key Losses: Tanner Sampson
Key Newcomers: Seth Fuller
Postseason Projection: None
Per Kenpom, last season was the best Elon squad since the site started tracking teams back in 2002. Despite this, Matt Matheny’s Phoenix team finished the year a mediocre 16-16 with an 8th place CAA standing. Matheny’s up-tempo, three-happy offense did well enough to keep the Phoenix in most conference tilts, but their defense was one of the league’s worst – particularly around the basket. This season, Elon returns nearly everyone from last year’s squad – only Tanner Samson, their best overall shooter, departs. On one hand, the continuity will be a positive as the Phoenix will have a talented, experienced, and deep backcourt. On the other hand, this means nothing was done to address the real problems of the Phoenix – their rebounding and interior defense.
The Elon offense features a balanced scoring attack centered on the three-point shot, which the Phoenix shot at the 14th highest rate in the country last season. Luke Eddy returns to reclaim his spot as the team’s primary ball handler. Eddy is a ball dominant point guard (5th in the CAA in usage) who features strong passing skills (4th in the CAA in assist rate) and a keen ability to get to the foul line (9th in the CAA in fouls drawn per 40). While the guard provides excellent passing from the point, his efficiency was a weakness last season, shooting a horrid slash of .467/.255/.694. Eddy had a considerably more efficient sophomore year in lesser minutes, so perhaps he can taper back his aggressiveness and improve his decision making this season on offense. Assisting Eddy in the scoring department will be second-year guard Dainan Swoope and junior wing Dmitri Thompson. Swoope turned in a strong outside shooting performance last season (36.6% on 153 threes) but struggled finishing when attacking the rim. Thompson is Elon’s best slasher; he’s the only Phoenix member who does not shoot a considerable amount of trey balls. Steven Santa Ana should see plenty of time this season off the pine behind the aforementioned trio of guards. Santa Ana is a dynamic combo guard poised for a breakout campaign this season if given the ample opportunity.
Up front lies the weakness of this Elon squad. Big man Tyler Seibring plays the 5 for the Phoenix, but he offers little in the realm of rebounding and spends almost all of his time on offense launching threes (where he is actually very good – 39.6% last season on 139 attempts). Christian Hairston, an athletic 3/4 tweener, is the team’s best rebounder; he was an excellent finisher last season converting 60% of his attempts inside the arc (10th in the CAA). Hairston will likely split starting duties with returning junior Brian Dawkins who serves as an additional paint presence for the Phoenix. Jack Anton, a 6’8” junior, and Karolis Kundrotas, a 6’11’’ sophomore, could also see upticks in their minutes this season. Neither is really a solution for the dearth of toughness inside, but Kundrotas has a bit of rim protection potential.
Nothing should really change for this Elon team in terms of style of play and season performance. They should once again be one of the better shooting teams in the CAA, and will look to push the ball hard off opponent makes (where they ranked 10th in the country in 2015-16 on initial FGA off an opponent score). On defense, the Phoenix won’t force many turnovers and they won’t allow many threes – but they’ll likely get gashed in the paint with little to offer in the realm of interior presence. I can’t see the Phoenix finishing any higher than 6th or 7th in the competitive CAA.
Key Returners: Jeremy Miller, T.J. Williams
Key Losses: David Walker, Quincy Ford, Zach Stahl
Key Newcomers: Bolden Brace, Maxime Boursiquot, Alex Murphy, Shawn Occeus
Postseason Projection: None
Since Bill Coen took the reigns in Boston in 2007, his Husky teams have won 57% of their contests in the CAA and have more often times than not finished in the top half of the league. This season presents a major challenge for Coen as he loses his top three scorers from last year’s squad. The 2016-17 version of the Huskies may be one of the least talented (at least on paper) that Coen has had during his tenure, and the makeup of the lineup shifts from a guard-focused attack to an interior-based one. Northeastern will need to replace 69% of their scoring this season with relatively unproven commodities.
As stated above, Northeastern’s offensive strategy likely shifts this season from a three-focused, perimeter-oriented game plan to a paint-bound game. Quincy Ford and David Walker combined to shoot 417 three-pointers last season, and Caleb Donnelly, another graduated Husky, attempted 102. Northeastern’s best scoring options now reside in the frontcourt with rising sophomore Jeremy Miller and Florida grad transfer Alex Murphy. Miller was highly efficient last season as a freshman, converting on 71% of his shots around the rim (61.5% overall from inside the arc) and 38.3% from downtown. The young big man was one of the top 20 rebounders in the conference last season and also ranked in the top ten in the CAA in block percentage on defense. Miller doesn’t bully opponents in the post like some of his CAA contemporaries, rather he’s more of a finesse finisher who shies away from contact. At 6’10’’ 230 lbs., the sophomore forward will need to be more proactive in attacking defenders in the paint. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up his impressive efficiency as he is allocated a greater percentage of the shooting pie chart.
Alex Murphy is the real x-factor for Coen and perhaps the biggest mystery in the entire CAA. Murphy was a top 50 recruit coming out of high school back in 2012, choosing to attend Duke University and play for Coach K. After not playing much for Duke, Murphy followed in his older brother’s footsteps and transferred to Florida where he struggled with injuries. In now his 6th college basketball season, Murphy has an opportunity to leave a gigantic mark in the Colonial Conference. Murphy is likely one of the highest recruits ever to play in the Colonial and has the potential to lead not only the Huskies in scoring, but the entire conference as well. We’ll see if the grad transfer can live up to his massive hype and potential and finally break through as a college basketball force. If not – at least Coen has his youngest brother, Tomas (a 4-star recruit), coming in next season. Sajon Ford, a 6’11’’ sophomore, should also see a major uptick in minutes this season behind Miller and Murphy.
The Husky backcourt is really where the trouble lies for Coen. Senior T.J. Williams will become the undisputed primary ball handler this season. Williams is a decent distributor but is very much unproven in a large role as both Walker and Ford tended to own the rock more in 2015-16. Williams will be joined by Donnell Gresham, Jr., a potential long-ball weapon. Gresham shot 41.7% from downtown on his 36 attempts last season; he should easily eclipse the 100 attempts mark this season. As neither Gresham nor Williams can carry an offense, Coen will likely turn to one of two freshmen to make an immediate impact. Bolden Brace, a 6’6’’ wing, looks to be a ready-made mid-major wing. He is a knock-down shooter and athletic enough to drive by slower defenders and finish at the tin. Shawn Occeus, a 6’4’’ shooting guard, gives Coen a nice athletic option in the backcourt. Occeus, like Brace, can also shoot the rock and possesses plus athleticism – both good qualities to have as a guard in the CAA.
Coen will look to instill his typical system once again this season in Boston. Look for the Huskies to play a slow, methodical pace in a half-court focused attack. Expect a decline in three-point attempts (Northeastern shot the most threes ever in Coen’s tenure last season) and a shift towards an interior-based attack. On the defensive side, Northeastern has never been a strong force. Coen will use a mix of man and 2-3 zone to slow opponents down. Miller and Ford off the bench make for good space-eaters in the center of the zone, but overall this team should continue to be a middle-tier defense in the CAA. Expect an overall decline in performance from Northeastern’s 9-9 CAA finish a season ago.
Key Returners: Rodney Williams, Sammy Mojica
Key Losses: Tavon Allen, Terrell Allen, Kazembe Abif, Rashann London
Key Newcomers: Sam Green, Jeremy Peck, Miles Overton, Kurk Lee
Postseason Projection: None
Change is a comin’ to Philadelphia. Bruiser Flint, the long-time Drexel Dragon coach, exits after 15 years of service and a 53% win percentage. Replacing Flint is former Army coach Zach Spiker, who did serviceable work during his time in West Point. With the coaching change comes a drastic change in style of play. Flint was known for playing at a snail’s pace on offense, slowing the tempo down to work the ball methodically around the half-court. Spiker’s Army teams always played at a break-neck pace, getting out in transition before their opponents could set up their defense. The new philosophy could take awhile to set in with the current squad meaning there’s going to be some growing pains out in University City.
The key question for Drexel this season is, do they have the personnel to run the system Zach Spiker wants to implement? The Dragons lose a ton of production with four starters departing, including primary ball hander Terrell Allen. Sammy Mojica, a redshirt junior, will look to take on a larger role in the ball control department alongside Major Canady, another redshirt junior guard returning from two consecutive season-ending injuries. Freshman point guard Kurk Lee could see immediate playing time in the backcourt; Lee is a super quick lead guard with a nice-looking jumper and is well-equipped for Spiker’s fast-paced attack. Miles Overton, a Wake Forest import, will also join in the backcourt action. Overton was ranked as the 7th best recruit coming out of the state of Pennsylvania back in 2013, but wasn’t given much of an opportunity to shine at Wake. A shift from the ACC to the CAA could be just what the doctor ordered for Overton, who should be one of Drexel’s top athletes this season.
Drexel’s inside features the best returning player from last year’s Dragon squad, Rodney Williams. Williams is a paint-bound power forward with a limited move-set inside – he literally almost always turns over his left shoulder and shoots a right-handed hook shot (no matter the distance from the rim). Williams, though, is a capable rebounder and is adept at drawing contact. He’s also valuable on the defensive end where he ranked 5th in the conference in block percentage last season (aside: Mojica at 6’3’’ ranked 14th in Blk% in the CAA – wow). Joining Williams in the frontcourt will be a combination of 6’9’’ senior Mohamed Bah, 6’8’’ junior Austin Williams, and 6’8’’ junior Tyshawn Myles. All three big men saw limited action last season and have similar tendencies on the floor – they all rebound fairly well, shoot poorly from the field and the stripe, and have an affinity for hacking limbs.
The Dragons probably don’t have the talent level or lineup continuity to compete in the middle of the CAA this season. The Spiker hire, however, should be an intriguing story to watch this season and over the course of the next couple of years as the former Army coach implements his up-tempo philosophy and starts recruiting players that fit his system (Army’s team last season was chock full of talent and an exciting team to watch). Expect Drexel to finish around the same level as last season – a bottom three CAA finish and nine to ten overall victories.
Key Returners: Anthony Mosley, Devonne Pinkard, Cazmon Hayes, Chivarsky Corbett
Key Losses: Kory Holden, Marvin King-Davis
Key Newcomers: Ryan Daly, Darian Bryant
Postseason Projection: None
The Delaware Fighting Blue Hens are in a state of transition with the recent firing of head coach Monte Ross. The former coach achieved some success during his ten year tenure, including one NCAA Tourney appearance, but fell off the wagon the last two seasons going a combined 17-43. In steps Martin Ingelsby, a former Mike Brey assistant at Notre Dame. Ingelsby inherits a gutted team after the graduation of forward Marvin King-Davis and transfer of leading scorer Kory Holden. The Hens weren’t great last season even with the two departing players, suggesting this year may be a rough one for the rookie coach.
The exit of Holden makes returning senior Cazmon Hayes the de facto go-to option on offense. Hayes is a big off-guard at 6’4’’ and certainly has the potential to be a potent scorer, but he struggled with inefficiency last season shooting 48% from two and 28.8% from downtown. Without Holden, Hayes will need to take a bigger role in the isolation and P&R game in the half-court, something he’s capable of doing. Joining Hayes in the backcourt is junior PG Anthony Mosley and senior wing Devonne Pinkard. Mosley will take over ball-handling responsibilities this season – he struggled with turnovers last year, but he’s a solid scoring option from the 1 spot. Pinkard should see a big spike in minutes this season; Ingelsby will need him to also experience a big spike in efficiency. Off the bench, freshman Ryan Daly should provide much-needed depth at the 2-guard slot, and Darian Bryant, a GW import, should see time at the wing.
Up front, the Hens get back their best outside shooting threat in Chivarsky Corbett after the 6’7’’ forward went down with an injury four games into the 2015-16 season. Corbett connected on 39% of his threes as a freshman and represents the Hens’ best returning rebounder. His running mate in the starting lineup should be either junior Skye Johnson or redshirt sophomore Eric Carter. Johnson is a serviceable rim protector and rebounder, but offers nothing spectacular on the offensive side. Carter, like Corbett, returns from injury; he could overtake Corbett as the Hens’ best carom wrangler this season. Backing up the Johnson/Carter combo is Barnett Harris, who serves a similar role with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability, but often had trouble last year with fouling. Jacob Cushing, a 6’8” frosh, could also see his fair share of time.
The Hens were neither great at offense nor defense last season, something that really shouldn’t change this season. With Ingelsby’s experience at Notre Dame, the hope is that he can bring in some of Brey’s offensive magic to a team in desperate need. On the other side of the ball, Ingelsby may implement more of a man-to-man defensive strategy (the Hens played a lot of zone last season) given the tendencies of his former employer. 2016-17 will be a trying year for Ingelsby and the Hens, but I think the hire is a good one; Ingelsby comes from a good coaching tree and has the chops to revive this once proud basketball program.