- Ky McKeon
Player of the Year: Joe Chealey, R Sr., Charleston
Coach of the Year: Earl Grant, Charleston
Newcomer of the Year: Tomas Murphy, Fr., Northeastern
Freshman of the Year: Tomas Murphy, Fr., Northeastern
Key Returners: Joe Chealey, Jarrell Brantley, Grant Riller, Cameron Johnson, Nick Harris, Marquise Pointer
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Brevin Galloway (Redshirt), Osinachi Smart (Redshirt)
Outlook: Watch out for the Cougars folks! After being dominated by UNC Wilmington the past two seasons, the CAA finally has a new favorite to capture the league title and earn an auto-bid to the Dance. Earl Grant’s Charleston squad is unanimously considered one of the top mid-majors in the country this season (#1 according to 3MW) thanks to their stifling defense and returning production. No team in the nation returns more than the Cougars do this year, with their top nine guys coming back for an encore after their 25-10 (14-4) 2016-17 performance. This experience makes C of C the overwhelming favorite in the Colonial; an 18-0 conference mark is not beyond the realm of possibility.
The hallmark of the Cougars is their suffocating style of defense, one that extends pressure far beyond the three-point line making handling the ball and shooting jumpers an uncomfortable task. C of C held opponents to 31.8% from downtown, the 16th best mark in the country, while forcing turnovers without fouling. Grant’s 2015-16 Cougar squad actually ranked higher in defensive efficiency than last year’s team, but the offense couldn’t carry the Cats to consistent wins.
While there were still a fair share of rock fights last season, Charleston improved dramatically on offense, ranking third in the CAA in offensive efficiency. Much of this newfound offensive production can be attributed to the debut of Grant Riller and maturation of Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley.
Riller and Chealey are both dynamic guards willing to score via penetration or spotting up behind the arc. Chealey is the more polished of the two, a potential CAA POY with his elite scoring ability and shooting (17.8ppg on .462/.401/.826). The senior guard prefers to beat his man using crossovers and then barrels into the chest of bigger lane defenders where his size and strength allow him to finish, while Riller uses his up-and-down quickness to blow by defenders and rise up near the block to take a short jumper or a chop on the arm to draw a foul. Both guards are crucial to C of C’s offensive success; here’s how the Cougars performed when both Chealey and Riller were on the floor versus when one or both of them sat (per Hoop Lens):
Riller and Chealey will play majority of the game, but when they do sit, Grant’s team will still be in capable hands with Marquise Pointer and/or Brevin Galloway. Pointer saw his role shrink last season after starting nearly every game as a freshman. He brings solid ball handling and defense to the Cougar lineup but has struggled with his shot thus far in his career. Galloway redshirted last year, but showed promise in the team’s Ireland trip this offseason; he’ll also be able to play the lead guard spot and should be a source of scoring off the pine.
Jarrell Brantley, a 2nd Team All-CAA and All-Defense selection, will key Charleston’s frontcourt on both ends of the floor. On offense, Brantley is a load in the post at 6’7” 250 pounds, but moves and shoots well enough to have the capacity to bring his man away from the basket making him a threat to score from just about anywhere. On defense, Brantley is a top five rebounder in the Colonial and contributes in both the steal and block departments. He improved in every metric from his freshman to sophomore season; expect another uptick in production this year as he chases 1st Team All-CAA honors.
As touched on earlier, Charleston returns all five starters from last season’s squad. While the trio of stars mentioned above represents the majority of its offensive production, forward Nick Harris and wing Cameron Johnson fill imperative roles rounding out the rotation. Harris is a paint bound force on offense (literally – he shot only one time from outside 10 feet last season), scoring on 63.1% of his shot attempts last year. The 6’10” sophomore is the team’s best offensive rebounder and uses his length to keep possessions alive. On defense, Harris is a strong rim protector and allowed an impressive 0.635ppp on post-ups in 2016-17 (per Synergy). Johnson is more of a glue guy, a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. The Cougars actually performed better on both ends of the floor when Johnson sat last season, but he brings leadership and fills a niche wing spot that the C of C roster lacks.
While Grant will play 8 or 9 guys during a game, he doesn’t often play his bench for an extended period of time. Guys like Evan Bailey, Chevez Goodwin, Jaylen McManus, and perhaps even redshirt freshman Osi Smart could see the floor consistently this year, but the length of time is yet to be determined. It’s worth noting that Charleston’s offense performed significantly better when Bailey was on the floor (albeit in limited possessions), likely a consequence of his ability to space the floor from the 4-spot. McManus has potential to be a solid contributor down the road, but still may not see much time as a sophomore. Smart tore it up in Ireland this offseason and could emerge as the team’s best rebounder as the season progresses.
Bottom Line: Charleston will likely be my “pet team” this season, one I will try to watch a lot of while singing their praises due to the criminal underrepresentation of the Colonial in mainstream sports coverage. Unfortunately, the Cougars’ non-conference schedule is pretty weak meaning they will likely need to win the CAA Tourney to make the Big Dance, but if their offense stays consistent this season that won’t be too trying of a task.
Key Returners: Mike Morsell, Deshaun Morman, Brian Starr, Eddie Keith, Alex Thomas, Zane Martin
Key Losses: Arnaud William Adala Moto, John Davis
Key Newcomers: Travis Ingram, Quinton Drayton, Jeff Prophete
Outlook: Pat Skerry ball is alive and well in Towson, Maryland. After inheriting a struggling program from Pat Kennedy back in 2012, Skerry’s Tigers stumbled to a 1-31 record and a last place finish in the Colonial. Since then, Skerry’s squads have gone 90-70 and have had three 20+ win seasons.
Skerry’s teams play a very distinct brand of basketball, one that focuses on crashing the offensive boards and furiously attacking the rim. His Tigers tend to eschew the three in exchange for playing volleyball on the glass and drawing fouls at a high rate. In Skerry’s 6 seasons at the helm, Towson has ranked 13th, 6th, 36th, 10th, and 11th nationally in offensive rebounding and 60th, 63rd, 5th, 3rd, 11th, and 4th in free throw rate. Skerry has always found a certain type of player to fit his mold, none so fitting as the recently graduated Arnaud William Adala Moto. With Adala Moto gone, Towson’s bigs will need to step up their glass and rim attacking games to make up for the lost production, but this also may be Skerry’s best shooting / offensively talented team he’s ever had meaning we could be in for a slightly new-look Tiger troop.
To be clear, this still won’t be an outstanding offensive squad. Towson relies on defense and outworking its opponent to win ball games – only one player, John Davis, scored over 1.00ppp last season. Mike Morsell is Towson’s returning leading scorer, a lanky 6’5” guard with a good jumper who can create space off the bounce. Like most wings on the Towson roster, Morsell prefers to score by driving the ball to the bucket, but he’s also the Tigers’ most voluminous three point shooters – he attempted 140 threes last season (32.9%), twice as much as the next highest guy on the roster.
While Morsell is the presumptive lead dog, sophomore point guard Zane Martin may emerge as the team’s best scorer in 2017-18. Martin led the Tigers in scoring (16.3ppg) during their summer trip in Canada (a successful one during which Towson took down perennial national champion Carleton) and started all five games. The sophomore began taking on a more central role as the 2016-17 season progressed, scoring in double digits four of the team’s six contests. Martin offers shooting ability Towson sorely needs and should compete with Brian Starr for a starting spot. Starr is an elusive ball handler, but not nearly the shooter Martin is; however, Towson did fair better on a points per possession basis with Starr in the game over Martin last season.
Skerry’s apparent never-ending supply of guards also includes Deshaun Morman, a former Cincy Bearcat, and Eddie Keith, a player that can fill four spots on the floor. Morman is Towson’s best perimeter defender, ranking 3rd in the CAA in steal rate which propelled his claim to a spot on the league’s All-Defensive Team. Offensively, Morman brings value as a slashing wing and adds another ball handler to the lineup. Keith is a burly senior who can bring the ball up to set the offense, attack from a wing position, or play a small-ball four. He’s one of the better shot blockers on the roster despite his 6’5” frame, and shot an impressive 41.1% from downtown last season despite cashing an awful 48.9% of his free throw attempts. Jordan McNeil, another rangy 6’5” wing, will also contribute to the rotation as a three-point threat.
Towson returns Alex Thomas to the center position, but will have an opening at the four with the departure of Adala Moto. Keith will likely compete with Justin Gorham and Dennis Tunstall for minutes at this spot. Skerry finds himself with a thinner frontcourt than he’s had in years past, which begs the question as to whether his style of play will deviate a bit. Thomas and Gorham were essentially walking fouls last season, each struggling to stay on the floor for extended minutes due to foul trouble. The big men are two of the best offensive rebounders in the conference, and Thomas is an excellent rim protector. On a points per possession basis, Gorham was the team’s best overall defender last season (per Hoop Lens); neither offers much on offense. Tunstall is due for a large uptick in minutes after showing spectacular efficiency in limited time as a freshman. He’ll be the Tigers’ best shot blocker this year and will add yet another strong rebounding presence to the fold.
Bottom Line: We usually know what we’re going to get with Pat Skerry’s basketball teams. This year’s version of the Tigers looks to be every bit as fierce defensively and on the glass, but they also have more shooting and scoring power than in previous years. Towson will be a tough team to knock off this season, even for major programs. Charleston is the clear #1 in the Colonial, but Towson is right in the mix for the #2 spot.
Key Returners: Tyler Seibring, Steven Santa Ana, Brian Dawkins, Dainan Swoope, Dmitri Thompson
Key Losses: Luke Eddy
Key Newcomers: Duje Radja, Simon Wright, Nathan Priddy
Outlook: Matt Matheny has done an admirable job building the Elon Phoenix basketball program. In 2013, Matheny led Elon to its first winning season since 1997; since then, the Phoenix have been a competitive entity in the CAA each year. The knock on Matheny’s teams over the years has been defense; prior to last season, the Phoenix consistently finished near the bottom of their league’s (Southern and Colonial) defensive rankings. On the flip side, offense has always been a particular strong suit for the Phoenix thanks to their up-tempo three-point focused attack. Last year Matheny’s squad ramped up the defense to finish 2nd in the CAA in defensive efficiency, while slowing down their fervent up-and-down pace. The three ball was still, and will continue to be, a staple of the offense.
Expectations are high this season with Elon returning all five of their starters from a year ago in which the Phoenix finished a respectable 18-14 (10-8). Dainan Swoope keys the offense from the point guard position; the scrappy, left-handed dynamo usually begins the offensive attack by bringing the ball up quickly and attempting to penetrate from the top of the key. When Swoope is stopped, he checks the ball behind him to a trailing forward, normally either Tyler Seibring or Brian Dawkins. The trailing forward can either take the downtown look (Seibring shot 38% from 3 last season; Dawkins shot 45.9%) or swing the ball to the wing which triggers the normal motion offense, a pass-and-screen-away, four-in one-out attack.
Seibring and Dawkins are excellent shooters, which makes the Phoenix especially hard to guard considering everyone of their starting five (and most of their bench) is a constant threat to shoot the three. Seibring earned 2nd Team All-Conference honors last season thanks to his shooting ability (.513/.380/.738), rebounding, and shot blocking. Seibring won’t go down into the post much, instead he prefers to catch off a pick-n-roll and either spot-up or drive by his slower defender. Dawkins will bang down low and has tremendous finesse inside the paint; like Seibring, Dawkins is a threat to shoot and drive on every possession.
Steven Santa Ana and Dmitri Thompson round out the starting five, each off-the-ball guards with specific skill sets. Santa Ana is a gunner in every sense of the word, shooting 199 three-pointers last season and connecting on 33.2% of them. Thompson is much more in the slashing mold, a typical athletic wing type that likes to attack the rim rather than settle from deep. Along with Swoope, Thompson represents Elon’s only true “slasher” on the roster.
Depth was a bit of an issue for Matheny’s squad last season as he lacked a certain amount of reliable contributors off the pine to spell his excellent starting five. Sheldon Eberhardt is the best returning sub, a lanky wing that floats on the perimeter and is capable of scoring off the bounce or spotting up. Eberhardt missed a good chunk of last season due to wrist surgery, but he should be an important cog to the machine in his junior year. Karolis Kundrotas also returns to fill a bench role; he has range from beyond the arc at the center spot, but can also be a threat to score in the post.
Three freshmen, Nathan Priddy, Duje Radja, and Simon Wright will try to carve out some role this season off the pine. Priddy appears to be another typical Elon guard, one that can handle rock and shoot at a high level. Radja is Dino’s kid (former Boston Celtic); Matheny believes he has a high ceiling as a post presence. Wright should be able to fill just about any spot on the floor with his versatility and size.
Bottom Line: Elon’s unselfish motion offense should once again be one of the best in the Colonial this season. Not many mid-major programs have as many shooting weapons on the floor at one time as the Phoenix do. Defensively, Elon was great at defending without fouling and bothering shooters propelling them to rank #1 in the CAA in eFG% defense. While they won’t force turnovers, this Elon bunch is a tough, seasoned group – one that could make a serious run at the Colonial crown.
Key Returners: Justin Wright-Foreman, Rokas Gustys, Eli Pemberton
Key Losses: Deron Powers, Brian Bernardi, Ty Greer, Jamall Robinson
Key Newcomers: Kenny Wormley, Joel Angus III, Matija Radovic
Outlook: Hofstra went through a transition year last season after the graduation of all-time program great Juan’ya Green. The Pride was a fierce offensive squad, but the defense left a lot to be desired. After two straight 20-win seasons, Mihalich’s team fell to 15-17 (7-11) last year in unspectacular fashion. However, there were silver linings to last year’s struggle – a new star emerged in Justin Wright-Foreman and a future star was born in freshman Eli Pemberton. With those two returning alongside the big bad Rokas Gustys, plus the influx of two immediate-impact transfers, Hofstra appears to have a squad ready to compete again in the Colonial.
Offensively, Milhalich’s crew runs a style that revolves around the pick-n-roll, which was exploited to perfection by Wright-Foreman last year. At 6’1” with good ball skills, Wright-Foreman has the ability to play the point, but he’s much better suited off the ball where he can attack from the wing off picks or spot up from deep. Wright-Foreman turned in a shooting slash of .577/.369/.764 on 27.3% usage, which is extremely impressive; the junior guard is the most valuable player on this roster with his ability to put the ball in the hole and kick start the offense. While on the floor last season, Hofstra scored 1.14 points per possession versus just 1.03 points per possession when he sat. Expect Wright-Foreman to etch his name on an All-Conference squad once again this season.
Another important attribute of the Pride offense is the post threat created by Rokas Gustys, an absolute mountain of a man at 6’9” 279 pounds. While Gustys isn’t an outstanding post scorer (shot 54.7% from the field), he takes up space on the block and the inside-outside motion leads to open looks for shooters on the perimeter. Also, Gustys is the best rebounder in the conference (and one of the best in the country), which leads to countless second-chance opportunities for Hofstra. His one glaring issue is his free throw percentage, which fell to an unfathomably poor 28.6% last season; teams are able to employ a sort of “hack-a-Shaq” style to combat Gustys’s dominance in the paint.
The player to watch this season up in Hempstead is Eli “Pemba” Pemberton, an athletic sophomore wing who put the league on notice in his rookie campaign. Pemba was third on the team in scoring last season while shooting .486/.406/.789 from the floor. The 6’5” wing is equally deadly spotting up from behind the arc as he is driving to the bucket, making him a challenging assignment for any defender in the CAA. Together with Wright-Foreman, Pemba creates one of the best one-two backcourt scoring punches in the conference.
Mihalich is notorious for keeping a short bench and that trend likely will continue this season. Two transfers, Joel Angus III (SEMO) and Kenny Wormley (JUCO / Siena) will round out the starting five, giving Hofstra one of the more dangerous starting units in the CAA (meaning a short bench really isn’t an issue sans injuries). Angus was a part of one of the worst teams in the country at SEMO back in 2015-16, but he still proved he was a capable D1 power forward. Offensively, Angus gives Hofstra another physical rebounder alongside Gustys, and with his ability to step out to about 18 feet, spacing won’t be a problem when the two bigs share the floor. Wormley will take over point guard duties from the departed Deron Powers. At 6’4”, Wormley is a long, physical guard who is able to capably run the offense and contribute as a perimeter stopper on the other end. His presence will allow Wright-Foreman to shift over to the smaller assignment on defense, something that caused issues last year when Powers and Wright-Foreman shared the floor in a man-to-man look.
Reserves of note include freshman Matija Radovic, a 6’7” three-point specialist from the wing, and Desure Buie, a backup point guard that will provide key minutes in Wormley and Wright-Forman’s stead. Hunter Sabety, a 6’9” senior with good glass eating ability, will spell Gustys when the big man gets in foul trouble.
Offensively, this team has nary a weakness and likely will be one of the top attacks in the CAA. Defense is the issue though, and was last season as well. Mihalich implemented a simple 2-3 zone most of the time, allowing him to keep his starters relatively fresh and keep Gustys out of foul trouble, while hiding the defensive limitations of his two lead guards. While the zone will still likely be used a fair amount, the Pride are far more capable of matching up this season than in years past. The addition of Wormley completely changes the look of this perimeter defense, and Angus gives them a true power forward on the floor instead of masquerading the 6’4” guard Brian Bernardi as a small-ball four.
Bottom Line: If Hofstra tightens up their defensive issues, the Pride could win the conference outright thanks to their offensive ability. I’m bullish on the prospects of Mihalich addressing his defensive problems, but his short bench likely won’t allow him to produce a defense better than 5th or so in the conference. As long as the soft zone is still employed, Hofstra will be forced to out-gun its opponents, which could work most of the time. Expect Hofstra to finish somewhere between 2nd and 4th in the CAA this season – the top four of this league is a clear tier above the next group in the conference.
Key Returners: Donnell Gresham Jr., Devon Begley, Bolden Brace, Jeremy Miller, Shawn Occeus, Maxime Boursiquot
Key Losses: TJ Williams, Alex Murphy
Key Newcomers: Tomas Murphy, Vasa Pusica, Myles Franklin
Outlook: It’s never easy to replace a conference Player of the Year, but that’s exactly what Bill Coen and the Northeastern Huskies will have to do this season with the graduation of TJ Williams. Northeastern exceeded everyone’s expectations last year thanks to the brilliant play of Williams and the always savvy coaching of Coen. Despite the loss of Williams, the Huskies have a strong, experienced core from which to work off combined with some intriguing new pieces via the recruitment wire. While the “star power” isn’t apparent at the moment, this could be one of Coen’s deeper teams in recent memory.
Two seasons have passed now since the Scott Eatherton era came to a close. With the change in personnel has come an adjustment in style. Northeastern used to be an inside-focused squad, but strong backcourts compared with a relatively lacking paint presence has shifted the focus of the Huskies’ mindset out towards the perimeter. Coen’s backcourt is incredibly deep this season, featuring six players that have college starting experience.
A glaring vacancy at the point guard spot will likely be filled by senior Devon Begley and San Diego transfer Vasa Pusica. Begley, a 6’4” combo guard, is the leading returning scorer and is coming off a season in which he saw his minutes triple. Offensively, Begley brings outside shooting to a squad that revolved around the deep ball last season; playing more on the ball will likely lead to a decrease in his spot-up opportunities. Defensively, Begley is the one of the team’s best perimeter stoppers, ranking 2nd in the CAA in steal percentage last year. With Begley on the court, Northeastern allowed 10 less points per 100 possessions, the second best mark on the squad to Shawn Occeus (more on him later). Pusica is a more natural point guard than Begley, and at 6’5” will give Northeastern plenty of options defensively. Like Begley, Pusica is around a 37% shooter from deep, but he is also a fierce rim attacker, making him the arguably preferred PG option thanks to his playmaking abilities.
Donnell Gresham, Shawn Occeus, Bolden Brace, and Maxime Bourisquot will join forces to form the wing platoon. Gresham played only 4 games last season before succumbing to injury. Gresham is a pesky on-ball defender and is probably the best shooter on the roster, shooting a career 45.8% from deep on 48 attempts. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a valuable asset to Coen in the starting five or off the pine. Bourisquot turned in a productive freshman season. With his large frame and rebounding ability, the 6’5” 211 pounder is best used as a 3-man or a small-ball four option.
Occeus and Brace have the most potential on the team for breakout seasons in their sophomore campaigns. After struggling in the non-conference with turnovers, Occeus committed only 11 turnovers in the final 18 games of the season, showing quick growth in his freshman year. He has the potential to be the best scorer on the roster with his unique combination of athleticism and shooting ability. Additionally, as mentioned above, Occeus is a lockdown defender. If you thought the Begley stat was impressive, check out the defensive numbers when Occeus and Begley are on the court together versus when they’re both off or one of them sits (per Hoop Lens):
That is suffocating. Coen may not have a choice but to start the pair together consistently.
Brace has grown two or three inches since his freshman season, which could allow him to assume more small-ball four duties, which in turn would open up the Husky offense with 4+ shooters on the floor at the same time. The most memorable Brace game from last season came against Elon in late February where the freshman hit a ridiculous 10 three-pointers on 20 attempts, finishing the game with 40 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in a double OT victory. Brace is a threat to catch fire in every game he plays, making him a tough player to guard considering his new 6’8” stature.
Finally, the frontcourt. Out steps Alex Murphy, brother of former Florida standout Erik Murphy, and in steps Tomas Murphy, brother of both. The youngest Murphy is a 4-star recruit who caught offers from plenty of schools with higher pedigrees than Northeastern. Murphy projects to be an elite scorer with the ability to get buckets in the post and from behind the arc, and apparently the kid is still growing. Coen will likely start Murphy right away, meaning he could go down as one of the better players to put on a Northeastern uniform.
Joining Murphy up front are a pair of 6’10” juniors in Jeremy Miller and Anthony Green. Like so many other Huskies last season, Miller was bit by the injury bug causing his season to be limited to just 16 contests. Miller is a stretch four/five that actually hits the glass. His career shooting percentages are .619/.398/.728 making him one of the best shooting big men in the Colonial. Pairing him up front with Murphy will lead to a dynamic offensive attack. Green is much more in the traditional big man mold, a ground bound post player with a wide body, excellent rebounding capabilities, and ferocious shot-blocking skills. Green ranked 5th in the CAA in offensive rebounding percentage and 2nd in block percentage during his sophomore year. He can play next to either Miller or Murphy thanks to the latter two’s shooting chops.
Bottom Line: Northeastern has been a mainstay in the upper half of the conference standings since joining the CAA back in 2005-06. With Coen having perhaps his deepest squad ever in Boston, the Huskies should be right back in the conversation of the top five best teams in the conference and are a dark horse candidate to win the league outright.
Key Returners: Ryan Daly, Anthony Mosley, Eric Carter, Darian Bryant
Key Losses: Cazmon Hayes, Devonne Pinkard
Key Newcomers: Derrick Woods, Ryan Allen, Chyree Walker, Kevin Anderson
Outlook: I never really thought about this until now – does Delaware have the only female-specific school mascot? Hens are female, thus Delaware’s mascot is female. #Feminism (note: Twitter friend pointed out the Akron Zips also have a female mascot).
On to basketball - Delaware may be in store for a revival year after spending the last two seasons slumming in the basement of the CAA. Martin Inglesby, a coach from the Mike Brey family tree, enters his second year at the helm with four returning starters and a CAA Player of the Year candidate at his disposal. Inglesby’s Hens play a patient style of basketball, one that lets about 20 ticks dwindle off the shot clock before launching. Delaware’s offense revolves around basket cutting, ball screens, and down screens in order to open up their scoring guards for three-point looks or driving opportunities. On defense, Inglesby mixes it up between man and zone, but neither style succeeded too many times at stopping opponents (particularly zone where the Hens allowed a brutal 1.084ppp). Delaware ranked dead last in the CAA in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, but with an experienced core with a year under their belts in Inglesby’s system, there’s reason to think the Hens will be a much-improved team.
Delaware’s fate this season rests in the capable hands of sophomore guard Ryan Daly, the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year. Daly took the league by storm last year, playing the most minutes in the CAA as a freshman, ranking 1st in the CAA in turnover rate (despite a very high 25.7% usage), and leading the Hens in scoring and rebounding. At times, Daly was quite simply unstoppable on the basketball court, particularly in the CAA Tournament where he averaged 25.5ppg, 10.5rpg, and 4.5apg in two games. Against UNCW in Delaware’s final game of the season, Daly put on a clinic scoring from beyond the arc and on off-balanced jumpers off tough drives through the lane. The rest of the Hens will need to step up this season to take the load off Daly and help the guy out once in a while – he can do everything on the basketball court, but will still need competence alongside him to win ball games.
Returning backcourt starters Anthony Mosley and Darian Bryant are the obvious candidates for stability next to Daly. Mosley runs the point (splits it with Daly) where he’s developed a reputation as a hard-nosed driver and finisher through contact. Despite his stature, Mosley finished an impressive 55.8% of his shots at the rim last season, an area where he attempts 69.7% of his total shots. On defense, Mosley was easily the Hens’ best perimeter defender; Delaware wasn’t a great defensive unit with Mosley on the floor, but when he sat, the Hens were downright awful. Mosley led the CAA last season in steal percentage and ranked 17th in block percentage (remember, he’s 6’1”). Bryant will need to get better all around this year to avoid losing his starting spot to one of the three talented freshmen coming in. The rising junior swingman shot a slash of .486/.298/.667 last year and turned the ball over 23.1% of his possessions.
Inside, Delaware returns a trio of big men in Eric Carter, Jacob Cushing, and Skye Johnson. Carter will start at center; he’s a defensive-minded big man with an excellent nose for the ball off the glass. Cushing earned eight starts in the latter half of the year thanks to Inglesby taking a liking to his work ethic on the floor. Cushing is a stretch four who shot just 21.9% from downtown last year; perhaps his sophomore year will bring a better shooting touch. Johnson is a reserve forward in the same mold as Carter; his minutes may dwindle a bit with St. Bonaventure transfer Derrick Woods now eligible. Woods is a better finisher on the offensive end with similar rim protection and rebounding prowess.
Inglesby has done well thus far in the recruiting realm, landing three 2-star prospects for the 2017-18 season. Ryan Allen, Chyree Walker, and Kevin Anderson are all guys that can contribute right away in their freshmen campaigns. Allen is a versatile shooting guard that should make an immediate impact with his high basketball IQ and ability to score from all three levels on the floor. Most importantly, Allen projects as a good defender, something sorely needed by this Delaware squad. Walker is a good bet to end up in the starting lineup eventually this season; he’s a strong, physical small forward that can play either the 3 or 4. Walker is more an athlete versus a skilled ball player, but like Allen, he should be a huge asset on the defensive side of the ball. Anderson needs to develop strength to be a full-time contributor, but he projects well as a big point guard down the road.
Bottom Line: Delaware will likely make the biggest jump in the standings out of all the CAA squads. The Hens should be much improved on offense and defense as their young core comes back for another year under Inglesby. Ryan Daly is a surefire 1st Team All-CAA type player; if Mosley or one of the freshman break out this season, the Hens could crack the top five of the standings.
7. UNC Wilmington
Key Returners: Devontae Cacok, Jordon Talley
Key Losses: CJ Bryce, Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram, Ambrose Mosley
Key Newcomers: Ty Taylor, Jay Estime’, Jeffrey Gary, Jacque Brown, Trey Kalina
Outlook: After three straight regular season CAA championships, the UNC Wilmington Seahawks finally look human again and go into the 2017-18 season lacking high expectations. Former Head Coach Kevin Keatts cashed in his Golden Ticket to become NC State’s new front man, and four starters also depart including All-CAA 1st Teamers CJ Bryce and Chris Flemmings. Enter CB McGrath, a former Kansas and UNC assistant and Kansas basketball player chiseled out of stone by the sculptor Roy Williams. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of style McGrath brings to UNCW. Keatts implemented a four-out, one-in system emphasizing transition and three-point shooting keyed by a four-guard lineup. All McGrath has known during his collegiate career is Roy Williams’s system, which also emphasizes transition but dials back the three-point shooting in lieu of rim running and glass crashing.
Theoretically, this type of system could be perfect for forward Devontae Cacok, the most efficient player in college basketball last season. Cacok ranked #1 in the country in offensive efficiency thanks to his nation-leading 79% field goal percentage. Cacok’s style of play is a Roy Williams dream; the rising junior loves crashing the glass, ranking 25th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (10th in defensive rebounding percentage), and thrived getting buckets in transition and rolling to the cup off pick-n-rolls. Of course, one of the reasons Cacok was so successful for UNCW last season was the elite floor spacing that Keatts’s four-guard lineup created. If McGrath steers the rotation more towards a traditional look, Cacok will surely see a dip in his otherworldly efficiency.
The remainder of McGrath’s starting five is really up for grabs, but we do know the backcourt rotation will consist of three returning role players in Jordon Talley, JaQuel Richmond, and Jaylen Fornes. Talley is the most experienced player on the roster and should be due for a return to relevance after seeing his minutes cut in half last season. Talley was a regular starter for UNCW during his freshman and sophomore campaigns then took a fulltime bench role when Ambrose Mosley came to town. Efficiency-wise, Talley has improved every season he’s played collegiate ball, proving to be a more than capable ball handler at the point guard position and exhibiting an impressive assist-to-turnover rate. The shooting aspect needs work, but Talley will provide value as a steady point man and pesky on-ball defender on the other side.
Richmond started last season with a bang but became an afterthought once conference play began. Coming by way of Middle Tennessee, Richmond offers a secondary ball handling presence on the floor and is a penetration threat from the wing. Fornes will be counted on to pick up the shooting mantle left behind by so many a Seahawk. Last year as a freshman, Fornes connected on 48.6% of his three-point attempts, easily the best on the team.
A Talley-Richmond-Fornes starting combination would be an undersized backcourt against just about everybody in the country, but it would be a tall task to force the triumvirate to cough up the rock. McGrath may forego this small trio in favor of one of his true freshmen, either Jeffrey Gary or Jay Estime’. Gary is a pure shooter by any measure, a guy that will space the floor from the wing position. Estime’ has potential to be a future star in Wilmington. His size and athleticism on the wing is unmatched by anyone on the roster and should be a dangerous slasher in his inaugural season. He’ll see plenty of opportunities to develop his game as McGrath tinkers with his preferred lineup.
Ty Taylor, a Wichita State import, and Jacque Brown, a JUCO transfer, will also provide depth in the backcourt. Both players are natural point guards, a position that McGrath will have no issue with depth-wise. Taylor didn’t see the court too much with the Shockers during his freshman season, but he showed flashes of being able to score via the three-pointer and off the dribble. Brown comes in with a reputation of being a ball of lightning from the lead guard spot, a perfect fit for an up-tempo offense.
Unfortunately for UNCW, Cacok will probably have to come out of the game at some point, and McGrath will likely want to play a true forward next to the big man occasionally. Redshirt senior Marcus Bryan, sophomore Matt Elmore, and JUCO transfer Trey Kalina (formerly of Chattanooga) will provide depth in the frontcourt. Bryan has averaged about 10-15 minutes during his first three seasons in Wilmington; he can be a factor on the glass and provide serviceable interior defense, but his offensive game has yet to come along.
Bottom Line: UNCW will an interesting team to watch this season as they try to answer several lingering questions. What type of style will McGrath instill into his guys? Can Cacok maintain dominance without an experienced supporting cast? Who will step up from the backcourt and become the go-to leading scorer? It’s likely the Seahawks won’t figure it all out this season, meaning a middle-of-the-pack CAA finish should be the expectation.
8. William & Mary
Key Returners: David Cohn, Nathan Knight, Connor Burchfield, Paul Rowley
Key Losses: Daniel Dixon, Omar Prewitt, Jack Whitman, Greg Malinowski
Key Newcomers: Matt Milon, Cole Harrison, Jihar Williams, Luke Loewe
Outlook: Poor William & Mary – after four straight winning seasons and two appearances in the Colonial championship game, the Tribe appear to be poised for a dip in performance. W&M is one of four original Division 1 programs to not reach an NCAA Tournament, a fact that is obligated to be brought up every time a Tribe preview is constructed. With the losses of Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon, two of the better players in program history, Tony Shaver is faced with a group of players that are experienced, but accustomed to supporting roles. For William & Mary to make a surprise run, it’ll need a breakout from sophomore Nathan Knight and major contributions from BC transfer Matt Milon, among others.
Last season’s version of the Tribe played the fastest brand of basketball under Tony Shaver since the coach took over in 2003-2004. W&M had the personnel – a healthy and experienced stable of guards – to run on opponents and punish them with their deadeye outside shooting. Three-point shooting has always been a focus for Shaver teams; the Tribe are consistently among the top 60 in the country in 3PA%.
Shaver has his two best shooters (on a percentage basis) returning in forward Paul Rowley (50.7%) and guard Connor Burchfield (43.8%). Rowley is every bit a stretch-four at 6’8” and a toothpick-like 200 lbs. He is one of the best shooters in the conference, but offers little resistance on the glass or defensive side of the ball. Those two areas, rebounding and defense, have unfailingly been the demise in recent years of the Tribe. Burchfield is one of the guys I have pegged to break out on this squad. We know Burch (no idea if people call him that) is a phenomenal shooter, but he also made William & Mary a better defensive team when he was in the ball game last season.
The point guard position will be W&M’s one spot of consistency from its recent squads. David Cohn, a steady pass-first distributor with an above average outside shot, will once again take up the reins to the offense. Cohn is good at creating shots for his teammates both in transition and in the half-court, but like so many others on this roster, he is liable to get exposed on the defensive end. Shaver’s squad played a healthy amount of zone last season, something they’ll likely have to do once again this season. Considering the departed Prewitt was by far W&M’s best defender, the Tribe may fall even further down the CAA defensive rankings.
Hope lies in the hands of Nathan Knight, a CAA All-Rookie selection in 2016-17, and Matt Milon, a Boston College transfer who sat last season due to the almighty transfer rules. Knight is the outlier to William & Mary’s three-happy offense; he’s a true post player that finishes extremely well inside (61.4%) and rebounds at one of the highest rates in the Colonial on both ends of the floor. On defense, Knight was the best per-minute shot blocker in the conference, piling on to his narrative as a Tribe outlier. Considering Shaver has gone with a slower approach earlier in his career, it wouldn’t shock me to see him dial back the transition focus in favor of a Knight-centric offensive attack. The big man proved last year he’s a willing passer out of the post; W&M could thrive working the ball through him on that end.
Milon wasn’t a Godsend at Boston College, but he may be the best shooter on the floor in any game he plays this season. Milon shot 49.4% from downtown and 100% from the line (14/14) as a freshman for the Eagles in 2015-16 and should find plenty of opportunity outside the confines of the ACC. Milon led William & Mary in scoring in the team’s first game over in Jamaica this offseason, pouring in 22 points on 7/14 shooting in 22 minutes. With his shooting ability, Milon could lead the Tribe in scoring in his inaugural year.
Jihar Williams and Cole Harrison are two other newcomers that will be relied upon to provide production. Williams is a fairly well regarded recruit who also found great success in Jamaica in his first runs with the squad. His size allows him to play either the 2 or the 3, and he should be yet another weapon from beyond the arc. Harrison, a Dartmouth grad transfer, will provide height behind Knight up front.
Rounding out the rotation will be senior guard Oliver Tot and sophomore wing Justin Pierce. Tot will be looked upon to provide leadership and key minutes behind Milon and Burch. Pierce will compete with Rowley for the starting four spot. Despite standing only 6’6”, Pierce is one of W&M’s best rebounders and one of the scrappiest players on the roster. Expect him to earn more floor time in his second season donning the gold and green.
Bottom Line: William & Mary faces a lot of uncertainty this season with the departures of four starters. Despite this, the Tribe should still be a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end, assuming Knight and Milon pick up the scoring mantle aside excellent shooting across the floor. The crucial factor will be defense, an area that has been a nightmare for Shaver and Company every season since 2003-04.
Key Returners: Kurk Lee, Sammy Mojica, Austin Williams, Kari Jonsson, Miles Overton
Key Losses: Rodney Williams
Key Newcomers: Troy Harper, Tramaine Isabell, Alihan Demir, Tim Perry, Jarvis Doles
Outlook: Zach Spiker had a predictably tough first season out in Philadelphia, as his Drexel Dragons sputtered to a 9-23 overall record and last place 3-15 CAA finish. Despite the paltry record, it was actually an improvement from 2015-16. Spiker took over for Bruiser Flint last year which meant an entirely new system was put into place – specifically, one that focused on running and gunning versus the more methodical, slow-down, attack the rim style of play under Flint. Even with the growing pains, Drexel was better than its record indicated, ranking 339th in KenPom’s Luck Rating, meaning it should have fared a bit better than 9-23. This season, Spiker loses Rodney Williams, by far the Dragons’ best frontcourt presence and arguably the best player on the squad. Williams won’t easily be replaced, but Spiker has a solid, deep backcourt capable of being successful within his run-n-gun system. Drexel may not defend well or protect the rim this season, but it’ll be able to outscore opponents and should be a fun team to watch offensively.
The first game I watched last season was on Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) on my Watch ESPN app, on my phone in Minneapolis, MN visiting my wife’s grandmother. The game was Drexel vs. Monmouth, a slaughter on paper, but an entertaining game nonetheless. There was one player in particular who caught my eye – Kurk Lee, a freshman point guard playing his first collegiate game. Lee scored 17 points, ripped down 5 boards, and dished out 3 assists in what was an objectively impressive performance. Since then, I’ve sung Lee’s praises as a potential star in the CAA, and I stand by that thought pattern. Lee thrived in Spiker’s up-tempo system, sprinting the floor like a bat out of hell, dishing out assists at the 3rd highest rate in the conference, and knocking down 39.7% of his three-point attempts – only 55% of which were catch-and-shoot. Lee had issues scoring over the trees at the rim and was certainly reckless at times, as most freshmen are, but he still turned in a fantastic season. This year, Lee will once again be the catalyst to Spiker’s transition-based offense and should find himself on an All-CAA squad at season’s end.
Drexel’s strength, make that only strength, will be its backcourt this season. Given the personnel, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Spiker run out a lineup with four guards and one forward. Two shoo-in starters will be senior Sammy Mojica and sophomore Kari Jonsson. Mojica is the quintessential glue guy for the Dragons, a player that makes the team better on both ends of the floor. Mojica is versatile in the ways he can score and also provides value as a secondary ball handler. Jonsson, an Icelandic native, is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. Last season, Jonsson shot 43.7% from downtown on 142 attempts, and led the CAA by shooting 46.3% in conference play. With Jonsson on the floor last year, Drexel scored 1.08ppp; when he sat, the Dragons managed a measly 0.94ppp. His shooting is essential to the success of their offense.
The fifth starting spot features a number of candidates vying for position. If Spiker wants to go with a more traditional two-forward system, Tyshawn Myles is the likely starter alongside Austin Williams, a senior forward that will almost certainly be the team’s man in the middle regardless of other personnel. If Spiker goes with four guards, Miles Overton has the size to pass as a super small-ball four. Overton was the least efficient player on the roster last season, but there’s no question that he is capable of scoring the basketball. Rebounding would be a serious issue, however, if he started at the “four”.
Two transfers, Tramaine Isabell from Missouri and Troy Harper from Campbell, are also candidates to fill a starting spot at some point during the year. Isabell will likely fill a backup point guard role behind Lee; he struggled with taking care of the ball during his first two collegiate seasons and was an all-around poor shooter, but he may be able to find more success in the Colonial. Harper is an absolute gunner, never meeting a shot he didn’t like. But the 6’1” guard should be as good as anyone in the league at drawing contact in the paint and getting to the free throw line. His 13.5ppg at Campbell came largely off free throw attempts.
Spiker will likely need to get something out of Tim Perry and/or Jarvis Doles, both 6’9” freshmen with a reputation for not having the best motors. The potential is there, however, for development into competent big men down the road. JUCO import and Turkey native, Alihan Demir looks far more ready to contribute right away. Demir should provide scoring and rebounding off the pine (or even as the fifth starter) in his first year with the squad.
Bottom Line: If defense wasn’t a concept in basketball, Drexel’s outlook this season wouldn’t be too bad. However, because defense exists, and is quite important, it’s tough to see the Dragons climbing much higher than 8th in the CAA. The guard play will be there on offense, but Drexel proved it couldn’t stop anybody on the perimeter last season. Inside, the Dragons are liable to get worked on the glass and in the post with their thin front line. I have confidence Spiker will bring this team to conference relevance at some point in the future, but it won’t be this season.
10. James Madison
Key Returners: Joey McLean, Ramone Snowden
Key Losses: Shakir Brown, Paulius Satkus, Jackson Kent, Yohanny Dalembert, Tom Vodanovich, Ivan Lukic
Key Newcomers: Stuckey Mosley, Gerron Scissum, Darius Banks, Cameron Smith, Zach Jacobs, Matt Lewis, Antanee Pinkard, Develle Phillips
Outlook: Louis Rowe’s first season in Harrisonburg didn’t go quite to plan. Returning most of its roster from a successful 2015-16 in which the Dukes went 21-11 (11-7), James Madison was expected to compete for a top five conference finish in the Colonial last season. When non-conference play began, however, it was all too clear that JMU had issues. The Dukes started 2016-17 with seven straight losses and finished non-conference play an embarrassing 1-11. After redeeming themselves somewhat at the onset of the conference slate, the Dukes stumbled to a 7-11 conference record, good for 7th in the CAA, and finished ranked #223 overall per KenPom after beginning the year ranked #109 in the preseason. With only two members returning from last year’s squad, Rowe will have a fresh slate from which to work off, but the Dukes could be in for some growing pains the next few seasons.
The good news for JMU is that its two returners were both regular starters on last year’s squad. Joey McLean returns in the backcourt where he will mercifully get the chance to play off the ball more consistently this season. McLean assumed the point guard duties last year, but his shooting ability and relatively high turnover tendencies, suggests he’d be better off placed on the wing. JMU’s offense struggled for many reasons last year, chief of which was its ball protection – the Dukes ranked dead last in the conference in turnover rate. Stuckey Mosley, a Toledo transfer, should help in this department. At Toledo, Mosley ranked 11th in the MAC in assist rate and kept a decently tight lid on his turnovers. Mosley will also be able to lend a hand to JMU’s brutal offensive efficiency, particularly in the outside shooting department.
Rowe’s other returning starter is Ramone Snowden, a 6’6” combo forward that can play out on the wing or mix it up in the paint. Snowden dialed back his jump shooting tendencies when he came over from Niagara a season ago, and instead focused on attacking the rim with a vengeance. The redshirt senior ranked 9th in the country (#1 in the CAA) in free throw rate thanks to his driving ability and nose for the ball on the offensive glass.
With so many newcomers, particularly freshmen, at his disposal, Rowe is liable to try several different lineup combinations. To begin the year, he’ll likely send out a three-man frontcourt with Snowden, VCU transfer Gerron Scissum, and one of either Develle Phillips (DePaul transfer) or freshman Zach Jacobs. Scissum was an afterthought for VCU as a freshman, seeing the floor only 13 times in his inaugural college campaign. His athleticism, rebounding prowess, and shot-blocking potential promises to vault him into a major role on the JMU roster. Phillips is a lean 6’9” wing who, like Scissum, never earned a chance at his prior university (DePaul). After DePaul, Phillips spent a year in JUCO where he assumed a supporting role. Having played Phillips a few times in pickup games when he was a freshman, he’d have to have drastically improved his overall strength and court IQ in order to carve out a consistent role with James Madison. Judging by his playing time in the team’s US Virgin Islands trip, it appears Coach Rowe is going to give him a chance. Jacobs shined during the team’s offseason trip, averaging nearly a double-double in JMU’s four contests. He’s a much more physical, traditional big man than Phillips or Scissum, and as a result could find himself starting early on.
Aside from Jacobs, the two freshmen most likely to make an immediate impact are 3-star recruit Darius Banks and sharpshooter Matt Lewis. Banks bring versatility to JMU; he has excellent size at the 2-guard position which he combines with his athleticism to put points on the board. Lewis made the most of his ample playing time down in the US Virgin Islands this offseason, notching a 20 point game and proving to be one of the better shooters on the roster. Both Banks and Lewis will play key reserve roles this season as they’re groomed for star responsibilities in the future.
Bottom Line: James Madison has an uphill climb to the middle of the CAA facing them this season. With an overall inexperienced roster and a still-learning, young head coach, we’re a few years off from seeing the Dukes back in the Field of 68. 2017-18 will be about developing talent and instilling a system that builds for future success.