And we’re back for the seventh edition of the suds themed, swashbuckling CAA preview. Comments are welcomed below, on twitter, hurled at the faces of Dan when he travels to games (home or road, don’t hold back you DU fans). Here’s to a good and healthy season this year for all CAA players and teams from states 2 thru 49.
As The Association enters the 2019 conference play season, it has a unique feel. Last season, for the first time in a decade, the league was a two horse race between Earl Grant’s College of Charleston Cougars and Bill Coen’s Northeastern Huskies. This season, in what is hard-pressed to happen in a dynamic, competitive CAA, the standings are looking down the barrel of a repeat. Those two teams stand alone as top 100 potential squads in the 351 team college basketball landscape. For that reason, and a CAA scheduling quirk – teams now have travel partners and home or away weekends rather than individual games, to go along with two “bye” weeks going into their rivalry games – what is below will look a bit different than prior years. Without further ado:
College of Charleston – Edmond’s Oast – Coin Operated – “The Cougars are experienced, can score from inside and out and can defend. By far they are the most complete team in the conference, and the easy pick to be the CAA favorite.” Is what written last year in this space. It’s still true. With the upcoming losses of Brantley and Harris, this window may be closing, but what a window it has been for C of C. Back to back Championship Game appearances on their home floor, brilliant inside out play and a coach that will be getting calls from high D-I all season long. Northeastern would have been considered here, but given their early injuries that team needs to be seen intact before they can be deemed the favorite.
Northeastern – Tree House Brewing Company – Triple Shot – It’s the Delaware Blue Hens who lead The Association in three point field goal percentage as we enter the CAA season, but the smart wager is that it will be Northeastern that ends the season with the lead. With:
1) Vasa Pusica healthy again
2) Jordan Roland backing up his 42% shooting from deep as a sophomore at GW
3) Donnell “Moonlight” Gresham (he’s from St. Paul, not Chisholm, MN) a ridiculous 44% shooter from deep for his collegiate career
4) Bolden Brace entering the Valdas Vasylius/Samme Givens “Guy who must have been at that school for 15 years” phase
They are stocked with shooters. Bill Coen will have them playing as the league’s second best defensive unit (behind Charleston) as well. The BU game remains a disaster for a team that burned it’s at large hopes to kickoff the year, and it got worse when Pusica missed half the OOC slate. He’s back now, they are good, and they should compete.
Hofstra – Other Half Brewing – Hop Showers – Justin. Wright. Foreman. Having the best player on the floor matters. And in this league, he is it. In many other leagues, he would be it. He’s drawing attention, and he’s seventh in the country in minutes played, so there’s few players in D-I asked to do more than JWF. And he’s answering the bell in spades: He’s seventh in the country in offensive efficiency amongst players that are the focus of their teams attack. He has some support and perhaps what is best – he knows the guys around him. HU is second in the CAA in “player continuity”, meaning they returned the guys who were on the court last year. The only issue with that is that less growth should be expected from them throughout the conference year. They are who they are at this point – a good team with a great player but a defense that keeps them from being top 100 worthy. No team wants to play against them in the early rounds in March, but with the lack of depth and the demands they’ll be asking all season long from JWF, if they were to make the final, fatigue would be an issue.
William and Mary – Anheuser Busch – Bud Light Lime – Annnnnnd there’s the drop. William and Mary seems fourth by default, and it’s quite a distance between three and four on this list. People trust Tony Shaver, his team has a win over Saint Joe’s, and they played Notre Dame within single digits on the road, so there is enough there to be credibly placed in the top half. With two fantastic juniors in Nathan Knight and Justin Pierce, they can run the inside out game that Shaver enjoys, but most of their support is coming from freshman, indicating that they could need another year to grow. Usually Shaver and the Tribe get knocked for their defense and placed a bit lower in the projections, but here’s your nugget of the day: Half of the CAA defenses are in the bottom 50 in division I. Having a terrible defense just makes you like every other CAA team this season. Given that, we will take the experience of Shaver and the talent of his big two to keep them hovering around .500 and above the lower tier fray.
James Madison – Miller Brewing Company – Miller Lite – Please turn your hymnals back to the page on minutes continuity. JMU is tops in the league in returning player minutes. And for the barbs that Louis Rowe has taken, they were a .500 team last Feburary going into the CAA Tournament, and seemed to grow throughout that season. In a bottom half (two thirds?) of the league that is a mess, I’ll lean on the experienced team run by senior Stuckey Mosley, who has been a huge help to his coach at JMU. Their defense is mediocre at best, which puts them in front of most of the league, and they hit the offensive glass in force. Louis Rowe may not be the forever answer at JMU, but he should be asked to keep his team out of the play-in this year. JMU opens the season on the road at W&M and Elon, and if they can at least hold serve at 1-1, they’ll be in good shape rolling forward.
Drexel – Yuengling – Yuengling Traditional Lager – With a hat tip to Northeastern, the most banged up team in out of conference play this season was the Dragons. They came into this season limiting Zach Walton’s minutes and without Matey Juric. They lost Walton for the year midway through the out of conference, and lost Kurk Lee for the out of conference in the season’s third game. Despite this, they finish OOC play at 5-7, and Lee should be ready for the CAA season to tip on Friday. The questions surrounding Zach Spiker’s defensive coaching continue from his hire date through today. If he can prove the doubters wrong, this team will finish in the upper half of the league. The Dragons are next to last in the league in minute continuity, so they should still have upside to unlock as the players gain experience with each other. However, with a first year starter in the post, a freshman point guard in Cam Wynter (who will draw Rookie of the Year consideration), and stalwart players Demir and Lee as juniors, along with the return of Zach Walton from injury next year, this teams time horizon looks to be more next season than this season.
Towson – Coors Brewing Company – Coors Banquet Beer – Last year Towson was picked second in this column and they finished 5th. This year they are picked 7th here when most will see them 9th. Perhaps this is the same mistake twice, but we’re going to give Pat Skerry the benefit of the doubt. This is the team last in the league in returning player minutes, and they’ve looked it until winning two of their final three in out of conference play. They are building around some transfers in Fobbs and Howard which is dangerous business, and surprising for a veteran coach like Skerry, but turnover from last year’s group of underachievers might not be a bad thing. Both this and the Drexel play is all about buying into two teams that haven’t come together yet, but may be setup to peak at the right time.
UNC Wilmington – Anheuser Busch – Natural Light – This has to be considered a reflection on their head coach, CB McGrath. If JWF is the best player in this league (he is) Devontae Cacok should be easily considered next in line (apologies to Vasa Pusica, Jarrell Brantley and Nathan Knight). To have a frontcourt force like that and a healthy roster in today’s college basketball scene and be struggling to beat anyone in the top 250 is a sin. Kai Toews has the keys to the car, but the freshman is turning the ball over way too much, and the defense continues to be in freefall. They should score some wins over some of the younger front courts in this league, but middle of the pack seems to be the upside for a team that hasn’t yet shown that they belong there.
Delaware – Anheuser Busch – Busch Light – Remember the Northeastern preview when we noted that UD was the best three point shooting team in the conference? This eighth place ranking is correlated to the belief that they’ve been outshooting their potential thus far. And the recent loss to Delaware State might be a head nod towards that as well. At 6-5 with a win over Louisiana Tech they can’t be ignored, but their defense is horrific and their offense has been propped up on that three point shooting. Eric Carter is no Devontae Cacok inside and lone fellow senior Darian Bryant scares few coaches. The return of Ryan Allen will help lengthen what had been a very short rotation, but all in all we’re fading a team that outpunched their weight in the out of conference slate. Inglesby does have some young talent, but this feels more two years away than even one.
Elon – Anheuser Busch – Natty Ice – Matt Matheny, what happened last year? And then what happened last game? An experienced Elon team walked into the league last year with high expectations, and completely collapsed despite good health, size and skill. This year, well, a slightly less experienced team just gave up 95 points to University of Missouri Kansas City. Now Sheldon Eberhardt and Steven Santa Ana seem banged up and Dainan Swoope is out for the season. Things are not looking up down in Elon, which is especially unfortunate giving the opening of their beautiful new Schar Center arena.