Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 2011-12 CAA Preview - What Will the Colonial Do for an Encore?

The 2010-11 Colonial Men's basketball season will go down as the most historic in conference history.  Three teams in the NCAA Tournament, its second team ever in the Final Four, the first team ever to go from First Four to Final Four and for the third year in a row, a CAA player taken in the NBA Draft.  It was an absolute pleasure seeing the seeds sown throughout the season and being at the CAA Tournament for the eighth time in the last nine years.  The CAA was truly "Fun for the crowd" last season.

So what's in store for the CAA in 2011-12?  Well, the top four teams lost significant starters from a year ago either due to graduation or transfer (or, sadly, were arrested).   It's going to be asking a lot for the Colonial to have a multiple bid NCAA Tournament season, let alone another three team bid season. 

Teams in Predicted Order of Finish

The Top Five (And Yes, I Know Full Well Only Four Can Get a First Round Bye in the CAA Tournament)

1) Drexel - Could this be finally the year that the Dragons break "The Curse of the America East"?   For those of you who don't know, no former America East team has won the CAA Tournament since the core four - Delaware, Drexel, Towson and Hofstra joined in the 2001-02 season (Northeastern joined in 2005-06).  Drexel should be the team to beat since it returns four starters from the fifth place conference team in 2011-12.

The Good - The Dragons return guards Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Derrick Thomas.  Fouch is Drexel's top scorer and by far, their best outside shooter.  Thomas will probably be the third starting guard and should increase his productivity.  The Dragons' strength though lies in their frontcourt.  Double double machine Samme Givens, up and comer sophomore Dartaye Ruffin and mammoth Daryl McCoy provide scoring, but more importantly to Coach Bruiser Flint, great rebounding.  Drexel was sixth in the country in rebounds per game.   The Dragons' physical style of play tends to lead to low scoring games, often ugly.  But also often effective, as Louisville found out the hard way at the Yum Center, as Drexel upset the Cardinals early in the regular season.

The Bad - Drexel had little depth last year, playing a seven man rotation. Gerald Colds was the only player who graduated out of that seven man rotation.  However, the Dragons need to hope that Bruiser's Flint recruiting class of five freshmen step up to add a few players to the rotation.   If Drexel wants to go from fifth to first in the rugged CAA, increased depth is a must.   Another shooter besides Fouch would also be a big help.  Freshman Damion Lee could be that guy.

The Key Player -  Dartaye Ruffin - If Ruffin continues to blossom and becomes a starter, the Dragons will be really tough to beat. 

The Likely Outcome - Of all the teams in the conference, the Dragons have the most experienced and most talented players returning.  Ruffin is my sleeper player of the year in the CAA.  I think he is going to be terrific.  Add him with Fouch and Givens, and I believe Drexel finally ends the "Curse of the America East".  If they make the NCAA Tournament, the Dragons can definitely win a first round game. It would be great to see Bruiser at his foot stomping finest on national TV in March.

2) VCU - The Rams incredible run in the NCAA Tournament was due in large part to four players - Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon.   All of those players are gone.  But "Big Time" Bradford Burgess and some talented players who were very important reserves a year ago are now likely starters.  The Rams went ten deep in their rotation last year and five of those players, including Burgess return.  Also, Shaka Smart is a terrific recruiter and has added some talented new freshmen.  

The Good - Burgess is now the man at VCU and he can certainly handle the leading role.  But he is not alone.  Darius Theus will take over the point after backing up Rodriguez, Rob Brandenberg will take over for Rozzell, while Juvonte Reddic and D.J Haley will take over the frontcourt roles.  The question will be who becomes the second and third scorers from this group.  Look to Brandenberg to become the sidekick to Burgess.   Also look for Teddy Okereafor, one of the top 50 incoming freshman point guards in the country, to become one of the key reserves.

The Bad - After Burgess and Brandenberg, scoring could be an issue for VCU.  The only experienced true forwards that are back are Reddic and D.J. Haley, though Burgess certainly can play forward.  The Rams have six freshmen in the mix.  Who pans out and provides important minutes remains to be seen.

The Key Player - Juvonte Reddic.  With the lack of depth in experienced forwards, Reddic will need to step up in his sophomore season.

The Likely Outcome - Coach Smart is a terrific motivator and the fact that he went ten deep with his rotation last season bodes well for the reserves who are now starters.  The Rams, with their aggressive defensive style of play, will be in the hunt in the CAA all season.  It may take them a little while to get used to all the new starters though, so they may struggle during the non conference schedule.  But look out in March.

3) George Mason - After the NCAA Tournament ended, the Patriots were originally my pick to finish first in the CAA this season.  Despite All First Team CAA Cam Long and sixth man Isaiah Tate graduating, Mason Nation was returning four other starters.   But suddenly, the roof on the Patriot Center caved in.  Jim Larranaga left Fairfax for the fun and the sun in Miami, Florida.  Then Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville.  Finally, Andre Cornelius was arrested on the charge of credit card fraud and suspended indefinitely.   Cornelius may never return to the team.  What was a first place team with four starters returning is maybe now a third place team with only two starters returning.

The Good - The Patriots have one of the best frontcourt tandems in seniors Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison.  Pearson is a handful in the post with his unorthodox left handed post moves and can shoot the occasional three.   Mason does have some talented guards returning in sophomore Vertrail Vaughns and redshirt sophmore Sherrod Wright to fill the void.  Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt replaces Larranaga, so the Patriots will have a new scheme on offense. Highly touted freshman forward Erik Copes will provide defensive intensity off the bench.

The Bad - With Long and Tate graduated, Hancock's transfer, Cornelius' status up in the air, and reserve forward Johnny Williams likely redshirted due to a shoulder injury, depth is now suddenly a problem for the Patriots. Who fills the fifth and final starting spot for Mason?  How deep is Hewitt's rotation?  How good of a coach is Hewitt?

The Key Player - Sherrod Wright.  Wright showed some major flashes as a freshman before he was redshirted last season due to injury.   How he progresses early on in the non conference schedule may determine how successful Mason will be this season. Wright will need to fill a huge void at scoring guard.

The Outcome -  Something tells me that this is going one of two ways.  Either Hewitt rallies the troops, Vaughns and Wright prove to be more than adequate replacements for Long and Cornelius and Pearson is the big horse that rides Mason to at least the CAA Semifinals.  Or, due to lack of experienced depth, the likely loss of Cornelius and Vaughns and Wright not filling the void, this team will implode in a very big way and lose in the CAA Quarterfinals or even earlier. Your guess is as good as mine.

4) William and Mary - This is my sleeper team.  I love their Ghidorah guard trio (look up Ghidorah on Youtube) of Julian Boatner, Brandon Britt and my pick for CAA player of the Year, Quinn McDowell.  Plus they have one of the best coaches in the CAA in Tony Shaver.  No one gets more out of his players than Shaver.

The Good - As noted, McDowell is an elite player.  What he did vs. James Madison in the first round of the CAA Tournament was downright dominant.  He can shoot, he can drive and at 6 foot 7, he is a really tough matchup.  Boatner and Britt are only going to get better. Boatner scored in double figures in eight of his last twelve games last season and is deadly from three (37 of 79 from beyond the arc in those last twelve games).  Add shooting guard freshman Marcus Thornton, who is getting a lot of early publicity, and the Tribe frontcourt is dynamite.

The Bad - OK, who starts in the frontcourt?  Their best big man, Marcus Kitts, graduated.  Thus frontcourt minutes will be divided between Tim Rusthoven, Kyle Gaillard and JohnMark Ludwick.  At least one of those three needs to become a legitimate post scorer.  Tom Schalk, an incoming freshman who has the ability to hit the three as well as score inside, seems to fit well in Shaver's scheme.  He was highly recruited (Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Cornell also recruited him) and may see a lot of minutes

The Key Player - Julian Boatner.  Boatner was such a weapon for William and Mary in the second half of the season.  If he continues to progress in his three point shooting, it forces teams not to double team McDowell, who is a matchup nightmare (ask James Madison).

The Likely Outcome - With so many teams having lost a lot of experienced talent, the playing field has leveled for the Tribe.  With such a good coach as Shaver, McDowell being such a terrific scorer and especially William and Mary being the Achilles heel for Drexel last season, I could see the Tribe finally breaking their NCAA curse this season.  The only thing that could keep them from it is a middling frontcourt.  Someone in that group of forwards needs to step up.

5) James Madison - There is a reason why I call the Dukes "The Enigma of the CAA".  They have so much talent and they can be an absolute handful, but then they disappoint in a huge way.  Take their first round CAA Tournament game against William and Mary.   I never saw a team with such talent come out so flat, and stay flat for an entire game.  Now Denzel Bowles has graduated and Coach Matt Brady has to try to re-energize his group.

The Good -  The Dukes have four returning starters (Devon Moore, Humpty Hitchens, Julius Wells and Rayshawn Goins, plus talented sixth man Andrey Semenov.  Moore has always been a personal favorite of mine (and not because we share the same last name). Returning from injury, Moore was the second leading scorer on the team and increased his assists to turnovers ratio significantly from his first season (4.2 assists per game vs. 2.3 turnovers per game).  Wells, Hitchens, Goins and Semenov should all average around double figures in scoring, which should give Madison very good balance. A.J Davis, a transfer from Wyoming, is getting a lot of love this preseason.

The Bad - Who replaces Bowles as JMU's size up front?  Goins is wide, but not very tall.  Former Hokie Gene Swindle, part of the Matt Brady Transfer machine, fits the bill at six foot eleven. He was highly recruited by several teams besides Virginia Tech (South Florida, Nebraska and Penn State), but played in only one game before transferring.  Freshman Enoch Hood is another potential solution.

The Key Player - Julius Wells.  This kid has a boatload of talent, but he is the E in the Enigma that is James Madison.  His scoring average dropped by nearly six points per game from the season before, though his FG percentage did improve. Wells can shoot 7 of 14 in one game (23 point effort vs Hofstra), then go 2 of 9 in the next game (13 points vs. Drexel).  Wells needs to be more consistent if Madison wants to finish in the top four of the conference.

The Likely Outcome - Flip a coin.  Then flip it again.  Then one more time.  And you still won't have the answer.  A lot of it depends on whether the Dukes play as a team, or everyone on their own tries to replace Bowles.  Also, Moore is out for the fall semester due to academic eligibility  issues.  Can Swindle and Hood provide size?  Does Davis live up to the hype?  Can Julius Wells be consistent night in and night out?  Tune in to "As the Dukes Turn" to find out.

Next Four, Or, Four Teams You Can Throw Into A Blender And See Which Order They Come Out In

6) Old Dominion - I love Blaine Taylor.  I really do.  But, I am sorry, I miss the Lou Brown/Evil Henchman Cowboy look.  Please bring back the stache. Now.  Taylor wishes he could bring back his four starters from his terrific team of last season.  But Frank Hassell, Ben Finney, Keyon Carter and Darius James all graduated.  That leaves Kent Bazemore as his lone starter.  The problem is that Bazemore is out until at least December as he recovers from foot surgery.  Ruh Roh.

The Good - When healthy, Bazemore is truly one of the elite players in the CAA.  Not only can he score, but he is terrific on defense.  Just a very talented player.   A lot of Taylor's key reserves are back.  Chris Cooper and Nick Wright are the returning big men for the Monarchs, while Trian Iliadis and Marquel DeLancey are the returning guards.   All four played significant minutes last season and are now likely starters.  There is no better game manager though than Blaine Taylor  His team will always play hard and especially physical.

The Bad -  For the first time I can ever remember, ODU has rotation depth concerns.  Clemson transfer Dante Hill and Richard Ross will eligible in the spring semester, so Blaine's boys will be without three vital players for a good part of the beginning of the season.  Taylor has to hope freshmen like Jason Pimentel step up.

The Key Player - Chris Cooper.  I talked about this in last season's CAA preview. Taylor's offense ALWAYS has a major inside scoring threat.  See Alex Loughton, Valdus Vasylius, Gerald Lee and last season, Frank Hassell.   Cooper has to step up and claim that as his own.  If Taylor doesn't have a frontcourt scoring option, it could be a long season for the Monarchs.

The Likely Outcome - This team will struggle in non-conference to start the season.  It would be expecting a lot for ODU to be successful without three significant contributors and just nine scholarship players for the fall semester.  But once Bazemore is back in December and Hill and Ross return in January, I look for this team to be much better.  How much better depends on Cooper becoming a legitimate post scoring presence.  If Blaine can coax 20+ wins out of this team, it will be his best coaching effort ever.  And that's saying something about someone who has four NCAA Tournament appearances and six 20+ win seasons since 2005.

7) Hofstra - I have seen a couple of pre-season previews that have Hofstra tenth and eighth.  Both are too low.  Yes, Hofstra lost the two time CAA player of the year in Charles Jenkins, along with two other starters - guard Brad Kelleher and center Greg Washington.  However, the Pride got most of  of their minutes from their non seniors (and of that group, only reserve guard Yves Jules transferred). Highly regarded Rhode Island transfer Steve Mejia replaces Kelleher as the starting point guard.  Nathaniel Lester returns from being out for the 2010-11 season due to injury and will fill Jenkins spot.

The Good - Second leading scorer Mike Moore (14.9 points per game) returns as does junior forward David Imes.  A starting four of  Moore, Lester, Mejia and Imes is not bad at all.   The junior Mejia, who Coach Mo Cassara loves, is a talented point guard who averaged 3.5 assists and 1.3 turnovers in 18 minutes per game as a sophomore for the Rams.  Lester averaged 8.0 points per game off the bench as a junior.

The Bad - Can JUCO transfer Bryant Crowder provide quality minutes as the likely starter at forward/center for Hofstra?  After Crowder and Imes, the only other experienced forward is sophomore Stephen Nwaukoni.   It remains to be seen how freshmen Moussa Kone and Jordan Allen will contribute.  Also, will Moore, Lester and Imes make up for most of the scoring lost by the graduation of Jenkins?

The Key Player - Steve Mejia.   Yes, Jenkins was the main reason why Hofstra was so successful in conference last season.  He definitely improved his already excellent play as a senior.  But another important factor was better ball possession.  The Pride were one of the top teams in the CAA in assists to turnover ratio and turnover margin last season.  It starts with a good point guard and Mejia must live up to the hype.

The Likely Outcome -  Contrary to what some think, the Pride will do better than expected this season.  They have depth at guard as Dwan McMillan and Shemiye McLendon, both who saw significant minutes last season, will be coming off the bench.  Depth wise, the frontcourt is suspect.  Then again, it was last year as well.  If Mejia is as good as advertised, Crowder provides a presence in the middle and Moore, Lester and Imes all step up, which I think they will, this team will surprise.  For now, I am putting them here, but I think they might finish higher.

8) Delaware - This is another team that lost a good chunk of their rotation.  Leading scorer Jawan Carter and third leading scorer Alphonso Dawson are gone, plus two key bench contributors Brian Johnson and D.J. Boney.   However, CAA Rookie of the Year Devon Saddler returns as does the dominant inside presence of Jamelle Hagins.  The Blue Hens have talent and played ODU quite tough in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament before losing.

The Good - Saddler looks to be a star and Hagins is not far behind.  Josh Brinkley, Kelvin McNeil and Hakim McCullar round out a strong frontcourt.   Monte Ross brought in a group of five talented freshmen in Marvin King-Davis, Larry Savage, Khalid Lewis, Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson.  Brinkley is now healthy and looks to resume his impressive play from January.

The Bad - The Blue Hens only experienced guard is Saddler.  So Lewis and Threatt will be thrown to the wolves early.   With the losses of Carter and Dawson, Hagins and Brinkley now have to step up and become consistent scoring options every night. We have been waiting for the Blue Hens' play to finally match their talent.  Is this the season?

The Key Player - Josh Brinkley.  Saddler and Hagins look to be a dynamic duo.  Brinkley needs to stay healthy and give them a third option.  The talent is there, ask George Mason and James Madison about Brinkley from last season.

The Likely Outcome -  Not sure if this team is as good as people think.  It's still a very young team and it now has to make up for the loss of four significant guards.  Saddler is terrific and the front court could be the second strongest in the CAA, outside of Drexel's front line.  But the rest of the guards are young and inexperienced.  This could be a team that suffers through a lot of sloppy play early on in the season.  Another team that will be better in February than it will be in November and December.  I think this team is a year away from being really good.

9) Northeastern -  The Huskies lost star guard Chaisson Allen and reserve forward Vinny Lima to graduation.  Talented freshman guard Alex Harris transferred to Cal State Fullerton.  However they return most of their main contributors from last season.   The starting five looks to be Joel Smith, Jonathan Lee, Alwayne Bigby, Ryan Pierson and Kauri Black.

The Good - Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee make a deadly combo from the outside.  Lee shot 47 percent from the beyond the arc while Smith was 42.5 percent from three. Black scored in double figures in four of his last eight games. Bigby and Pierson are talented frontcourt players who should get better.

The Bad - The Huskies defense was swiss cheese for a lot of last season.  The frontcourt did a very bad job in rebounding as they ranked 338th in the country in rebounds (that's pretty bad).  After the likely starting five, the Huskies have no experience on the bench.  Coach Billy Coen has brought in four freshmen, the best being forwards Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer.

The Key Player - Ryan Pierson.  Pierson was a highly thought of recruit when he came in last season.  He showed flashes of it at times during the season.  Now is the time where he shows improvement on the defensive end. 3.7 rebounds per game will not cut it this season against the likes of Drexel, ODU and Delaware.

The Likely Outcome - The Huskies will be competitive in a lot of ball games due to Lee and Smith.  But Black, Pierson and Bigby have to give them other options and more importantly better defense in the frontcourt.  How it all works out, well it remains to be seen.

The Final Three Teams or Some Teams Have To Finish At the Bottom of The Conference

10) UNCW - The Seahawks lost their best player, Chad Tomko due to graduation.  The Wilmington Tasmanian Devil was Mr. Everything - first in scoring, first in assists and second in rebounding.  UNCW also lost fourth leading scorer Ahmad Grant and reserve Darryl Felder to graduation.   However, second leading scorer Keith Rendleman, another Moore favorite, returns along with eight talented freshmen.

The Good - Rendleman is on the verge of being a star. He can jump out of the gym, brings endless amounts of energy and is a handful underneath.  Trevor DeLoach, Tanner Milson, Donte Morales and Matt Wilson all return as well.  The key is the highly recruited freshmen class.  Based on Brian Mull's always insightful nuggets, Cedrick Williams has been the most impressive of the freshmen so far during workouts. Luke Hager was the most highly thought of recruit.  The Seahawks won't lack for size anymore. Hager and Williams are among the four freshmen who are 6 foot 7 or bigger to go along with Rendleman and the seven footer Wilson.

The Bad - Well, eight freshmen means eight freshmen.  In other words, this is a very young team and it's going to take time to mesh.  Coach Buzz Peterson will have to find a couple of scorers in his highly recruited group to go with Rendleman.  Who replaces Tomko as point guard?

The Key Player - Keith Rendleman.  With Tomko gone, this is his opportunity to step forward and become an All CAA caliber player.  Down the stretch last season, Rendleman scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, along with grabbing at least eight rebounds in half those games.  He has the ability to average a double double on the season. Now is the time to do it.

The Likely Outcome - Another team that will be much better in February than in November.  It's going to take a good part of the season for this team to gel.  But if all reports are correct about this Great Eight group of freshman, this team will be a tough out come tournament time.  And a year from now, this will be an upper echelon team.  Just be patient Seahawks fans.

11) Georgia State - Ron Hunter left the friendly confines of IUPUI for the farthest most southern outpost in the CAA.  Since joining the CAA in the 2005-06 season, the Panthers have had only one season where they won more than six regular season games in conference (2008-09, the Panthers were 8-10).  Rod Barnes and his band of JUCOs could not turn around Georgia State's fortunes.  Now it's Hunter's turn to try to repeat his success at IUPUI.

The Good - Well at least Hunter was able to bring in his highly recruited son, R.J. But that's for next season.  But Hunter brought in for this season Tony Kimbro Jr., one of the top shooting guard recruits in the country.  The Panthers four leading scorers, Eric Buckner, Brandon McGee, Jihad Ali and Josh Micheaux all return.

The Bad - None of the leading scorers averaged in double figures last season.  Simply put, you can't win, if you can't score.  And you can't score, if you can't hit free throws.  Of the top five returning scorers, the highest free throw percentage was 62.9 percent (James Fields).

The Key Player - Tony Kimbro Jr.  It's asking a hell of a lot for a freshman to take the reins early. But considering there are not many scoring options, Hunter may give Kimbro Jr the opportunity to become the main scoring option for Georgia State.

The Likely Outcome - Hunter's team will play hard and they will be tough on the defensive end. Kimbro is a legitimate talent and my pick for CAA Rookie of the Year.  But unless Buckner steps up and this team learns to hit free throws, scoring will still be a struggle for the Panthers.  As I said earlier, you can't win, if you can't score.  Hunter needs a couple of seasons to bring his own talent in.  Give him two years and I think the Panthers will be on the right track.

12) Towson - New coach Pat Skerry takes over for what's left of the Tigers after Pat Kennedy decimated the program.  Towson went 0 for the season in 2011-12.  So things would have to be looking up, right?  Well, the Tigers' two leading scorers from last season, Isaiah Philmore and Braxton Dupree have transferred.  Two other Tigers' starters, Josh Brown and Brian Morris graduated.  However, Towson still has RaShawn Polk and welcome back Robert Nwankwo, who sat out last season due to academic issues.

The Good -  Polk is a solid scorer and a legitimate threat from three.  In 2009-10, Nwankwo averaged about 10 points and 9 rebounds per game and had eight double doubles.  He could average a double double this season.  Not bad for someone who was a walk-on for the Tigers.  Deon Jones is a top recruit who can help immediately.

The Bad - Well, Skerry has to replace four starters.  Getting Nwankwo back helps.  But with only two other players who saw any playing time returning (Polk and Enrique Gumbs), Skerry has to rely on six freshmen.

The Key Player - Robert Nwankwo.  If he can average a double double per night, then the Tigers will at least have a legitimate threat inside.

The Likely Outcome - It's a shame Philmore and Dupree didn't stick around.  They would have been a part of a terrific foursome.  The six freshmen will see significant time and they can't be any worse than last year's team that had Philmore and Dupree.  Or can they?  Skerry already has four top recruits coming in next season, so things will get much better.  It just won't be getting much better this season.

So there you have it.  Another season.  Another CAA preview.  In less than a month, the season starts.

Can't Wait!


  1. Delaware lost 4 significant guards? Outside of carter, the other 3 are not losses. Dawson ended up getting kicked off the team with 10 games left and was never a factor his senior year. Boney provided some D and no offense and Brian Johnson was a shell of his former self due to 2 injuries.

    I will give you credit for the Brinkley comment...he was starting to beak out until the injury. At 6'6 245 he is a load and will be a nice compliment to Hagins. McNeil and McCullar provide experienced backups which should be a decent frontcourt.

    While I am not promoting Delaware should be placed higher, I think you are putting too much emphasis on what we lost compared to what VCU and ODU lost.

  2. First thanks for the comment.

    Here's the thing, Dawson averaged 23.7 minutes, Boney averaged 20.4 minutes, Johnson averaged 18.7 and Carter averaged 35 minutes. That's a significant amount of playing time lost. Carter was of course Delaware's leading your leading scorer and Dawson was the fourth leading scorer (before being kicked off).

    Yes, Dawson regressed significantly from his three previous seasons and if you follow my tweets at gmoore21566, Brian Mull and I bandied about Dawson being on the All time CAA disappointment team. But he played a large amount of minutes before being kicked off. All those guards for the Bluehens did.

    Why I think VCU, Mason to a lesser extent and Hofstra are less hurt by their losses is that they have more depth in their backcourt. Theus and Brandenberg played significant minutes. Likewise Vaughns and Wright (when he was a freshman) on Mason and I have noted Hofstra's depth of experienced guards. Saddler is the only experienced guard returning for Delaware.

    It's asking a lot for freshmen to not just replace Carter, but to provide quality minutes off the bench. Can it be done? Sure. Can Saddler replace Carter? Again, sure he can. But who are going to be those second and fourth scorers? It could be Brinkley and Hagins can also step up. But the freshman guards have to play a significant part.

    The wonderful thing about the CAA is that there is always a surprise (Hofstra last season, W&M the season before). Could it be Delaware? Absolutely. We'll see.