Ryan Kish of George Mason Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA).
Predicted order of finish:
- George Mason
- Old Dominion
- Georgia State
- James Madison
- William & Mary
WYN2K. Last season was a letdown for the CAA faithful after two seasons of multiple bids and tournament wins over historical powerhouses to becoming a single bid conference with that team losing in a first round rout. The 2006 and 2007 NCAA tournament victories from George Mason and VCU have set the bar for this conference so that now just getting to the NCAA tournament and avoiding a blowout isn’t the criteria for a successful season anymore. Last season George Mason looked as if they were riding that magic carpet again, running through the CAA tournament and snagging that automatic bid after a rollercoaster season, only to be sent home early from the Big Dance by the three point onslaught of Notre Dame. This conference returns 65% of its starters and has some exciting freshmen and transfers entering the mix, but are they poised for another successful March?
Predicted Champion. VCU (#10 Seed NCAA). Tough call this season, as always in the competitive CAA, but the pick has to go VCU. Last season the Rams were atop the conference standings all season, only to stumble in the conference tournament. The selection comes mostly because of the experience of head coach Anthony Grant and reigning conference MVP Eric Maynor, whose slaying of Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament might have just been a preview of things to come as he enters his senior year. Sophomore Larry Sanders is another name to watch for this Rams squad as a defensive force in the front court. Last season Sanders only started half of the season’s games yet led the team in rebounding (5.2) and blocked shots (3.0). Speaking of Maynor…
Others Considered. Not to be overlooked are the Huskies of Northeastern who return their entire starting lineup and top nine scorers from last season including Matt Janning who could challenge Eric Maynor for conference MVP. Old Dominion and George Mason have been very successful programs for the conference in recent history as both are well coached and can potentially challenge the likes of VCU and Northeastern. Make no mistake that this could be another season for the CAA in which an ankle sprain or two in March could determine the conference champion.
Newcomers. Last season Delaware was atop the standings for most of the season with the success brought on by transfers Marc Egerson (Georgetown) and Jim Ledsome (Nebraska) becoming eligible. Look for the same thing to happen at Georgia State this season. Head coach Rod Barnes (2001 Naismith Coach of the Year), who had to endure a season watching his reserve team of transfer players best his team’s current starters each practice, could be the CAA’s hot new coach this season. Georgia State returns all-CAA guard Leonard Mendez (16 ppg) who will be surrounded by big school talent with the additions of Trey Hampton and Xavier Hansbro (former player of Barnes at Ole Miss), point guard Joe Dukes (Wake Forest), forward Bernard Rimmer (Mississippi State) and guard Dante Curry (South Florida). George Mason and UNCW had the best recruiting success this past off-season. Mason was able to nab point guard Andre Cornelius and forward Ryan Pearson from the lure of the BCS schools while UNCW locked up forward Kevon Moore and guard Jerel Stephson. All of these are players that could be playing in bigger conferences and are likely the most Division I ready freshmen entering the CAA this year.
Games to Watch.
George Mason at VCU (01.24.09)
Northeastern at VCU (01.28.09)
VCU at Old Dominion (02.14.09)
Northeastern at George Mason (02.14.09)
Old Dominion at Northeastern (02.28.09)
RPI Booster Games. The CAA has had success in recent years against out of conferences foes, both mid-major and BCS. This season the conference favorites don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to make a splash early on but their definitely is some winnable games against some notable programs that could start the multiple bid talk early.
James Madison at Davidson (11.17.08)
Georgia State at Georgia Tech (12.17.08)
VCU at Oklahoma (12.20.08)
Winthrop at Old Dominion (12.20.08)
Northeastern at Indiana (12.22.08)
George Mason at Dayton (12.30.08)
Northeastern at Memphis (12.31.08)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Fairly likely. VCU has a real chance of winning an at-large bid this season should they not grab the automatic bid from the conference tournament. Northeastern’s tough schedule could hinder them from a possible at-large birth. Starting at the end of November the Huskies are on the road five of six games before heading into conference play. Ouch. George Mason and Old Dominion don’t have much on the OOC slate which would mean they don’t have a lot of margin for error in the early part of their schedules. With the bottom half of the conference steadily improving, the RPI numbers could be good enough to get a team an at-large bid if they have between 14-16 conference wins.
65 Team Era. From 1987-2005, the CAA was a one-bid league. Of course, that changed in a big way in 2006, when two teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament and George Mason became the greatest Cinderella to make the F4 in history. Two more teams were invited in 2007, and while only George Mason was invited in 2008, there’s no reason to think that the CAA is not a conference generally on the rise. The CAA is 15-27 (.357) in the era, which definitely ranks it as one of the higher mid-major conferences. Hey, we gotta throw it in – this never gets old…
Final Thoughts. Last season proved that the depth of this conference is improving as annual bottom-feeders James Madison, Delaware and William & Mary all made noise at some point in the season. Look for that trend to continue as even the newest CAA members Georgia State and Northeastern could be contending for the top of the standings come March. That is not to say the big boys of the conference have declined. George Mason, VCU, Old Dominion, and UNCW all bring more talent this season than the conference has ever seen. The experience of the coaches on the sideline this season is a big asset for this conference and could spell trouble for opposing teams at the Big Dance. The team(s) that make it to the Big Dance this season could be poised for some not-so-much of an upset victories.