RTC Conference Primers: #11 – CAA

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2011

Michael Litos of CAAHoops.com is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can find him on Twitter @caahoops.

Reader’s Take I

The conference has seen Eric Maynor, then Charles Jenkins, win back-to-back player of the year awards. This year, it’s a wide-open race.


Top Storylines

  • Encore Performance? Last season was undoubtedly the best in conference history. In addition to VCU‘s incredible Final Four run, George Mason and Old Dominion gave the CAA three NCAA Tournament teams for the first time ever. The obvious question becomes: How in the world do you follow that? The CAA is better top-to-bottom this year, which is great for competitiveness but lousy for at-large bids.
  • Disabled List, Midseason “Call Ups” A Factor: The CAA is going to look very different in January, as some of the conference’s best players will miss parts of the nonconference season for varying reasons. Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore, a first team All-CAA selection, is expected back in December from a foot injury. Ditto Drexel’s leading scorer Chris Fouch (knee). William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell, another first teamer, is battling knee problems as well. Old Dominion’s Richard Ross and James Madison’s Devon Moore return from academic suspensions after the first semester, and Blaine Taylor also gets Clemson transfer Donte Hill eligible.
  • Be Very Quiet. I’m Hunting Dragons: Speaking of Drexel, it will be interesting to watch how the Dragons react to being a conference favorite. Drexel has won at least ten conference games in eight of its ten CAA seasons, but has never entered a season with such lofty expectations. That changes this year, as Drexel is the only CAA team to return its scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks leader.  What’s more, Bruiser Flint’s lack of success in March is glaring: Despite those successful regular seasons, Drexel has played in the CAA tournament semifinals just once since 2003.
  • One Tribe, Y’all: Despite finishing 4-14  last year, CAA eyes are trained on William & Mary and its cadre of young guards. One year removed from an NIT season, Tony Shaver’s team lost eight CAA contests by five or fewer points, and seven of those were by four or fewer. Shaver played six freshmen or sophomores regularly, and that experience will pay tremendous dividends. Plus, senior Quinn McDowell is a player of the year candidate. If the Tribe can get a beastly performance on the boards from sophomore Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary may shoot up the standings.

What Does Shaka Smart Have In Mind For An Encore After VCU's Run For The Ages?

Predicted Order of Finish (predicted conference records in parentheses)

  1. Drexel (13-5)
  2. VCU (12-6)
  3. George Mason (12-6)
  4. James Madison (11-7)
  5. Old Dominion (11-7)
  6. William & Mary (10-8)
  7. Delaware (9-9)
  8. Northeastern (8-10)
  9. UNCW (7-11)
  10. Hofstra (7-11)
  11. Georgia State (5-13)
  12. Towson (3-15)

All-Conference Picks (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G/F: Bradford Burgess, VCU (14.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG): Burgess is called “Big Shot Brad” around campus, and the Rams will need that big-ness this season. Burgess took 14 or more shots five times last season, averaging 24.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in those games, making 17 of 26 threes.
  • G: Quinn McDowell, William & Mary (15.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 86.6 FT%): For lack of a better term, McDowell is a classic assassin. He shot 45.5% from three and plays much tougher than his Opie Taylor looks.
  • G: Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion (12.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.2 SPG): Bazemore broke his foot over the summer and is expected back in December. He is a difference-maker on offense as a slasher, and took home the conference’s defensive player of the year honors last season.
  • F: Samme Givens, Drexel (12.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG): Despite being undersized at 6’5”, Givens is a rebounding machine. He also finishes around the basket extremely well against players much bigger than he.
  • F: Ryan Pearson, George Mason (14.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG). Pearson does nothing orthodox, so it’s no surprise he’s a lefty. It’s easy to miss how effective and versatile Pearson is for the Patriots until it’s too late.

6th Man: Devon Saddler, Delaware (13.3 PPG, 2.8 APG): Saddler was unstoppable when he wanted to get in the lane and added a shooting touch late in the year. He averaged 18.5 points per game over his final 10 contests and won the league’s rookie of the year.

Impact Newcomer: AJ Davis, James Madison (10.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG in 2009-10) The Wyoming transfer is a terrific rebounder and elite defender—a missing piece for Matt Brady over the past three seasons. Any offense he contributes is a bonus.

Predicted Champion

Drexel (NCAA Seed:  #10): The Dragons won 11 conference games and 21 overall with a freshman point guard (Frantz Massenat) and replace only role player Gerald Colds. Bruiser Flint has his big bodies back on the block—Dartaye Ruffin and Darryl McCoy are nice complements to Samme Givens. While Drexel is as consistent a basketball team as you can find—tough, jersey-thread-counting defense and gang rebounding are its bedrock—the Dragons have never been considered explosive. Flint knows they have to shoot the three (and free throws) better to win, something he addressed in his recruiting. Perhaps most important, Massenat has an entire year playing alongside leading scorer and gunner Chris Fouch and emerging Derrick Thomas. The Dragons are the ultimate grinder and the kind of team that doesn’t look impressive until they’ve beaten you. Just ask Rick Pitino, whose Louisville team was bludgeoned 52-46 by Drexel last year. Drexel can absolutely win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament if only because their defense will keep them close.

Other Postseason Teams

  • VCU  (NCAA Seed: #12) Shaka Smart has done as much as possible to get his team to:  (1) think about all 40 games last season, not just six in the NCAA Tournament; (2) forget last season altogether. We wish him luck, and will keep a keen eye on how they perform early. For all their havoc, VCU still struggled playing halfcourt defense and were killed on the boards more times than Smart cares to consider. The anecdote: Big men Juvonte Reddic and DJ Haley are sophomores, and 6’8” freshman Jarrod Guest is a red-line high-motor guy. Don’t let the graduation number fool you into thinking VCU is not a very talented team.
  • George Mason (NIT) The Patriots are hampered by the perfect storm of basketball pain: They graduated three key components to their team, another transferred, and senior Andre Cornelius is indefinitely suspended after a summer scrape with the law. Hence, they have no proven guard to rely upon to get their main weapons—postmen Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison—the basketball. What’s more, after those two the frontcourt depth is in question. Oh, and everybody must adapt to Paul Hewitt instead of Jim Larranaga. Lots of questions still need to be answered.
  • James Madison (NIT) Calling Matt Brady’s team an enigma is a little like calling fire hot. The Dukes have all the offensive firepower in the world and that seems to be the issue. They fall in love with shooting and forget that the two main ingredients that separate teams in the CAA are defense and maturity. Brady is feeling better with this year’s squad—Devon Moore will be back for the second semester to settle things down. Make no mistake, though. This team has the talent to win big in the CAA.

The Rest

  • Old Dominion (CBI/CIT): The Monarchs are the ultimate “better in February than December” team, and this year will show that aspect in spades. In December, Kent Bazemore returns from an injury, Donte Hill (transfer from Clemson) becomes eligible, and high-flying freshman Richard Ross also becomes eligible. The one area that’s new: Blaine Taylor doesn’t have a gang of ferocious rebounders as in years past. Warning to CAA foes: Make hay in January, because come March they’ll be their usual rattlesnakes.
  • William & Mary (CBI/CIT): Tony Shaver’s main job is to contain two things: enthusiasm, and the opposition. The Tribe is loaded on the offensive end with the league’s leading returning scorer in Quinn McDowell, gunner Julian Boatner, and jet-quick point guard Brandon Britt. But William & Mary couldn’t defend five dead guys propped up last year, something that must change in a defense-first CAA. All things equal, talent wins games, and the Tribe has an abundance of talent.
  • Delaware: Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins form the best inside/outside combination in the league. Monte Ross needs to keep Josh Brinkley and Kelvin McNeil healthy. Delaware should be a better offensive team this year, and if freshmen Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson pan out, it could be a big year for the Hens.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies are very similar to William & Mary in that Jon Lee, Joel Smith, and Alwayne Bigby form a formidable backcourt. Folks in Boston are feeling good, and there are few better tacticians in the country than Bill Coen. However inside play will dictate success—Kashief Edwards, a fifth-year transfer from Niagara, may be the answer.
  • UNCW: With eight freshmen, the Seahawks are going to be very Gump this year—a box of chocolates, where you never know what you’re going to get. Keith Rendleman is a steadying force for all that youth. The names to know for the kiddies: Craig Ponder, Freddie Jackson, and Cedrick Williams.
  • Hofstra: The Pride are among the smallest of the CAA teams this year and will have to rely on what got them to 14-4 last year—taking care of the basketball and making free throws. Good thing new point guard Stevie Mejia led the A-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio before transferring from Rhode Island. Mike Moore can score but needs to lead, and remember the name Nat Lester. The fifth-year senior has double-double potential.
  • Georgia State: The Panthers have a new vigor in head coach Ron Hunter, and though he promises up-tempo Hunter sees that a slow Georgia State team was dead last in the CAA in turnover rate (21%). Hunter’s vision of speed includes making a stud out of Eric Buckner, and a menace in hyper-quick point guard Devonta White.
  • Towson: Pat Skerry’s job is easy: the Tigers went 0-18 in the CAA last year and their two best players left the program. But Skerry is undaunted, preaching a new culture and work ethic to a brand new crop of players. That approach includes actually trying to play defense. The vibe around the program is very different and very positive. Even if wins don’t come, Towson is headed in the right direction.

ODU's Kent Bazemore Rises Above Expectations For Your Typical Mid-Major Player. (Rob Ostermaier, Daily Press)

Reader’s Take II

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

  • Devon Saddler, Delaware: Yes, we’re aware of the dangers of putting a CAA sophomore and the NBA in the same sentence. However, Saddler has that Charles Jenkins look, and Jenkins was selected by Golden State in last summer’s NBA Draft. Saddler, according to his coach Monte Ross, will spend hours in the gym working on nuance. That’s NBA love of the game.
  • Monte Ross, Delaware: Ross was given a sort of pass after two injury-plagued years, but the Hens’ fan base is dying for a winner. They have the talent to compete this year, and despite whatever got him there, Ross’s ledger reads 53-103.
  • Shaka Smart, VCU: Basically, we’re going to pick up where we left off last April with Smart. No matter what Smart says, every VCU win will trigger more words on paper. Who can blame the media? After all, the nation saw how Smart affects his team, and there’s no getting around a 55-21 record, including 8-2 against the six power conferences and a Final Four appearance.
  • Kent Bazemore, ODU: Bazemore came into the Association a shutdown defender with freakish athletic ability. However he’s developed a nice outside game to go with his slashing offensive style. When you think of what an NBA player “looks like,” Bazemore fits the mold. With long arms he plays bigger than his listed 6’5″.

Spotlight on… Extreme Makeover: CAA Edition

It’s shaping up to be a transition year like never before for the CAA. Last year the conference sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but all three—VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason—lost significant components to its success. In fact, it’s been since the 1999-2000 season that the top four seeds in the CAA Tournament didn’t feature at least two of those three teams. But in addition to their losses, nine of the league’s top 10 scorers are gone, and the entire first team All-CAA award honorees graduated.  That means opportunity for the teams who have traditionally looked up at the Big Three. Drexel is favored to win the conference, James Madison is stocked with a talented roster, and Delaware has the best inside/outside combo in the CAA. Add up-and-comers William & Mary and Northeastern to the mix and this season has the makings of a wide open race.

The Colonial is thought of as a southern-based league, and despite recent pings of success from Hofstra, Drexel, and Northeastern, sustained success has resided below the Mason-Dixon line. The stats bear out this truth. Only once since 1994 (Richmond, 1998) has anyone but UNCW, George Mason, VCU or Old Dominion won the conference and represented the CAA in the NCAA tournament. This could be the year a fifth team joins them.

Final Thoughts

While the Final Four runs of VCU and George Mason earned deserving headlines, the league has been successful on a national stage at a much deeper level. Last year was the fourth time in six years a CAA team has won a round of 64 NCAA tournament game, and CAA teams have combined to win 30 games in postseason play over the last six years. Last year the CAA was 4-4 against the ACC and won both matchups against the Pac-10. CAA teams went 9-7 against its most comparable conference, the A-10. When you factor in three straight seasons with NBA Draft picks and five CAA graduates in the NBA, the level of play in the Colonial is far better than the brand name would suggest.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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4 responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #11 – CAA”

  1. Jonathan Saadeh says:

    Good write-up, Litos. I don’t think VCU will finish in front of Mason in the regular season with such an enormous target on their backs (although, I think they’ll win the tourney). But that’s why they play actual games I guess. Also, Mason only graduated two players; Hancock and Whack transferred.

  2. Andrew says:

    So let me see if I follow this “logic”: Drexel has played in the CAA semifinals ONCE since 2003, has the same coach who consistently burns his teams out mentally by late February with his Bob Knight-style rants, but is somehow going to not only win a CAA tournament game but win the title?

    AND, VCU lost four of its top five players — not just scorers, points can be replaced — and is counting on a bunch of fairly unproven young guys, yet they’re going to get an NCAA at-large?

    I’m not an attorney, but this article assumes some things that are not even close to being in evidence just yet.

  3. Mglitos says:

    Andrew: here’s the difference. For the first time since I’ve been covering this conference, Flint is paying attention to–and talking about–his offense. Plus, teams get burned out when you go six or seven deep and Drexel will go eight or nine deep this year. (And don’t discount Chris Fouch getting November and part of December off.)

    As for VCU…outside of Burgess, Theus, Reddic, Brandenberg, and Haley were all contributors to last year. People are focusing on what’s gone, not what’s there. Two years from now when Treveon Graham is All CAA, remember you heard the name here first.

    Finally, as I mentioned on a radio show yesterday morning, there is absolutely nothing that occurs this year that will surprise me. Nothing.

  4. Mglitos says:

    Jonathan: Cannot disagree. I’ve flip-flopped VCU, Mason, and JMU all summer long. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter–let’s duke it out on the court. And thanks for the catch.

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