2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2012

Mark Selig of the Daily News-Record and http://jamesmadison.rivals.com is the RTC correspondent for the CAA. You can follow him on Twitter at @markrselig.

Top Storylines

  • Strange League Makeup: Perennial contender VCU left for the Atlantic 10, leaving 11 teams in the CAA, but only seven of those squads will participate in this year’s league tournament held in Richmond. Outgoing Old Dominion and Georgia State are ineligible under CAA bylaws, while UNC-Wilmington and Towson are ineligible for any postseason play because of low APR scores. College of Charleston recently approved a move from the Southern Conference and will likely join next season.
  • Can Bruiser Take The Dragons Dancing? Drexel’s 12th-year coach has won 199 games with the Dragons, but Bruiser Flint has never brought the team to the NCAA Tournament (his last Tourney appearance was in 1998 with UMass). The Dragons, champions of the regular season last year, are the favorites to repeat and this time also win the conference tourney now that VCU isn’t around to boast what was essentially home-court advantage at the Richmond Coliseum. Flint has had his share of headaches in the Virginia state capital, but a lot of them would go away if he could just snip that Coliseum net.

Frantz Massenat Leads The Dragons As Preseason Favorites. (AP)

  • Multiple Bids? That seems to be the question every year in the CAA, a conference that sent multiple teams to the tournament in 2011, 2007 and 2006. Without VCU – a fringe Top 25 team – that appears unlikely. But a team like Drexel could theoretically build itself a strong enough at-large résumé and then get upset in the CAA Tournament. It would take a big season from a George Mason or Delaware to have the Colonial flag waved at multiple NCAA sites, though. Old Dominion, ineligible for the league title, created a rugged enough non-conference schedule for itself to be an at-large consideration, but the Monarchs probably aren’t talented enough this year to breeze through that slate.

Reader’s Take I

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Drexel (15-3)
  2. Delaware (13-5)
  3. George Mason (13-5)
  4. Northeastern (10-8)
  5. Old Dominion (9-9)
  6. James Madison (9-9)
  7. Georgia State (7-11)
  8. Hofstra (7-11)
  9. William & Mary (6-12)
  10. Towson (6-12)
  11. UNC-Wilmington (4-14)

Preseason All-Conference Selections (last season’s stats in parentheses)

  • G: Frantz Massenat, Drexel (13.7 PPG, 4.8 APG, 45% 3FG) – Massenat was the runner-up for Player of the Year last season (behind then-George Mason senior Ryan Pearson). Now the 6’4” junior point guard, who possesses no glaring weaknesses, is the favorite to take home the hardware. Given the jump he took from his freshman to sophomore year, it’s scary to think how much better Massenat can be in the remaining two seasons of his career.
  • F: Jamelle Hagins, Delaware (12.4 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.0 BPG) – A two-time All-CAA defender, the 6’9” Hagins is developing enough of an offensive arsenal to be a nightmare on both ends of the court. A big senior season awaits a player who has improved every year.
  • F: Keith Rendleman, UNC-Wilmington (15.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG) – The bouncy, 6’8” forward might be the top player in the CAA, but he doesn’t have much around him. That he made the league’s first team last year, after recording 16 double-doubles for a 10-21 squad, tells you how much respect his game commands.
  • G: Devon Saddler, Delaware (18.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG) – Saddler, a 6’2” 205-pound power guard, netted 20-plus points 15 times last year and ranked second in the CAA in scoring. He will share ball-handling responsibilities, and if he improves his distribution, could easily become the league’s top player.
  • G: Jonathan Lee, Northeastern (14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG) – Huskies coach Bill Coen said that Lee refuses to be mediocre. The hard-working, diverse guard has gotten better and better, and is now a senior.

6th Man: Damion Lee, Drexel (12.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)- The reigning Rookie of the Year started all but one game for the Dragons last year and should have an even more prominent role in the team’s offense.

Impact NewcomerR.J. Hunter, Georgia State – Coach Ron Hunter’s son was destined for big-conference college basketball, but in the CAA he’ll be an immediate factor.

Predicted Champion

Drexel (NCAA Seed:  #11). Drexel returns everything but power forward Samme Givens, the school’s all-time leading scorer. While he’s not easily replaceable, the Dragons should be just fine with his replacement: junior forward Dartaye Ruffin, who’s bigger and has plenty of experience. The scoring that the Dragons lose should be sopped up by backcourt guys like Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee and sixth-man extraordinaire Chris Fouch. The one drawback to Drexel on paper is that its two interior starters – Ruffin and senior Daryl McCoy — aren’t guys you can feed for easy buckets. But, like everyone on this roster, they sure can play defense. The Dragons had the league’s best scoring defense (56.1 points per game allowed) last year, and there’s no reason to think they won’t again. After losing in the conference title game in 2011-12, Drexel was on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration. If they fail to win the league this year, the Dragons could again be in the mix on Selection Sunday. They have some quality mid-major opponents on their schedule.

Top Contenders

  • Delaware – 2011-12 was Monté Ross’ first winning season in six years coaching. Now his Blue Hens appear ready to take the next step. Jamelle Hagins and Devon Saddler form the best inside-out duo in the league, and they’ll get plenty of help from what was the CAA’s top freshman class last year. Delaware returns four starters and Jarvis Threatt, who will share ball-handling duties with Saddler for a team that struggled in the assists department a year ago. A whopping 60 percent of their baskets went unassisted last season.
  • George Mason – With Johnny Williams back after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, and sophomores Erik Copes and Jonathan Arledge primed to take on big-time roles, Mason might have the best frontcourt in the CAA. And that’s after losing Player of the Year Ryan Pearson and three-year starter Mike Morrison. Sherrod Wright, a clutch reserve last year, will likely be more prominent in the Patriots’ offense. He was a preseason second team pick. Mason has plenty of experience, but not up and down its roster like Drexel does. There are no scholarship seniors on this team.
  • Northeastern – Experienced backcourts typically fare well in the CAA, and Northeastern certainly has one. Senior guards Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith have each logged more than 2,000 career minutes, and each averaged double figures in scoring the past two seasons. Still, the star on this roster could be sophomore Quincy Ford, a seemingly limitless, 6’8” swingman who can defend four positions. Northeastern appears top-heavy, though. Only four returning players averaged more than two points per game last year.
  • Old Dominion – On paper, the Monarchs have their least punchy roster in years. But coach Blaine Taylor’s track record has earned ODU too much respect to take lightly. Perennially one of the CAA’s best defenses, ODU will have to find scoring somewhere. The best bets are a pair of ACC transfers: athletic junior guard Donte Hill, who averaged 7.6 points in his first season with the Monarchs last year, and center DeShawn Painter, who was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from N.C. State in the spring. Typically one to redshirt his freshmen, Taylor won’t have that luxury this year as the Monarchs try to traverse through a difficult non-conference schedule that they bolstered after finding out they’d be ineligible for the CAA Tournament following the announcement that they’ll be headed to Conference USA next year.
  • James Madison – In his first four years at JMU, Matt Brady has alternated between 20-win and 20-loss seasons. The two losing campaigns were severely hampered by injuries, and now Brady enters a crucial fifth and final year on his contract. He’ll have what might be his best roster – one featuring six seniors, including five fifth-year guys. Leading the charge is high-scoring swingman A.J. Davis (15.9 PPG last year) and Devon Moore, a multi-talented point guard. Power forward Rayshawn Goins, who missed all of last year with a shoulder injury, will return to help a team that was manhandled on the boards last season (a CAA-worst minus-5.2). Brady is extremely high on his five-man freshman class, which will need to contribute immediately on an unbalanced roster.

The Rest

How About “Legit?”

  • Georgia State – The Panthers lost six seniors and will rely heavily on transfers and freshmen in coach Ron Hunter’s second season. He should get plenty of help from his son, R.J. Hunter, a Big Ten-level recruit who spurned the name schools to play for Dad. Speedy junior point guard Devonta White (12.9 PPG) is the one returning player you may have heard of. GSU, headed to the Sun Belt next year in a football-driven move, is ineligible for the CAA Tourney.
  • William & Mary– Six of William & Mary’s best eight players are back from a team that struggled in an injury-plagued season. The big one is Marcus Thornton, a sophomore guard whom Tony Shaver predicts will make the leap from good to very good this year. They’ll also return quietly efficient forward Tim Rusthoven. The Tribe is often reliant on three-point shooting, but last year they connected at a ho-hum 32-percent rate.
  • Towson – Towson lost 41 straight games, a Division I record that spanned parts of the past two seasons. And while their 1-31 mark last year made them the laughingstock of college basketball, the Tigers should be far more frisky this season. Second-year coach Pat Skerry, who inherited a defective roster from Pat Kennedy, will have transfers Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown), Mike Burwell (South Florida), Bilal Dixon (Providence) and Rafriel Guthrie (Southern Idaho) eligible to help legitimize a roster with a couple solid returners. The Tigers will not be eligible for postseason play because of an APR penalty.
  • Hofstra – As of press time, Hofstra still doesn’t know the eligibility situation of some of its roster, which has four transfers and five freshmen. Mo Cassara, entering his third season after replacing Tim Welsh (who resigned in disgrace before ever coaching a game), admits this will be a “transition” season for Hofstra. Three starters – forwards David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni, and guard Stevie Mejia – return, but none have star power. Maybe transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a national champion at Connecticut in 2010-11, can be the go-to-guy.
  • UNC-Wilmington – After an APR penalty disqualified UNCW from postseason play, several players transferred. Star forward Keith Rendleman considered redshirting so he could compete for titles as a senior. Ultimately, the professional prospect who will graduate this year decided to keep playing. In the short term, the Seahawks are much better for it. Rendleman is the one sure thing on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. When freshman guard Adam Smith transferred to Virginia Tech, the Hawks lost their next-best scorer. Sophomores Cedrick Williams, Craig Ponder and Freddie Jackson will have to make leaps.

Reader’s Take II

Notable Newcomers

  • Towson Overhaul – Jerelle Benimon didn’t provide much production in two years at Georgetown, but Towson coach Pat Skerry said he “can be good as anybody,” before comparing the 6’8″ forward to some of the top players in the CAA last year. Mike Burwell, a heady and athletic player from South Florida, will also instantly become one of the Tigers’ go-to guys, despite similarly uninspiring numbers in the Big East. A third Big East transfer, forward Bilal Dixon, averaged 8.2 points per game as a freshman at Providence, but his numbers and minutes waned each year. Three-star recruit Jerome Hairston will likely be the Tigers’ lead point guard from Day One.
  • Manny Atkins, Georgia State – Atkins is a 6’7″  forward who scored double-figures a handful of times as a sophomore at Virginia Tech, where he participated in an NIT tournament. A sweet shooter, he’ll add a dimension to the Panthers attack that had been missing last year. Expect him to be one of the team’s top scorers from the jump.
  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State – To get this talented freshman to Atlanta, Ron Hunter did everything short of committing an NCAA violation. “I didn’t recruit R.J., I recruited his momma,” the elder Hunter said. “We dated all over again. I bought him a car, I dated his mom. If I lost that recruit, I was in trouble.” It would have been understandable if Hunter lost that recruit, given that Purdue and Michigan State showed interest in 6’5″ guard who was a runner-up for a state title in Indiana.
  • Ron Curry, James Madison –  Curry insists that fellow freshmen guards Charles Cooke and Andre Nation are just as good as him, if not better. But it will likely be the 6’4″ Curry who first catches your eyes. A combo guard who can shoot, penetrate and defend, he’s drawn comparisons to senior teammate Devon Moore. Curry, who attended the same high school as JMU coach Matt Brady (Paul VI in Haddonfield, N.J.) will either start or be Madison’s first guard off the bench.
  • Changing of the ODU Guards – Freshmen Keenan Palmore and Aaron Bacote will be asked to do what few true freshman do when they arrive in Norfolk: Assume big roles for the typically grown-up Monarchs. Palmore, a true point guard, could start right away at the point. Bacote is an advanced defender for a freshman, a trait that sports well at ODU.
  • Hofstra’s Newcomers – Jamal Coombs-McDaniel averaged 5.6 points per game for the Kemba Walker-led UConn team that captured the national title two seasons ago. Now he has a chance to take a more leading role for Hofstra. The 6’7″ forward could be the team’s best player. He’ll have competition for that distinction from Penn State transfer Taran Buie, a top 100 player out of high school who struggled in a season with the Nittany Lions. Both are eligible right away, but both have also been suspended two games by Cassara for a violation of team rules. Hawaii transfer Shaquille Stokes may or may not be eligible this season, and Fresno State transfer Dae’Quan Brown will either be eligible at the start of the season or during second semester.
  • Carl Baptiste, Delaware– The 6’8″ forward had an up-and-down two seasons at St. Joseph’s but might have found a more stable home in the Blue Hens’ talented frontcourt. He can both face up and score with his back to the hoop. Coach Monté Ross said he’ll be a “force” for Delaware.
  • Zach Stahl, Northeastern – A native of Chanhassen, Minnesota, the name Zach Stahl sounds more fit for a hockey rink. It’s appropriate then, that Stahl distinguished himself at Northeastern while on an eight-day, seven-game offseason excursion to Canada. The 6’5″ freshman “combo forward,” as coach Bill Coen calls him, is considered a heady player who will slide right into the Huskies’ rotation.
  • Anali Okoloji, George Mason – The Brooklyn native played 16 games at Seton Hall before transferring to Mason, where he’ll likely be caught in a frontcourt log jam. Still, it never hurts to have athletic, 6’8″, 232-pounders on your roster. Okoloji won’t be a star in Fairfax, but he’ll add to a formidable bunch of forwards. He and freshman Marko Gujanicic make five players 6’8″ or taller on the Patriots’ roster.

Spotlight on… Conference Leadership

The spotlight is on Commissioner Tom Yeager, who has guided the CAA since its inception 28 years ago. The longest-tenured Division-I commish is now presiding over a league with much uncertainty. After VCU bolted for the more competitive Atlantic 10, and Old Dominion and Georgia State announced their intentions to depart next year because of I-A football aspirations, the CAA is in flux. Nine schools are committed to the basketball conference moving forward, and Yeager will make it 10 with the addition of College of Charleston, a quality Southern Conference program that will fit right into the CAA in terms of competitiveness. Yeager and Co. must also decide where to hold future conference tournaments. Richmond, site of the league office and proximate to the league’s biggest fan bases, doesn’t seem like such an attractive March destination now that hometown VCU won’t be competing for Colonial crowns. The league could instead host its annual centerpiece in big cities like Baltimore or Philadelphia – just a pair of options that speculators have floated. One thing’s certain: The buzz for this year’s seven-team event, which Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor disparaged as a “Tupperware Party,” will certainly be subdued.

Final Thoughts

What makes the CAA fun to watch year in and year out is the competitiveness throughout. Aside from last year, when Towson served as a proverbial doormat, there’s typically a great deal of parity from top to bottom. Upsets aren’t uncommon, and protecting the home court becomes a point of pride. Every now and then NBA talent pops into the league and outsiders wonder how these players were overlooked by the big shots. Guards Eric Maynor and Charles Jenkins are a couple of obvious examples: Both won back-to-back CAA Player of the Year honors (and did it back-to-back from 2008-2011). But the strength of this league is built from the sweat of hard-working players who improve enough over four years to earn a professional career, maybe somewhere overseas. The CAA is also a welcoming home for transfers who have found themselves in uncomfortable settings and just need a change. Often these players enjoy a rebirth, and vault their teams to greatness.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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