Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CAA Preview


The Colonial Athletic Association had another extremely underrated season last year. A year after getting two NCAA bids and George Mason to the Final Four, the CAA had four teams very capable of making postseason noise. VCU won the league at 16-2, but Old Dominion was only one game back of them, and Hofstra and Drexel finished two and three games back, respectively. In the conference tournament, VCU knocked off upstart George Mason in the title game, and then went on to beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament before losing in overtime to Pittsburgh. Old Dominion reached the Big Dance, but lost to Butler in the first round, while Drexel was one of the last teams left out. The Dragons went to the NIT along with Hofstra. This year, the CAA has another group of solid mid-major teams.

Favorites: VCU loses two of its best players from last season in B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, but still has the best talent in the conference. Anthony Grant and the Rams are led by, of course, sensational point guard Eric Maynor. Maynor became an overnight sensation last year with his heroics against both George Mason in the CAA title game and Duke in the NCAA Tournament, but people who had been following the conference all year knew Maynor was a fearless penetrator who could get to the basket on anyone. He will be partnered with Jamal Shuler, a very good three-point shooter, and all-rookie selection T.J. Gwynn. Inside, Wil Fameni is a solid scorer and rebounder with a nice touch, while Michael Anderson is a tremendous athlete who is very long and can jump out of the gym. Off the bench, Franck Ndongo will fight for a starting job, while Joey Rodriguez is an impact freshman. George Mason struggled during the regular season last year, but built up some momentum from its nice CAA Tournament run to the title game. The Patriots return five starters, including one of the better inside-outside combos in the conference in guard Folarin Campbell and big man Will Thomas. Campbell is a good all-around player, while Thomas has a variety of post moves and is a solid rebounder and passer. Starting next to Thomas will be Darryl Monroe, an efficient finisher around the basket. Andre Smith is a very good shooter in the backcourt, while Jordan Carter is a good defender. John Vaughan could be a potential go-to-guy on the perimeter.

Contenders: Old Dominion loses three starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but will still be in the hunt. The backcourt of Brandon Johnson and Brian Henderson is one of the best in the conference. Johnson can do it all on the court, and is a very good defender, while Brian Henderson can score and shoot with efficiency. Abdi Lidonde and Marsharee Neely will fight for the other starting spot, but Neely might be redshirted. Gerald Lee and Jonathan Adams are the top returnees up front, while Sam Harris brings his 7-3 size to the paint. Drexel is still feeling the sting of last year’s NCAA Tournament snub, but will try to bounce back. Frank Elegar leads the way down low; he is one of the best big men in the country. Randy Oveneke will likely start next to him, although Boston College transfer Evan Neisler will fight for time. On the perimeter, Scott Rodgers is the main returnee, with Tramayne Hawthorne also returns as a player with extended experience. The point guard will be manned by New York City natives Gerald Colds and Jamie Harris, both freshmen. Hofstra won at least 20 games for the third straight season last year, but the Pride lose guards Loren Stokes, the CAA Player of the Year, and Carlos Rivera. However, Antoine Agudio returns. He is a lights-out shooter who is one of the best guards in the nation. Greg “Playstation” Johnson is very quick, but needs to become a team leader. Freshmen Nathaniel Lester and Devon Peterson, as well as redshirt freshman Charles Jenkins, will fight for minutes. Zygis Sestokas, the team’s second-leading returning scorer, will start on the wing. Up front, Mike Davis-Saab and Arminas Urbutis need to improve, while Greg Washington might be the difference-maker Hofstra needs in the frontcourt.

Sleepers: William & Mary jumped from eight wins to fifteen last season, and returns four starters from that group. The backcourt returns both starters in Nathan Mann, a good three-point shooter, and David Schneider, a good distributor at the point. Up front, Laimis Kisielius is back. He can score in a variety of ways. Peter Stein and Alex Smith will also start in the frontcourt. UNC-Wilmington finished next-to-last in the league last year, only one year after winning 25 games and a league title. However, with the return of T.J. Carter from injury, the Seahawks have a chance to make some noise again. Carter is one of the best players in the conference. UNCW also returns a very good frontcourt duo in Vladimir Kuljanin and Todd Hendley. Kuljanin is an extremely efficient finisher inside, while Hendley is a good inside-outside option. Double-figure scorer Daniel Fountain and solid scorer Montez Downey return on the wings, with newcomers Marlo Davis and Chad Tomko battling for the point guard spot. Northeastern finished .500 in the league last year, and lose three starters, but could have the weapons to move up in the standings. It is led by Rookie of the Year Matt Janning, one of the CAA’s best guards. He will be joined in the backcourt by freshmen Chaisson Allen and Allen Aragbaye. Up front, Manny Adako and Eugene Spates return, along with Dayton transfer Chris Alvarez, a solid rebounder. James Madison has won only 25 games in the past four seasons, but could make a major push for the upper division of the league. It all starts with the return of four double-figure scorers, led by Juwann James and Terrance Carter. The two form one of the best forward duos in the conference. Kyle Swanston and Gabriel Chami also are back in the frontcourt. Pierre Curtis and Joe Posey return in the backcourt. Curtis is an all-conference candidate, while Posey is a very good long-range shooter. The reason for the optimism, though, is the arrival of St. Joseph’s transfer Abdulai Jalloh, an All-Atlantic-10 guard who can light up the scoreboard. Texas Tech transfer Dazzmond Thornton will also make an impact.

Rounding out the Pack: Delaware struggled mightily last season, finishing last in the conference and finishing the year with just seven players on the roster. The Blue Hens do return four starters, though, despite Darrell Johnson’s decision in September to transfer. They are led by forward Herb Courtney, an all-conference performer who can carry the team offensively. He is joined in the frontcourt by returnee Sam McMahon, a good inside-outside option, and Georgetown transfer Marc Egerson. Egerson should make an immediate impact. Nebraska transfer Jim Ledsome and returnee Henry Olawoye provide depth. Point guard Brian Johnson is the leader in the backcourt, but someone needs to step up on the wing. Towson loses leading scorer Gary Neal, but still has a solid core of players. C.C. Williams is a good all-around guard, while Georgetown transfer Josh Thornton will make an impact. Tim Crossin returns as a starter. Up front, Jonathan Pease and College of Charleston transfer Junior Hairston will fight for minutes, while Tommy Breaux starts down low. Georgia State returns three starters from last year’s 5-13 CAA campaign, led by all-conference candidate Leonard Mendez. He can do a little of everything, and is a very good all-around player. Wing Rashad Chase is another solid scorer for the Panthers. Trae Goldston will start on the perimeter. Up front, Justin Billingslea and Deven Dickerson are the leading returnees.

Prediction: The CAA will not feature a team as good as George Mason of two years ago or VCU of last year, but it still has two very good teams at the top and a group of solid contenders in the middle of the pack. Even the teams in the lower tier have a chance to be decent, especially James Madison. The title will come down to the March darlings of the 2006 and 2007, George Mason and VCU, respectively. Eric Maynor gives VCU a huge advantage off the bat, but GMU has experience and balance on its side with Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell. In the end, though, I’m going with VCU because of coach Anthony Grant and the momentum the Rams have from last season. It will be a great race.

Player of the Year: Eric Maynor, G, VCU

All-Conference Team:
G- Eric Maynor, VCU
G- Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
F- Herb Courtney, Delaware
F- Frank Elegar, Drexel
F- Will Thomas, George Mason

Second Team:
G- T.J. Carter, UNC-Wilmington
G- Folarin Campbell, George Mason
G- Leonard Mendez, Georgia State
F- Juwann James, James Madison
F- Vladimir Kuljanin, UNC-Wilmington

Photo Credit: AP


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