Tom Zamonski (@tomzamonski)
As the season reaches its midpoint, the CAA is proving to be much tighter than projected. With surprises such as preseason favorite Drexel struggling to a 5-11 start and Towson’s quick turnaround from a season ago, the conference is shaping up for an exciting season.
In a conference scattered with NBA prospects, here is a list of the top five current CAA Player of the Year candidates:
5. Jamelle Hagins: Delaware
Sr., Forward: 12.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 2.44 bpg
Currently tied with Spencer Dunkley for Delaware’s all-time mark with 916 rebounds, Hagins has been dominant on the glass this season.
The senior is the second-best rebounder in the country and leads the CAA in boards per game. The Roanoke, Va. native has grabbed at least six boards in every game this season and has 10 or more in 10 of 16 games. A Preseason All-CAA First Team selection, Hagins is also second in the conference and 28th in the country in blocks.
Hagins is 18th in the conference in scoring. Hagins has recorded a double-double in 10 games for Delaware. The 6-9, 235 pound forward is sinking 56.7 percent of his shots, second-best in the CAA.
4. Keith Rendleman: UNC-Wilmington
Sr., Forward: 15.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.25 bpg
Rendleman, a Preseason All-CAA First Team selection, has led UNC-Wilmington to six wins, four wins away from tying last season’s victory total of 10. Rendleman and the Seahawks sit at 6-10 and are off to a 1-3 mark in CAA play.
The forward leads his team and is eighth in the conference in scoring. The Denver, N.C. product has netted 11 or more points in all but two games this year for UNC-Wilmington. The senior is second on the team in shooting with a 49.2 percent mark from the field, good enough for 12th in the CAA.
Despite the numbers Rendleman has put up on the offensive side of the ball, the forward has been even more imposing on defense. Leading his team in rebounds, the forward is third in the CAA and 13 th in the country on the glass. Rendleman is tied for first in the conference with 1.94 steals a contest. He is also sixth in the conference in blocks.
3. Sherrod Wright: George Mason
Junior Guard: 17.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg
The Patriots (9-7) are one of three teams in the CAA with a record above .500 and it has been Wright leading the charge for George Mason.
Wright, a Preseason All-CAA Second Team pick, is fourth in the conference in scoring on 51.9 percent shooting, which is good enough for sixth in the league. The Mount Vernon, N.Y. native is leading the CAA in draining 41.0 percent of his treys. The guard has reached double-figures in scoring 14 times this season, eclipsing the 20-point mark in seven contests.
The junior is also delivering on defense. Wright leads the team in steals with 1.3 swipes a game and is second on the team in rebounding.
2. Devon Saddler: Delaware
Jr., Guard: 20.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg
A member of the Preseason All-CAA First Team, Saddler has Delaware off to its best start in CAA play since 2007-08. Saddler and the Blue Hens are 8-8 and are tied for first in the conference with a 3-0 record.
The junior has been one of the toughest players to defend in the conference as he leads the CAA in scoring and is also tied for 14 th best in the country. The Blue Hen has netted 12 or more in every game this season including 20 or more in seven contests.
Saddler has also been solid from long range as he is connecting on 37.6 percent of threes, sixth best in the conference. The guard’s most impressive shot came in Delaware’s last game where he hit a game-winning 3 with under one second to go to seal an 86-83 victory over Georgia State. Saddler has been getting his teammates to contribute in scoring as he leads the team and is sixth in the CAA in assists.
1. Jerrelle Benimon: Towson
Junior Forward: 17.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Benimon has been the reason why Towson has gone from basement dwellers to being relevant again in the CAA. After finishing last season with just one win (1-31), Benimon and the Tigers are 8-9 and are tied for second in the conference with a 3-1 mark. The junior transfer from Georgetown has been contributing in all facets of the game for Towson.
The forward leads Towson in scoring and is fifth in the CAA. The 6-8, 245-pound senior has registered double-figure point totals in 14 of 17 games this season while registering 20 or more in five contests. The Warrenton, VA product has been efficient from the floor as he is shooting at a 53.7 percent clip, fifth best in the CAA.
On the defensive side of the ball Benimon is the second best rebounder in the conference and fourth in the nation. The Tiger grabbed a season-high 21 rebounds against Oregon State. Benimon has also recorded a double-double in 11 of 17 games.
Rayshawn Goins, James Madison
Goins was slightly edged out by Hagins on this list. The James Madison forward has a higher scoring average (15.0 ppg) than Hagins but has fewer rebounds (7.8 rpg). Delaware’s senior got the fifth spot because he is the second best shot-blocker in the CAA while Goins is tied for just 39 th with 0.35 bpg.
Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
Thornton is the second-leading scorer in the CAA with 18.3 ppg and 12th in the conference with 2.7 apg. However, the guard has been giving the ball away too much for the Tribe with 3.6 TO/g, a 0.74 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Joel Smith, Northeastern
Smith, a Preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention, is an intriguing player to keep an eye on as he leads the Huskies in scoring and is sixth the CAA with 16.2 ppg. The senior is the conference’s top free throw shooter at 88.5 percent. With Northeastern 4-0 in CAA player, Smith’s stock in the POTY race is trending up.