Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: Welcome to the CoBL/Big Apple Buckets conference previews. For the Colonial Athletic Association, BAB’s John Templon collaborated with myself to come up with these preseason awards and conference rankings. For the rest of our 2013-14 season preview content, click here.)
2013-14 CoBL Preseason All-CAA First Team
*=Preseason Player of the Year
Adjehi Baru (Jr., Charleston)–9.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg
*Jerrelle Benimon (Sr., Towson)–17.1 ppg, 11.2 rpg
Damion Lee (Jr., Drexel)–17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Devon Saddler (Sr., Delaware)–19.9 ppg, 2.8 apg
Marcus Thornton (Jr., William & Mary)–18.8 ppg, 2.8 apg
1. Towson (18-13, 13-5 CAA)
Coach: Pat Skerry–3rd season, 19-44 (.302)
Postseason: None (ineligible)
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Bilal Dixon (6.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Kris Walden (3.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Name to Know: Jerrelle Benimon. The Georgetown transfer was expected to make a big impact in his first season of CAA eligibility last year, and he certainly did just that. The 2012-13 conference Player of the Year was fourth in the league in scoring (17.1 ppg) and tops in rebounding (11.2 rpg), ranking in the top five in blocks (1.9 bpg, third) and field-goal percentage (.533, fourth) as well. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior is the odds-on favorite to repeat for the award in his senior season, as there’s very little he doesn’t do well out on the court.
The Skinny: Skerry engineered quite a turnaround after the Tigers went just 1-31 in his first season, and now that his team is eligible for the postseason–they’d been banned for low Academic Progress Rate scores–the bar is set much higher for Year Three. Redshirt sophomore Four McGlynn–the America East Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 with Vermont–is now eligible, giving Skerry a big-time perimeter threat (68 3-pointers that season). This team has size, ability and talent, and is the CAA’s best chance to send a team deep into the NCAA Tournament come March.
2. Drexel (13-18, 9-9 CAA)
Coach: Bruiser Flint–13th season, 212-159 (.571)
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Derrick Thomas (9.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Daryl McCoy (4.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
Name to Know: Damion Lee. Part of an extremely talented Dragons backcourt, this 6-6 junior wing is on his way to being one of the top scorers in DU history. Last year he led the team and was third in the conference with a 17.1 ppg average, just fractions of a point higher than Benimon; he also averaged 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. What’s scary is that last year Lee was never really healthy, dealing with a variety of injuries throughout the season; now that he’s healed up, he could explode as a junior.
The Skinny: Getting Chris Fouch, a 6-3 shooting guard, back for a sixth year after he missed all but three games of the 2012-13 season with a broken ankle, could be the difference between Drexel being average and potentially being very good; he was averaging over 16 ppg when he went down. Fouch joins Lee and senior point guard Frantz Massenat (14.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) in a dangerous DU backcourt; for Flint’s team to challenge for the CAA title, they’ll need senior forward Dartaye Ruffin (6.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) or one of a few talented freshmen (Rodney Williams, Mohamed Bah) to step up as an offensive threat in the low post.
3. Charleston (24-11, 14-4 Southern)
Coach: Doug Wojcik–2nd season, 24-11 (.686)
Postseason: CBI First Round
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Andrew Lawrence (13.5 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Name to Know: Adjehi Baru. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound junior forward is a fairly productive offensive player, with a 9.8 ppg average that was third-best on the team last year. Where he really makes his mark is on the boards, where his 8.3 rpg average was tops in the Southern Conference last year, as were his eight double-doubles. He does a great job of drawing fouls, getting to the line 170 times last season, which led his team.
The Skinny: The Cougars are the new kid in town, the CAA’s first addition to the league since Georgia State and Northeastern came aboard in 2005. They had more wins than anybody else in the league last year, including a 75-58 win over Towson in their season opener, but also had 13 wins against teams slotted 250th or lower in the KenPom rankings. As long as they can replace Lawrence, the starting point guard and 2012 Olympian on the Great Britain national team, Charleston is certainly a contender for the title in their first year as CAA members.
4. William & Mary (13-17, 7-11 CAA)
Coach: Tony Shaver–11th season, 116-189 (.380)
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Matt Rum (5.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Name to Know: Marcus Thornton. After making the All-Rookie Team as a freshman, Thornton burst out in his sophomore year, with a 18.8 ppg scoring average that was second-best in the CAA. The 6-4 Maryland native led the league in 3-point percentage (.435) and 3-pointers made (93), and was also in the top three in free-throw percentage (.827, third) and minutes (36.3, second). The volume scorer didn’t have a single game last season with fewer than 10 points, and was named to the All-CAA Second Team.
The Skinny: William & Mary’s problem isn’t scoring the ball–led by Thornton and Tim Rusthoven (14.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg), the Tribe had a few great offensive options. Their problem was on defense, where they let up 1.103 points per possession last year, just 314th in the country. That mostly came from an inability to force turnovers (16.1 percent of possessions, 328th), which is a problem in a league with some really talented backcourts. If Shaver can get this bunch to figure out how to stop their opponents every now and again, they should have their first winning season since 2009-10 and could even do better than that.
5. Delaware (19-14, 13-5 CAA)
Coach: Monté Ross–8th season, 90-131 (.407)
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Jamelle Hagins (11.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Josh Brinkley (7.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Name to Know: Devon Saddler. We’ve already mentioned a number of high-scoring guards in this league, but Saddler reigns supreme. The 6-2 senior already has 1,670 career points (second-most in Division I amongst active players, behind only Creighton’s Doug McDermott), after scoring a league-high 19.9 ppg last year, the 18th-best mark in the country. He’s just 361 points from setting the new UDel school record and will finish either atop or near the top of the school’s leaderboard in various other offensive categories. To top it all off, he’s started all 96 games during his Blue Hens career, the school record for consecutive starts–and last year, he played 37.8 mpg.
The Skinny: Just like their biggest rival Drexel, Delaware has a three-headed monster in the backcourt with Saddler, Jarvis Threatt (13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Mississippi Valley State transfer Davon Usher, a grad student who averaged 18.8 ppg in his only season as a Delta Devil last year. There is a huge gap to fill in the frontcourt with both starters graduating; Hagins was a First Team All-CAA selection and Brinkley was a solid role forward opposite him. Senior forward Carl Baptiste (4.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) played in all 33 games last year, starting seven, but it’s going to be tough for him to live up to Hagins’ legacy.
6. Northeastern (20-13, 14-4 CAA)
Coach: Bill Coen–8th season, 111-112 (.498)
Postseason: NIT First Round
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Joel Smith (16.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Jonathan Lee (13.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Name to Know: Quincy Ford. A 6-8 wing, Ford is a matchup problem due to his ability to post players up as easily as he shoots from outside. His production didn’t take a huge jump between his freshman (11.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and sophomore (12.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) seasons, but now that Smith and Lee are gone, Ford is the first and second option for Coen in his junior year. He’s a good defensive player as well, with 101 steals and 51 blocks through his first 64 career games.
The Skinny: The defending regular-season champions are going to take a step back with the graduation of their two leading scorers, who had a combined 2,489 points in their four years at the school. The good news is that the other six players who averaged 10-or-more minutes per game last season are all back, including three starters in Ford, Reggie Spencer (9.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and David Walker (6.2 ppg, 2.4 apg) who are 6-6 and taller. It’s going to be difficult for the Huskies to repeat the success of last season without their starting backcourt; neither Demetrius Pollard or Marco Banegas-Flores, both juniors, have shown top-level ability in their first two years at the school.
7. James Madison (21-15, 11-7 CAA)
Coach: Matt Brady–6th season, 88-82 (.518)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Starters Returning: 2
Key Loss(es): A.J. Davis (12.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Rayshawn Goins (12.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Devon Moore (11.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Alioune Diouf (4.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Name to Know: Charles Cooke. Last year, the 6-6 wing averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in just over 22 minutes per contest, and his 107.8 offensive rating on KenPom suggests that with an increase in usage, Cooke could be in for a big sophomore season. He’ll need to improve on his 3-point shooting (.324) and free-throw shooting (.691) for sure, but the Trenton Catholic grad is going to have to be the focal point of the offense, especially in the first half of the season. An 18-point performance in the NCAA Tournament loss to Indiana is certainly a sign he’s up to the task.
The Skinny: A major rebuilding road for the Dukes got even tougher late last month with the news that sophomore Andre Nation had been suspended for the first 15 games of the season for violation of an unspecified athletic department policy. The 6-5 guard was JMU’s leading returning scorer (9.3 ppg) but now will miss the entire non-conference part of the schedule as well the CAA opener. Lower Merion grad Yohanny Dalembert, a 6-8 freshman, and Rise Academy’s Taylor Bessick, a 6-9 sophomore, are just two of the seven members of the roster who are 6-7 and taller.
8. UNC-Wilmington (10-20, 5-13 CAA)
Coach: Buzz Peterson–4th season, 33-59 (.359)
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Keith Rendleman (17.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg)
Name to Know: Cedric Williams. Replacing the CAA’s fifth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder won’t be an easy task, and it’s going to be the 6-9, 225-pound junior forward Williams that will have to take up some of that load. Last year, he played in all 30 games with 21 starts, averaging 6.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and was the only member of the rotation besides Rendleman to put up an individual offensive rating above the national average of 100 (103.1).
The Skinny: In the early part of the 2000s, the Seahawks were one of the better programs in the CAA, making it to the NCAA Tournament four times between 2000-07. Under Peterson, they’ve won just 33 games total in the last three seasons, and with the loss of Rendleman, a two-time First Team All-CAA selection, the prognosis for this year isn’t much better. It’s not a young roster, either, with 11 upperclassmen on the squad in addition to three redshirt sophomores, one redshirt freshman and just one true freshman (Chuck Ogbodo). Senior Chris Dixon (9.8 ppg) and redshirt sophomore Craig Ponder (8.5 ppg) bring starting experience to the backcourt, but both posted individual offensive ratings below 90 on KenPom last year.
9. Hofstra (7-25, 4-14 CAA)
Coach: Joe Mihalich–1st season, 0-0
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Taran Buie (12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Stevie Mejia (11.9 ppg, 4.1 apg)
Name to Know: Dion Nesmith. One of two graduate student transfers that Mihalich brought in with immediate eligibility (Zeke Upshaw/Illinois State), Nesmith adds some much-needed experience and veteran leadership to the Pride. Last year, the 6-foot guard averaged 8.1 ppg and 2.2 apg, starting 29 of 31 games for the Hawks, which was actually a slight decrease in production from the year before (8.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg). In 2011-12 he shot 38.4 percent from 3-point range (38-of-99), then just 26.3 (20-of-76) last year; if he can get back above 35 percent he could have a big season.
The Skinny: Last year couldn’t have gone much worse for the Pride and former coach Mo Cassara. There was the arrest of four players, including starters Jimmy Hall (12.7 ppg) and Shaquille Stokes (10.0 ppg), seven games into the season on burglary charges. Then in March, two more arrests–Buie and UConn transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel–all but sealed Cassara’s fate, and he was fired with three years remaining on his contract. All the aforementioned are gone from Long Island, and while Joe Mihalich has some talented transfers who will be eligible next year (Philly natives Ameen Tanksley and Juan’ya Green both followed him from Niagara), there’s likely to be one more ugly year to suffer through before things start turning around.