Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com)-
OUTLOOK: After not being eligible for the postseason in 2012-13, Towson will attempt to become the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association and make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers were banned from the postseason for low APR scores, but their talent in undeniable and they are clearly the team to beat this year.
Another Northern school hoping to play well this season is Drexel. The Dragons are coming off a disappointing season after being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee two years ago. Charleston will likely be right there with the Dragons, as they attempt to make a splash in their first year in their new conference.
The next group of teams includes Delaware, William & Mary and Northeastern. Those three all have the ability to make a run in the CAA, but will need a little luck with some consistency to achieve their goals.
The bottom of the CAA will likely consist of James Madison, UNC-Wilmington and Hofstra. It may be surprising to see James Madison toward the bottom after winning the conference title last season, but this will be a transitional year for the Dukes. UNCW has an experienced roster, but they haven't accomplished much the past few seasons. Hofstra will be working with a fairly young roster and it will likely be a rough season for the Pride.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Towson
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Towson, 2. Drexel, 3. Charleston, 4. Delaware, 5. William & Mary, 6. Northeastern, 7. James Madison, 8. UNC-Wilmington, 9. Hofstra
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
TOWSON: Pat Skerry's Tigers will try to take over the CAA this season as they have regained postseason eligibility. After going 18-13 overall and 13-5 in conference play in 2012-13, which was good for second place in the conference, the Tigers appear poised to win at least 20 games this season. Towson hopes that last year's CAA Player of the Year, Jerrelle Beninom (17.1 ppg, 11.2 rpg) will continue to put up huge numbers and lead the team to a highly successful campaign. The club returns its top five scorers, and it also added Vermont transfer Four McGlynn (6-2, 180) and his 3-point shooting prowess. He made 68 treys in his one year at Vermont, which led the team. If Skerry's squad doesn't take home the conference crown it will come as a great surprise.
DREXEL: Bruiser Flint might finally be able to reach the NCAA Tournament with the Dragons. Last season ended in disappointing fashion, as Drexel finished in seventh place in the CAA (9-9), logging a 13-18 overall record. Although Towson has a strong team, Drexel is right there. Last season's favorite to win the conference has an even stronger group this time around, as the Dragons have two returning Second Team All-Conference guards in Damion Lee (17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Frantz Massenat (14.7 ppg, 4.2 apg). Chris Fouch (16.7 ppg) is also back, and Flint added freshman Major Canady (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) to further solidify Drexel's backcourt. The Dragons are an incredibly fast and athletic team that just might be able to overtake Towson for conference supremacy.
CHARLESTON: The Cougars will be playing their first season in the CAA after previously calling the Southern Conference home. Charleston was one of the elite teams in the SoCon last year, going 24-11 overall and finishing second in the league standings. Doug Wojcik's group will surely feel the loss of First Team All-league guard Andrew Lawrence (13.5 ppg, 1.4 spg), who was also a member of the 2012 Great Britain National Team. The Cougars have solid depth, in fact their top-six scorers all return. Adjehi Baru (9.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is one of the better forwards in the conference, and he is expected to assert himself now that some of the other talented frontcourt performers in the league have moved on. Expect Charleston to put up a fight in its inaugural run in the CAA.
DELAWARE: The Blue Hens did not meet the 'NCAA Tournament or bust' goal that they set for themselves prior to last season. They had a solid campaign though, going 19-14 overall. Monte Ross' team is a dark horse contender this year in the CAA, and it has a couple of very talented scorers, despite lacking consistency and efficiency last season. If last year's league-leading scorer Devon Saddler (19.9 ppg) can improve his 42 percent field goal accuracy the sky is the limit for the Blue Hens. Jarvis Threatt (13.0 ppg. 1.8 spg) could also stand to pick up his poor 36 percent shooting effort, and if he does UD could have one of the better backcourts in the league. The squad suffered a blow with the loss of 2012-13 CAA Defensive Player of the Year Jamelle Hagins (11.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg). As a result, the frontcourt appears to be fairly weak. Carl Baptiste (4.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is going to need to step up and fill the void if the Blue Hens want to seriously challenge for the conference crown.
WILLIAM & MARY: Last season was marred with inconsistency for the Tribe, as they were unable to string together more than a four-game win streak at any point. Coach Tony Shaver has to hope that the return of his top-four scorers will help to create a more cohesive unit. Two of those scorers are Second Team All-Conference guard Marcus Thornton (18.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Third Team selection Tim Rusthoven (14.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) at forward. If this veteran team can come together as a group, William & Mary might be able to record its first winning season since 2009-10. Although they finished 13-17 overall and in eighth place in the conference, expect the Tribe to challenge the league's top teams this time around.
NORTHEASTERN: Bill Coen's Huskies lost two All-Conference players to graduation in Joel Smith (16.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Jonathan Lee (13.8 ppg, 4.0 apg). Due to that fact, it will be tough for Northeastern to finish first in the CAA standings again this year, and to match its impressive 20-13 overall record and 14-4 mark in conference. The team will lean on Quincy Ford (12.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and probably ask him to do a little bit more to fill the void left behind by the departures of Smith and Lee. Another player to keep an eye on is 2012-13 CAA All-Rookie Team member David Walker (6.2 ppg, 1.3 spg). If he is able to take the next step in his progression, the Huskies could be in line for another successful campaign.
JAMES MADISON: The Dukes will likely regress this season after losing four starters from their 2012-13 CAA championship squad. James Madison was able to ride its seniors all the way to a 21-15 record and into the NCAA Tournament, but that isn't likely to be the case this time around as the loss of some key personnel will hamper its ability to challenge for the top spot in the CAA. Sixth-year senior forward Andrey Semanov (10.0 ppg, 1.1 spg) and All-CAA Rookie Team guard Andre Nation (9.3 ppg, 1.3 bpg) will have to help carry the load for the Dukes, but overall it is a young team that lacks experience so there are likely to be several bumps in the road this season.
UNC-WILMINGTON: It will most likely be another tough year for Buzz Peterson's squad as it tries to make up for the loss of former star Keith Rendleman (17.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Those are some big shoes to fill for a team that over the last three years has not performed well, winning a total of 33 games. Cedrick Williams (6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is expected to try and fill the void, and he will have to up his production level significantly if the Seahawks are going to have any chance at being competitive this season. Don't be surprised if they don't improve much on their 10-20 record from last season. It isn't all doom and gloom for the Seahawks however, as they have a promising young sophomore guard in Craig Ponder (8.5 ppg). If the youngster can continue to develop his skills and his supporting cast performs well, UNCW might be a team on the rise in next year or so.
HOFSTRA: Former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich takes over the Pride this season, one that certainly appears at the outset to be yet another bad one in Hempstead. The team's woes won't likely be due to poor recruiting or a lack of talent, but because it is in rebuilding mode. Hofstra returns only five players from last season, meaning eight new faces dot the roster. This might be a positive for a team that went a woeful 7-25 last season, and only had four conference wins. Stephen Nwaukoni (6.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is one of the guts hoping to make his senior campaign a positive one. Mihalich brought two talented players with him from Niagara in Juan'ya Green (16.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Ameen Tanksley (11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg), and both be eligible next season. As a result, Hofstra will likely be a player in the CAA in a year or two.