Know this now. It’s going to be a weird year in the CAA. No better word exists.
Here’s what we know: VCU graduated four seniors off its Final Four team. ODU lost four seniors and its best returning player is hurt. Mason has a new coach for the first time since before the turn of the century and also lost three (and maybe four) key components to its NCAA at large bid team.
Hofstra replaces two-time CAA player of the year Charles Jenkins. UNCW has eight heralded freshmen. JMU has a stud transfer but likely lost its best player until near Christmas. There’s more, but that’s half the league so you get the point.
Summation: the last time some combination of ODU, Mason, and VCU were not two of the top four seeds in the CAA tournament was the 1999-2000 season. That scenario, 11 seasons old and predating the America East teams joining the conference, is very much in play. As I mentioned in a text to one of my favorite people in the league the other day, this is the year where nothing is off the table.
What’s more, the hyphen between 2011 and 2012 will matter. The amount of talent “entering the league” after the first semester is astounding. January will look very different from November.
Kent Bazemore and Chris Fouch, both all conference players last year, are expected to return from injuries sometime in December. Devon Moore at JMU and Richard Ross at ODU are back from academics issues, and Clemson transfer Donte Hill becomes eligible for Blaine Taylor. Depending upon the legal process and what Paul Hewitt chooses for punishment, Mason may get Andre Cornelius back in the same time period.
That’s only what we know today. So yes, weird. And it makes us anticipate the season even more.
There’s a couple things to know.
As usual we’re taking a different tack. The goal is to help you think about the things that may shape the season. Therefore, we’ve (mostly) avoided no-duh comments like “stay healthy” and “shoot the three well” being keys to a good season. You know those things, so we’re trying to help you find the margins.
And as always we try to have a little fun. Lighten up, Francis.
Last Season: 21-10 (11-7). Lost in CAA Tournament Quarterfinals to VCU.
Contributors Checking Out: Gerald Colds.
Notable Check Ins: Four starters and the entire bench, however short, return. Freshmen Damion Lee and Kazembe Abif are expected to challenge for time immediately. Drexel is the only CAA team to return its scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks leader.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Chris Fouch and Samme Givens grab the headlines, but eyeball Derrick Thomas. DT is a shutdown defender, and Penn (23 points on 3-3 threes) and VCU (13 points, 3-5 threes) found out he can score. In fact, Thomas scored double figures in three of their final five games and Bruiser Flint says that Drexel’s good February had a lot to do with Thomas’s good February.
It’s A Good Season If: Chris Fouch is practicing in February. That means he’s healthy and shooting in rhythm, especially after his knee caused a late start. Drexel needs a gunner to be gunning when the season begins plodding. Also, Dartaye Ruffin needs to be as-good as his freshman year, which is doable, and Frantz Massenat needs to be better. Finally, Darryl McCoy needs to make as many field goals as fouls committed. Last year that was a 109/73 win for the referees.
It’s A Bad Season If: Samme Givens scores less than double figures. Givens has the help on the backboards so we’re not worried if he rebounds at an 8.0rpg clip. However the Dragons have no real proven baseline scoring threat, and that’s where they make their dough. If Givens isn’t scoring all those ball screens won’t mean much because nobody fears the dump pass into the post.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Massenat. He carried that guard cocky we love last year as a freshman and that’s always enjoyable. It will be interesting to see the carryover effect.
Thermometer: The Dragons are just like a gym—hot spots and cold spots and a specific smell to them, but you feel very good about where you are. I just like their vibe this year. Note this: they’ve increased their win total for four straight seasons, and the stagnant offense? They’ve increased their points per possession for three straight years, from an abysmal 0.868 to 0.979.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: First. We love that Drexel is such a consistent team with the most natural Gaussian curve of any team in the league. Add to that the fact that they only lost Gerald Colds and you have a consistent team with all its players coming back, along with a point guard with a full year under his belt. For Bruiser, though, it may not matter if they finish 2nd-5th. It’s what happens March 2nd-5th.
Last Season: 27-7 (16-2). Lost in NCAA third round to Ohio State.
Contributors Checking Out: Cam Long, Luke Hancock, Isaiah Tate, Rashad Whack
Notable Check Ins: Sherrod Wright is back after a redshirt due to injury. All reports are very positive on Wright’s comeback, and people forget Wright scored double figures in three of Mason’s five games two seasons ago. Vertrail Vaughans should see regular minutes in his sophomore year, important since he led the team with a 40-minute adjusted 19.1ppg and nobody knows when we see Andre Cornelius, if at all. Eric Copes is already a college defender, which will earn the freshman playing time.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: The first thing you game plan for is not allowing their front court to dominate you. But Vaughans can shoot the opponent right out of the game. “Get a hand in his face” isn’t a strategy, because Vaughans has a hair trigger.
It’s A Good Season If: Copes doesn’t play that much. That would mean sophomore Jon Arledge has rounded into form as Paul Hewitt’s third frontcourt option. Cornelius or Vaughans needs to post a 70/40 from beyond the arc (70 makes, 40% accuracy). The Patriots should approach their efficiency numbers from last year. It is almost impossible to duplicate them–they scored at least one point on 76.4% of their possessions overall—but getting close is a good thing.
It’s A Bad Season If: Chemistry doesn’t develop. Hewitt is new, the culture is new, Cornelius’s legal issues are a distraction, Johnny Williams’s bum shoulder matters, and what they lost in terms of leadership was important. Long and Hancock were steadying forces as well as producers. Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison, and Cornelius have been through a lot—66-33 together. They need to carry on the leading and producing.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Pearson. He’s a lefty, shoots from funky angles, falls all over the place, is bearded, and plays with an interesting mix of intensity and soap opera drama. But he gets it done. He’s just fun to watch.
Thermometer: The Patriots are like that old mercury thermometer your mom used to use. You know, the one where she’d spin it in her hands for five minutes looking for that barely-discernible hologram to see if you were sick? Yeah, that’s them. They have as much talent as anyone in the conference and coming off an NCAA tournament win, but there is so much new in so many areas, it’s impossible to gauge a feel. It will be interesting to watch their season unfold.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Second. Despite the unknowns, they have all that talent and that matters. And you cannot underestimate three seniors with 99 games. Coming into the New Year, Mason hosts William & Mary and has three roadies at ODU, Drexel, and JMU (along with a homer GaState). That will tell us a lot about them.
Last Season: 28-12 (12-6). Lost in NCAA Final Four to Butler.
Contributors Checking Out: Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon, Brandon Rozzell.
Notable Check Ins: Two freshmen have impressed in early season workouts: Briante Webber and Treveon Graham. Webber makes the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny look like a librarian, and Graham is one of those guys that puts the ball in the basket. Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg are interesting talents ready for 20+ minutes.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Brad Burgess is my choice for CAA player of the year, so duh. But you’d better keep an eye peeled to Reddic at the elbow. His ability to step out to 15 feet makes VCU tougher to guard in the halfcourt. Also, Troy Daniels has big inning shooting ability.
It’s A Good Season If: Daniels becomes Brandon Rozzell. The Rams replace four of their top five three point marksmen (214 total threes made) and they need a guy that scares opponents to death. Also—and this may surprise you—VCU was eighth in the conference with 63.7 possessions per game in CAA matchups. The key end result to havoc is extra possessions. VCU needs four more per game.
It’s A Bad Season If: Darius Theus tries to be anybody but Darius Theus. He’s big and rangy and a defender who takes care of the basketball. That’s not exactly the calling cards of Joey Rodriguez, Eric Maynor, or BA Walker. Theus needs his assist to turnover ratio to remain the same but shoot a little better than 4-28 from three. Also, the obvious is obvious for a reason: any Final Four entitlement will lead to bad losses.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Brandenberg. The kid is a walking air hockey game, bouncing all over the place and bringing energy to everyone who gets near him. The part I love most: you never really know what he’s going to do next—think about that loose ball three near the end of the first half of the USC game.
Thermometer: As you can expect, boiling hot. It’s a never-ending beach party in Richmond right now, and it should be. Even halitosis is a good thing. But there’s a cold front sweeping in from the west and the mercury is likely to fall. So will spirits after the inevitable puzzling loss. That banana peel game happens to every team every year. Everyone has their own reaction versus expectations. Three of the past four years 12-6 has captured third place. What does that number mean?
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Third. We’re not concerned with the points, or the rebounds, or the assists or leadership that has graduated. The interesting item for me is how much creativity still exists on this team. Jamie Skeen gave Smart options. The bigs will have to establish something low to free up the ability of Daniels to loosen up lane-cloggers.
Last Season: 21-12 (10-8). Lost in CBI first round to Davidson.
Contributors Checking Out: Denzel Bowles, Chad Jackson, Ben Louis.
Notable Check Ins: AJ Davis is a Wyoming transfer getting a ton of love. A report from practice last year said Davis was the best player on the floor. Enoch Hood is a 6-8 freshman and exactly what Matt Brady needs—an infusion of get-after-it. Trevon Flores has a chance to check in. We’ll see.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: This is an interesting team, because you have to game plan a lot of individual talents: Julius Wells and Humpty Hitchens can shoot, Ray Goins is a load on the block, etc. I imagine you cannot underestimate Devon Moore’s ability to make other players better. Kind of like cutting off the head of the beast, if you remain disciplined on defense and don’t allow the other guys to get the ball in comfortable spots, you’re ahead of the game.
It’s A Good Season If: Julius Wells plays a more efficient game. Oh he can score, but he needs more points on fewer shots. Also, if Alioune Diouf gets redshirted. That means other players (like Flores) took care of business and Brady doesn’t feel he needs to try Diouf. Finally, if Flores (6-10), Gene Swindle (6-11), and freshman Kenyan Pittman (6-10) have spirited practice battles. The minutes are there for the taking.
It’s A Bad Season If: Dr. Phil is given a phone call prior to the first of the year. There are no basketball reasons why JMU should not be at the top of the conference. They neeeeeeeed Devon Moore to be a leader, more so than they need points, rebounds, and assists. Moore has to be that guy before he gets onto the floor.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Andrey Semenov. The Rowdy Russian admits to flopping, is a pain in the arse, but has legit skills. He hides nothing either—no matter how he feels it’s written on his face.
Thermometer: The Dukes are a bag of microwave popcorn. You can feel the heat on the outside but have no real idea of what’s inside. Be careful putting your face in front of them, for the steam will burn you. There is a palpable WANT TO WIN with everyone associated with the program, and they know they have the horses. It’s quite a feeling of anticipation of what happens if they can get the bag open without being burned.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Fourth. You’re going to read a lot about JMU this preseason, and during the season. They will be called everything from the 1990s Chicago Bulls to the Bobcats in the Harrisonburg Youth Recreational League. It will all be exactly right and exactly wrong. There you go.
Last Season: 27-7 (14-4). Lost in NCAA second round to Butler.
Contributors Checking Out: Frank Hassell, Darius James, Ben Finney, Keyon Carter
Notable Check Ins: Donte Hill (2nd semester) is a Clemson transfer and can fill the defensive wing spot from the graduated Finney; Richard Ross (2nd semester) is a freak athlete whose ability can lead to garbage points and fun dunks; Dmitri Batten and Breon Key are, in the words of Taylor, “fetching” athletes.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: It begins and ends with Bazemore, but keep a close eye on Chris Cooper. Early reports say he is playing awfully well and Blaine Taylor is somewhat familiar with firing the ball into the post. Trian Illiadis is also better than he gets credit for.
It’s A Good Season If: Anton Larsen begins his journey, The Life of Sam Harris. Taylor—and it’s weird typing this—is thin on the baseline. Larsen with significant playing time is a bit of a desperation move. ODU fans would surely rather see Chris Cooper become a beast and Nick Wright emerge as a dependable role player. With Ross and freshman Jason Pimentel filling in, there’s no need for the Great Dane. Also, if Trian Illiadis becomes the guy everybody thought he was for three seasons. As mentioned Illiadis already contributes more than it looks. A few deep swishes changes this team.
It’s A Bad Season If: ODU remains ninth in the conference in turnovers forced (11.1 tpg). The Monarchs don’t have that giant zone, and they certainly won’t repeat last season’s rebounding domination. Look at their strength: Maquel Delancey, Key, Hill, and of course Kent Bazemore. All are harassing on ball defenders. I’d expect to see ODU more aggressive on the perimeter to force more open court turnovers this season if they are to be successful. And of course Bazemore’s foot.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: I’ve always liked the way Delancey comports himself on the court, but Nick Wright is my favorite. Wright is built like a dogwood tree but plays like a can of Five Hour Energy. All those arms and knees and grins flying everywhere make him enjoyable to watch.
Thermometer: ODU is like the kid who is perfectly healthy but doesn’t want to go to school to take a test he didn’t study for, so he puts the thermometer on the light bulb. Mom doesn’t buy his 182 degree temperature and it’s off to school. What I mean is that ODU is very healthy but something’s up—a short term illness they’re perhaps hoping to get the rest of the CAA to buy. They have no choice but to play this CAA season and get tested, but they’re probably fine anyway.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Fifth. The Monarchs are usually dreadfully boring during the offseason. Not so much this summer with Bazemore, Ross, a shave, and even a JuCo signing and a walk on who will dress. Everybody likes to talk about ODU being better in February, but did you realize they are 16-4 the past two Januarys? That’s my concern.
WILLIAM & MARY
Last Season: 10-22 (4-14). Lost in CAA quarterfinals to Hofstra.
Contributors Checking Out: Marcus Kitts
Notable Check Ins: Here’s what you need to know about freshman Marcus Thornton—I named him the CAA newcomer of the year in my Blue Ribbon write up. OK—one more thing. Another CAA coach told me “you’re going to love that kid. He’s gooooood.” I heard good reports about 6-8 freshman Tom Schalk this fall, but I’m not sure the minutes will be there.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: The Mighty Quinn is the man, and you don’t want to let Brandon Britt drive; however Julian Boatner intrigues me. He can certainly shoot so you need to respect that, but word is that he’s gotten stronger so he won’t be physically overmatched when he drives this year. Ah, versatility.
It’s A Good Season If: A new album comes out, titled Fifth of Beasthoven. Five, as in five more points and rebounds per game from Tim Rusthoven. A 10/8 from Beasthoven gives Tony Shaver the baseline production he needs to free up all that guard talent. Also, if Ken Brown becomes a kid again. Brown was at his best in his freshman season, and Shaver could use a repeat performance. Same thing for Matt Rum and Kyle Gailliard. And finally, even though these things aren’t tracked, JohnMark Ludwick needs his minutes to approach 50/50 for the time spent inside and outside the three point line.
It’s A Bad Season If: The College has so much guard depth it’s tough to find a hole. I’m thinking the worst thing that could happen to them is to hire Pat Kennedy as their bus driver. Seriously, they will need Beasthoven, Ludwick, Fred Heldring to play much bigger so they don’t get pushed around. A big rebounding disparity spells doom, because you need the ball to shoot the ball. Last year: a CAA worst 44.9 rebounding percentage n conference games. ODU was a better offensive rebounding team than W&M was overall.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Beasthoven all the way. He looks like the kid who rode his bike four miles to get to the gym, laces up his canvas Chuck Taylors, and ambles onto the court with his floppy hair and raggedy-ass t-shirt. Then he wears you out.
Thermometer: The Pugs remind me of the old Heinz commercial—sing it with me—anticipation. There’s such great anticipation in the ‘Burg for what can be, and everybody is ready for it. Shaver has to hope the burger doesn’t get cold waiting. At St. John’s is a compelling opener, and Richmond at home a good litmus test. But people like what the Pugs look like.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Sixth. William & Mary got a glimpse two seasons ago, but here’s a data point for you: David Schneider led them in rebounding 13 times that season. That’s perhaps what The Mighty Quinn needs to do in order live up to advance billing. Or Kendrix Brown, who will play the three more. Brown did so late last year and it was helpful.
Last Season: 14-17 (8-10). Lost in CAA quarterfinals to Old Dominion.
Contributors Checking Out: Jawan Carter, Alphonso Dawson, Brian Johnson, DJ Boney.
Notable Check Ins: Jarvis Threatt is a 6-1 combo guard and a Parade All American and Kyle Anderson is 6-3 and a deadly shooter. Both freshmen will play, and keep an eye on freshman Khalid Lewis-El. He defends, and most freshmen can’t.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins are as good a high/low combo as the conference offers. But Josh Brinkley cannot be forgotten. Brinkley grabbed 13 rebounds against Mason and then went 18/6 against JMU before his season ended with an injury. Brinkley can burn, if he can suit up.
It’s A Good Season If: The Macks do their thing. Hakim McCullar is a block of granite and a superior post defender, and Kelvin McNeil is a weapon because he can do a little bit of everything. Monte Ross just has not had baseline consistency, and those two can make life much easier for Hagins. Coach cliché alert: the freshmen guards can’t play like freshmen. Threatt and Anderson can give the Hens a Fightin’ chance. For all the squawkin’ about Jawan Carter and their shooting, Delaware was terrible offensively last year, scoring 0.97 points per possession, 11th in the league. The Hens shot 41.6%, dead last in the CAA.
It’s A Bad Season If: We said we’d eschew using injuries as an excuse, but really it applies to Delaware. Only four players played all 31 games last year. Also, the Hens have to avoid red carpet syndrome: if any combination of three players stand outside the ropes and watch the immensely talented duo of Saddler and Hagins try to win games, the offense will again bog down.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: I appreciate Saddler as much as anyone in the conference, but the favorite is Hagins. He’s so fluid for a man his size, swooping like a hawk all over the court. His best blocks come when you’ve forgotten he’s on the court and his dunks are flushes.
Thermometer: Picture a kettle of water you just put on the stove. The water is tepid, but once the heat source gets to action, things heat up in a hurry. This is the season for the steam, or the hot seat may belong to Ross.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Seventh. The Hens could easily break into the top four; they have the talent and the versatility. One stat to watch: the CAA is chock full of two possession games at the under four media timeout. Players leaving the program shot 80% from the stripe, while returning players were 239-384 for 62.2%.
Last Season: 11-20 (6-12). Lost in CAA Opening Round to Delaware.
Contributors Checking Out: Chase Allen, Vinny Lima.
Notable Check Ins: Alwayne Bigby only played seven games last year before being shelved and redshirted. His return is huge. Kashief Edwards is a Niagara transfer and a senior. He averaged 12.4ppg and 6.6rpg and will make a difference. Quincy Ford (6-8) and Reggie Spencer (6-7) will play.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Jon Lee and Joel Smith are shooters and scorers. And while Bigby is scoutable, my money is on Kauri Black. Problem is Black’s interest level: if he comes to play, look out. Black picked up his first career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds against Boston University, and in middle February had a 12/11 double-double against Delaware.
It’s A Good Season If: Black is locked in every night. Coen will call it consistency but what he’s really saying is Black’s effort on a game-over-game basis. If Bigby can get to double figures, or Spencer, or Ford, or Edwards, it portends well. Folks will overplay on Lee and Smith and you have to give them a different fear. Also, if Ryan Pierson has twice as many rebounds as fouls, and he’d better foul out a few times.
It’s A Bad Season If: Jon Lee averages more points than last year (11.8). NU needs someone to direct the offense, and Lee is the man. His 2.8 assists needs to get near five. Now, Lee needs to score—he broke a school record for three point percentage and he has to continue shooting—but he also has to direct. Also—and I feel like we write this every year—if any of the five guys with a shot to make a difference in the frontcourt don’t drink a cup of rattlesnake juice every day. NU could use a guy to throw an opponent into the sixth row.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Bigby. Hr reminds me of Ed Nixon from VCU. Just does his job, no complaints. Defends his butt off, and has waited patiently for the opportunity to be a part of the offense. Love guys like that: tell me what you want me to do, coach.
Thermometer: The Huskies are the Magic Eight Ball of the CAA. Shake it up, and you’ll get a different answer every time. Makes for an interesting outlook. Last season was the official pass—you don’t replace Janning, Adako, Ojougboh and company without a drop off. This season—all promise, all questions, and all talent. CAAHoops thinks NU is better than you think. Remember, they were 6-4 in their last 10 CAA games.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Eighth. Lee’s last 12 games: double figures in 11, averaging 17.0 ppg, and 46 assists and 33 turnovers. They have “that guy” and you need to learn his name. But it’s going to be defense and rebounding. The Huskies, for lack of a better term, were bad defensively last year. They were 337th nationally, giving up 1.092 points per possession. They were also 327th in field goal percentage defense (47.4%) and 314th in rebounding percentage (47.1%).
Last Season: 13-18 (7-11). Lost in CAA Opening Round to Georgia State.
Contributors Checking Out: Chad Tomko, Ahmad Grant, Darryl Felder.
Notable Check Ins: How much time do you have? Of the eight freshmen, the flowery language is most used on Craig Ponder (who benches around 300 pounds though a 6-0 point guard), Freddie Jackson, Nate Anderson, and Adam Smith. KK Simmons looks good, too. Ditto Cedrick Williams. Wait, that’s six of them. How much time do you have again?
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Keith Rendleman is the heart and soul of the team and Trevor DeLoach can fill it up when locked in, but I’d keep an eye on Tanner Milson. The Hawks were 3-1 in the four games Milson, a deadly shooter, scored double figures—GW was blitzed for 25 points and Wake Forest saw five threes drop in their faces. Buzz Peterson says Milson won’t have ballhandling responsibilities this year, either.
It’s A Good Season If: The Plain Names make a name on the blocks. Peterson would love to get the ball low to get high percentage shots. Anderson, Williams, and Matt Wilson must establish themselves defensively and at least play enough offense to be paid attention to. That’s important for Rendleman’s freedom and health, too. In the backcourt, the pups have to play above their years: Jackson, Ponder, and Simmons will require stability.
It’s A Bad Season If: A game of Family Feud breaks out, and much of this is on Peterson. Other than Rendleman, no spot on the team is guaranteed and that includes Deloach. If the freshman begin to play very well and eat up the minutes of the upperclassmen and even Milson, how the old guys respond could make or break this team? On the other hand, if the freshmen play like freshmen and commit boneheaded mistakes or are wholly inconsistent, Peterson has to resist the urge to pull out his nicely-coiffed hair.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Rendleman. He just goes about his business whether UNCW is winning by 30 or losing by 30. He works for his position and never seems to be out of position, and reports say he is taking the role of leader seriously—something that could not be said for Chad Tomko.
Thermometer: It’s sunup at Wrightsville and the tide is coming in. The salad days in Trask are not that far in the past where they don’t remember the feeling of winning championships. Peterson won seven games with a vastly undertalented roster last year, and that got the tongues yapping. UNCW fans have read the weather reports, and they feel good about what’s on the horizon.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Ninth. Peterson has a cadre of new talent, but that’s the issue—they are babies in a conference that seems to reward experience with victories. Plus, right now all that talent and ability is press clippings. Who knows what the transition to college brings? So we like their future, especially considering they won seven games last year with a less-talented team. But there’s no honest justification for anything higher.
Last Season: 21-12 (14-4). Lost in CBI First Round to Evansville.
Contributors Checking Out: Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington, Brad Kelleher, Yves Jules.
Notable Check Ins: Nat Lester returns from a quad injury that cost him last season. Lester, a senior, was already a physical specimen, and Cassara called him “a beast” in August. Point guard Stevie Mejia (5-9 junior) led the A10 in assist-to-turnover ratio before transferring and now he hits the HUArena. Bryant Crowder (6-10 junior) fills the Greg Washington role of skinny tall guy who can block shots. Moussa Kone is a junk yard dog kind of a player and could earn time as a freshman.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Mike Moore is a top notch scorer and Mejia’s playmaking reputation precedes him. Also, it’s easy to see David Imes and his impact on tape. However for my money, Lester is scary. He probably has benefited more than anyone since Cassara took over the program and has experience, maturity, and a high skill level to make a difference. Lester could be Hofstra’s Samme Givens.
It’s A Good Season If: The cards are shuffled and Cassara is dealt a very similar hand. You don’t replace Charles Jenkins, but getting Moore to be That Guy, Mejia to run the offense, Imes to improve, and a solid contribution from an unknown guy (like Imes last year) is a winning hand. Also, if old trumps new: though the Pride aren’t necessarily experienced, the projected starting lineup includes fifth-year seniors Lester (23) and Moore (22), as well as fourth-year juniors Meija and Imes, who turned 22 within two days of each other in August.
It’s A Bad Season If: Mejia is overwhelmed and Cassara is slow to go to Dwan McMillan. Hofstra was one of the nation’s best at not beating themselves last year. The Pride was tops in the CAA and eighth nationally in turnover rate (15.3%) and shot 76.1% from the line, including 80.7% in conference games. Also, if Crowder fizzles, Lester struggles, and Imes maintains status quo, HU is very suspect at the rim.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: Shemiye McLendon. He did not display the demeanor of a freshman last year and scored in double figures in two of his first three college games on Charles Jenkins’s team. Coaches hate to coach effort, and that’s not a problem with McLendon. He’s the kind of kid that if he has talent hidden inside him, it will come out eventually.
Thermometer: The Pride are the back porch thermometer that hangs next to the bird feeder. You look outside and think “no way it’s that hot.” But six months later you look at say “no way it’s that cold.” You start analyzing the sun beating down on it, or the lack of sun, or the wind, or the rain, or what your Uncle Dave told you is the precise temperature differential. But here’s the deal: you never know until you walk outside. People think all kinds of things about Hofstra, but the end result last year was 14-4.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Tenth. The Dutchmen could easily be a top five team, but for me there are too many unknowns. Life After Jenkins is as challenging as it sounds, Lester is coming back from a year off, Mejia is brand new to the clock-running portion of HU basketball, and collectively Moore, Imes, Crowder, and McLendon all need to increase their roles. That isn’t easy.
Last Season: 12-19 (6-12). Lost in CAA Tournament Quarterfinals to Mason.
Contributors Checking Out: Marques Johnson, Dante Curry, Harold Doby, Javonte Maynor
Notable Check Ins: New head coach Ron Hunter may be the biggest. We loved Rod Barnes, but his substitution patterns were, using the nicest possible word, puzzling. Jordan DeMercy (a senior) is a Florida State transfer who goes 6-6 and can play in the open floor. Tony Kimbro Jr., is an attacking freshman who was rated the #51 shooting guard by ESPN.com.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Eric Buckner is probably the best player in the conference you never read about. And while Brandon McGee has shown the ability to score, Devonta White is the fuel that will make the Panthers run. White is a giddyup point guard who had eight games with three or more assists in the 11 games prior to a very bad ankle injury.
It’s A Good Season If: Georgia State improves just a little bit taking care of the basketball. Hunter wants to go up tempo, and the Panthers were dead last in the conference in turnovers (13.6 per game) and turnover rate (21% of its possessions). They scored at least one point on only 62.6% of its possessions and scored 0.93 points per possession, also dead last. They can turn the ball over at an equal rate, but the extra possessions created by pace will lead to easy baskets and more points.
It’s A Bad Season If: James Vincent averages 12/9. Vincent is a plodding, old school big man. That doesn’t make Vincent a bad player, just not suited to what Hunter wants to do. Also, they need to buy in. There are nine upperclassmen on the roster, and even if they haven’t been successful, they are used to a certain way of doing things. A slow start will dampen a needed buy in.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: I enjoy watching White sprint into the frontcourt, but Josh Micheaux is an interesting study. He’s the kind of player that Chris Berman would gleefully shout “rumbling, bumbling, stumbling down the floor” on NFLPrimetime (about 15 years ago back when that show was watchable). Somehow, though, Micheaux ends up with the basketball, or a layup.
Thermometer: There is a thermometer salesman at their front door, espousing the benefits of knowing what the temperature is before you go outside. Georgia State has never really had a thermometer, but that’s exactly what they have in Hunter. The new coach will bring a culture change and a feel of enthusiasm into everything they do. We’re not quite to the point of expectations, other than baby steps forward. But they have something to look forward to now.
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Eleventh. It’s a numbers game, really. Georgia State has never reached .500 in its six years in the CAA, and the Panthers have bested 5-13 only twice. Throw in a lagging offense, middling guard play, and a new coach, and there’s no justification for picking them higher.
Last Season: 4-26 (0-18). Lost in CAA Tournament Opening Round to Drexel.
Contributors Checking Out: Isaiah Philmore, Braxton Dupree, Brian Morris, Josh Brown, Dre Conner, Troy Franklin, Danny Quinn.
Notable Check Ins: Like in Major League, you’re left with “who are these guys?” Robert Nwankwo returns for his senior season after redshirting last year. Nwankwo earned All Defensive team honors two years ago. Freshman Jervon Pressley, who originally committed to Georgia State, is expected to play the bulk of the minutes at the four. Marcus Damas goes 6-7 and can play on the wing—a versatility Pat Skerry will need. And Kris Walden is leading right now for the point guard slot, alongside returnee Ray Polk.
You Game Plan For, But Watch Out For: Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re going to have to watch this team grow together. Polk is a dependable player on the wing and Nwankwo a known quantity on the block. Pressley has received a ton of press clippings, and we like the ability of Walden to set up his teammates. But really, we won’t know until Skerry decides.
It’s A Good Season If: They show to every game on time. Hey, it’s a step forward. Seriously, you want to see this team gel in the way that smells of goodness. Mike Waddell and Skerry are saying all the right things and doing all the right things and the feeling is awfully positive. But Towson hasn’t lost three straight by double digits. How this team keeps pressing forward and looking like the beginnings of a program is what makes it good. Two CAA wins or five CAA wins isn’t the point. Not this year.
It’s A Bad Season If: I don’t think that exists, and that has more to do with last year than this year. This is all new, and we’ll break out the “no place to go but up” cliché. However some progress must be noted. For all the losing, Towson was competitive. They lost by double digits just twice in the season’s final 11 games when they could’ve mailed it in. So 4-14 is huge, but how they get to 4-14 may be more so.
CAAHoops Favorite Player: It’s a tie between Nwankwo and Polk. Nwankwo was a walk on who worked his way into a scholarship and impact player. He could’ve bailed on his senior season but didn’t. Same deal with Polk, who had enrolled in barber college four years ago before giving hoops one last shot. Polk just loves to play and we’re rooting he has a good senior season—he deserves it.
Thermometer: This program had all the passion of a dial tone last year. Carrying that forward, they are like the first people in line to buy iPhones a handful of years ago. They weren’t really sure what they had on their hands, but they knew it was better than what they currently had. Now they may not be able to figure it all out, but there’s a few things now to hang their hats on, and we’ll figure it out later. But it’s better!
Likely Inaccurate Forecast: Twelfth. Skerry is preaching defense and effort, saying, “the guys who bring that hard-hat mentality are the ones who are going to play. We’ve got to become a very good team defensively to have a chance.” And while a cliché it’s especially true for this team. Towson was last in the conference in two-point field goal percentage defense (52.5%), three-point field goal percentage defense (40.2%), and gave up an astounding 1.133 points per possession (342nd nationally).
We don’t need a witty closing. You have the information and if you’ve made it this far you could use a break.