Tomorrow, July 1st, will be a day of change for many athletic conferences, and the Colonial Athletic Association is no exception. The College of Charleston will join the CAA, while George Mason, Georgia State and Old Dominion will exit. We’ll discuss C of C (get used to the shorthand) at a later date. For now, we’ll discuss 2013-2014 for the three teams exiting the CAA, prospectively.
The 2012-2013 George Mason Patriots did exactly what you want a team without seniors to do. A deep postseason run gave them experience, and allowed them to play 38 games. A new wave of stars emerged in the form of a talented junior class that gives the Patriots a bright future in their move to the Atlantic 10.
As many predicted, rising senior Sherrod Wright (16.6 points, 4.9 rebounds per game) took a huge step forward. Wright led the team with 47 3-pointers, and was effective as the go-to player and closer. Frequently though, Wright was the only Patriot who consistently put the ball in the basket. During the first few months of the season, he was the only guy Paul Hewitt could trust to contribute on nightly basis.
Slowly, as players grew into their roles, that began to change. It started with Corey Edwards (4.9 points, 2.8 assists) at point guard. Edwards isn’t flashy, but takes care of the ball and makes the right play. He’s a selective shooter (shot 30-of-60 from three) who’s a solid catalyst for Mason.
Later, as a result of an injury to forward Johnny Williams (7.0 points, 4.1 rebounds), rising senior Jonathan Arledge (9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds) was inserted into the starting lineup. After scoring in double figures just once in Mason’s first 20 games, Arledge reached the mark in 12 of Mason’s final 18 games. He’s a smooth, efficient low-post scorer with a nice shooting touch out to the three-point line.
Arledge’s emergence seemed to have a positive effect on Erik Copes (5.9 points, 6.0 rebounds). The rising junior was held out of the first three games of the season, and scored in double figures just once in his first 18 games. Copes rebounded to reach get in double figures eight times in Mason’s final 16 games. Perhaps most importantly, he had some huge efforts on the glass, including a few double-digit rebounding performances.
Finally, rising senior guard Bryon Allen made massive strides in the postseason tournaments. Allen excelled as Mason’s off guard, and turned in some big performances (a couple 20-point games and a 10-point, 9-assist, 8-rebound game against Houston stick out) down the stretch. As the year went on, Allen’s offensive game grew tremendously. He can get to the rim, and flashed an improved jump shot.
Returning that foursome should give Mason the chance to compete with any team in the Atlantic 10. Additionally, expected improvements from two sophomores, stretch four Marko Gujanicic (5.3 points, 3.7 boards) and sharpshooter Patrick Holloway (5.3 points, 46 3-pointers), will make the Patriots even better.
One of the biggest problems Mason faced involved keeping Arledge and Copes on the court. The Patriots were foul-prone (20.3 fouls per game, 23rd-most in D-I). Gujanicic, a (hopefully) healthy Williams and rising junior Anali Okoloji (2.9 points, 2.6 rebounds) will give the Patriots a deep crop of post players. Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal won’t play next year, but he will provide Paul Hewitt with an extra big man in practice.
The Patriots will have two freshmen on the roster. 6’7″ forward Jalen Jenkins redshirted ’12-’13. Ryan Kish at GMUHoops documented Jenkins’ progress as a redshirt. Shooting guard Marquis Moore originally committed to Mo Cassara at Hofstra, and was a late addition to Hewitt’s class. Moore’s senior season drew rave reviews, and he looks like a potential steal for the Patriots.
The Patriots lost two transfers. They will miss Vertrail Vaughns’ three-point shooting ability and Paris Bennett’s leadership, but the growth of the underclassmen should more than compensate for those losses. The Patriots return the key pieces from a team that played good defense and rebounded well. If they can consistently bring the balanced offense they played in the CBI, the Patriots will compete for a top five spot in the A-10.
Third-year head coach Ron Hunter and the Georgia State Panthers will return the primary pieces from one of the CAA’s most dangerous teams. They will also mix in at least one skilled transfer. The coach’s son RJ Hunter (17 points, 5.1 rebounds, 36.5% from three) is one of the nation’s best returning freshman. Hunter will pair with a veteran senior core that should vie for the Sun Belt championship from day one.
Hunter set the CAA ablaze last year. On the same day Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring, the younger Hunter sprang himself into school and conference record books. In a 38-point outburst against Old Dominion, Hunter hit 10 3-pointers, which tied former George Mason guard Dre Smith’s CAA record.
But the Panthers have more than just their pair of Hunters. Rising senior Devonta “Tay” White (14.8 points, 3.9 assists) put together a sneaky good season that flew under the radar. White scored at least nine points in all 31 of Georgia State’s games. He’s a pesky defender who can play both guard positions and score in a variety of ways.
Manny Atkins (14.2 points, 6.7 boards), a transfer forward from Virginia Tech, was a huge coup for the Panthers. The Panther offense frequently ran through the versatile Atkins, who shot 41.2% from three. He’s a mismatch who can work inside and out.
Georgia State lost center James Vincent (4.8 points, 4.9 rebounds), an All-CAA defender, to graduation. Vincent helped fill the shot-blocking void left by Eric Buckner, and finished with the second-most blocks (70) in the conference. Hunter the Elder is hoping that redshirt junior Curtis Washington can step in as the primary big man.
Washington spent his first two seasons at Southern Cal, but injuries kept him from playing significant minutes. Because he’s played so little in the past three years, Hunter will need to exercise patience with Washington. At 6’9” and 240 pounds, he can be a difference maker for State. Rising sophomore Markus Crider (3.7 points, 3.2 rebounds) had a productive freshman year. An undersized forward at 6’6″, Crider held his own against bigger post players. He should see a significant uptick in minutes.
For State, the biggest question currently revolves around the eligibility of another player. Ryan Harrow, formerly of North Carolina State and Kentucky, has transferred to Georgia State to be closer to his ailing father. The point guard could be granted immediate eligibility and have two years of eligibility remaining, or be denied and have just one season (which would be in ’14-’15) left. Last season, Harrow averaged 9.9 points and 2.8 assists for Kentucky.
If Harrow is ineligible, more responsibilities will fall to senior shooting guard Rashaad Richardson (7.3 points, 36% from three), who was somewhat of an x-factor for State last year. Richardson can score in bunches, but there are too many stretches where you forget he’s on the court. Richardson needs to stay aggressive, because with Hunter, White and Atkins keeping opposing defenses occupied, his opportunities will be there.
Beyond that, the Panthers’ rotation remains unclear. Senior Denny Berguillos will likely battle sophomore T.J. Shipes for playing time in the post. Incoming freshmen Isaiah Dennis and Jaylen Hinton will learn under the tutelage of White, and will compete for minutes. Ryan Green, Kevin Shaw, and LaRon Smith didn’t play much last season, but will be in the mix for playing time this year.
Most of the time, you can expect the Panthers to employ a smaller lineup that can get up and down the court. Aside from Washington, most of the Panther bigs are only 6’6″-6’7″. They will need to use their speed as an asset. They might be closer to the ’11-’12 team that was fourth nationally in steals per game.
Despite turning over half the roster between Hunter’s first and second year, Georgia State had 7.7 steals per game (59th nationally). As Panther Talk’s Chris Hillyard points out, Hunter’s teams at IUPUI had an affliction for the trifecta. Look for the Panthers to create many transition opportunities.
I don’t know much about Sun Belt basketball, but I do know that Middle Tennessee State, the team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, will now be in Conference USA. Western Kentucky won the conference tournament, and returns its top two scorers. South Alabama, a team Georgia State beat in November, returns one of college hoops’ hidden gems in forward Augustine Rubit. Joe Lunardi seems to like Arkansas State.
Without Harrow, I think R.J. Hunter is good enough to help Georgia State contend for the Sun Belt championship. And with an eligible Harrow, I think the Panthers would be a popular pick to win the league.
The final squad exiting the CAA, the Old Dominion Monarchs, leaves as one of the conference’s most accomplished programs. The ’13-’14 Monarchs, now led by first-year head coach Jeff Jones, will be much different than the Monarchs of old. Even so, ODU should be a much better team than the 5-25 team we saw last year.
The Monarchs will be without their top scorer from a year ago. DeShawn Painter (13.0 points, 8.4 rebounds) gave the Monarchs one great season, and will now play professionally in Belgium. Furthermore, the NCAA has deemed that Donte Hill’s participation in eight minutes of a closed scrimmage in 2010 was worth an entire year of eligibility. Old Dominion also graduated co-captain Nick Wright (6.7 points, 4.3 boards), who fought through an assortment of ailments and injuries in his final season.
The Monarchs showed marked improvement in February. After the midseason coaching switch that put Jim Corrigan in charge for Old Dominion’s final eight games, rising junior guard Dimitri Batten (10.3 points) gained a newfound confidence. Batten, who scored 23 points in the December win over Virginia, averaged 15.8 points under Corrigan.
Batten is a gunner with a world of offensive ability. The key for Batten is consistency – his three-point shot tends to be erratic, but he did shoot 40.4% from three in ’11-’12. That’s an area where Old Dominion needs help, as the Monarchs made just 27.3% of their 3-pointers (340th in D-I) last season.
Fellow junior Richard Ross (7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) also played much better under Corrigan. We’ve long recognized his athletic ability, and it’s beginning to come into fruition. Ross showed the ability to become a game-changer on defense, and has a knack for highlight-reel dunks. He’ll be ODU’s only big man with experience, so they’ll lean on him heavily.
The freshmen were thrown the wolves, and didn’t get the opportunity to redshirt like most of Taylor’s previous classes. Keenan Palmore was an All-CAA Rookie selection who averaged 8.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. Classmate Aaron Bacote (7.8 points, 2.6 assists) was also productive, and scored in double figures in four of ODU’s final six games. Deion Clark (4.9 points) was injured and played sporadically. They’re a talented group that got more experience that most freshmen ever do.
Jones also scored his first big transfer in the form of Trey Freeman, the’11-’12 Big South Rookie of the Year. Freeman is a 6’2” point guard who averaged 14.3 points and 5.8 assists for Campbell last year. The Virginia Beach native will likely sit out the upcoming season, but could petition for a waiver. He’ll have two years of collegiate eligibility remaining.
Jones managed to retain Taylor’s three committments from the class of 2013. 6’7” forward Denzell Taylor played his high school ball at the renowned St. Benedict’s Prep. 6’3” guard Jordan Baker (Hampton) and 6’5” wing Ramone Snowden (Kellam) are both talented local kids. Retaining ties with the local high schools will be huge for Jones in the future.
With the loss of Painter and Wright, some young Monarchs will need to step up and help out in this area. Redshirt freshman Ekene Anachebe (6’9″, 265 pounds) has the size to contribute in the frontcourt. Taylor and Anachebe will be thrust into large roles early. The Monarchs averaged a spectacular 13.0 offensive rebounds, the fourth most in D-I. However, they averaged just 21.1 defensive rebounds (228th in D-I), which presents a bigger problem.
ODU’s normally stifling defense allowed an uncharacteristic 70.9 points per game. The three-point shooting was a twofold problem, as the Monarchs allowed opponents to shoot 39.1% from three. As the young guards become more experienced, the perimeter shooting should improve, and the three-point shooting woes should even out as well.
Unfortunately, Old Dominion will still be young next year. Without Hill, sparsely used center Anton Larsen will be ODU’s lone senior. Last season, they were bereft in leadership, but not in talent. Losing Hill hurts in that department, but they still have fourth-year juniors in Batten and Ross. That’s a welcome staple from the Blaine Taylor regime.
The Monarchs will join six other newcomers in the wide-open Conference USA Basketball landscape. Gone is long-time stalwart Memphis. Southern Mississippi, a team that just missed the NCAAT last year, is Lunardi’s favorite to win a conference that will be as intriguing as it is unpredictable.
With improved perimeter defense and a bit more luck shooting the three, the Monarchs could be a surprise team in the C-USA. The more likely scenario is a year of significant growth, which would give ODU a chance to contend in ’14-’15.