The Colonial Athletic Association was the best mid-major conference in the country outside of the Missouri Valley. They had six teams finish with double-digits win in conference play, and had a great race for the regular season title. UNC-Wilmington and George Mason eventually tied for the championship at 15-3, while Hofstra finished one game back at 14-4. Old Dominion, Northeastern, and Virginia Commonwealth were all in the mix as well. The league tournament was wide-open, but it ended up being UNCW against Hofstra in the title game after the Pride defeated George Mason in the infamous Tony Skinn game. UNCW took control from the start against Hofstra and won the automatic bid. On Selection Sunday, George Mason and Hofstra both waited for their names to be called, but only George Mason's popped up onto the screen despite the Pride beating them twice in the final two weeks. We all remember the NCAA Tournament for the Colonial. UNCW lost to #8 seed George Washington in the first round, blowing a huge first-half lead. George Mason, though, took their #11 seed and rode it all the way to the Final Four, defeating the likes of North Carolina, Michigan State, Wichita State, and Connecticut before falling to eventual champion Florida. Will this season produce another Final Four team? Very unlikely. However, there are a couple of teams at the top with a shot at making some noise nationally.
Favorites: Hofstra could be one of the nation's top mid-major teams this season. After last year's disappointing Selection Sunday in which the Pride were left out in favor of George Mason, a team they beat twice in the final two weeks of the season, they will have enough motivation heading into this season. Coach Tom Pecora returns arguably the best three-man backcourt in the country in Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, and Carlos Rivera. Stokes is the preseason Colonial Player of the Year, and rightfully so. The 6-3 senior is one of the better all-around guards in the country and can carry the Pride. He is very difficult to stop when going to the basket and is efficient scoring the ball inside the arc. He is also a very good rebounder and distributor who racks up steals on the defensive end. Agudio is an outstanding shooter who could become the team's leading scorer this season. He is one of the top long-range gunners in the conference who also has a very good mid-range game. Rivera is the most underrated of the group. He is an excellent passer who takes care of the ball very well and can also score if needed. He did not commit a single turnover in the CAA Tournament last season. Greg Johnson provides depth in the backcourt. Up front, the Pride need to replace Aurimas Kieza and Adrian Uter, two dependable starters from a year ago. Chris Gadley and Mike Davis-Saab will get the first cracks. They were decent role players last season who need to step up their production this year. Arminas Urbutis and freshman Greg Washington will also fight for minutes in the frontcourt. George Mason had what will likely always be the best season in the program's history last year, receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and then making a Final Four run, beating some of the top teams in the country on their way there. While they are not likely to make a similar run this season with the loss of three starters, the Patriots could be a contender for the league championship once again. Will Thomas, the league's most dominant inside force, leads the way up front. He is a variety of moves down in the post that he uses to get points nearly every time he touches the ball. Moreover, he is a very good rebounder and one of the top defenders in the conference. Folarin Campbell is the other returning starter. The versatile 6-4 wing can play any of the perimeter positions with ease. He is a good scorer and rebounder who is capable of passing the ball and taking care of the ball-handling responsibilities. Likely to start in the starting lineup next to Campbell will be former All-Freshman selection John Vaughan, who sat out last season with a torn ACL. He’s a good shooter and scorer from behind the arc. Gabe Norwood is an outstanding athlete who will see plenty of minutes on the perimeter. JC transfer Andre Smith is expected to fight for a starting job at the point. Up front, returnee Sammy Hernandez and JC transfer Darryl Monroe will man the paint along with Thomas. Monroe could make an immediate impact.
Contenders: One team expected to make a jump from pretender to contender is Drexel. The Dragons finished tied for seventh in the conference last year, going 8-10 in the CAA and 15-16 overall. Bruiser Flint returns four starters from that team, and they could make a run this season. One of the better backcourts in the CAA leads the way. Dominick Mejia is an all-conference guard who is an excellent shooter. He is also very good at getting to the basket. Bashir Mason is an excellent defender and distributor who is able to score if needed. Scott Rodgers and Tramayne Hawthorne provide depth. Up front, Chaz Crawford and Frank Elegar return. Crawford is one of the premier shot-blockers in the country but needs to improve his offensive game, while Elegar is an athletic forward with a versatile offensive game. Randy Oveneke and Matt Stevenson will see time off the bench. Old Dominion came into last season with high expectations after winning 28 game two years ago. However, they started slow and only finished 4th in the conference, going 24-10 overall and 13-5 in the CAA. They did bounce back to make a run to the NIT Final Four, though. The backcourt of Drew Williamson and Brian Henderson form a solid tandem that needs to increase their scoring production this season. Williamson is an excellent distributor who is quick with the ball, while Henderson is a very good three-point shooter and on-ball defender. Abdi Lidonde and Brandon Johnson are good backups. Arnaud Dahi and Valdas Vasylius anchor the frontcourt. Dahi is coming off of an ACL injury but is a very good scorer and rebounder when healthy. Vasylius has potential as a scorer. 7-3 Sam Harris and 6-6 Jonathan Adams will also be counted on up front. UNC-Wilmington could take a step back after last season’s 25-8 record and league title. The Seahawks were the class of the CAA until the NCAA Tournament. They won both the regular season and tournament championships and received a #9 seed in the Big Dance. New coach Benny Moss will have two returning starters and several role players to build around. Guard T.J. Carter is an all-conference-caliber guard who could have a breakout season this year. He had a very strong second half last season and looks to carry that over to this year. Temi Soyebo will start at the point. He was a part-time starter last season and is a solid all-around that should excel in the up-tempo offense. John David Gardner and Daniel Fountain will fight for minutes on the perimeter. Look out for freshman Darryl Felder. Up front, Todd Hendley leads the way. He is a match-up problem due to his versatile offensive game. He can score both inside and outside and is also a solid rebounder. Space-eater Vladimir Kuljanin could start down low, although Dejan Grkovic and College of Charleston transfer Jeff Horowitz will get opportunities.
Sleepers: Virginia Commonwealth had a decent season last year, going 19-10 overall and 11-7 within the conference. However, they only finished sixth in the CAA and look to improve on that place in the standings this year. Three starters return, including the potential all-conference wing duo of B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa. Walker is a very good three-point shooter who can play both guard positions, while Pellot-Rosa is an excellent defender and solid rebounder who will likely be a double-figure scorer this season. Point guard Eric Maynor is an efficient distributor, while Jamal Shuler is a potentially explosive scorer on the wing. The frontcourt is not as loaded. Eric Davis is a solid player on the interior who needs to become more of a go-to-guy inside, while part-time start Sam Faulk returns at center. Redshirt senior Calvin Roland and Arizona transfer Will Fameni will also see minutes. Towson improved immensely last year from two seasons ago, increasing their win total by seven games and tying for seventh in the league standings at 8-10. With four returning starters, including Gary Neal, the Tigers could make some noise in the CAA. Neal is the nation’s leading returning scorer and he could have an even bigger season this year. He is an excellent outside shooter who is also extremely difficult to guard when he is going to the basket. He is one of the top shooting guards in the country. Tim Crossin was a member of the All-Freshman team last season and returns at the point. He is a very good passer. JC transfer C.C. Williams will push for a starting job, though. Joining Neal on the wing will be Marc Pratt and Rocky Coleman. Pratt is a solid all-around player, while Coleman is a decent scorer and passer who could come off the bench. Up front, Dennard Abraham is a potential all-conference player who is a very good scorer and rebounder and could have a breakout season. Winstonn Tubbs will likely start. Northeastern won 19 games last season, the third straight year in which the Huskies have won at least 19 games. They will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat this season with the loss of three starters, including Jose Juan Barea, who averaged 21.0 points and 8.4 assists a contest, and Shawn James, who led the nation in blocked shots with 6.4 per game. The backcourt will likely be comprised of seniors Bobby Kelly and Andre Martinez. Kelly is a hard-nosed player who is an excellent three-point shooter and a solid all-around performer, while Martinez needs to become more of a scorer this season. Chris Cyprian also returns on the perimeter. Bennet Davis leads the way up front. He needs to improve his efficiency inside, but has potential in the paint. Freshman Manny Adako could step in immediately in the frontcourt.
Rounding Out the Pack: Georgia State struggled during their first season in the CAA, going 7-22 overall and 3-15 in league play. Even though they lose three starters, the Panthers will be better this season with a year of experience under its belt. Their frontcourt is underrated and could be one of the better groups in the conference. Rashad Chase could be on the verge of a breakout season. He is a versatile offensive option who is also a solid rebounder. Down low, Justin Billingslea and Deven Dickerson form a solid duo. Billingslea is a good shot-blocker and rebounder who needs to improve his offensive production. Dickerson is one of the top shot-blockers in the league and could become a force in the paint. Leonard Mendez and Lance Perique are the top returning wings and will battle for a starting spot. The point guard position will be manned by newcomers Ron Larris and Trae Goldston. James Madison did not have an overly successful campaign last season, going 5-23 overall and finishing last in the conference with a 2-16 record. That was the third season in a row that the Dukes have won seven or fewer games. Even with the loss of three starters, JMU should be better this year. CAA Rookie of the Year Juwann James is a main reason why. He is a very good scorer and rebounder who will develop into an all-conference player this season. He should have a huge year. Kyle Swanston will join him at forward. He had a strong finish to the season and will need to carry that over to this season. Gabriel Chami will anchor the center position. In the backcourt, Lewis Lampley returns at the point. However, 6-5 Colbey Santos could push him for a starting job. Sophomore Joe Posey will add scoring to the wing. Several newcomers will see plenty of minutes. William & Mary was another one of the CAA bottom-feeders that brought the league down late in the season. The Tribe went 8-20 overall and finished tied for 10th in the conference, going 3-15. Moreover, they did not finish strong, going 3-16 in their last 19 games. Not the best way to end a season. However, with the return of three starters and several role players, they could move up a few spots. The forward duo of Corey Cofield and Laimis Kisielius leads the way. Cofield had a disappointing season last year after earning all-conference honors his first two seasons. He is an efficient scorer inside who is also a good rebounder. Kisielius is an inside-outside option in the frontcourt. He could have a big season this year up front. Peter Stein, Chris Darnell, and Alex Smith will see playing time. Nathan Mann and Adam Payton return in the backcourt. Mann is one of the best three-point shooters in the conference and also takes care of the ball. Payton is athletic and makes an impact at both ends of the floor, with his shooting and defensive abilities. Delaware is yet another CAA team welcoming a new coach into the fold this season. Monte Ross replaces David Henderson, who did not bring the Blue Hens the same success it enjoyed in the America East. Ross’ first order of business will be to replace all-conference forward Harding Nana, who averaged 19.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season. Even with Nana, Delaware only went 9-21 last season, finishing 9th in the league with a 4-14 conference record. Leading the returnees is the backcourt of Zaire Taylor and Calvin Cannon. Taylor is a good point guard who is a solid three-point shooter and an efficient passer who is also one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Cannon is a gunner who is the team’s leading returning scorer. He is capable of big games, but is somewhat inconsistent and needs to develop more of a well-rounded offensive game. Wings Sam McMahon and Chris Prothro will see minutes, while freshman Brian Johnson could make an impact at the point. Up front, Herb Courtney and Henry Olawoye anchor the paint. Courtney is a solid scorer and rebounder who will improve his production this season, while Olawoye is a versatile athlete who will push for time. Raphael Madera is slow and methodical inside but he and Matt Hewson will provide size and defense.
Prediction: The Colonial will likely not have as memorable of a season as last year, but the CAA could be competitive once again. Hofstra is one of the best mid-majors in the country, led by the best three-guard backcourt in the country. Loren Stokes is a superstar for the Pride. Fresh of a Final Four appearance, George Mason will also contend with the combo of Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas. Don’t count out Drexel, who might have the best backcourt-frontcourt balance in the league. However, in the end, I think that Hofstra will take the automatic bid for the CAA. Their perimeter trio is just too talented. Watch out for them in the NCAA Tournament.
Player of the Year: Loren Stokes, SG, Hofstra
G- Loren Stokes, Hofstra
G- Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
G- Gary Neal, Towson
G- T.J. Carter, UNC-Wilmington
F- Will Thomas, George Mason
G- Carlos Rivera, Hofstra
G- Folarin Campbell, George Mason
G- Dominick Mejia, Drexel
F- Arnaud Dahi, Old Dominion
F- Juwann James, James Madison