By Kevin Sweeney
The 2015-16 season was a very impressive one for the CAA. The conference ranked 9th out of 32 conferences in RPI, an outstanding number that ranked 2nd among mid-major leagues, trailing only the A-10. In addition, the league saw 5 out of its 10 teams finish with at least 20 wins, an outstanding accomplishment for a mid-major league. This season, there is a ton of talent returning, so expect another banner season for the CAA.
- William & Mary
- James Madison
Champions: UNC-Wilmington- UNCW is one of the most talented mid-major teams in the country. They return 4 out of their top 5 scorers from last season, in which they won 25 games and reached the NCAA Tournament, where they led Duke at halftime before eventually being outlasted 93-85. The Seahawks have a long, athletic roster that fits head coach Kevin Keatts’ uptempo, pressing system perfectly. Shooting guard Chris Flemmings leads the way, averaging over 16 points per game, as well as nearly 6 rebounds. He is also a defensive catalyst in their pressing system, averaging 1.4 steals per game for the Seahawks. They don’t have much depth in the frontcourt, something that plagued them against Duke, but playing uptempo can help hide that flaw. With a core like this in place, I wouldn’t be surprised to see UNCW to bust a lot of brackets in March.
Dark Horse: Towson- In many ways, Towson is the opposite of UNC-Wilmington. Sporting an incredibly deep frontcourt that includes its leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago, Arnaud William Adala Moto, Towson should be able to match up physically with any team in college basketball. They like to slow the game down, ranking 306th out of 351 Division 1 teams in possessions per game. However, the Tigers are very inexperienced at the guard position. Losing Byron Hawkins to a transfer hurt an already thin guard unit, as he was one of just 3 guards who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. For help, they will look to junior Mike Morsell, who was third on the team in scoring last season, and Jordan McNeil, who averaged just 3 points per game last year. The x-factor’s for Towson will be a pair of transfers, Deshaun Morman (Cincinnati) and Van Rolle (Coppin State). If they can give the Tigers a boost at the guard position, Towson has an excellent chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Rokas Gustys- Hofstra
- F: Arnaud William Adala Moto- Towson
- G/F: Omar Prewitt- William & Mary
- G: Chris Flemmings- UNC Wilmington
- G: Brian Bernardi- Hofstra
Player of the Year: Rokas Gustys- Gustys is one of the few dominant post players in college basketball. After averaging 13.5 points and 13 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore, Gustys will now be expected to be the primary option on offense for the Pride, with Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley graduating. At 6-9, 260 pounds with legs built like tree trunks, Gustys physically outmatches most of his competition in the low post. However, as he improves, he should develop a finesse to his game that will make him virtually unstoppable. If he is able to handle being the number 1 option and can stay out of foul trouble, the sky is the limit.
Newcomer of the Year: Alex Murphy (Northeastern)- It is rare to see a transfer enter and immediately become the most important player on his team. This will be the case with Murphy, as the New England native and former highly-touted recruit will spend his final season of eligibility with the Huskies. A versatile 6-8 forward with the ability to score in the post and drain a 3-point shot, Murphy’s college career never really got started, playing at Duke for a season and a half before transferring to Florida, where he averaged 5.1 points per game as a junior. However, a foot injury ended his 2015-16 season before it ever began, and he will now hope to final fulfill his potential with Northeastern. If he can play to the level he was expected to coming out of high school, Northeastern will be getting a massive steal.