By Kevin Sweeney
Albeit expected, the news of the offseason in the CAA was the departure of head coach Kevin Keatts from UNC-Wilmington, as he took the same position at NC State. In his 3 seasons at UNCW, Keatts led the Seahawks to a 72-28 record, 3 consecutive regular season CAA titles, and a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. With Keatts also left CJ Bryce, UNCW’s star guard who had averaged over 17 points and 5 rebounds per game for the Seahawks before following Keatts to NC State.
That said, the UNCW program is in excellent hands with well-regarded new head coach C.B. McGrath, a long-time North Carolina assistant. And while the Seahawks aren’t likely to claim a 4th straight conference title, the CAA as a whole looks to be one of the better one-bid leagues in college basketball this season.
- College of Charleston: The Cougars are pretty clear favorites in the CAA. With all 5 starters returning from a team that won 25 games and earned an at-large bid to the NIT, College of Charleston is in position to have a special season. This is the type of team that could be everyone’s darling come March.
- Towson: I try not to put too much stock in preseason international trips, but the Tigers were VERY impressive during their August trip to Canada. They went 4-1 on the trip, and sophomore guard Zane Martin shined throughout (16.3 ppg). The Tigers will need some younger pieces to step up in the frontcourt, but if they do, watch out.
- Elon: Just like College of Charleston, Elon returns 5 starters from last year’s squad. They don’t do anything exceptionally well, but they don’t make many mistakes and have one of the most underrated big men in the country in Tyler Seibring. One thing the Phoenix must turn around was a whopping 4 conference losses by 3 points or less.
- Hofstra: This Hofstra club probably has the most offensive firepower in the conference. Guys like Justin Wright-Foreman (18.6 ppg) and Eli Pemberton (12.6 ppg) can flat-out fill it up on the wing. However, Joe Mihalich’s club was atrocious defensively a season ago, something that must change for the Pride.
- UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks were definitely the toughest team for me to place. They still have one of the better mid-major bigs in Devontae Cacok, but his role will change drastically with a new system in place and being the focal point of the offense. The Seahawks will also need some guards to step up into much bigger roles after losing their top 3 playmakers from a season ago.
- Delaware: The fact that we aren’t talking about Delaware in the basement is a testament to what Martin Inglesby has done in a relatively short period of time since taking that job. The Blue Hens have a young star in wing Ryan Daly as well as a strong freshman class, and are definitely a team I think could surprise some people.
- Northeastern: Bill Coen has a strong recruiting class coming in, but the 2017-18 season may be a year of transition. The Huskies lose their top 2 players from a season ago in bona fide stars TJ Williams and Alex Murphy. Watch out for Tomas Murphy (Alex’s brother), a highly-touted freshman who is the anchor of this incoming class.
- James Madison: 7 seniors graduate, but that may not be such a bad thing for JMU, which has brought in some solid talent in this year’s recruiting class under 2nd-year head coach Louis Rowe. Look for Toledo transfer Stuckey Mosley to make a huge impact.
- William & Mary: 4 starters graduate for the Tribe, including a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon. Promising sophomore forward Nathan Knight needs to blossom into an all-league level player for W&M to move up the CAA standings.
- Drexel: The Dragons have the right man for the job in Zach Spiker, but I believe they are still a year away from climbing up the CAA standings. A pair of transfer guards in Troy Harper (Campbell) and Tramaine Isabell (Missouri) will have to step up.
Champions: College of Charleston
This College of Charleston team has a chance to be a legitimate top-50 team in college basketball. They have everything you are looking for in a good mid-major: an excellent defense, an experienced roster, and multiple guys who can get you a bucket when you need one. The trio of Joe Chealey, Jarrell Brantley, and Grant Riller is outstanding. The one thing that could hinder the Cougars is an inexperienced bench, but the top-end talent is enough to make this team super dangerous.
Dark Horse: Hofstra
There’s a lot to like about this Hofstra team in terms of its ability to climb the CAA standings. The aforementioned firepower on the wing combines with a frontcourt that features one of the best rebounders in the country in Rokas Gustys as well as grad transfer power froward Joel Angus (SEMO) who should be a nice rotation player. The 2 big questions marks are point guard play and defense, and both can answered with the addition of JUCO point guard Kenny Wormley, who began his career at Siena. Wormley is long, lightning-quick guard who should be a plus perimeter defender for the Pride. If he can run the show efficiently and provide Joe Mihalich as a perimeter stopper, it would be a huge boost for Hofstra’s title hopes.
All-Conference First Team:
- G: Joe Chealey (College of Charleston)
- G: Ryan Daly (Delaware)
- F: Tyler Seibring (Elon)
- F: Jarrell Brantley (College of Charleston)
- F: Devontae Cacok (UNC-Wilmington)
Player of the Year: Joe Chealey- Chealey does pretty much everything you want from your lead guard. He handles the ball, defends, distributes when necessary, and is a hyper-efficient shot-maker. His numbers a season ago (17.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg) are even more impressive when you consider that he missed the entire 2015-16 season due to a foot injury. He’s a huge reason that Charleston is the heavy favorite in the CAA.
Breakout Player of the Year: Zane Martin (Towson)- After a solid freshman season in which he posted 4 double-digit scoring performances in 4 of his final 6 games, Martin seems poised for a big sophomore campaign. The Philadelphia native shined on the Tigers’ international trip this offseason, posting over 16 points per game. Look for Martin to see an increased role in the Pat Skerry’s offense, forming a potent backcourt duo in Martin and Mike Morsell.
Newcomer of the Year: Stuckey Mosley (James Madison)- A transfer who began his career at Toledo, I’ve heard rave reviews on Mosley all summer. He’s a true alpha-dog on the offensive end who can score from anywhere on the floor while also being a capable distributor. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Mosley as an immediate all-league-level player.