College Hoops Preview: The Colonial Athletic Association

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Unless something changes, this may be the last time anyone asks me to write a CAA preview for a national audience. With VCU gone to the A-10, and Old Dominion and Georgia State playing out the string as lame ducks before following their BCS football dreams, the league’s strength of schedule is on life support. A much bruited-about raid of the SoCon’s top teams never materialized this summer.

None of that matters. It’s still one of the most entertaining conferences in the nation. I’m here to tell you why – even now – you should never sleep on the CAA.

Five things to know

1. VCU is gone, off to wreak havoc on the Atlantic 10.

2. Old Dominion (C-USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) are on the way out, and have consequently been uninvited from the CAA’s postseason tournament.

3. Drexel last went to the NCAA tournament in 1996 and has never been there under 11th-year head coach Bruiser Flint.

4. UNC-Wilmington and Towson have been banned from postseason play due to poor performance in the Academic Progress Rate calculations.

5. Long-time league doormat Towson has brought in three Big East transfers and looks to be on the right track under second-year head coach Pat Skerry.

Impact newcomers:

R.J. Hunter – 6’8”, 180 lb. G, Georgia State: He’s the coach’s kid, but he won’t be mopping up blowouts and high-fiving from the end of the bench. The all-state performer from hoops-mad Indiana chose loyalty to dear old dad over offers from Iowa, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Ron Curry – 6’3”, 175 lb. G, James Madison: The CAA cognoscenti have tabbed Curry as the likely freshman of the year, and recruiting analysts say the point guard from New Jersey has the raw talent to play in any league in the country. He’s an inside-out threat who distributes the ball and has the long arms of a top defender. Definitely one to watch.

Tavon Allen – 6’7”, 205 lb. G/F, Drexel: The redshirt freshman is big, ambidextrous, and can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. His ability to play multiple positions will make him a matchup nightmare.

Carl Baptiste – 6’8”, 240 lb. F, Delaware: The junior from New Jersey didn’t show much during his two seasons at St. Joe’s, but Blue Hens coach Monte’ Ross called him “the most skilled big man we have,” and looks to pair him with brick house senior Jamelle Hagins on the blocks.

Bilal Dixon – 6’9” 260lb. C, Towson: The latest athlete to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule, Dixon is a bit of a cipher. At Providence, he had his best season as a freshman, and declined thereafter. Bare minimum, he’ll be a defensive force; throw in a healthy diet of putbacks and tip-ins and he’s a star.

Breakout players:

Jarvis Threatt – 6’2” 170 lb. G, Delaware: Threatt was an All-Rookie honoree last season, coming on strong at the end of his freshman year and dropping 31 points on Butler in the postseason CBI. Scary thought: that was just the beginning.

Sherrod Wright – 6’4” 196 lb. G, GMU: Wright was a bit inconsistent last season, but he found his rhythm by February. He’s a crazy insanely ridiculous shooter, and if he takes care of the ball a little better as a junior, he’ll keep Mason in the league’s top echelon, where they’ve taken up permanent residence.

Andrey Semenov – 6’7” 205 lb. F, James Madison: The lanky Russian can drill them from downtown (44% last season), but he’s not afraid to step inside and battle for a putback, either. If he (and the rest of the Dukes) can stay healthy, he can be the floor-stretcher that makes everything easier.

Quincy Ford – 6’8” 212 lb. F, Northeastern: Ford averaged 11.5 points and 5 boards as a freshman, and was just as good on the defensive end. If he nudges his shooting percentage up from 43%, he’s the league’s next Kent Bazemore – the ODU standout now with the Golden State Warriors.

Tim Rusthoven – 6’9” 230 lb. F, William & Mary: Members of the CAA’s vibrant blogging community call him “Beasthoven”. Academic powerhouse W&M rarely sees a player this size, and Rusthoven showed the ability to score 10 and grab 6 when he was on the floor last season. If he can stay healthy, hit his charities and consistently gain position under the basket, his numbers can only go up.

Player of year: Frantz Massenat – 6’4” 185 lb. G, Drexel: Massenat featured prominently in the discussion for CAA POY last season (Mason’s Ryan Pearson won it), and he was just a sophomore. Granted, he was a sophomore who averaged 13.7 points, 3.3 boards, 4.8 assists and nearly a steal per game, so the attention was more than warranted. As the central gear on a loaded Drexel team, he’s ready to go supernova.

All-CAA: Massenat; Devon Saddler, G, Delaware; Jamelle Hagins, F, Delaware; Keith Rendleman, G/F, UNCW; Rayshawn Goins, F, JMU

Coach under pressure: Matt Brady, JMU: Brady has had some pretty good teams, and some pretty bad luck. Any semblance of chemistry for the Dukes has been disrupted by a plague of injuries to Brady’s best players. The former Marist head coach has alternated 20+ win seasons with disappointments, so if the pattern holds, he’ll be back up on top of the peak. If it’s a second straight valley, he’s done.

Predicted finish (with bonus blog links)

1. Drexel – Big and mean up front, tenacious and experienced in the backcourt. Even when the offense droops, the defense comes up big. Bruiser Flint has seen his strong teams repeatedly snubbed by the NCAA selection committee, and he’ll be gunning hard for the auto-bid.

2. Delaware – First of all, head coach Monte’ Ross just has “it”, the intangible thing that radiates from coaches on the rise. He’s also got a complete team, with Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins looking like all-league selections, and Jarvis Threatt as the spark plug.

3. George Mason – Mason is league royalty for a reason, and now that in-state rivals ODU and VCU are leaving, they’re the CAA’s top dog in the Commonwealth. Not quite as talented as the big D’s at the top of our list, but always a threat to cut down nets in Richmond.

4. Northeastern – The Huskies have a talented core, but lack a proven post presence and depth. Smart coaching (a given) and a couple of players stepping up (a crapshoot) and these guys are dangerous.

5. James Madison – Good players, questionable chemistry, constant looming threat of injuries. If Curry is as good as he can be, and everyone stays relatively healthy, they can vault into the top four.

6. Old Dominion* – Not to be crass, but Blaine Taylor knows his team isn’t eligible for the auto-bid, and he has a young squad. Expect him to tinker a lot in search of the rotation that will serve him best in C-USA next season.

7. William & Mary – The Wrens (not their real mascot) are the CAA’s hard-luck story. With Ivy-caliber academics and uninspiring sports facilities, they’re always just a touch off the pace. Beasthoven, hyperactive sophomore Marcus Thornton and streaky shooter Julian Boatner could play spoiler on any given night.

8. Georgia State* – Ron Hunter barely had a chance to get used to the CAA and he’s already on his way out. His team lost a lot of production, and will struggle to get everybody on the same page in a time of upheaval.

9. Towson* – In the past, Towson was bad with no hope. With Pat Skerry in charge, the sun’s starting to peek over the horizon. Loads of Big East transfers make up the core of this year’s team.

10. Wilmington* – It pains me to put the Seahawks this low, because Keith Rendleman is such a great player. He stuck with the team even though he knows he can’t go to the postseason in his senior year. Love him. Don’t love their chances.

11. Hofstra – Mo Cassara and the Pride gambled on transfers Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (UConn) and Taran Buie (Penn State). The two BCS wash-outs are already in the doghouse, serving suspensions to start the season. Not a good sign.

*not eligible for CAA postseason tournament

Eric Angevine has covered the Colonial Athletic Association for nearly a decade. He recommends CAA Hoops and CAAZone for all your pressing CAA basketball needs.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.