2013-2014 CAA Preview: Drexel keeps draggin’ us back in

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Towson Athletics

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

Realignment has hit the CAA in a weird way. The first top-notch program to bolt the league was Virginia Commonwealth, and they left to improve their basketball options. All this national shuffling has been football-based, but Final Four appearances still count for something. VCU left two years ago, but fellow giant-killer George Mason joins them in the A-10 this season.

Football hasn’t been absent from the radar, by any means. Old Dominion and Georgia State created gridiron programs out of thin air in 2009, and both jumped straight to the BCS big time this season. For a league headquartered in Richmond, the CAA is suddenly experiencing a glaring lack of schools located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The league tournament will be held in Baltimore for the first time this season, perhaps reflecting a new power base in the northern climes.

Up north is definitely where the excitement lives this season. Towson, a perennial doormat in years past, has become a legitimate contender under Pat Skerry, who engineered a record-breaking 17-game turnaround for the Tigers last season. In Skerry’s backyard are his presumptive competitors for the league’s upper echelon – the Philly-tough Drexel Dragons, reigning regular-season champs Northeastern, and a dangerously well-stocked Delaware team. Hofstra, a rebuilding project under new head coach Joe Mihalich, rounds out the CAA’s Yankee contingent.

The southern set isn’t exactly to be dismissed, either. James Madison brought the league’s auto-bid to a Virginia-based program yet again after claiming the tourney title last season, and new member College of Charleston has a well-earned reputation as a mid-major to be reckoned with. The College of William & Mary – an Ivy League-caliber academic institution somewhat out of place in CAA basketball circles – has never been to the Big Dance but has one of the conference’s most exciting players and an opportunity to knock that door down if the chips fall the right way. Wilmington is coming off of an APR nightmare, but should rebuild quickly under a coaching brain trust that features former UNC-Asheville head man Eddie Beidenbach and former Appalachian State boss Houston Fancher under the leadership of Buzz Peterson, who spent four years helming the Tennessee Volunteers once upon a time. The league will regain its north-south equilibrium in 2014, when Elon joins the league.

A betting man would probably choose one of the northern schools to snag this year’s auto-bid, but JMU should be back in the mix once guard Andre Nation finishes serving a 15-game suspension, just in time for conference play. Charleston, under Doug Wojick, may be primed to upset the apple cart as well.

Drexel was the preseason choice last season, and the team struggled to fulfill expectations. Fool me twice, shame on me, but with an all-league type backcourt in place, I like Drexel to come out of the pack and finally grab that brass ring that has eluded Bruiser Flint for so long.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: College of Charleston (SoCon)
Out: George Mason (A-10), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Old Dominion (C-USA)

PRESEASON CAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jerrelle Benimon, Towson

Benimon was little more than an afterthought in two seasons at Georgetown, averaging just over a point per game. After sitting out a season at Towson, he was ready to play. Oh boy, was he ready to play. With his new team on a postseason ban based on APR scores, Benimon played like he was leading his team to the Final Four anyway, averaging 17.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The 6-foot-8, 245-lb. wrecking ball earned Player of the Year honors in his conference, and he’ll go into his senior season with a shot to lead the Tigers into the Big Dance.

Anyone want to get in his way? I thought not.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Marcus Thornton, William & Mary: Thornton’s boundless energy and 43% deep shooting mark make W&M dangerous.
  • Devon Saddler, Delaware: Saddler was on the All-CAA team with Benimon last season. He’s back for more.
  • Frantz Massenat, Drexel: Massenat is so tough, and so good with the ball in his hands. He’ll look to make good on last season’s promise.
  • Damion Lee, Drexel: Lee battled injuries at times last season. If healthy, he and Chris Fouch can team with Massenat to wreck this league.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @caahoops

PREDICTED FINISH
1. Drexel
2. Northeastern
3. Towson
4. James Madison
5. Delaware
6. Charleston
7. William & Mary
8. Hofstra
9. Wilmington

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.