In March the Colonial Athletic Association’s three-year agreement with the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore comes to an end, meaning that the league and its members were in search of a new home for the men’s basketball tournament. Thursday afternoon the CAA made official news that made the rounds earlier in the week, as the 2017-19 editions of the tournament will be played at the North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, South Carolina.
The arena seats some 11,000 spectators, and the move places the men’s tournament closest to the CAA’s southernmost member. That could result in some travel issues, as Baltimore was a location to which many fan bases could travel by car or bus.
With the move south, those treks for fans of programs such as Northeastern, Hofstra and Drexel get even longer unless they’re willing to spring for a round-trip flight. But even with that option, you’re essentially committing to the entire weekend whether your team advances or not as it’s tough (and expensive) to change flights in such a scenario.
According to the CAA the move to the North Charleston Coliseum was unanimously approved by the member schools.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) Joe Mihalich didn’t show up on Hofstra’s campus three years ago riding a white horse. He did arrive and turn around a basketball program saddled with off-the-court issues that left the roster depleted and the image in tatters.
The Pride finished 7-25 in 2012-13 and four players were arrested on burglary charges stemming from dormitory room break-ins.
This season, the attitude is as far as it can get from that year. The Pride are picked as the preseason favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Conference.
Mihalich gives the credit to his staff and the players. He didn’t know if the third season would be the one that saw such expectations.
“I don’t know if you ever put a number on it but I knew we could turn it around because this is a great place with great leadership,” Mihalich said Thursday at the team’s media day. “Everything was in place to turn it around and I wouldn’t have come (from Niagara) if it wasn’t. I believe Hofstra can be a special place for basketball.”
The optimism for this season comes from the three leading scorers returning off a team that went 20-14 and played in the CBI. All three, however, are guards, giving the Pride one of the better backcourts in the nation.
“It’s humbling,” senior guard Juan’ya Green said of the attention the backcourt has received. “It just tells us how hard we worked and we pushed each other to be the best we could.”
Green is the point guard. He averaged 6.5 assists last season and will again be the director of the offense.
“My teammates trust me and Coach Mihalich trusts me and he knows I’ll pick out the right play at the right time,” Green said.
The 3-point specialist is junior Brian Bernardi, who made 95 3-pointers last season, shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“My whole life I’ve always been able to shoot the 3,” he said, standing just behind the 3-point line for an interview. “I practice and prepare and I shoot every day. I made four 3s at the Nets’ arena when I was in sixth grade so I knew I was supposed to be a shooter.”
The third member of the backcourt is 6-foot-5 senior Ameen Tanksley, the team’s true swingman who helps with the rebounding. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 rebounds last season while making 74 3s.
“There’s no pressure for one player to be the big scorer,” Bernardi said. “We share the ball and that makes it hard for our opponent.”
Mihalich knows everyone points to his backcourt and that could cause problems if the Pride were to face a team with size up front.
“One of our challenges is to figure out a way to defend really big frontcourts but they have to defend us too,” Mihalich said. “That’s the great cat and mouse game of basketball. We’re small and quick. You’re big and strong let’s see who wins.”
The Hofstra players all break into big smiles when this season’s schedule is brought up. There is a trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam in November and a game against Appalachian State on Dec. 6, at Madison Square Garden. It will be the Pride’s first appearance at the Garden in six years.
“It’s been one of my dreams to play in Madison Square Garden,” Bernardi said. “And the Virgin Islands, that’s just great.”
Mihalich is looking at a different part of the schedule – the CAA Tournament with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
“It’s all about three days in March,” he said.
WATCH LIVE: Drexel hosts College of Charleston on NBCSN
Saturday afternoon’s contest between Drexel and College of Charleston features two teams looking to make a move up the Colonial Athletic Association standings. Both the host Dragons and Cougars have struggled for consistency this season but will play each other for the first of two scheduled contests.
Drexel (4-14, 2-5) will be led by high-scoring and productive guard Damion Lee. The 6-foot-6 junior rarely leaves the floor and is averaging 20.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the Dragons. College of Charleston (6-14, 1-6) relies on more of a balanced approach to get it done and the Cougars are led by sophomore guards Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey.
Drexel, a team picked in the preseason to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association, had pounced on the No. 4 ranked team in the nation, looking to make an early-season statement inside the World Most’s Famous Arena on the eve of Thanksgiving.
Arizona rallied from a 19-point, first-half deficit to defeat Drexel, 66-62, to advance to the championship game of NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Dragons lost more than just a heartbreaking contest to a team that later went on to be one-win shy of the Final Four. They also lost star swingman Damion Lee to a torn ACL, which required season-ending surgery. The 6-foot-7 Lee was a preseason first-team pick after a sophomore campaign where he finished third in the CAA in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
“He was probably one of the four or five top players in the league,” Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint told NBCSports.com last month. “It really hurts you. It took away one of the weapons we had. The thing is, you played games with him and then you have to adjust without him right away.”
Drexel, led by the high-scoring duo of Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, got through the next four games, two of which came in triple overtime. However, the Dragons broke even in conference play (8-8), going 1-5 against the three teams to finish ahead of them — Delaware, Towson and Williams & Mary.
It’s been 11 months since the injury occurred, but Lee has been back on the floor this fall without limitations. The redshirt junior wing will be the key to a successful campaign for Drexel in a league filled with uncertainty.
“When I was looking at some of the rosters after the season was over, I noticed that the league is wide-opened,” Lee told NBCSports.com. “Northeastern brings back all of its roster. William & Mary have two really good players and Hofstra will be better. But I still think the league is wide-open. There is no clear-cut favorite.”
In order those three teams — Northeastern, William & Mary and Hofstra — were slotted ahead of Drexel in the CAA preseason coaches poll, and despite a shift in order was, were the top three in the predicted finish in College Basketball Talk‘s CAA preview.
William & Mary is fueled by last season’s near-miss in the conference title game, and brings back Marcus Thornton, the only returning first-team all-CAA pick from a season ago. Northeastern has a healthy Quincy Ford in addition to the majority of last season’s rotation and Hofstra is depending on several transfers to make an immediate impact on a program that has only won 27 games over the last three seasons.
Drexel enters the season without Fouch and Massenat. However, there teams in a similar position as Drexel, such as reigning CAA champion Delaware losing four double-digit scorers and Towson, which graduated two-time CAA Player of the Year Jerrelle Tenimon along with the team’s three other top scorers. Regardless of the roster changes, each team possesses the tools necessary to be a surprise team in the CAA, and with a healthy Lee, surrounded by a developing set of underclassmen, it could be the Dragons.
“I know that we’re going to be looked over because teams will think we lost six players from the previous year that we won’t be that good,” Lee added. “From my standpoint, I just want to lead this team to any wins that we can get. I’m pretty confident that we’ll be a sleeper this year and we’ll sneak up on some teams.”
In August, just before Drexel’s trip to China, an update on Lee’s recovery mentioned that he was still not scrimmaging. While it appeared as an ominous sign, it was merely a precautionary measure.
“The doctor said there was no need to chance it,” Flint said. “He practiced a lot, though.”
Lee made the trip to China with the team, and while on the bench was able to observe his teammates, both returnees and newcomers, in what turned out to be a promising trip for the new-look Dragons.
Eleven different players on the Drexel roster started at least one game during the 2013-2014 season. Of those players, junior Tavon Allen and sophomore Rodney Williams, a CAA all-Rookie Team selection, made the most starts. Those two will take on bigger roles this season, as will fellow sophomore big man Mohamed Bah. Sammy Mojica and Rashann London, two freshmen to the perimeter showed upside in China while first-year forwards Tyshawn Miles and Austin Williams provide athleticism and depth to the frontline.
“Our freshmen were thrown right into the fire [last season],” Flint said. “We lost two starters during the season and still had a winning record. I think people forget that. If those guys can do what I think they can do then I think we’re going to be fine.
“I think everyone in the league thinks they have a chance. They’re are a lot of question marks even with the better teams. I think a lot of teams are saying, ‘Hey if we put it all together, we could make a run in this conference.’”
Like many teams in the CAA, that will be the question, but Drexel has the luxury of having an all-CAA caliber player to help find that answer.
The Colonial Athletic Association ended in dramatic fashion last season as Delaware defeated William & Mary, 75-74, in the final seconds of the conference title game in Baltimore. There will be plenty of turnover in the CAA heading into this season, as many star players have moved on from their collegiate careers and several programs from the bottom half of the conference standings in previous years look to make the jump into the NCAA tournament conversation.
William & Mary guard Marcus Thornton is the only returning first-team all-conference selection and is the league’s best player. The Tribe also return Omar Prewitt, the CAA 2013-2014 Rookie of the Year, giving W&M one of the best perimeters in the conference. Chasing the Tribe will be two teams that finished below .500, but have the tools to be serious contenders this season. Northeastern returns six of its top seven scorers, including second-teamer Scott Eatherton and Quincy Ford, who was sidelined all but two games with a back injury. The two 6-foot-8 forwards give the Huskies the CAA’s best frontline. Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich is equipped with some offensive firepower to account for the graduation of CAA top scorer Zeke Upshaw. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, both of whom followed Mihalich from Niagara in 2013, are now eligible, as is SMU transfer Brian Bernardi. That trio joins senior guard Dion Nesmith.
Drexel, Delaware, James Madison and Towson have all lost significant contributions, but could still pieces to offset the lost production. Damion Lee has recovered from last December’s ACL tear. He averaged 17.1 points per game for Drexel as a sophomore in 2012-2013. Gone from Delaware are four double-digit scorers, but Kyle Anderson remains, as the Blue Hens will shift to a strong defensive-minded team in 2013-2014. Two-time player of the year Jerrelle Benimon graduated last spring, but Towson does bring back Timajh Parker-Rivera and Four McGlynn while James Madisonwon’t have its full roster until late November.
The Dukes suspended talented scorer Andre Nation for the first five games. He missed 15 games last season due to violation of the athletic department. Northeastern has also dealt with personnel issues as starting guard Demetrius Pollard left the program earlier this month, although he remains enrolled at the university.
The CAA welcomes Elon from the Southern Conference. Elon’s Matt Matheny is one of three new CAA head coaches. Rick Pitino’s former assistant Kevin Keatts takes over at UNC-Wilmington while former Clemson assistant Earl Grant got a late start to his first season on the College of Charleston bench after the school fired Doug Wojick in early August.
In: Elon Out: None
PRESEASON CAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
The 6-foot-4 two-guard is the conference’s top returning scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game, going for 20 or more 14 times during his junior campaign that ended with first-team all-CAA honors. Thornton back-rimmed what would have been a game-winning, buzzer-beater in the CAA championship game against Delaware; a missed shot that likely fueled his offseason workouts this summer.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CAA TEAM:
Kyle Anderson, Delaware: The Blue Hens lost four of five double-digit scorers. Anderson, the only one to start all 35 games, should see an increase in production this season for the reigning CAA champion.
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern: The 6-foot-8 forward averaged a double-double last season, posting 15.9 points and 10.2 boards per game.
Juan’ya Green, Hofstra: One of three transfers eligible this season for a revamped roster. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game for Niagara in 2012-2013.
Damion Lee, Drexel: Missed all but five games last year due to an ACL tear. When Lee is healthy, Drexel is a contender and he is a player of the year candidate.
College of Charleston first-year head coach Earl Grant completed his coaching staff on Thursday, as the school announced the hiring Quinton Ferrell as an assistant coach.
“Quinton Ferrell is a young coach I have watched grow over the years,” Grant said in a statement. “He has a great future in our profession, because of his ability to connect. His work ethic, sincerity and his ability to develop relationships will allow him to recruit great players to Charleston. Quinton is very familiar with the state of South Carolina which will allow us to keep talent in the state.”
Ferrell, a 2007 graduate of Presbyterian, was with Army last season as an assistant coach. His coaching career began in the 2007-2008 season with his alma mater, as the Blue Hose made the transition into Division I basketball. Bridging those two stints at Presbyterian and Army was a one-year stay at The Citadel in 2012-2013. Grant hired longtime Citadel assistant J.P. Powell as the CofC’s director of basketball operations on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Grant hired his first assistant, Dick Bender, who he spent four years with a Clemson. Grant is retaining assistant coach Antonio Reynolds Dean from the previous staff. For a portion of the summer, Reynolds Dean served as the acting head coach while the school suspended Doug Wojcik for the month of August before eventually relieving him of his head coaching duties.
Now that Grant has his staff in place, his focus will be on the start of the college basketball season, which is a week away. Due to the events of this summer, the Cougars go in with less preparation as a program. CofC brings back three of its top four scorers, though, only one of those returnees scored in double figures, in what was a struggling offense in 2013-2014. But the Colonial Athletic Association has an uncertain outlook. Delaware, Towson and Drexel have all lost key pieces while William & Mary has the top returning scorer in Marcus Thornton and Northeastern and Hofstra have the foundations to make a jump into the top half of the conference.
College of Charleston opens its season on Nov. 14 at Furman.