Tag: UNC Wilmington

Jerrelle Benimon, Nate Lubick

Northern lights shine brightly for new-look CAA

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Towson Athletics

If you want to know which way the wind blows in the Colonial Athletic Association these days, open your ears. The league that rode Virginia-based schools like George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion to attention-grabbing Big Dance victories sounds very different these days.

For starters, Northeastern University pahked their cah in the yahd by winning 14 league games and claiming the regular-season crown. Right behind them at 13-5 was Maryland-based Towson, led by Massachusetts native Pat Skerry, who took a league doormat and turned it into a winner in one season. New guy Joe Mihalich hopes to work similar magic in his debut season at Hofstra, a pronouncement he delivers in the hard-bitten tones of a big city police detective.

“When I got here, there were four players on the team,” Mihalich told NBC Sports via phone. “That was the bad news and the good news. I had to go out and get eight guys all at once, but I was able to get my guys. The kind of guys you need to get this thing turned around.”

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s CAA Preview)

It’s common to hear a coach make upbeat noises when he takes over a moribund program, but that kind of confidence seems strangely warranted in the new CAA. Pat Skerry’s Towson team was built along similar lines, taking on players various and sundry in an attempt to improve on 2012’s 1-31 mark. Clearly, five wins would have counted as progress. Skerry’s team went out and won 18, despite the fact that APR missteps from the prior administration had his program on a postseason ban.

“It took a while, but they did a good job of buying in,” Skerry said, also via phone. “We didn’t talk about the ban, just about trying to get better each day. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but they handled it. Pride was the key piece.”

The Tigers are entering this season with much higher expectations, hoping to ride reigning CAA Player of the Year Jerelle Benimon to an NCAA berth. Skerry has surrounded his breakout star – a Georgetown transfer – with several complementary pieces.

“Jerome (Hairston) was on the All-Rookie team last year and he’s a lead guard who can score the ball,” Skerry said. “Timajh Parker will step right in for us this year, and our transfer from Vermont, Four McGlynn, is still a sophomore and he’s a very good shooter.”

In addition to the dramatic uptick in talent and team cohesion, Skerry is excited about the possibilities presented by SECU arena, the new $72 million home base for Tiger basketball. His team’s bright future was built brick-by-brick, quite literally.

To add a cherry on the sundae, the CAA tournament, long anchored in the Richmond Coliseum, has migrated to Baltimore this season. With Virginia-based founding members George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU realigned out of the conference, the shift makes some geographical sense.

Skerry acknowledges that the northern contingent: Towson, Delaware, Drexel and Northeastern in particular, stand to benefit from the changes. But he scoffs at the notion that the power will easily shift his direction.

“We added Charleston as well, and they beat our brains in last year,” Skerry said. “Elon’s going to be very good (in 2014), and James Madison are the reigning champs. We’ve got our hands full.”

Winning the league is, honestly, considered little more than a first step in the CAA, thanks to a rich history of giant-killing in the NCAA tournament.

source: AP
Joe Mihalich embraces the challenge of turning Hofstra around.

“We had our coaches meeting a few months back and one of the other coaches said ‘Hey, we’ve seen teams come out of this conference and be incredibly successful, get to the Final Four,'” said Hofstra’s Mihalich. “‘Who’s going to be the next VCU or George Mason?’ I do believe that somebody can do that.”

It may not be Mihalich this year, though he made strong moves to stabilize the Pride’s roster in both the short and long term. Hofstra added graduate students Dion Nesmith (formerly at Monmouth) and Zeke Upshaw (Illinois State) to serve as one-year elder statesmen, signed three skilled freshmen and let his four holdovers show them the ropes. Another layer of known quantities will debut next season, when Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley – who followed Mihalich from his last posting at Niagara – and former SMU guard Brian Bernardi are eligible to suit up.

Neither coach thinks it will be easy to seize a title in a league that hasn’t seen an auto-bid issued from north of the Mason-Dixon line since before the turn of the millennium.

“As John Chaney used to say, for us to win this year, we need the two women in our lives to be there for us,” Mihalich joked. “Mother Nature and Lady Luck. We’ve got to hope a lot of things break our way.”

Skerry, in a decidedly better place than last year, concurred.

“Make no mistake about it, winning is really hard,” the Massachusetts native said with a chuckle. “I think Doc Rivers said that.”

That being said…

“We’ve got a chance to be good. We’re not hiding from that.”

College Hoops Preview: The Colonial Athletic Association

Frantz Massenat ,  Johnny Moran
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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.