CAA Preview: This is the year for Charleston to take control of the league race

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the CAA.

The CAA has been UNC Wilmington‘s league over the course of the last three seasons, as Kevin Keatts built the Seahawks into a powerhouse. They won a share of the league’s regular season title in his first two season’s on campus before winning the outright league title this past year. Throw in two straight NCAA tournament appearances – where the Seahawks gave both Duke and Virginia a run for their money in the opening round – and it’s no surprise that Keatts landed himself a job in the ACC.

It also should come as no surprise that UNCW looks like they will take a bit of a step back in C.B. McGrath’s first season at the helm. Chris Flemmings, the Player of the Year in 2016, and C.J. Bryce, the Player of the Year in 2017, both left the program, Flemmings to graduation and Bryce to N.C. State along with Keatts. With two other starts gone along with the man who built the roster to fit his style of play, McGrath is going to have his work cut out for him this year.

What that means is that the top of the CAA is going to be wide open this year, and on paper it seems as if two teams are in the driver’s seat to take over the title of ‘CAA’s Best’.

The obvious pick is College of Charleston, who finished last season just a game off of UNCW’s pace. The Cougars return essentially everyone from last year’s team, including the best one-two punch in the conference in Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley. Throw in rising sophomore Grant Riller, who was one of the best newcomers in the league a season ago, and Earl Grant’s club as plenty of firepower to go along with being the league’s best defensive team last year, according to KenPom.

I firmly expect Elon to be in the mix for the CAA title as well. Like Charleston, the Phoenix essentially bring back their entire roster, led by junior forward Tyler Seibring. The difference, however, is that Charleston simply has more firepower. Seibring could end up being the CAA Player of the Year if he can lead this group to a league title. Charleston has two players that could end up being the league POY and a third that is a sleeper to finish as a first-team all-conference player.

If there is a sleeper to win the league, it’s probably Towson. The Tigers bring back Mike Morsell and DeShaun Morman, but replacing Arnaud William Adala Moro and John Davis is going to be a difficult thing to do. Beyond that, the CAA is tough to project. Northeastern lost T.J. Williams, who came out of nowhere to be arguably the best player in the conference last season, but they return a number of veteran players, get some guys back from injury and add Tomas Murphy, the youngest brother of Alex and Erik.

Hofstra brings back the league’s best scorer (Justin Wright-Foreman) and best rebounder (Rokas Gustys), and Delaware has some young talent on the roster, led by last year’s Freshman of the Year Ryan Daly, but then the rest of the league gets pretty ugly. William & Mary is going into full rebuilding mode with Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon gone. Drexel still is in full rebuild mode, while James Madison loses just about everyone not named Jackson Kent or Ramone Snowden.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON CAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Joe Chealey, Charleston

Chealey was the best player for the Cougars a season ago, and that isn’t going to change this season. A senior point guard on a team that returns, essentially, everyone from a group that finished second in the CAA a year ago, Chealey is the easy pick for Preseason Player of the Year.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-CAA TEAM

  • Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra: Wright-Foreman should end up leading the CAA in scoring this season. The Pride should end up being better than they were a year ago with the amount of talent that is returning.
  • Tyler Seibring, Elon: The Phoenix return all five starters, but the most notable is Seibring, a 6-foot-8 junior who will likely end up being the CAA Player of the Year if Elon can find a way to win the league.
  • Devontae Cacok, UNCW: UNCW lost a ton this offseason but they did return Cacok, who is one of the most dominant interior presences in the mid-major ranks. He’ll be asked to do a lot more this season.
  • Jarrell Brantley, Charleston: Brantley was a first-team all-CAA player last season and he’ll be back, which is a major reason why the Cougars seem to be the favorite to win the CAA this year.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Charleston
2. Elon
3. Towson
4. UNCW
5. Hofstra
6. Northeastern
7. Delaware
8. William & Mary
9. James Madison
10. Drexel