Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the CAA.
There may not have been a conference in the country that was more competitive at the top than the CAA a season ago. Four teams shared the regular season title and seven finished within three games of first place.
It doesn’t get more competitive than that, and while a couple of those teams lose some critical pieces, we’re staring down the barrel of another CAA season that won’t be decided until the final game.
On paper, Hofstra looks like the best team, as they clearly have the most talent. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, the best 1-2 punch in the conference are arguably the best perimeter pairing in mid-major hoops, are both back for their final season. Sharp-shooter Brian Bernardi returns as well, as do a couple of big bodies inside, but the issue for the Pride this season will have nothing to do with how well they can score.
Can they get stops? The Pride were 49th nationally in offensive efficiency last season. They were 249th in defensive efficiency and struggled throughout the year to get critical stops on key possessions.
That leaves James Madison, who won a share of last year’s regular season title. The Dukes have the league’s best pure point guard on their roster in 6-foot-4 Ron Curry. Curry averaged 13.9 points and 4.3 assists as a junior and was the catalyst in a number of important wins. Matt Brady also has the best big man in the conference in 6-foot-9 Yohanny Dalembert. Throw in a pair of snipers on the wings and a handful of quality role players, and JMU has a real shot at winning again.
The key for this group is going to be team chemistry. In 2014-15, their season turned when they dismissed Andre Nation, arguably the most talented player on the roster, in December.
Northeastern, William & Mary and UNC Wilmington all lose critical pieces off of last year’s roster.
Northeastern will be without big man Scott Eatherton, a key piece in their near-upset of Notre Dame in the opening round of last year’s NCAA tournament, but they bring back four key seniors from last year, including Quincy Ford and David Walker. They’ll be in the mix down the stretch despite Eatherton’s graduation, but the same cannot be said for William & Mary.
The Tribe run a Princeton-esque offensive system, and they run it well, which should help them overcome the loss of Marcus Thornton, one of the most dynamic guards in all of college basketball last season. They also return a promising wing in Omar Prewitt, but there are some real concerns. Can Prewitt handle facing an opponent’s best defender on a nightly basis? And without Thornton, do they have someone they can turn to if their offense breaks down?
UNCW loses their two leading scorers and three of their top five players. Kevin Keatts is a terrific coach, but the Seahawks look primed to take a small step back this season. As will Drexel, who lost Damion Lee as a graduate transfer to Louisville.
There are two teams to keep an eye on in the middle of the league: Delaware and Towson. The Blue Hens were dreadfully inexperienced last season and dealing with a coaching staff that was left in contract limbo. They still managed to finish 9-9 in the league, returning the league’s two best freshmen in Kory Holden and Chivarsky Corbett. They’re probably a year away from truly being a contender.
Towson lost leading scorer Four McGlynn, but John Davis and Byron Hawkins both return while Wake Forest transfer Arnaud William Adala Moto will be eligible this year.
MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule
- Favorite: “Hofstra is probably the most talented team. But Hofstra was really talented last year, too, and with [Green and Tanksley] they only finished 10-8. Can they defend a little better? That was their Achilles’ heel last year. I also like James Madison. Ronald Curry is the best point guard in the league, and [Yohanney] Dalembert is the best big.”
- Sleeper: “I really like Delaware. I think they’re a year away, but I hate to play them. If Kory Holden has it going, they’ve got two guys that can score inside and if Chivarsky Corbett progresses on the wing? I like their chances.”
- Star to watch: “Juan’ya Green. He just plays wit such a pace. Big guard, can score at all three levels, make threes, mid-range, scores at the rim. He’s got a feel for the game. Old man game, it looks like he’s coasting until you see the box score. He’s a terrific player. Far and away biggest difference maker in the league.”
PRESEASON CAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Juan’ya Green, Hofstra
I’m not sure what I can add here that wasn’t mentioned in the Coach’s Take. Green, who transferred into the program from Niagara, averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 boards. The knock on him — like the rest of the Pride — is his effort on the defensive end of the floor. But even with those concerns, Green is the best player on the team that can win the league.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-CAA TEAM:
- Ronald Curry, James Madison: Curry has improved every year he’s been in college, averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 boards as a junior. As he goes, JMU goes.
- Ameen Tanksley, Hofstra: The second-part of Hofstra’s dynamic Philly duo. Green is the playmaker for the Pride, Tanksley, a 6-foot-5 wing that averaged 16.5 points last season, is their pure scorer.
- Terry Tarpey, William & Mary: A 6-foot-5 guard, Tarpey averaged 12.0 points, 8.4 boards and 3.2 assists as a junior. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the league last season. A winner through and through.
- Yohanny Dalembert, James Madison: A junior from Haiti, the 6-foot-8 Dalembert should be the best big in the conference this season. He averaged 11.6 points and 5.9 boards a season ago.
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1. James Madison
5. William & Mary
7. UNC Wilmington