After three straight NIT postseason appearances, the Pride struggled last year going 12-18. The Pride did however finish barely under .500 in the CAA with a 8-10 record. The Pride return four of their five starters ( guards Greg Johnson and Charles Jenkins, forwards Dane Johnson and Darren Townes). However, the one starter they are missing to graduation was two time All CAA First Team guard Antoine Agudio, the leading scorer in the CAA last year. The Pride will count on All CAA First Team Rookie Charles Jenkins to take over the scoring load. The Pride will need to find additional scoring help to lighten Jenkins’ load. The Pride start their season in the Charleston Classic with their first of three opponents being Clemson (a NCAA tournament team last season). The Pride also has a road game against NIT finalist UMass.
Losing your leading scorer and one of the top 10 scorers in the country, Antoine Agudio, will be
not an easy task. Agudio’s scoring prowess forced many teams to double team which freed up Charles Jenkins among others for easier scoring opportunities. Now teams can play the Pride more honestly.
Charles Jenkins - Jenkins was outstanding as a freshman, providing 15 points and nearly 5 rebounds a game while playing second fiddle to Agudio. He is a solid 6 foot 3 220 pound stud who has really worked on an outside jumper all off-season, and it showed during the blue white scrimmage I attended. However, he is now the opponent’s main focus, and how he fares in that spotlight will determine Hofstra’s success. If Jenkins is up to the challenge and learns to cut down on the turnovers, it means the Pride again has a significant weapon for other teams to stop.
This season offers potential for the Pride. This is actually a veteran team with six seniors, three who are starters, who play significant minutes. If the Pride can find balanced scoring from Dane Johnson, Townes, sophomore Nate Lester, and from incoming JUCOs Cornelius Vines, Tony Dennison and Marcus Szabo, along with an elite performance from Jenkins, they may surprise. The team can actually go eleven, twelve deep and should be competitive on a nightly basis. The Charleston Classic tournament will be a good test for the Pride.
William and Mary
The Mary, as my friend Tony Terentieff calls them, were the Cinderella of the CAA last season. They were in the upper echelon of the conference for most of the year, until a late swoon resulted in a fifth place regular season finish. But then came the tournament. A last second three point shot by David Schneider saved the Tribe from a first round loss to Georgia State. Then the Mary held off Old Dominion in the quarterfinal game. This led to their famous semifinal upset win over VCU, which sealed the Rams fate to the NIT. The Tribe however couldn’t pull off the championship win, losing to Mason in the finals. Gone are guard Nathan Mann and forward Laimus Kiselius but returning are Schneider, forward Danny Sumner, who had an outstanding CAA tournament and center Peter Stein.
Laimis Kisielius could be an enigma at times, but he was the Tribe’s best player. He played his best game in that semifinal win over VCU. His ability to take the pass at half court and drive up the court was instrumental in breaking the Rams’ vaunted press. The Rams must find someone to take over Kiselius’ role as leader.
Danny Sumner - Sumner simply shined in the CAA tournament. The Mary’s third leading scorer at 10.5 points per game averaged 15.5 points in the four games in the tournament. Sumner will now be counted on to increase his scoring load. If Sumner can continue his play from the CAA Tournament, the loss of Kiselius will be lessened.
Its hard to imagine that the prognosticators dropped the Tribe all the way to eighth in the preseason poll after only losing two of the starters from last year’s team. Schneider, Sumner and Stein are a solid returning nucleus and if the Tribe get anything from their bench and their top freshmen Kendrix Brown and Quinn McDowell, the Tribe will definitely finish higher. Finally, they have one of the best Xs and Os coaches in Tony Shaver. If you ever want to see how to beat a very good press, get your hands on a copy of the tape from last season’s VCU/William and Mary semifinal game. Its worth the watch.
Madison had been long the doormat of the league the past few seasons. But early on last season, the Dukes were the darlings of the CAA. They roared out to a 7-1 record, including a 12 point win over Siena (the Saints would knock off Vandy in the first round of the NCAA tournament). However after a 2-0 conference start and a 9-3 record, the clock struck midnight on Cinderella. Madison went 4-14 the rest of the way, including an 18 point drubbing by Northeastern in the first round of the CAA tournament. This resulted in the hiring of Marist coach Matt Brady to try to finally turn the Dukes’ fortunes around. What will help is that all five starters; Abdulai Jalloh, Terrance Carter, Kyle Swanston, Juwann James and Pierre Curtis all return.
With all five starters returning, there is no key loss for the Dukes.
Abdulai Jalloh - The St Joe’s transfer led the way in scoring for the Dukes at 15.5 points per game. The problem is that he also led the way in turnovers, averaging over 4 turnovers a game, a number simply unacceptable. Jalloh must control the ball better if the Dukes want to improve.
You have a team returning all five starters. You have a team that brought in an outstanding successful mid major coach in Matt Brady (think a Brad Brownell move). You have a league that has at maybe most one elite team in VCU and a whole lot of other teams with questions. You have a team that did start last season at 9-3 with the same group of starters. Yet the Dukes are picked to finish ninth. So what do I think. The Dukes have to play a lot better defense to improve. Yes they can score, but they also commit a lot of turnovers and their defense looks a lot like the San Diego Chargers D from the Air Coryell days (and no that’s not a compliment). If Brady can reign in the turnovers and get this group to play D, the Dukes will improve.
It will be interesting to see what Pat Kennedy’s team does this season. Third leading scorer Rodney Spruill transferred, point guard CC Williams and forward Jonathan Pease graduated. Thus three of the five starters are no longer on the team. Still with the Tigers have leading scorer Josh Thornton and power forward Junior Hairston, the third leading scorer and leading rebounder. Also returning is guard Tim Crossin and forward Tony Durant.
CC Williams averaged 4.7 assists a game and had an excellent 2.2 -1 assists to turnover ratio. His play will be sorely missed.
Tim Crossin - Remember when Crossin was a sensational freshman. He averaged 5 assists a game while averaging 34 minutes a game. He looked like he was destined for a very good career with the Tigers. Then Pat Kennedy came aboard and Crossin saw his average minutes cut in half in his sophomore season, then down to 14 minutes as a junior. He needs to regain the form and minutes to salvage his career. He may be the Tigers best point guard.
Pat Kennedy was looked at as a savior when brought in three years ago. So far however, his teams have disappointed and perhaps the magic that Kennedy had at Iona has long since been gone. He has to replace three starters and seems to have buried the once promising Crossin on the bench. He has only one top recruit coming in; freshman point guard Troy Franklin. But there is a question of how effective he will be at the start. It looks to be a rough start with games at Villanova and NC State and a home game vs. St Joe’s.
Three seasons ago, the Seahawks were the regular season and postseason champs of the CAA. Two seasons ago, TJ Carter was out for the season and the Seahawks followed suit. Last season, TJ Carter returned and so did the Seahawks. A 20 win season and a second place finish in the CAA had the Seahawks on the cusp of something special. But they couldn’t beat Mason three times in one season and lost in the semis to the Patriots. Now with four of their five starters graduated, the Seahawks look to rebuild.
TJ Carter was truly the Seahawks MVP. Three seasons ago, he was the Tournament MVP for UNC Wilmington. Two seasons ago, with him out for the year, a veteran team struggled without him. Last season, Carter was back and so were the Seahawks. His presence, along with his scoring ability, made UNC Wilmington a whole lot better. Now the Seahawks need someone to fill that void.
Chad Tomko. The only returning starter from last year’s team, Tomko will have to provide leadership and improved scoring for the Seahawks to even be just competitive.
The outlook looks grim, really grim for the Seahawks this year. Outside of Tomko, only forward Dominique Lacy and guards Montez Downey and Josh Sheets really only saw significant time. The schedule is not kind to UNC Wilmington either. Road games at Wake Forest, Kent State, Texas A&M and Charleston will be extremely difficult. The Seahawks will fight it out with Drexel to see who avoids the cellar
Two seasons ago, Drexel was one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament despite the best road record in the NCAA. One season later, the Dragons finished tenth in the conference and then lost their two best players to graduation; forwards Frank Elegar and Randy Oveneke. For good measure, guard Rob Hampton who was fifth in minutes and sixth in scoring on the team, transferred. This basically leaves the Dragons the nucleus of Scott Rodgers, Traymayne Hawthorne, and Gerald Colds from which to start from.
Frank Elegar was the Dragons’ Mr Everything. He led in scoring, 14 points per game. He led in rebounding, 8 per game and in blocks averaging 2 a game. Elegar leaves a huge hole in the middle for Drexel.
Traymayne Hawthorne showed flashes of brilliance at times, averaging 11 points 3 assists and 2 steals per game. He also had the best assist to turnover ratio for the Dragons. However, he was very streaky from the field, shooting only 38.6 percent. For the Dragons to have any chance of being competitive, Hawthorne must improve on his shooting percentage.
The news got grimmer for the Dragons when top prospect, freshman shooting guard Chris Fouch went down for the season with a torn ACL. Coach Bruiser Flint must hope that fellow top incoming freshman Kevin Phillip and Samuel Givens will give him quality minutes. A bruising non conference schedule with games at Georgetown, St Joe’s and Memphis will offer the young Dragons little comfort. A potential second straight bottom third finish may jeopardize Flint’s tenure with Drexel.
My Preseason Prognostication
As long as Maynor is still around, VCU is the team to beat. However, they will now need to find more scoring from Sanders and Rodriguez to offset the inevitable double teams Maynor will see. The margin for error for the Rams has greatly lessened. The smart money for contender to the Rams throne seems to be on Northeastern. But until the Huskies show me that they can win on the road, I remain skeptical. The team that is flying under the radar and has enough veterans (three starters returning) plus an influx of young talent is George Mason. A returning Darryl Monroe plus my rookie of the year candidate Ryan Pearson make the Patriots a dangerous team.
As for the next three teams, I think ODU is not a top echelon team with their questionable guard play. I need to see proof that the Monarchs are a top three team. Till then I have them at least fourth. I really like William and Mary to build on their 2007-08 season. With three starters returning, including an emerging Danny Sumner and the wily David Schneider, the Tribe is much better than an eighth place team. Georgia State is the seemingly sexy sleeper pick with five D1 transfers joining Leonard Mendez for what seems to be the Panthers rise from the bottom third. But as I said earlier, its show me time for these supposedly talented transfers. The early season non-conference schedule will be a true test.
As for the next three teams, Hofstra could be the team with the most to build on. Its potentially a very deep team if coach Tom Pecora plays them right. However, the Pride need to find a second and third scoring option and ball movement will be key for them. Delaware is going to struggle without Herb Courtney and no real influx of talent. The Blue Hens have Egerson, Dawson and Johnson but not much else. James Madison has all five starters returning and a new very good coach in Matt Brady. But I need to see them play defense and handle the ball better, before I move them up my list.
Finally, the bottom third of the conference is weak. Really really weak. Towson with Junior Hairston as its only saving grace, will finish tenth. Simply because Drexel and UNC Wilmington will be so bad. In fact, I have Drexel finishing ahead of Wilmington simply because they have more starters returning. Its going to be a long year for these two teams.
Final Order of Finish
2) George Mason
5) William and Mary
6) Georgia State
8) James Madison
12) UNC Wilmington
Just a few final quick notes. I could easily see the Tribe move up to fourth and Madison finish ahead of Delaware if Brady can get them to play defense and hold onto the ball (in fact I have now Madison eighth and Delaware ninth). Finally, don’t be surprised if the first place team finishes with five or six losses. Its going to be that competitive in the CAA this year as the teams are more closely bunched together. However, this will again be a one bid league this year. The teams simply aren’t strong enough to get an at large in.