CAA Preview: Drexel aims to avenge last year’s snub, snap 16-year NCAA drought

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 12 league, the CAA.

When Drexel players felt fatigue setting in while lifting weights or running sprints in preparation for the season, the Dragons probably had no trouble finding motivation to push through it.

They merely had to think back to last March when they were perhaps the most deserving at-large candidate left out of the NCAA tournament.

With four starters and several key reserves back from a team that won 29 games and the CAA championship last season, Drexel will have every chance to avenge that snub this March and snap an 16-year NCAA tournament drought. The Dragons enter the season as a clear-cut favorite in a CAA race watered down a bit by the departure of VCU and Old Dominion, UNC Wilmington and Georgia State being ineligible for the conference tournament.

Drexel's strength under Bruiser Flint has been rugged defense and rebounding, something that's unlikely to change this season. Opposing teams shot just 39.2 percent against the Dragons and averaged just 0.92 points per possession, both top 20 nationally.

What helped Drexel improve dramatically last season was a perimeter offense headlined by guards Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee. One of the CAA's worst shooting teams for years, Drexel led the conference from behind the arc last season and placed three players in the top 10 in 3-point percentage. Massenat ran the attack brilliantly, scoring 13.7 points and 4.8 assists.

[Also: Hoosiers aim for first national basketball title since '87]

The biggest question mark for Drexel this season is probably their ability to find a low post scorer to replace graduated Samme Givens, who demanded double teams and freed up shooters last season. Relentless defender and rebounder Dartaye Ruffin will be asked to contribute more offensively this season with Givens gone.

No team in the CAA returns as much proven talent as Drexel, but Delaware and George Mason probably pose the biggest threat.

The Blue Hens, 12-6 in the CAA a year ago, return all five starters including high-scoring guard Devon Saddler and athletic double-double threat Jamelle Hagins. The Patriots lost their star, Ryan Pearson, to graduation, but wing Sherrod Wright may develop into a go-to scorer and promising sophomore Erik Copes should assume a larger role.

Best shooter: Andrey Semenov, James Madison
Best playmaker: Frantz Massenat, Drexel
Best defender: Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
Coach on the rise: Monte Ross, Delaware
Coach on the hot seat: Matt Brady, James Madison
Three must-see games: 1 Drexel at Anaheim Classic, Nov. 15-18 (If Dragons win opener vs. Saint Mary's, opportunities for marquee wins await); 2. Virginia at George Mason, Nov. 9 (Virginia clobbered the Patriots 68-48 a year ago); 3. Delaware at Duke, Dec. 1 (Are the Blue Hens any match for the Blue Devils?)

New coaches: none
Regular-season winner last season: Drexel
Tourney winner last season: VCU
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 15th ; 2010-11: 10th, 2009-10: 12th
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2012, 12th-seeded VCU defeated Wichita State

More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:

MAC (No. 13): New Ohio coach Jim Christian is back in his comfort zone; Akron hopes to avenge last year's MAC tourney title game loss

Horizon League (No. 14): An unlikely Florida recruiting pipeline has sparked Youngstown State's revivalValparaiso won't sneak up on anybody this season

Ohio Valley Conference (No. 15): Isaiah Canaan talks about coming back to Murray State, his most famous shot and how Hurricane Katrina altered his lifeMurray State, Belmont poised to continue league's run of recent success

Ivy League (No. 16): Princeton's Ian Hummer excels at a school he has adored since childhoodIvy League Capsule Preview: Harvard is still a title threat despite cheating scandal

Patriot League (No. 17): C.J. McCollum bypassed the NBA and returned to Lehigh to fulfill a promise to his parentsExpect another spirited two-way battle between Bucknell and Lehigh

MAAC (No. 18): Mitch Buonaguro enters important year optimistic Siena can climb back into contentionNext step in Manhattan's stunning turnaround could be league title

Southern Conference (No. 19): Trading soccer for hoops has paid off for College of Charleston star and Great Britain Olympian Andrew LawrenceDavidson is loaded for another run at a league title, NCAA bid

WAC (No. 20): Will the beleaguered WAC survive as a basketball league beyond next season?;WAC Capsule Preview: Utah State hopes to rebound from frustrating 2011-12 season

Sun Belt League (No. 21): In likely his final season at North Texas, Tony Mitchell wants to leave a legacyMiddle Tennessee State vies for the NCAA bid it narrowly missed last year

Summit League (No. 22): In the small town of Brookings, S.D., Nate Wolters is a reluctant superstarSouth Dakota State looks like the clear favorite

NEC (No. 23): Oft-overlooked Shane Gibson hopes to go from hidden gem to stardomNEC Capsule Preview: Three-way battle for league title could hinge on LIU Brooklyn suspensions

Big Sky (No. 24): New stars must emerge for Weber State to succeed without Damian Lillard;Montana remains the favorite despite Will Cherry's injury

Big West (No. 25): With San Diego State on its way, Big West teams are investing in hoops to avoid being left behindRevamped Long Beach State takes aim at another Big West title

Atlantic Sun (No. 26): Humble, unassuming Torrey Craig leads South Carolina Upstate's resurgenceWhich team will capitalize on Belmont's departure?

Big South (No. 27): Unwanted in high school, guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper are now powering Charleston Southern's resurgenceCoastal Carolina hopes home is sweet this March

Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for LamarOral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league

America East (No. 29): Stony Brook basketball draws inspiration from baseball team's College World Series runEarly departures drain league of some of its top talent

MEAC (No. 30): Rush of publicity from Missouri win has long-lasting impact at Norfolk StateSavannah State seeks NCAA bid to cap remarkable turnaround

SWAC (No. 31): Mike Davis prefers challenge of winning at Texas Southern to torture of taking a year offBalanced league will crown new champ this year

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