September 23, 2010
Our conference preview series continues with a sneak and a peek inside the Colonial Athletic Association. Here's a look at the projected standings, three players to watch, three non-conference games to seek out and three intriguing storylines heading into the season.
The conference had arguably its best year, top to bottom, in its history. Can it get at least two teams to The Dance?
That notion above-the best year in conference history-can be up for debate, as the afterthought postseason tournaments-the CBI, the CIT-invited some teams. Still, six squads were selected for postseason play, and that's the most in CAA history. Still, even though Old Dominion got the upset over Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAAs (one of the chic upset picks, I remind you), it feels time for this conference to get multiple teams back to the big dance.
George Mason returns its entire starting lineup; expected contenders VCU and Old Dominion bring back four. In total, the league brings back nearly 70 percent of the players who had a consistent starting role in 2009-10. That bodes well for out-of-conference games, whether said games are against BCS schools or not. At the mid-major level, experience, in my opinion, means more in the months of November and December than any other time of the year.
ODU, VCU, Mason, William & Mary and Northeastern are all capable of keeping the bubble race within the conference interesting until Valentine's Day at the earliest.
Hofstra as the wild card.
The Pride went 19-15 last season, then had its world flipped, turned upside down when head coach Tom Pecora suddenly decided to bolt for ... 2-26 Fordham? Pecora brought Hofstra 20-win seasons in four of his last six seasons. Then, briefly, the job belonged to Tim Welsh, but a DUI quickly ended his tenure after less than 25 days on the job.
So the school hired Boston College assistant Mo Cassara, whose name couldn't be more New York/perfect for the team. We're unsure of how good or bad this team will be, and that's kind of fun from the outside.
How good? Well that leads us to the Pride having what is nearly universally accepted as the league's best player, Charles Jenkins.
The senior guard is on pace to shatter the school's all-time scoring record. But are the pieces around him enough? I've always believed, at this level, if you've got the most talented player in the league, you've always got a chance night in and out. Jenkins is that, so Hofstra could do what William & Mary did last year. And speaking of ...
Will William & Mary go from spoiler to contender?
After the Tribe gave UConn a close game on the road to start last year, it brought up questions about the Huskies' legitimacy. We eventually found out just how not for real Jim Calhoun's team was, but Bill and Mary also gave us a peek at the team they'd be all season-the one that was the figurative thorn in the side of every team it faced, "superior" or otherwise. But now the Tribe has to show 2009-10 wasn't just a one-year thing. If it's to get respect, it must step up.
The CAA has a penchant for flash-in-the-pan teams that can't remain consistent. One way the team has been consistent: It's shot the deep ball with the best in the country, draining more than 900 treys the past four years. The Tribe made 8.9 shots from behind the arc per game last season, good for eighth-best in the nation. They also broke the conference record with 250 3-pointers made.
Quin McDowell (13.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) was a third-team honoree in the conference last year. He was a top-10er in the CAA in free throws, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting. The junior will have to be the team's leader in order for the group to keep clawing in the standings. Marcus Kitts is the sixth-best returning rebounder in the conference; he hauled in the orange 6.3 times per tilt last season. William & Mary fell in a road loss (80-72) against North Carolina in last year's NIT. It was the first time in 27 years the school had made a postseason tournament.