Colonial Conference Preview
by Beth Iskoe
After UNC Wilmington’s outstanding NCAA Tournament run in which it shocked No. 4 seed USC 93-89 before falling 76-67 to eventual runner-up Indiana, the CAA has gained the respect it deserves. Because the Seahawks are heavily favored to grab the automatic berth, if George Mason or Virginia Commonwealth steps up, the conference may finally receive two bids.
The biggest news this off season was the suspension of Hofstra senior shooting guard Rick Apodaca and sophomore power forward Wendell Gibson. Both were suspended until Jan. 18 for violating university policy and will miss their first five conference games as well as every non-conference game.
George Mason will also have to overcome the loss of one of its top players. In May, senior guard Darren Tarver went into cardiac arrest due to a heart arrhythmia while playing a pickup game. His career is over because he can no longer compete in intercollegiate athletics due to the cardiac problem and the implant of an ICD (similar to a pacemaker).
While UNC Wilmington will almost certainly defend its title, here is a breakdown of every team in their projected order of finish.
UNC Wilmington Seahawks (23-10, 14-4, 1st)
Although at first glance it appears UNC Wilmington will be a lock to repeat as CAA champions, there are a few obstacles it must overcome. Head coach Jerry Wainwright decided to take advantage of the team’s success and jumped to Richmond, a former CAA rival. Brad Brownell, a former assistant will take over and try to ride senior guard Brett Blizzard and senior forward Craig Callahan to the championship. In addition, the Seahawks lost three players when senior forwards Ed Williams and Stewart Hare graduated and junior guard Lou Chapman left the team for personal reasons. Williams recently signed a contract with the Thames Valley Tigers of the United Kingdom.
Besides Blizzard and Callahan, UNC Wilmington is counting on junior forward Anthony Terrell, junior guard Tim Burnette and sophomore forward Brandon Clifford to step in the starting rotation and pick up where the Seahawks left off last season. Their task will be more difficult without the services of sophomore center Aaron Coombs, who will miss the first eight weeks of the season while he recovers from surgery to repair his fractured right foot. Freshmen forwards Mitch Laue and Beckham Wyrick as well as guard John Goldsberry will try to fill Coombs’ void.
UNC Wilmington’s most intriguing game of the season is its first, when it travels to the capital punishment capital of America Nov. 22 to take on Bobby Knight and Texas Tech. The Seahawks also face another difficult road opponent when they head to South Carolina Dec. 23 to play the College of Charleston.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (21-11, 11-7, 3rd)
Last year’s runner-up in the CAA Tournament will be without five members of last year’s squad. Senior center L.F. Likcholitov was drafted 78th overall in the eighth round of the USBL draft by the Dodge City Legend. Additionally, junior forwards Josh Graham, Josh Clark and Konstanti Nekerov and sophomore center Dennis Orlov left the team for undisclosed reasons. The Rams will also be without their coach, as Mack McCarthy decided to resign and has been replaced by Jeff Capel, a former Virginia Commonwealth assistant coach.
However, the Rams do return their two best players from last season in senior forward Willie Taylor and junior guard Domonic Jones. Also expected to start and play a major role in the team’s success are senior guard Antoine Willie, sophomore forward Derrick Reid and junior forward Troy Godwin, a transfer from Allegany College in Cumberland, MD. Freshman forward Nick George is also projected to compete for a large amount of playing time.
The Rams will take on six teams that received postseason berths last season in addition to CAA opponents UNC Wilmington and George Mason. They host NCAA qualifiers Florida Atlantic (Dec. 5) and Hampton (Dec. 19), as well as NIT participants Wagner (Nov. 30) and Richmond (Dec. 7). Virginia Commonwealth will go on the road to face NCAA invites Western Kentucky (Nov. 26) and Mississippi (Dec. 14).
George Mason Patriots (19-10, 13-5, 2nd)
Besides having to emotionally overcome losing senior guard Darren Tarver to his heart condition, George Mason will also have to replace graduated forward Rob Anderson and guard Terrance Nixon. However, the Patriots have a good reason to be optimistic, as they bring back seven letter winners including senior forward Jesse Young, their offensive powerhouse. Other returning starters are senior forward Jon Larranaga, sophomore guard Lamar Butler and junior guard Raoul Heinen. Unfortunately, Butler will miss the first semester to concentrate on academics. Sophomore forward Colin Wyatt and junior guard Richard Tynes are projected to assume the remaining starting spots.
In addition, freshmen forwards Trent Wurtz and Jai Lewis as well as junior forward transfer Mark Davis are expected to contribute in the early going. George Mason will need all the help it can get because of its extremely challenging non conference schedule. The Patriots will go on the road to face two teams that advanced to the Sweet-16 last year in Southern Illinois (Nov. 24) and Pittsburgh (Dec. 28). The Panthers are ranked No. 9 in both the AP and Coaches Top-25 Polls. On Nov. 30 George Mason will host a Mississippi team out to seek revenge after the Patriots snapped their 44-game home winning streak, the second longest in the nation, with a 71-70 victory last December.
Drexel Dragons (14-4, 11-7, 4th)
Bruiser Flint, last season’s CAA Coach of the Year, will have a hard time convincing his team to play the underdog role after last year’s surprisingly successful season. Drexel returns the core of its team, losing only guard Julius Williams to graduation as well as walk-on junior guard Jay Overcash, who left the team for undisclosed reasons.
Besides go-to-man, senior center Robert Battle, the Dragons will heavily rely on junior guard Tim Whitworth, sophomore guard Phil Goss, senior guard Eric Schmieder and sophomore forward Danny Hinds. Sophomore guard Jeremiah King and junior guard David Hilton, who transferred from Hawaii where he started 18 games as a true freshman, will also contend for playing time.
Drexel will once again compete for respect in the City of Brotherly Love, when it hosts St. Joseph’s Dec. 7 and then travels across the city to face Villanova (Nov. 22) and Penn (Nov. 25).
Delaware Blue Hens (14-16, 9-9, 5th)
With no seniors on last year’s squad, Delaware was expecting to enter this season with the exact same squad. However, after a tumultuous year, the Hens lost four players. It all began when freshman forward Mark Curry dropped off the team in February before eventually transferring to St. Peter’s. Then after the season, junior guard Austen Rowland and sophomore forward Sean Knitter announced they wanted to transfer. Rowland chose Lehigh while Knitter ended up at Lafayette. Also during the off season, junior guard Vohn Hunter was declared academically ineligible.
However, these changes should actually benefit this year’s squad as Rowland was becoming increasingly unhappy backing up then true freshman guard Mike Slattery, Knitter was not satisfied with his playing time, Curry had not been a major contributor and Hunter had an extremely poor shooting season. Besides converting only 32 percent of his field goals, Hunter also had the bad habit of not passing the ball to wide open teammates, instead choosing to take wild, off balanced shots.
In addition to Slattery, Delaware will count on junior guard Mike Ames, junior forward Robin Wentt, senior forward Maurice Sessoms and senior forward Dave Hindenlang. Other players expected to receive a large amount of playing time include senior guard Ryan Iversen, sophomore forward Calvin Smith and freshman guard Rulon Washington. The Hens will play for bragging rights with three Philly teams squads when they host Penn (Dec. 3) and travel to LaSalle (Nov. 22) and St. Joseph’s (Dec. 9).
Towson Tigers (11-18, 7-11, 7th)
In what may have been one of the strangest stories in college basketball last year, sophomore guard and high school phenom Tamir Goodman quit the team after head coach Michael Hunt allegedly held a chair over his head in a frightening manner after a game. Moreover, while yelling at his team, Hunt allegedly kicked a metal stool that hit Goodman’s leg. Goodman recently signed a three-year contract for the Tel-Aviv Maccabees to play in Israel.
In addition to Goodman, Towson lost three players to graduation including guard and leading scorer Sam Sutton as well as center Michael Shin and forward Kerry Augustus. The Tigers will have six new faces on the roster this season in five freshman and Jamaal Gilchrist, a junior point guard who sat out a year after transferring from Texas A&M where he was a two year starter.
While senior guard Brian Allen will be counted on to handle much of the scoring load, other help is expected to come from Gilchrist, senior guard Gerald Weatherspoon, senior forward Keon Blanks and sophomore center Derrick Goode. Freshmen guards Clik McSweeney and Andrius Petkunas and forward Lawrence Hamm are also expected to see a large amount of action. The Tigers will need to have a large number of contributors early on when they go on the road to face Big East opponents Georgetown (Nov. 30) and Virginia Tech (Dec. 30) and host Atlantic-10 foe George Washington (Dec. 22).
Old Dominion Monarchs (13-16, 7-11, 6th)
Old Dominion has also had a turbulent off season, as four of its players decided not to return and guard Pierre Greene graduated. Sophomore center Charles Dunnington decided to transfer to Virginia State, sophomore center Clay McGowen switched to Ohio Univeristy, freshman forward James Smith dropped out and freshman forward Alan Treese decided not to return to university.
Fortunately, senior forward and leading scorer Ricardo Marsh is back, and will be joined in the starting lineup by senior forward Rasheed Wright, junior guards John Waller and Troy Nance as well as junior center Joe Principe. Freshmen guards Isaiah Hunter and John Morris as well as forward Alex Loughton and center Janko Mrksic also figure prominently in the team’s plans.
The Monarchs have a challenging conference schedule from the start, as they host North Carolina Nov. 24 in their first regular season match up. They then travel to St. Joseph’s (Dec. 1), Hampton (Dec. 4) and George Washington (Dec. 28).
James Madison Dukes (14-15, 6-12, 9th)
If the Dukes are to be successful in the CAA, they need someone to have a breakout season to complement senior guard David Fanning. Gone from last year’s squad are graduated forwards Ron Anderson and Tim Lyle, as well as junior forward Jerian Younger and freshman Femi Akinnagbe, who both left the team for undisclosed reasons.
One candidate that must step up is junior forward Dwayne Broyles, the team’s newly named co-captain. Others who need to produce are junior forward Chris Williams, senior forward Pat Mitchell and senior center Ian Caskill. Incoming freshmen include guard Wes Miller and forwards Ulrich Kossepka and Jon Plefka.
James Madison’s schedule is highlighted with home contests against LaSalle (Dec. 3) and Florida Atlantic (Dec. 16), as well as road dates with Georgetown (Nov. 25), West Virginia (Nov. 30) and Davidson (Dec. 5). The Dukes will also compete in the San Juan Shootout, which features Auburn, Denver, Duquesne, Northeastern, Sacred Heart, Troy State and Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.
Hofstra Pride (12-20, 5-13, 10th)
The loss of senior guard Rick Apodaca as a result of violating university policy may well have extinguished Hofstra’s chances to be competitive this season. Not only will the Pride be without his scoring until Jan. 18, but the role he established last year as being the leader of the team is gone. Hofstra will also be without the services of sophomore forward Wendell Gibson for the same reason. The suspension of these two, coupled with sophomore guard Joel Suarez’s decision to leave the team in the middle of February, presents an obstacle that may be too big for the Pride to overcome.
Sophomore forward Kenny Adeleke, last year’s CAA Rookie of the Year, will be expected to take over Apodaca’s role. Helping him to keep Hofstra competitive until Apodaca returns will be senior forward Danny Walker, sophomore guard Mike Radziejewski, sophomore guard Woody Souffrant and senior center Lars Grubler. Freshman guard Gibran Washington should receive some quality playing time.
The Pride play two extremely captivating non-conference games. They have a rude awakening to start the regular season on Nov. 22 when they go on the road to take on media-darling Gonzaga and then travel to New York to face St. John’s Dec. 14. They will also compete in the Hofstra/Wingate Inn Holiday Tournament Nov. 30 which includes Lehigh, Quinnipiac and Texas Pan-American.
William and Mary Tribe (10-19, 7-11, 8th)
After finishing eighth last season and losing four seniors to graduation, it will take a miracle for the Tribe to finish higher than eighth this season. When forwards Tom Strobehn, Bill Davis, Mike Johnson and guard Cody Carbaugh left, they took 36 percent of the team’s offense with them.
Leading William and Mary this season will be senior guard Sherman Rivers, sophomore guard Nick D’Antoni, junior forward Adam Hess, sophomore forward Thomas Viglianco and senior center Adam Duggins. Freshman forward Jack Jenkins is the team’s most promising rookie and has a legitimate chance to beat out Viglianco in the starting lineup.
The Tribe’s schedule is highlighted by non-conference games at East Carolina (Nov. 30) and Hampton (Feb. 3) and home games against Virginia Tech (Dec. 7) and Fordham (Dec. 22).
All Conference Team:
G – senior Brett Blizzard – UNC-Wilmington
G – junior Domonic Jones – Virginia Commonwealth
F – senior Ricardo Marsh – Old Dominion
F – senior Jesse Young – George Mason
C – senior Robert Battle – Drexel
UNC-Wilmington senior forward Craig Callahan
Virginia Commonwealth senior forward Willie Taylor
James Madison senior guard David Fanning
Most Valuable Player:
Brett Blizzard – UNC Wilmington – senior guard
After receiving national exposure last season, some experts believe Blizzard may have a shot to play in the NBA. Whether or not he has a legitimate chance, Blizzard will make the most of his final season and dominate the conference. After being competitive in the NCAA Tournament last season, Blizzard has tasted success and will not let this opportunity with this talented team slip through his fingers.
Newcomer of the Year:
Jamaal Gilchrist – Towson – junior guard from Texas A&M
Last season, he sat on the bench per NCAA rules and watched his competition. This season, he will be on the floor and will have success against that same competition. Gilchrist will take advantage of opposing teams focusing on senior guard Brian Allen and will get a number of easy baskets on his way to an outstanding season.
Rookie of the Year:
Gibran Washington – Hofstra – freshman guard
With the loss of senior guard Rick Apodaca for the first half of the season, Washington will receive quality playing time that will help him develop just in time for the conference season.
Coach on the Hot Seat:
Tom Pecora – Hofstra
Although his Pride made it to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament last season, Hofstra will be hard-pressed to improve on its last-place finish of a year ago without senior guard Rick Apodaca, the team leader. Pecora’s ability to keep his team disciplined and focused will go a long way in determining whether he returns next season.
Defender of the Year:
Robert Battle – Drexel – senior center
At 6-8, 230 pounds, Battle may not be the biggest center in the league, but he is the most imposing. Last season, in his first year of CAA competition, Battle led the conference in both rebounds and blocked shots per game. This season, Battle should have no problem repeating last year’s success.
Breakout Player of the Year:
Mike Slattery – Delaware – sophomore guard.
The fact that Slattery was named a co-captain in only his second season demonstrates the faith and respect he has earned from his teammates. With a half season of starting under his belt, Slattery has a better grasp of the offense and should post some huge, but not surprising numbers this season.
On paper, it looks as though this conference is clearly divided into three tiers. UNC Wilmington, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason seem to be the strongest and each has an excellent shot to see extended post season action. Drexel, Delaware and Towson have the potential to be competitive and make a run in the tournament. Old Dominion, James Madison, Hofstra and William and Mary can only hope to play the role of spoilers.
Regardless, as Drexel showed in last year’s regular season and Hofstra in last year’s post season, that’s why they play the games. However, one thing is for sure, all 10 teams appear primed and ready to bring this conference the national respect it deserves.