The Colonial Athletic Association handed out its postseason awards on Thursday night, as usual a day in advance of the conference tournament. As one of the voters in the conference, I always find it a worthwhile exercise to share how I voted and some of the thoughts behind it.
The most notable highlight is that the Player of the Year vote was a tough one. I debated that more than anything else, even finishing my ballot other than that award at first so I could ponder it more. A couple of the other awards were relatively easy this time around, and at the margins it was a tough call in a couple of cases for the last person on one of the teams.
With that in mind, here is a look at how I voted this year and what went into it.
Player of the Year: Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
This was a very tough call between Benimon and Devon Saddler. The deciding factor wasn’t Saddler’s one-month suspension early in the season, largely because he came back and played the best basketball of his career and led the Blue Hens to the regular season title. But in the end, Benimon got the nod with his play down the stretch and from being a double-double machine, leading the nation in that category. Benimon ultimately won it for the second year in a row.
Rookie of the Year: Omar Prewitt, William & Mary
Who would have imagined that one of the most experienced teams in the conference would produce the Rookie of the Year? Prewitt earned minutes and a key role on this team early on and just kept getting better. No one won the conference’s Rookie of the Week honors more, and he had the best numbers. This was a relatively easy selection at the end of the day, with Hofstra’s Jamall Robinson being the only other one I considered heavily for it.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
This is never a fun award to vote for, and it’s for a couple of reasons. Teams play defense predicated on play as a unit, even those who play nothing but man-to-man. In addition, statistics don’t convey an individual’s contribution so well, because steals don’t necessarily come from good defense (they can come from successful gambles) and blocked shots (or lack thereof) is often a product of a team’s perimeter defense. With that said, Benimon leads the nation in rebounding and is among the CAA’s leaders in blocked shots. He patrolled the paint for a team that was second in the CAA in field goal percentage defense, led in rebounding margin and was good defensively while not turning teams over as they forced the fewest turnovers in the conference. It was a close call between him and Northeastern’s Scott Eatherton, who ultimately won the award.
Coach of the Year: Monte Ross, Delaware
There wasn’t really a case to be made for anyone but Ross this year, and it’s not just because the Blue Hens won the regular season with a 14-2 mark. While they over-achieved more than any other team, which is usually a prerequisite for this award to most voters, the Blue Hens didn’t this in a straight line. They had to go without key players at different times due to suspensions, but Ross has this team buying into the “next man up” mentality to the point where they didn’t miss a beat even without Saddler for a month and upon his return. He has successfully laid down the law, and results have followed. It’s a sign of what he’s accomplished since it tells you about the culture of the program now.
Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
Frantz Massenat, Drexel
Devon Saddler, Delaware
Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
Davon Usher, Delaware
Benimon and Saddler were the top two contenders for Player of the Year. Saddler played tremendous basketball, especially after he returned from suspension. Massenat led the conference in assists and quietly had a nice senior year through all the adversity Drexel had to deal with, including a season-ending knee injury to backcourt mate Damion Lee. Thornton had a terrific season and led William & Mary to a third-place finish, but has been overshadowed by others. He could be the preseason Player of the Year next season. Usher transferred in and immediately was one of the conference’s best players, and it wasn’t just when Saddler was out as he had huge games later in the season and did it at both ends.
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern
Chris Fouch, Drexel
Willis Hall, College of Charleston
Jarvis Threatt, Delaware
Zeke Upshaw, Hofstra
Eatherton was a close call for the first team, as he’s among the nation’s leaders in double-doubles and responded to the challenge of having to be even more of a focal point after Quincy Ford was lost for the season. Fouch stayed healthy and produced like he is capable of, and also hit some big shots along the way. Hall got a lot of notice for a big week in January that earned him National Player of the Week honors, but that wasn’t all as he was the Cougars’ best player in their inaugural season. Threatt turned into a terrific floor leader this season and found his offense in flow, and was one of the reasons Delaware’s offense went on without a hitch when Saddler was out and then when he came back. Upshaw was one of the bright spots in a tough season for Hofstra and is second in the conference in scoring.
Charles Cooke, James Madison
Marcus Damas, Towson
Dion Nesmith, Hofstra
Anthony Stitt, College of Charleston
David Walker, Northeastern
Cooke was one of James Madison’s most improved players in the latter part of 2012-13, and he kept it up this season, including when they were without Andre Nation for about the first half of the season. Damas could easily be overshadowed on Towson, but was a key complement to Benimon as part of a balanced group. Nesmith was second in the conference in assists, third in three-point field goal percentage and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Stitt had a nice season while College of Charleston had their ups and downs. Northeastern rode Walker all season long with heavy minutes and more ball handling duties, and he responded with a good season of growth and some clutch shots.
Joe Chealey, College of Charleston
Omar Prewitt, William & Mary
Jamall Robinson, Hofstra
Rodney Williams, Drexel
T.J. Williams, Northeastern
Chealey just beat out teammate Canyon Barry for a vote on this team. He has only begun scratching the surface of his potential, though the growing pains were clear. Prewitt was the top rookie and helped the veteran Tribe finish third. Robinson made an impact right away for Hofstra with the opportunity he had in front of him. Rodney Williams also got opportunities right away, then more later on when another key injury struck Drexel’s frontcourt, and he showed that he has good potential he has only begun to tap into. T.J. Williams had a bit of a slow start, but might have developed as well and as steadily as any freshman in the conference over the course of the season and figures to be Northeastern’s point guard for the next three seasons after this one.
Carl Baptiste, Delaware
Adjehi Baru, College of Charleston
Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern
Davon Usher, Delaware
Baptiste anchored Delaware’s interior defense as their most experienced player, finishing second in blocked shots and fifth in rebounding while also being an enforcer. Baru tied for third in blocked shots and was seventh in rebounding, teaming up well with Willis Hall inside for the Cougars. Benimon leads the nation in rebounding and was the key to Towson’s defense. Eatherton played a similar role for Northeastern at that end of the floor, piling up double-doubles from his rebounding. Usher did a lot of things well for Delaware, and defense was one of them as he led the conference in steals and was just outside the top ten in rebounding from the wing, although on occasion he assumed a power forward spot with three smaller players on the court with him.