The new era in the Colonial Athletic Association has begun. While there was plenty of competitiveness, as expected, the conference is in a very different time now with arguably its three signature programs having left over the past two years.
Conference champion Delaware was a study in overcoming adversity all season long. The Blue Hens certainly had enough talent and experience to compete for the title, but suspensions of multiple players, including long ones to Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt, could have scuttled this magical season. They were challenged in the conference tournament, including in the title game, but as they did all year, they found a way to win.
Towson had a nice season that ended with a run in the CIT. William & Mary was thought to be a sleeper and finished third, aided by having the conference’s top newcomer. Drexel and Northeastern battled injuries and tough losses, while College of Charleston had its ups and downs in its first year in the conference.
Meanwhile, quality wins were hard to come by during the non-conference slate. The CAA was certainly not going to be a multiple-bid league this year, and at first glance it’s hard to see that happening next year. Indeed, the CAA barely managed to get two postseason teams to begin with, although William & Mary had a case for one. With only five of the all-conference members able to return next season, a new group of stars must emerge.
Of note is that there is relative stability in the conference’s coaching ranks. The only school that will have a new leader in November is UNCW, as they let Buzz Peterson go and hired Kevin Keatts as his replacement. Keatts has a long record of success from his days at Hargrave Military Academy, so Seahawk fans have a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
|William & Mary||10-6||20-12|
|College of Charleston||6-10||14-18|
Hofstra got everything started with a 78-70 win over UNCW on opening night in what proved to be Buzz Peterson’s last game as head coach of the Seahawks. The Pride then gave Delaware all they could handle before bowing out 87-76 the next day. Northeastern ran all over Drexel for a long stretch of the game before having to hold off a too-little, too-late rally from the Dragons by a 90-81 margin. Towson took care of James Madison 80-71 despite missing 22 free throws, then William & Mary pulled out a 70-59 win over College of Charleston.
In the semifinals, Northeastern gave Delaware all they could handle for a stretch, but the Blue Hens had too much and advanced to the title game with an 87-74 win. Their opponent would be William & Mary, who won a 75-71 thriller over Towson.
The championship game was all anyone could hope for. It was a game that could have gone either way, although Delaware led by a dozen early in the second half before William & Mary battled back to eventually take a 74-68 lead with 1:20 left. Delaware then closed the game on a 7-0 run to sweep the regular season and conference tournament championships with a victory. Jarvis Threatt was the tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Player of the Year: Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
Rookie of the Year: Omar Prewitt, William & Mary
Coach of the Year: Monte Ross, Delaware
Defensive Player of the Year: Scott Eatherton, Northeastern
Jerrelle Benimon, Sr. F, Towson
Frantz Massenat, Sr. G, Drexel
Devon Sadder, Sr. G, Delaware
Marcus Thornton, Jr. G, William & Mary
Davon Usher, Sr. F, Delaware
- Devon Saddler became Delaware’s all-time leading scorer.
- Towson senior Jerrelle Benimon repeated as Player of the Year.
- Towson reached the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
- College of Charleston senior Willis Hall was named National Player of the Week on January 7, 2014, the first time a CAA player received the honor.
What we expected, and it happened: James Madison looked very much like a young team and had the record to match. Also, Hofstra found wins hard to come by, although they gave teams all they could handle
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: College of Charleston was expected to contend given its personnel. The Cougars instead had a bumpy ride in adjusting to a new conference and bowed out in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Also, Drexel was expected to contend, but a rash of injuries that included Damion Lee tearing his ACL made that much more difficult.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: The conference Rookie of the Year was not who anyone would have picked for a couple of reasons. For one, Omar Prewitt certainly wasn’t the most hyped freshman, but he was also on a veteran team, one that figured to be carried by upperclassmen. The upperclassmen certainly led the way, but Prewitt made an instant impact.
Team(s) on the rise: Northeastern. The Huskies had a tough time in non-conference and for some of conference play, as they lost Quincy Ford for the season and then lost a lot of close games, hurting confidence. The young team grew up later in the season and won a tournament game, boding well for next year. Also: Hofstra, as the Pride are poised to make a big jump next season with three transfers eligible that should make an immediate impact.
Team(s) on the decline: Drexel. Simply put, no team in the conference – not even Delaware – loses as much as the Dragons, as they lose a great deal of production, experience and leadership with the graduation of Massenat, Fouch and Dartaye Ruffin. Also: James Madison, as the Dukes at first looked like a team of the future but have been stung by key transfers like Charles Cooke and Taylor Bessick in addition to the graduation of Andrey Semenov.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
Elon joins the conference next season to bring the membership total to ten teams. The conference should also have a relatively new look in terms of contenders for the top spot and postseason awards, as this year’s top players were led by seniors. The Phoenix don’t project to be an instant contender as they lose a lot of production and experience from a team that went 18-14 this season.
Both of the top two teams in the conference this season lose a lot to graduation, so picking Delaware or Towson to contend next season will be tough. The Blue Hens have some pieces returning and won’t fall off the radar entirely, but losing Saddler, Usher and Carl Baptiste is a lot at this level. Towson loses a great deal as well, and while the Tigers have a lot of young talent that the coaching staff is high on, they will come into next season as a less-experienced team and are sure to have growing pains in non-conference play.
Instead, look to Northeastern for your early favorites. The Huskies will have a couple of potential candidates for Player of the Year with Ford returning alongside Scott Eatherton. With the Husky guards being more experienced, especially T.J. Williams, this year’s growing pains should be very much in the rearview mirror. A Bill Coen-coached team is never an easy out, and this one will have talent and experience.
Hofstra will probably make the biggest jump of anyone, as Joe Mihalich got about as much as he could out of this season’s team and will have much more talent next season. College of Charleston will have good talent and experience and will have shaken off being the new kid on the block, and that should position the Cougars better. William & Mary will have a strong Player of the Year candidate in Thornton and some good pieces including Prewitt, but they lose a lot of experience.