The final season of the CAA under its first commissioner had a lot to remember. And when the season ended, the changes were only just about to begin, and they didn’t end with the retiring leader.
The conference had some good talent returning, and there was every reason to expect it to be as competitive as ever. That certainly panned out, although a three-game difference between the teams who tied for first and the three teams right behind them might not indicate it. Road teams had a particularly good year, winning exactly half the time in conference play, and no team ran the table at home. Seven of the ten teams had a winning road record in conference play, and only one of those teams didn’t have a winning overall road record (William & Mary finished 7-7, which is still .500).
Aside from that, the conference had one of its best non-conference showings, going 75-47, which was good for ninth in conference RPI. That is the highest ever for the conference, and among the conferences they were ahead of were the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. Conference teams had some quality wins in non-conference play, from Northeastern winning at Miami to College of Charleston knocking off LSU.
The surprise after the season – and about the only real downer – is that this translated into just three teams in postseason tournaments. Besides UNCW being in the NCAA Tournament and Hofstra in the NIT by virtue of being the regular season champion, Towson competed in the Vegas 16. All three teams were one-and-done, with UNCW giving Duke a run for their money before losing 93-85, Hofstra losing a heart-breaker to eventual champion George Washington 82-80, and Towson lost to eventual runner-up Oakland 90-72. But James Madison, William & Mary and Northeastern all had postseason potential and did not compete in a tournament.
Tom Yeager retires with the conference looking to be in good shape on the surface. There is relative balance from top to bottom, as even the programs who finished at the bottom of the standings have had some measures of success in recent years and may not be far from contending. The membership appears stable, and Yeager leaves being as well-respected as any commissioner in college athletics for good reason beyond the success of the conference. In his place will be Joe D’Antonio, who most recently worked for the Big East since 2005 and like Yeager went to college in New England.
After the season, three schools announced coaching changes, a noticeable change from a year earlier, when there wasn’t a single coaching change. Drexel fired Bruiser Flint, previously the dean of coaches in the CAA, after 15 years. They hired former Army head coach Zach Spiker to replace him. James Madison decided not to renew Matt Brady’s expired contract, replacing him with former player and assistant Louis Rowe. Delaware fired Monte Ross after ten seasons and with two years left on his contract, and the school had an interim athletic director and a president who did not take office for quite a while. Finally, in late May they hired former Notre Dame assistant Martin Inglesby, whose big connection to the school is having worked for Mike Brey.
So the CAA will look a little different next year. There will be a different look on the bench, with some players lost, but more than anything, the only commissioner the conference has known thus far moves on. It’s time for the conference’s next act.
|William & Mary|
|College of Charleston|
As was the case last year, the first round involved close games and one upset. No. 9 Drexel edged No. 8 Elon 57-56 in the opener, then No. 7 College of Charleston beat No. 10 Delaware 67-63.
Three of the four quarterfinal games were decided by double digits. Top seed Hofstra took care of Drexel 90-67 to open the day, then No. 5 William & Mary dispatched No. 4 James Madison 79-64, marking the second straight season the Dukes lost by at least 15 points in the quarterfinals. The evening session began with the only squeaker of the day as No. 2 UNCW barely knocked off College of Charleston 66-64, then No. 6 Northeastern beat No. 3 Towson 71-60.
That set up identical semifinal matchups to last season, but this time around the results were a bit different. Hofstra and William & Mary played another thriller, but this time the Pride were the winners by a 70-67 margin, and UNCW held off Northeastern 73-70 a year after the Huskies won the matchup.
The championship game was all one could ask for, a battle that needed overtime to determine the winner. Hofstra actually led by 12 in the second half, but UNCW rallied behind a big defensive effort, holding the Pride without a field goal for more than 10 minutes. In the extra session, a three-point play with 1:20 left gave the Seahawks the lead for good en route to an 80-73 win. UNCW guard Chris Flemmings was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Performer.
Player of the Year: Juan’ya Green, Hofstra
Rookie of the Year: Jarell Brantley, College of Charleston
Coach of the Year: Kevin Keatts, UNCW
Defensive Player of the Year: Terry Tarpey, William & Mary
Ron Curry, Sr. G, James Madison
Chris Flemmings, Jr. G, UNCW
Juan’ya Green, Sr. G, Hofstra
Rokas Gustys, Jr. F, Hofstra
Omar Prewitt, Jr. G, William & Mary
David Walker, Sr. G, Northeastern
- Conference teams went 75-47 in non-conference play, finishing ninth in RPI – the conference’s highest rating in its 31 years.
- Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green became just the fourth player in Division I history to score at least 1,000 points at two different schools. Another former CAA star, Gary Neal, is one of the other three.
- Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys was second in the nation in rebounding and fourth in field goal percentage, and in January became the first player in six years in Division I to post back-to-back 20-20 games.
- James Madison led the country in three-point field goal percentage defense.
- UNCW was seventh in the nation in turnover margin.
What we expected, and it happened: Hofstra won the regular season title, albeit via tie-breaker. The Pride brought back a loaded roster and snagged the top seed in the conference tournament, and had an automatic NIT bid when they lost a tough championship game.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Northeastern was expected to contend. The Huskies had a promising start to the season, but lost four of six to close out non-conference play. Then they started CAA play 3-0, including a win at UNCW, but followed that by losing eight of nine, capped by a six-game losing streak they never really recovered from.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Delaware finished last. The Blue Hens appeared to be trending up, though they also didn’t have a lot of room for error due to a lack of depth. Injuries and a slow start doomed them and led to the end of Monte Ross’ tenure.
Team(s) on the rise: College of Charleston. The Cougars were young and got better as the season went along, and had arguably the top two freshmen in the conference and have a couple of others who will be significant contributors. They also get Joe Chealey back from injury, and at this point, Canyon Barry’s transfer doesn’t sting so much.
Team(s) on the decline: Delaware. The Blue Hens can’t do much worse than 2-16 in the conference, but with better health and more depth there was reason to believe next season could look more like the latter half of 2014-15 than this past season. Now with a coaching change and a mass exodus of players, Inglesby will have a long road ahead just like Ross had at the beginning. Also, Northeastern. It probably won’t be a long or steep one, as Bill Coen’s tenure hasn’t included many full rebuilds and there’s good young talent in the program, but the Huskies take a big hit with the departures of Quincy Ford, Zach Stahl and David Walker.
2016-17 CAA Outlook
Looking at the CAA next year should begin with a familiar name in UNCW, with Towson and College of Charleston right behind them. UNCW will return much of this season’s championship team. Towson loses a couple of key players, but will have arguably the best backcourt in the conference leading the way along with good complements like Adala Moto and John Davis up front. College of Charleston had arguably the top two freshmen in the conference this past season and they get Joe Chealey back from an injury that sidelined him.
The sleeper team would be William & Mary, an interesting description given that the Tribe has contended recently. Losing Terry Tarpey hurts, but the Tribe has a solid core returning that includes a preseason Player of the Year candidate in Omar Prewitt. You could also put Hofstra in that category, as expectations will probably be reduced, but the Pride won’t fall off a cliff despite significant graduation losses.
Looking at teams that at first glance to project a little further down in the standings Northeastern will miss Walker, Ford and Stahl dearly, but the Huskies will still have good talent and a good veteran point guard in T.J. Williams, so while they won’t be picked to contend, they can be a tough out. James Madison will be a different team with the departure of Ron Curry and a new coach. Elon will be interesting with the talent they return. Drexel and Delaware will start rebuilding with new coaches and the latter with a very depleted roster.