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2016-17 CAA Post-Mortem

June 26, 2017 Conference Notes No Comments

The CAA had a little of everything for a college basketball fan in 2016-17. There was much good at the top and even in the middle, while teams at the bottom had predictable struggles.

A great race for the title? UNCW and College of Charleston came down to the final day of the regular season, with the road team winning both meetings between the two, then they met in the conference championship game.

A rising team? Elon made its way into the first division and at times was right there in the race for first at times.

A surprise team? Not quite, though Northeastern looked capable of being that. The Huskies got hot at the end of non-conference play, including a win at Michigan State. They looked like they could be more of a contender than first though, then constant injuries made conference play a tough go.

Clearly rebuilding teams? Delaware and Drexel certainly fit the bill. Both had coaching changes followed by some player attrition, so this year was mostly about getting the stage set for more success later on.

Close games in the tournament? Six of the nine games in Charleston were decided by single digits, with two of the three double-digit margins being 10 and 11 points.

The conference had all of that and more. Unfortunately, this all translated into just two postseason teams and no wins there, as UNCW lost to Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and College of Charleston lost its first round game at Colorado State in the NIT. No teams competed in the CBI or CIT this time around.

In all, the conference appears to shape up well going forward, though nowadays that comes with a major caveat. Mid-major players transfer up more frequently nowadays, so while the CAA had a strong freshman class in 2016-17 and placed eight underclassmen on its all-conference teams, as well as no seniors on its All-Defensive team, time will tell if the talent sticks around. If the conference is just minimally affected by the transfer bug, next year has some promise of being even better.

One thing that is pretty safe is that the conference saw just one coaching change after the season. After a great three-year run at UNCW, Kevin Keatts left to take over as head coach at NC State. Long-time North Carolina assistant C.B. McGrath will take his place, and he should inherit a team capable of contending again next season. There appears to be plenty of stability as well, as no coach appears to be on the hot seat entering next season. Instead, the biggest threat to the stability is more coaches making a move like the one Keatts made.

Final Standings

College of Charleston
William & Mary
James Madison

Conference Tournament

The first round was a split in terms of higher/lower seeds winning, as No. 7 James Madison took out No. 10 Drexel 80-70 while Ryan Daly had a big double-double to lead No. 9 Delaware past No. 8 Hofstra 81-76.

The quarterfinal round was all chalk, with the first three games being won by the higher seed by single digits before No. 3 Towson annihilated No. 6 Northeastern 82-54 in the last game of the day. No. 1 UNCW beat Delaware 91-82, No. 4 William & Mary knocked off No. 5 Elon 71-66, and No. 2 College of Charleston took out No. 7 James Madison 67-62 before the lone blowout of the day.

The semifinals were a study in contrasts, with a high-scoring game followed by a low-scoring affair. UNCW advanced to the title game with a 105-94 win over William & Mary, then College of Charleston joined them with a 67-59 win over Towson.

The championship game was highly-anticipated, and it was a good one for a while. The first half went back and forth, then UNCW put a little distance between the teams in the second half. College of Charleston tried to rally, but UNCW had answers and then pulled away for a 78-69 win and their second straight championship.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: T.J. Williams, Northeastern
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Daly, Delaware
Coach of the Year: Earl Grant, College of Charleston
Defensive Player of the Year: Devontae Cacok, UNCW

All-Conference Team
C.J. Bryce, So. G, UNCW
Joe Chealey, Jr. G, College of Charleston
Daniel Dixon, Sr. G, William & Mary
Chris Flemmings, Sr. G, UNCW
T.J. Williams, Sr. G, Northeastern

Season Highlights

  • CAA teams posted more true road wins against non-conference opponents than members of any other Division I conference.
  • UNCW won their third straight regular season championship and second straight tournament championship.
  • UNCW forward Devontae Cacok led the nation in field goal percentage, making an incredible 80 percent of his attempts.
  • Hofstra forward Rokas Gustys ranked fourth in the country in rebounding.
  • Two CAA players – Hofstra sophomore Justin Wright-Foreman and Northeastern senior T.J. Williams – were the two most improved scorers in the nation.

What we expected, and it happened: Drexel struggled to win games in Zach Spiker’s first year. He inherited a depleted roster when he took over, and the win-loss column showed it despite some young bright spots with Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Delaware was supposed to struggle mightily to win games. With a coaching change and an exodus of players, the Blue Hens looked to have a thin roster for this season. Offense was a big challenge, but they found a way to put together a three-game winning streak in February and win three games on the road en route to 13 wins. To be sure, a 13-20 record is nothing to brag about, but worse was expected in Martin Inglesby’s first season at the helm.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Chances are, few had Northeastern’s T.J. Williams pegged for the year he had: CAA Player of the Year and the conference scoring champion. Williams had been a nice floor leader for three years, but never had to score much. He scored plenty this season and was a big reason the Huskies were as competitive as they were through a rash of injuries.

Team(s) on the rise: College of Charleston, Elon. The Cougars will be among the favorites to win it all next year, as they grew nicely this year and will return every key player. It may be just a matter of time before one wonders how long Earl Grant will be there since bigger schools will want him to run their program. Elon made a nice jump in the standings to the middle of the pack and likewise returns a great deal. They appear to have found their footing in the CAA.

Team(s) on the decline: William & Mary. The Tribe has been on a good run of late, but they will have a tall order replacing two more key players who depart in Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon next year. They lead the winningest class in school history, having won 77 games over the past four years, including 43 CAA wins. They bring back everyone else, but if they had to lose just two players, these are the worst ones to lose.


2017-18 CAA Outlook

Looking ahead, favorites should start with familiar faces as College of Charleston and UNCW both bring back a lot. College of Charleston will have more continuity since UNCW has a coaching change and the nucleus of this Cougar team has grown together for two years. The perimeter of Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Marquise Pointer will be as good as any in the conference, with Jarrell Brantley anchoring them inside. Chealey was a legitimate CAA Player of the Year contender this past season and will be next year. Add in UNCW losing C.J. Bryce to transfer (he followed Keatts to NC State), and the Cougars look like a clear choice as the favorites.

After that, it looks wide open. The next best team might be Elon, who will miss Luke Eddy but bring back just about everyone else of significance. And while Eddy was good, he is not irreplaceable. Hofstra could make a leap towards the top of the standings, as they bring back a solid backcourt led by Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton, the latter one of the best newcomers in the conference this past season, to go with a solid post presence in Gustys.

The next apparent candidates all have to make up for significant losses, so they have as many questions as answers. Towson loses John Davis and William Adala Moto, though they return just about everyone else. Mike Morsell will be one of the conference’s best players and Pat Skerry’s teams always defend, which gives them a chance. Northeastern will have some good newcomers and had some promising freshmen this season, but T.J. Williams is no small loss. William & Mary loses two key starters who won a lot of games in Williamsburg.

Delaware and Drexel will continue their rebuilds, and year two of those tends to be a bigger challenge than year one. James Madison loses a lot from a team that won just ten games, so at first glance they don’t appear to be a likely contender next season.

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